When Joaquin Miller built his little cabin in the woods over a hundred years ago, all sorts of peoplefrom congressmen to average citizenstrekked out to pay a call. And they kept comingeven when he wasn’t there. Even after the poet died. Even after his cabin was moved to another location.
“Make no mistake, he was quite an exhibitionist,” says Jacklyn Potter, a fixture of Washington’s vibrant poetry scene. “He went into the woods because he wanted to be noticed.
“He also wanted to write,” she adds. “I do have to give him credit for that.”
As director of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series, the oldest summer reading series in the Washington area, Potter makes the journey to Miller’s cabin on a regular basis. The house was originally built in the wilderness of what is now Malcolm X Park but was moved to Rock Creek Park in 1912.
The readings take place outdoors every Tuesday in June and July. Of the 100 or so poets who apply, only 17 are chosen. “People think it’s just for new writers,” Potter says. “It’s for good writers. I present everyone from academicians to language poets to rappers or performance poets.” Each year she features at least one poet reading in a language other than English. There’s also a separate competition to select two high-school poets to read with a famous writerthis year, former Sen. Eugene McCarthy.
The readings began in the mid ’70s as informal gatherings. A small group of writers would meet inside Miller’s cabin and read poems by candlelight on summer eveningsuntil the building was condemned in 1978. Not to be deterred by a little condemnation, the writers, led by Karren Alenier, got a permit from the park service to hold the readings outside the cabin. They printed up some fliers, and the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series began. When in 1983 Alenier’s position as the president of Wordworks Press left her no time to prepare the summer readings, she passed the directorship to Potter.
During the readings, small animals will occasionally join in. And there’s always the possibility of rain. “The difficulty and the wonder of having a program outdoors by the cabin is that you can’t control nature. Miller would have loved it,” says Potter. “Poetry is different outside. It’s so much more wonderful and beautiful.” Holly Bass
The next reading, featuring Nancy Naomi Carlson and Frank Sherlock, will be at 7:30 p.m. June 17 next to Miller’s Cabin, Picnic Grove No. 6, Beach Drive, just north of the Military Road overpass in Rock Creek Park. Each reading is followed by a reception at 1411 Kennedy St. NW., also the rain location.