The Holy Host.

3 Mar

The Nuyo.

If we continue with our supposition that slam is like church, then the host of a show is the chief medium through which the holiness of poetry and performance is (potentially) transmitted. The host absolutely sets the tone for the night. I’ve seen hosts stack the outcome of competitions by messing with the order of lists, introducing or commenting on poets’ work with bias, or even actively leading the audience in cheers for their preferred poets.

I don’t want to dwell on that, though. More elementally, the host is the conduit through which the show most clearly expresses its style, preferences, and openness. According to Ekabhumi’s experiments in Berkeley (and I think this usually bears out), a female host, by her very presence, encourages more women to grace the stage. A black host makes poets of color feel more welcome. The host can also guide the mood of a show by opening/closing with particular songs or poems, and choosing particular poets to sacrifice or perform in the open mic. Even if the host makes no conscious effort, her personality and attitude affect the audience by her interactions with them. What she does deeply affects the mood of the room and the feel of the show.

I visited the Nuyo briefly about a year ago, so I’d seen Mo Browne open, as she usually does, but the night Khary and I cofeatured, Mo was on tour in Cali.

The beautiful Mo Browne, very much missed.

Luckily, Jive Poetic was around to host in her stead. He got the night going the same way I’d seen Mo do, in what must be a Nuyo standard, bumping BBD’s “Poison”, getting the audience singing, dancing, and energized before the poetry even started. Throughout the night, Jive was generally just really fucking fun and sweet. He made all the poets feel noticed and special, even as he teased them, and himself. I definitely want to go back and see Mo host a full night, but I’ve seen enough of both of them to confidently say the Nuyo features two of the funniest, most dynamic, and loving hosts in the country. I’d put both Jive and Mo in my top five.

Jive hosting. Note the Carleton sweater.

***

INTERLUDE: Staying Healthy On the Road

I know I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth posting again and again. Most poets I know, even those who don’t tour, are terribly unhealthy: we eat badly, tend not to exercise, take substances that fuck us up and generally wreak havoc on our bodies. I’ve suffered from all kinds of awful ailments while on tour. My back has gone out (Boise), bedbugs have gnawed on me (Esalen), I’ve suffered from TMJ Disorder (Austin), and I’ve gotten debilitating colds (St. Paul, notably). I’m pretty hardy, all told, so I pity the fool with a weak immune system. Being on the road is stressful as is, then poets come into contact with a lot of people, a lot of germs, and switch climates and environments all the time.

At the risk of being obnoxiously punny, let’s consider another spin on the word “host”. A host, in the biological sense, is a carrier for a parasite. Keeping that in mind, think of your body-soul, what have you, as being in steady contact with all kinds of stuff that’d be happy to jump in your body and ride around for a while, maybe devour you a little, with no regard for whether it hurts you or slows you down. I’m not trying to exacerbate anyone’s OCD here, but the reality of being on tour is that this stuff is going to try to get at you.

Here’s a list, then, of commonsense but crucial tips to stay at your best and brightest while you’re out and about.

Sleep. Get as much of it when you can. It won’t always be possible to get a ton of deep sleep, but it’s recently been proved that REM sleep actually is cumulative, so you can actually make up hours that you miss.

Keep It Fresh. Whenever you get a chance to eat fresh fruits and veggies, do so. Again, you won’t always have the chance to eat anything healthier than a wedge of iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing. Consider fruit and vegetable juices, or using frozen fruits (same nutritional value as fresh fruit) to make smoothies when you’re staying at someone’s house.

Supplements. Emergen-C does excellent things to the body. Taking a packet when you begin to feel sick or before a night of heavy drinking can ward off disaster. The packets are also super small and lightweight, so they won’t mess with the weight of your bags. Also, as per Paulie Lipman, carry a packet of slippery elm lozenges, found at most health food stores. If you find your throat or voice is beginning to wear out, one of these tablets should fix you up, at least long enough to get you through your feature.

Simple Exercise. Setting up a simple routine for yourself is a great idea. Even if it’s just a series of stretches, Sun Salutations, for example, this is a great way to get the kinks out of your body and stay limber for your time onstage. Even something as small as going for short walks around the venue or the neighborhood where you’re staying can really get the Jet Blue/Greyhound/Amtrack/driving knots out of your body. Also…

Unsketchy Massages. People like touching poets, I guess, and there are a lot of givers on our community, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

Use Condoms. Assuming you’ve ignored the “unsketchy” caveat above, and assuming you’re sexually active, rubber up. If you don’t have any sex on the road, you can still use condoms, to make indestructible water balloons, for example.

Smoking. Don’t start.

Drinking & Other Drugs. Moderate.

***

The Nuyo was excellent. Even given the nasty snow coming down, we had a full, attentive house. Logan Phillips, whose work I hadn’t seen in years, ripped a couple of poems that made me really wish I were staying in New York to see one of his full feature sets with Verbobala, his cross-border poetry troupe.

Logan.

The slam itself showcased a range of solid work, from my Canadian geek crush Duncan Shields,

Duncan.

to the tender, fervent Rock Wilk, to several poets I’d never heard before, including Savant, who won the night.

Rock and Savant.

I was a little nervous about sharing a feature with Khary. His poems were rockstar, as expected, especially his excellent strange hip hop ode.

Khary Jackson.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find I held my own, even with a good dose of new work in the mix. Opening with “Rut” was really fun, and reading “Chamber Music” for the first time satisfied me immeasurably.

After the show, a lot of women came up to me and thanked me, especially for performing “Maneater”. These glowing lady fans are becoming more and more a mainstay as I grow on tour, and it’s exactly what I want. I want women to see me onstage and realize they can be funny and sexy and bold too, if they like. Being a conduit or a carrier for this message gives me strength to keep doing what I do. Hallelujah. Amen.

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