Dakota Baker ’22 — This summer, my last before I graduate next spring, I took my things out west to begin my work with two nonprofits in the Portland, OR area. I’ll start by noting my debts to those who got me here: First, endless appreciation for the Dill Family and their generous contribution to Wabash students like me. There is so much potential in granting students the freedom to work for groups that cannot pay them – nonprofits are, by rule, fueled by heart instead of income, and the chance to work for two of them this summer without worrying about making rent or buying groceries is truly special. Thank you. Next, my thanks to the always supportive faculty at the college for pushing me out here, especially Dr. Jill Lamberton and Dr. Derek Mong. From making arrangements for my work with a poetry press in PDX, to suggesting eateries and parks in the area, to letting me waltz in your offices to hear my gripes and groans, I am forever thankful for the unparalleled mentorship you continue to offer me, which I believe started before I had even been rung-in in 2018. Finally, thanks to my newfound community in Portland for welcoming me and taking care of me this summer. It’s much different than Wabash out here, believe it or not, but you more than matched the sense of friendship and community that I’m used to back home, and for that, I am beyond grateful.
My work in PDX has been varied and spontaneous, like the art scenes both nonprofits operate within. Half of my time has been spent with an artist collective, Busybody, a group of twenty-somethings who work with local artists of color to promote their projects and connect them with other artists as well as people who need their art. I arrived on the Busybody stage as they were wrapping up their first publication, a tall, 10-page magazine that featured poetry, illustrations, and other visual art pieces by promoted artists. I joined the group in celebrating this achievement in a small backyard soirée, but they were quick to think ahead: What’s next? Who needs our help? How can we best serve our network of artists to keep them doing what they love? I was happy to contribute to these conversations, but I emphasized my willingness to follow their lead and offer my hands and time rather than try to be a vocal, spearheading intern in this unfamiliar territory (that is, the Portland art scene). So far, my work has involved helping the group to think about and finish their “Black-and-Yellow Pages,” a contact list of over 200 local artists of color designed to bridge artists with each other and with clients, as well as helping to paint a large public mural on a building in the Portland State University’s campus (see photo). Though I often feel naïve to the world that Busybody operates in, I’ve found that this can be my strength – I’ve spent more time listening and learning from the group and their project than I might otherwise in a field I’m more familiar with. I look forward to carrying this energy with me into future work as I join other new communities.
The other half of my work time in PDX has been with the slightly more established poetry press, Fonograf Editions. This small group of three writers is also committed to their passion project, a nonprofit press that is responsible for 8 audio publications (vinyl records) and 4 print books of poetry. They have no official office space, so all my work has been done in SE Portland, either in my home, in one of theirs, or at some local pub or café (any drinkery with Wi-Fi will do). For Fonograf, my work has been a little more regimented. The group gives me a new assignment every week, often extending the work of my last assignment, as they look to grow their operation and get plugged into the Pacific NW poetry channels even further. I’ve contacted local bookshops and record stores on behalf of Fonograf, “selling” our wares to the owners to try and get our publications on their shelves; I’ve scoped the classifieds for cheap office spaces that we may move into; and most notably, I’ve been put in charge of researching and eventually publishing our works in the digital Ebook format, a project the group has long been looking to accomplish and can now do with the extra set of hands. This work has been exciting as I find myself in the Portland poetry community, talking and listening to budding writers as I approach my own form of the writer’s life. Fonograf is also plugged into many local poetry events, so I’ve been fortunate enough to attend readings from writers who are publishing for the first time. In total, the experience has been invaluable for a young writer like me, and I can’t wait to continue this line of work after graduation.
There’s much more to my life out in Portland, of course, like the countless hours I’ve spent on my front porch reading used books and listening to Tom Waits while neighbors and crows pick through the free pile on the corner, and the dusty evenings with my kickball league at the Abernethy baseball diamond, or the Sunday night drum circles I’ve joined underneath the overpass by the Eastbank Esplanade. For those opportunities, I’m also very grateful. Through my work and my free time this summer, I’ve strengthened my hold on what community means to me and those around me. It’s not just by name that we’re connected (i.e. Portland, or Baker, or Wabash), but by the various ways we spend our time and use our energies to lift ourselves and others. I look forward to carrying that back with me to Crawfordsville and beyond, and I once again thank those who helped open me to it.