North Beast! North, North Beast!

20 Mar

Given the history of the region, it shouldn’t be surprising that the New England slam scene boasts a reputation of having some of the highest literary standards in the community. Worcester is a secret bastion of old heads who continue to take the best risks and critique with an unflinching eye, Boston a familial scene rich with sophisticates and degenerates who write with equal fervor, and Providence, one of the rare scenes in the country that shows mastery of both polemic and innovation, performance and page.

Also, happily for a touring poet (if a little taxing for a road dog pushing thirty), New England has a wonderfully compact touring circuit – so a poet can feature at a different venue in the area every night. I featured at most of the New England venues, and every one was different, every one excellent in its way. Here’s the list, not in as great detail as I’d hoped, I’m afraid. Check out the shows for yourself, though. They all book consistently great features every week (brushes dirt off shoulders).

I’m not sorry that this post is long. LOOOOOONG! Nah, dude, I’m not sorry. Learn to read more than a paragraph at a time. Novels and shit. Print this out if the glow bothers your eyes, I won’t sue. I did 5 shows in 5 days, switching cities every time, so you can surely read about ’em: that part’s easy. Take a break in the middle and walk your cat, if you must. The words will be here when you get back.

MONDAY – The Dirty Gerund – Worcester, MA

Ralph's Diner.

This is a relatively new venue, started by Alex Charalambides and Nick Davis, sort of the up-and-comers of Worcester’s organizers.

Nick & Alex

The previous night, I’d watched Khary feature at The Poets Asylum open mic, which had a totally different feel.

Poets Asylum.

Where the PA is very calm and composed, housed in a cafe with discerning but quiet onlookers, the DG is a somewhat raucous bar space with a band backing the poets (if they like). The volume runs high, as does the humor, but I found folks really are prepared to listen. The open mic, unsurprisingly, featured a variety of work, from the surreal to the prosaic, much of it quite good indeed!

Alex and Nick ask their features to prepare two 20-minute sets for before and after the break – which is a lot more poems than most spots, and it’s a unique format, too. I loved doing this show. I love featuring in grown folks’ spaces so I don’t have to censor myself, and I typically do really well in bars. I love making people laugh. Plus I’m pretty comfortable riding chaos, yeah, and I like a big response from my crowds. It was also really, really fun performing with Shane and his band; they brought out totally different aspects of poems I’ve been doing for years, and made them feel fresh to me.

The Gerund also fed me a big ol’ cheeseburger (no I did not order a McGee, boo me) and fed me a couple of beers, which is always a lovely touch on top of the feature stipend and merch sales. People loved me, they bought books, and I remade friends (I love you, Bobby Gibbs! I love you Alex!)

The beautiful Bobby Gibbs.

and made new friends (cartwheel for us Nick Davis, do a backstroke for me Danielle, blow us a kiss Marwan). I wish them all luck and love. They treated me like royalty, y’all, definitely check this show.

That night I slept at Mike McGee’s for the last time. *sighs*

TUESDAY – Got Poetry Live – Providence, RI

This show is run by two of my oldest friends in the performance poetry world: Ryk McIntyre and Tony Brown. They’re also two of the poets whose opinions I most respect, and go to for critique pretty much every time I put a draft into the ether. Ryk and Tony put together a little show in a cafe with an intense core of real poets and real poetry lovers.

Tony & Ryk

Among my highlights: Ryk performing “Touch Creatures” and a hot new rumination on the nature of the afterlife, Tony rocking his punk anthem, Nataly Garcia’s crazy awesome kidney piece (keep an eye out for this woman, for your own good!),

Nataly

and a poet coming up to me after the show and saying, “You’re holding tension here,” then touching a spot on my spine that made me sit up straight, then smiling and saying, “Relax. It’s all coming together,” then he left.

This guy.

My very own mystic of the moment, I like that. After the show, Ryk thanked me for doing a really energetic feature even though the room wasn’t packed to the gills – but it is always a question of quality over quantity.

It was such a joy to hang out with Ryk and Christopher Johnson afterward. The two of them are on some odd couple shit, and it’s kinda delightful. Besides, hanging out with fellow professionals after a feature is one of my favorite activities, and both these men are good friends.

Christopher & Ryk

I crashed in Ryk’s basement that night, and got to mingle with Autumn and Melissa the next day.

WEDNESDAY – Boston Cantab – Boston, MA

The Cantab

The Cantab is one of the country’s legendary venues, so it’s among the shows that freaks people out. Was I among the freaked-out? *shrugs* Yeah, a little. At first, I tried to compose an Impressive Set, one that would let the poets know for sure that I Deserved To Be There. Then… I toyed with my set list, and toyed with it some more, and finally rested on a set that, actually, was pretty comedic and performative. Zombies and fucking and Alanis Morisette, y’all. πŸ˜‰

The open mic was epic, like two hours long, but crazy good. Unfortunately, nerves dictated that I miss much of it. I found it cool that the Cantab has, what, five hosts who rotate in through the course of the evening!? Highly unusual, but it works: all the hosts are professionals to the core, and they work well together. The star, of course, is Simone Beaubien, whose composure and class hijack everyone’s eyes and ears. Such a pleasure to see her do her thing.

Simone

The slam was hot. Heard a poem from Meaghan Ford that made me wish I could transform my 4-minute poem “Chamber Music” into a 6-minute poem, incorporating some of her brilliant ideas.

Meaghan

And Oz Okoawo? *shakes head* He’s a beast. Ridiculous. I was sitting close to the stage at the end, and I could see Oz trembling as he performed each of his poems. That’s commitment to craft, y’all. Those of you in Boston who “have” to slam against this guy on the regular: use it. You couldn’t ask for a better sparring partner.

Oz

We went to IHOP after, yeah, and ate things. April Ranger was crazy nice to me, dudes and dudettes. She kinda lit up when we talked, which was cool, because people say great things about her all the time. I spent a peaceful night in her Lady Palace (her house, not her vagina) in Jamaica Plain.

April & Audrey at IHOP (oh my).

THURSDAY – Providence Poetry Slam – Providence, RI

AS220

I took the train back down to Providence for my AS220 feature. I’ve done this show before, and it’s one of my absolute favorite places to showcase my range. One of my stage homes, yeah, where I feel really comfortable and loved. They have the literary bent of New England, but years of ridiculous effort on the part of Jared Paul and a few others make this an extremely energetic show. On this occasion, I only performed a few poems: it turned out to be one of AS220’s semifinal bouts as they prepare a team to send to the National Poetry Slam. So I performed my little set and walked away – to a standing ovation. That’s two now, for those of you keeping track at home!

Megan Thoma rocks just as she was reputed to rock. She’s got the words, the style, and the dinosaur arms (YES). To this day I’m pondering the nature of anal sex. Seriously, it’s good to hear a poet go unabashedly funny and smart and sexy librarian.

Thoma

Sam Teitel? This kid’s got funk. The good kind. Structurally the most innovative poet I’ve seen command a crowd in ages, and it was smooth, y’all. Nick Davis showed balls (not literally [ahhh, Providence joke!]) and sheer magic, taking every risk and rocking every emotional potential the crowd had to offer. Christopher Johnson? ha. A little smile creeps up on my face when I see veterans holding back on their firepower, just a little, just enough. Must say he schooled everyone on that last poem; he knows exactly what to do with that crowd. Johnson is unfuckwitable when he wants to be.

Chris schooling the crowd.

Any North Beast poets I talked to over that week who mentioned being baffled by what Providence wants – look at how Jared hosts. Look at what Chris does. This is not a passive crowd; they’ll listen, but they want to fucking rock.

And I want to say for the trillionth time I love love love love Jared Paul. I think he was the first slammaster to ever offer me a feature, something like two years ago, and he has always had my back. There, I feel better now. πŸ™‚

Jared & Sarah

After we ate great pizza, and everyone was beautiful.

FRIDAY – The White Haus – Jamaica Plain, NY

White Haus wall.

This was the first time I performed at a haus party (yes, I’m funny). The White Haus is an artists’ collective that features impromptu events all the time. It’s a very cool place, one of those spots that blooms controlled chaos.

Maybe my favorite.

I love places where artists are given free reign, I just love ’em. It reminds me of when I was a teen and I wanted to turn my room into the Amazon rainforest.

Same basic idea, right?

The woman who set up this show? Casey Rocheteau, a friend of mine from the college days who I hadn’t seen since then. So we had a squealing reunion in her kitchen while she cooked umm, DELICIOUS tofu.

Casey is cooler than you.

Not the Wind! Not the Flag!, a band from Toronto, did an atmospheric soundscape of a set which everyone really enjoyed. Then Casey opened up with a set of calm, intensely personal poems that had our little audience visibly leaning forward for more. Jamie followed with a set of dark, dreamtime poems from his manuscript, and I was nodding, and very pleased indeed, because his work has noticeably grown in ambition and grandeur. I hadn’t heard either of these poets in several years, and how happy it made me to see they’ve been working continuously since then, and their voices are resonant on an entirely different level.

J*Me

I closed the night with a range of poems and songs played very intimately, like bedtime stories. Love performing for poets. It’s such a deep pleasure to know that they get what I’m doing. It feels especially great to get props from the New England poets and organizers because, like the Bay, they feel like my poetic family. That’s where I first learned about slam, and that’s one of the places I’ve felt happiest bringing the love home.

***


That was my last New England feature, and the end of my tiny tour. Next post: the Women of the World Poetry Slam in Columbus, OH.

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