Bits 'n' Pieces: Poet pilot finds word wonders

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photoPoet and airline pilot Phil Long.

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Airline pilots may seem all business, but lurking within those sober demeanors and snappy uniforms is a soaring spirit that drives their desire to fly.

"Pilots have always been poets," saidPhil Long, 54. "There's so much beauty and wonder and freedom involved in flying." Come to think of it, the rural Washougal resident said, he's probably always been a poet first and a pilot second: "I got an award for writing a poem in second grade. On construction paper. I've had the wordsmithery percolating inside me for years."

Starting in college and through all the years thereafter, Long's poetic spirit came out in song lyrics that he accompanied with a handful of basic guitar chords. Writing those verses allowed him to grapple with the deep, universal questions that he's always been prone to pondering. "Everybody deals with the bigger questions, the deeper things of life," he said. "The poets are the ones who write about it."

Five years ago, at his daughter's prompting, Long debuted an unaccompanied, rap-style piece at a poetry slam in Seattle -- and found himself completely hooked by the wide-open, do-it-yourself atmosphere of wordsmithery on parade. "I was just astonished at what could be done with words. I realized what a strong attraction I had to that," he said.

Long started checking out poetry slams in cities where he had airline layovers. It didn't matter that most of the poets he shared the stage with were young, hip and hairy; they were also welcoming, egalitarian and enjoyed being "provoked and challenged," he said. Which was great for Long, whose poetry tends toward questions of religion and faith. In fact, Long, a Christian, started a nonprofit called The Sacrificial Poet Project, which aims to spark conversations about faith through the art of poetry. Take a look at Sacrificial Poet Project.

But he said his poetry never proselytizes. The airline pilot, whose kids have grown up to be scientists, considers physics and cosmology in his writing alongside the Bible and its timeless tales.

"Maybe they're all talking about the same thing," he said.

Which is just where Long is headed in his one-man play, "Liar Lunatic," billed as a "poetry slam excursion through philosophy, physics, biology, theology, mythology and murder." The 75-minute play opens today at Portland's Headwaters Theater, 55 N.E. Farragut St. There'll be six 7:30 p.m. performances: tonight through Sunday and March 22 through 24. Tickets are $15. Visit liarlunatic.com for more information.

Long worked with director J.J. Ruscella at Virginia's Shenandoah Conservatory last year to workshop and audience-test his play. Ruscella "looked at 40 pieces of my work and picked out 15 or 16 of them that tell the story of my life and questions and issues I've dealt with," Long said. "I build a little world and act out all these different characters — all through poetry."

— Scott Hewitt

Hoss Legacy invites you to 'Share A Little Green'

Colleen Hoss found a way to turn the grief of losing her husband into a project to help people in the community.

Hoss of Battle Ground, who turns 70 on Saturday, created "Milestones and Memories" to honor her late spouse, Ronald P. Hoss.

He died in 2012 and would have turned 80 this month, Hoss said.

"I'm turning 70 and I needed something to do," Hoss said. "So I chose three charities and established one scholarship for a fundraising project." The charities are the Children's Center, Daybreak Youth Services and North County Community Food Bank.

And she set up the Ronald P. Hoss Memorial Scholarship at Washington State University Vancouver in the Creative Media and Digital Culture program to honor his career in advertising and public relations.

"It's actually the first named scholarship in the program," Hoss said. "It was very easy to set up."

Her goal is to raise $70,000 and split it between the four groups. She's been working on the effort since August and has so far raised about $10,000.

As part of that, she's created the "Share A Little Green" dinner and auction to coincide with her birthday celebration. The event, a traditional Irish dinner that will be from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Summit Grove Lodge, 30810 N.E. Timmen Road, costs $50 to attend, with proceeds going to the four charities.

Visit The Hoss Legacy for information.

— Sue Vorenberg

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.