The Golden State.

27 Feb

Returning to the Bay for the third time in the year and a half since I moved away finally felt like coming home. Before I even saw any of my friends I felt it. Looking down on the lights sprinkled in the folds of the East Bay hills, smelling the warm sugared air as the winter rain fell… I wanted to leap around the Oakland airport –but I let my smile handle that instead.

I was a whole different kind of terrified about performing in the Bay. I started slamming there. San Francisco was the first team I made, Berkeley the second. Out of all the folks in the slam scene, the ones in the Bay have seen me at my craziest, and my most vulnerable. They saw me slam when I was just beginning to find my voice. I was determined to show them how I’d grown.

Luckily, I booked smart, so I had plenty of chances to showcase my range. Apologies in advance if I don’t remember every detail regarding who performed where, and all. I was in the Bay for a solid three weeks, so the details are a little blurry. Anyhow, these are all the places I featured in the Greater Bay Area:


The City Slam

The City Slam has a distinctive flavor. Slaminatrix Mona Webb has made a point of cultivating a safe space for women, queer folk, and people of all colors. The show feels much more sophisticated than a lot of slams, very cosmopolitan, very adult. It’s the one regular show in the Bay you can dress up for and not feel out of place – and that’s a big deal in California. Mona encourages different kinds of performing artists to come through, so there’s typically some music, sometimes theater or dance.


**highlights: performing “Camp Victory”, our SF 2007 team piece, with Kim and Lucky 7; getting to see lots of folks for the first time since iWPS; hearing amazing poetry, much of it new, from Kim, Chas, Terry, Patrick, Dre, Lucky, Matt, and Stephen; seeing the proud tradition that started with me, as Mona’s first rookie, has continued with the flourishing of lots of young voices in the San Francisco scene.

Denise & Kim.

**lowlights: still being too disoriented to catch everyone else’s poems; feeling rushed for time; following Joaquin Zihuatenango – the gesture was really sweet on Mona’s part, and I don’t feel his poetry’s especially better than mine, but I was a little uncomfortable because Joaquin’s been doing this a lot longer than I have, he’s a national champion, and I think he would have given the feature a more polished finish.

Terry Taplin.


View of Inland Cali.

Although I lived in Oakland for three years, I never made it out to Modesto, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I took a train inland from the Bay. The journey was pleasant and meditative. There were plenty of open seats, and it was a sunny day on the top deck of the train. When I arrived, Sean Franco met me at the station, and we paused for a moment at a gorgeous little cafe. At twilight, we headed to the show, which had a wonderfully large audience with a great age range, many of them hungry for poetry.

Dusty Rose.

**highlights: performing in the round, super-physically, off the mic, and feeling I really got how to use the space; Sam Pierstorff’s smart, biting, but loving hosting; Shawn Franco’s startlingly quiet, naked performance; hearing challenging poems from a young man soon to be deployed; Dusty Rose’s newfound mastery of her craft; The Saint’s love poem, dedicated to yours truly.

Sam Pierstorff.

**lowlights: can’t think of one, actually. I’d call this one one of my top three performances. I had an incredible time.

Shawn Franco.


The Starry Plough

More than anywhere else, Berkeley feels like my home venue. The Starry Plough is the show Christian and I used to attend religiously (again, slam is like church for me). I felt a lot of pressure to ace my Berkeley show, since it’s one of the venues poets across the country murmur about. The weather was shitty, so the crowd was a little light, but there were plenty friendly faces to make me feel at home.

Jason Motherfuckin' Bayani.

**highlights: Jamie, one of my favorites ever, hosting bawdily as ever, exhorting the crowd to get off their asses; performing “Spinster” exactly as I had to and feeling that moment of genuine grief resonate throughout the room; seeing excellent work from Stephen Meads, Sam Sax, and Jason Bayani, and several new women; rolling with the homies; getting to hang out with Shahin; Naz telling me I’d become “quite a performer”; Matt Blesse’s big grin when I got offstage letting me know I’d really done it right.

Sam Sax.

**lowlights: some folks I really hoped would show didn’t. Since Berkeley’s the show with the most poet crossover, not seeing people up to that point let me know I probably wouldn’t at all.



Patrick, Dre and I drove up to Fairfield for Barbara and Go’s show. Like many inland California towns, Fairfield has a strong stripe of ignorant hick, with a healthy underpinning of methamphetamines (yeah, I said it). However, Barbara and Go have carved out a genuine haven for artistic freedom and expression. The two of them emanate such powerful love that the Fairfield slam feels totally immune to the creepster vibe of the city as a whole.


**highlights: a bunch of comedians performed in the open mic, to my delight; poet friends from all over, as far away as Sonya in DC, checking in online; watching Selene Steese deservedly win her first slam ever; Foward performing before and after removing his pants; performing a new team piece, the sexy librarian poem, joyfully and successfully with Dre and Patrick; feeling the crowd’s delight at everything I did; hugs from Barbara and Go.


**lowlights: there was some grumpiness on the car ride over; some douchebags tried to start shit after the show.

The Road to Fairfield.



Oakland was the last show I did in the Bay. I was scheduled to perform in Santa Cruz the Tuesday after, but a sudden turn in my friend Gabrielle’s health convinced me to buy a ticket to Austin as soon as possible. The Oakland show takes place at Oasis now, which is a warm and versatile venue for the kind of show Naz and D put together. The crowd was small but very engaged.

Joyce Lee.

**highlights: the feeling of being among family that Oakland does better than any of the other Bay shows; great poetry from Naz, Dahled, Joyce, Stephen (best balls ever), Dre, Jaylee, and a few folks who were totally new to me; flirting with the audience; making Joyce’s jaw drop; winning over the doorman, who was stoical my whole set; almost losing it when I sang part of “Hallelujah” after reading my poem for Gabrielle, and knowing Naz was with me all the way; recording goodbyes for Gabrielle from everyone who had something to say.

Jaylee Alde.

**lowlights: I was feeling a little insecure, and could have brought a set that was tighter and more confident.

After Oakland, Mona drove me to the train station so I could try to catch a show in San Francisco. She looked at me, coach to rookie, poet to poet, and told me she was so proud of me. Of everything I’ve been doing for the past year. That was the best gift I could have gotten from a trip to NorCal. That and feeling and knowing that the Bay is still my poetic home, and that’s still where my slamily is. I am so grateful.



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