Broken Word was an open mic poetry series that began on Alberta Street before relocating to the basement of the Blue Monk on Belmont, where it was hosted first by Chris Ridenour, then Becca Yenser, and finally if memory serves, had Doug Spangle taking a turn at the end. Then the weekly poetry reading was displaced by belly dancers. C’est la vie, as the saying goes.
I began showing up at Blue Monk in summer of 2007 on Curtis Whitecarroll’s recommendation. One evening Curtis introduced me to Judith Pulman. It so happened that I read a poem with a reference to the scene with Alyosha and the children at the close of The Brothers Karamazov. When I returned to the table where we were seated, Judith said, “You like Dostoevsky?” I replied that I do, whereupon she told me that she studied Russian in college and had lived and traveled in Russia. Broken Word at Blue Monk was a scene where random and not so random encounters of this kind were not rare. The room always had a plentiful share of interesting, intelligent, talented people. Amber Leffler, Tommy Gaffney, Christine Homitsu White, and Meagan Grace Elliott are a few who come readily to mind. Ric Vrana is another.
Ric came over with Broken Word when it moved from Alberta, where he owned a house in the neighborhood. I do not recall who introduced us, if indeed there was a formal introduction. Ric tended to meet people easily. It may be that no introduction was needed. My habit was to arrive a bit early, find an open slot at the top half of the sign-up sheet, ensconce myself at a table with a glass of wine, and unwind a bit as poets drifted in on what Curtis refers to as “poet time.” At some point, probably sooner rather than later, Ric and I ended up among a group of people seated around a table, I with my red wine, most of the others with a PBR, talking about poems and books and art, politics and culture, and baseball.
On the Monday after Easter Mary Slocum called to tell me she saw a note on Facebook that word from Astoria was that Ric had died. Later that day Ric’s daughter and son, Maria and John, posted a more detailed note on his Facebook page informing us that he died on Saturday from complications as a result of cancer, a diagnosis he received only two weeks earlier. The news left me shaken. No doubt I was not alone. Ric seemed to know everyone, and he touched everyone he knew in the just the best way imaginable.
I was fortunate to be able to attend a memorial held at Cerimon House in Ric’s old Alberta neighborhood at the end of April. The poetry scene was represented by Doug and Christine Spangle, Neal Anderson, Mf Mcauliffe, Christopher Luna, Toni Partington, and James Honzik, among those I know. Also in attendance were more than a few of Ric’s colleagues from Portland State University, where he had been an adjunct professor teaching courses in urban planning while working at Tri-Met, Portland’s public transit agency. Earlier in his life Ric took a crack at an academic career only to find that he did not care for certain aspects of it that lay outside the classroom. He taught because he loved teaching. The adjunct role was perfect for him.
After Broken Word at Blue Monk came to an end, Ric invited me to join him on a monthly trek across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington, where he had happened on a lively poetry scene. We rendezvoused after work, and he drove us up in the rush-hour traffic, giving plenty of time for good conversation, at which Ric was a master. That lasted until he was downsized out of his job at Tri-Met during one of the agency’s periodic budget crunches. He soon landed a job with the City of Warrenton on the coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, mapping out their infrastructure. He enjoyed that job and living in nearby Astoria, where he soon became a prominent figure on the poetry scene as founder of the monthly Port of Call open mic.
Ric described himself as “yer average leftist patriot, born on the Fourth of July and critical of every kind of authority. OR… a middle aged, grumpy single father of two teenagers overeducated and underpaid and a frustrated ‘artiste’.” He was politically radical and believed devoutly in the idea of public service. As a young man in Akron, Ohio, he became engaged in union activities, an engagement he continued throughout his life. In 2015 he was elected President of the Clatsop/Tillamook Central Labor Council. When I think of Ric, I think of the enthusiasm with which he spoke of public transit and urban planning, an enthusiasm that matched his passion for poetry, literature, social justice, and baseball, and I think of the pride and love that shined through when he talked about Maria and John.
Ric had two bad ankles and assorted other physical ailments. Pain was no stranger to him. He did not dwell on this. Nor did he hide it. It was simply part of who he was, a man always curious, always learning, meeting people, hiking, swimming, and gardening. In 2014 Maria embarked on a trip through Europe after college graduation. Ric joined her in Prague and looked up relatives in the Czech Republic whom he had first looked up on his own trip through Europe twenty-eight years earlier. He told his children, “It’s impossible to be bored. I’ve never had a boring day in my life.”
This statement by Ric printed in the program for the memorial seems to me a fitting way to remember him, as one good memory among many.
I do not belong to a church, and therefore a church does not belong to my death. But I like the idea of a memorial service of a kind that brings together a lot of people who knew me in various ways. Such a gathering could feature music, recitals of poetry, pictures, videos and, hopefully, a lot of drinking. Have a party.
Ric was a good person and a dear friend. He is missed by many.
An open mic reading in honor of Ric Vrana will be held Tuesday May 31, 7 p.m. at Port of Call bar, corner of 9th and Commercial, Astoria, Oregon. Sign-up starts at 6:45 p.m. Hosts are poets Jim Dott and Florence Sage, former MCs of Monday Mike at the River Theater.
By and About Ric Vrana
Robot Man, Elohi Gadugi Journal
David Matthews, Celebrating a New Collection of Poems by Ric Vrana, 12 July 2011
Florence Sage, Reading for Ric, HIPFISHmonthly, page 12, May 2016