Earning My Vanity Plates.

9 Feb

I attended three shows in Vancouver, each enjoyable in its way, each very different. I apologize for not having more pictures, but Vancouver is very dark. Here are the shows, in chronological order.

Pathos, Punchlines, & Painkillers: We walked all the way down Commercial Drive to see Chris Masson’s show, part of Vancouver’s Theatrefest. The venue was some kind of old folks’ home. There weren’t any indicators that the festival was taking place, and no one from the organizing committee was there to work the door. Hard on Chris, who had to wing it as the first performer of the evening. (Remember earlier when I was talking about the importance of great organizers? Um, yeah.)

Masson chagrined.

The show itself really impressed me, though. It was Chris’ one-man telling of his manic courtship with Nora online, and through her unexpected battle with cancer. His energy and dynamism positively shone, and the tale proved bizarre and touching – as true love stories ought to be.

Thundering Word Heard: I met up with Sean McGarragle, Vancouver’s organizer extraordinaire, and we walked from his neighborhood to Cafe Montmartre.


The venue has the romantic French cafe aesthetic down cold. Small tables intimately nestled in a small space, warm red lighting, food and drink, and a small but prominent stage. The list was long past full long before the evening officially started, so Sean and I sat with Aedan Saint (the organizer of the new Village Poetry Slam) to watch the show unfold.

Thundering Word is Vancouver’s longest-running open mic, and it has the glow all good, established open readings do. People brought comedy, music, and poetry, some of which was quite good. As a slammer, open mics often feel like they’re running at the speed of mud through a sieve, but let’s face it, they’re important. Forums like these give everyone – even those to whom slam is forbidding, or forbidden – a voice. I like to go to a good open mic about once a month, maybe every other month. It restores my humanity.

After the show, Sean and I went to The Narrow with Chris Gilpin and Fernando. Lo, we drank mightily, and I got to pick Sean’s brain about organizing, and the Canadian scene. Sean’s a smart and charming guy, and he may be the most organized organizer I’ve met (dude uses an Excel spreadsheet to plot the dates and features of all the Canadian slams, wowee wow). Chris Gilpin’s a very talented poet – ask him how he’s making the sonnet exciting again. And Fernando I don’t know so good. Suffice it to say I enjoyed the night in its entirety. No better way to follow up an open mic than with a bunch of people who take poetry very seriously indeed.


INTERLUDE: A Poet’s Guide to Organization

We poets are not especially known for being responsible – but when we commit more fully to the profession, we must grow. Much as I’d love a personal assistant, a manager or a handler, I can’t afford one – so I’m forced to wear many hats indeed. Here are a few of ’em.

Writer. You should already have some system of your own to keep your writings organized. My current system involves a notebook with works-in-progress, prompts and ideas, plus folders in my laptop separated into essays, clean page poems, retired poems, 1-minute poems, &c. This is the most personal and essential element to your career, so organize in a way that’s useful and sensible to you.

Performer. Carry product. Books, CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, whatever you can get. Have a means of carrying your product to gigs. I have a little red briefcase, but anything works. It’s nice to have one item of appropriate size that you can simply leave your product in throughout your travels. Also, consider keeping a list of poems you did at any given venue on any given night (Jon Sands keeps a very thorough record on his laptop). At the very least, keep a little notebook handy with a list of poems you have on deck.

set list for the evening.

Booking Agent. This is the messy part. It’s hard to keep up on which venues are running, who’s in charge, and what dates work when (unless you’re McGarragle). The most important thing: keep a list of what you’ve booked, when and where. If you want to go rocket science, keep a current list of organizers/scene contacts, keep track of how much everybody pays, best ways to get to and from cities, &c. I like keeping at least one schedule up online so I can easily update it and point it out to others. It’s nice to have a US map handy, too; I remember Adam Rubinstein had a big, beautiful map stuck full of push pins to prepare for his first national tour…

Promoter. John Survivor Blake has a great method of using Facebook to promote: he organizes his FB friends by region, then when he creates an event page, he only tags folks in that region to let them know he’s performing. So when he hits you up, you know to pay attention. Beyond that, it’s pretty loose. Reconnect with folks you know in the area a few weeks before you hit a city, and tell them to come out and bring their friends.

Traveler. Try, try to keep your bags in order. Pack smart the first time, everything in its proper place, and you’ll thank yourself for weeks. And do make sure you have places to stay wherever you wind up.


The last show I attended in Canada happened to be the one where I was featured.

The Vancouver Slam

The Van Slam’s been running for fourteen years, many of them at the venue where it is today, Café Deux Soleils. It’s a dream venue. Big and beautiful with low lighting, a hearty stage and good beer. And full of people who want to hear your every word. *sighs wistfully*

Nora Smithhisler hosted for the first time that night. She did a bang-up job in heels so sexy Boise blushed.

Pretty, ain't she?

Angus performed a poem I loved, even though I could not fully fathom the nerdy depths to which he dove.


Ain't he sweet?

My real pleasant surprise of the evening was Duncan Shields, who I’d never heard. He performed one of the sexiest geek poems I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, a smart and hilarious tribute to gamer girls.

go, Duncan, go!

Performing was the real plum, though. I’d been practicing my set for days – a hodgepodge of song fragments and poems sewn together in what I hoped might become my new feature style. It was so good. So, so good. Probably the best feature I’ve ever done. It felt like pure magic. The audience was into simply everything I did, and we loved each other, we were seahorses and fireworks on the long road, yes, delightful.

When I was through, a pretty blonde boy (different one from NYE) propositioned me. Seriously. He told me he’d heard my miscegenation poem, and his place was just down the way if I wanted to get down. I laughed, very, very awkwardly. He was very direct, you see, and I still think of myself as someone only other poets and bold old men try to seduce. This groupie thing is very new and bizarre. Lucky for me, Jess was there to shout mean things at the scary, scary boy until he left me alone. 😛

A few of us ended the night at a little club, boozing it up. I don’t usually drink before I perform, so I was trying desperately to catch up. To no avail. Canadians can throw down. C.R. Avery showed up at some point and asked a lot of questions. Then we all crawled into arms if we could find ’em, curled up like snails, and slept like we’d never done a bad thing in all our long lives.

Sean & Nora.


2 Responses to “Earning My Vanity Plates.”

  1. Mark February 9, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Great picture of Sean and Nora.

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