Archive | May, 2010

Libertarian Spirit: ATL Post #2

30 May

I was lying on my little mattress yesterday watching anime, unwinding from the emotional circus of Write Bloody’s announcement, thinking about writing, and one of the final episodes featured Kenpachi Zaraki, a captain of the Soul Society whose ferocity and pure lust for battle terrifies his enemies, and even his comrades.

In the episode I watched, where Zaraki takes command of his unit for the first time, he walks into the dojo and tells his squad, essentially, “I won’t censor any of your opinions, nor will I endorse any of your opinions. Do what you want.” That statement made me absolutely love that character.

At the best of times I feel that way on the road, free of censure and constraints, embracing all possibility. I’m a person who loves freedom, who can handle responsibility but works to transcend expectations, and being a traveling artist suits this side of myself nicely.

Ven and I set out from Richmond fairly late, and traveled into the thick of the Southeast. When you become accustomed to traveling through small states, or the edges of big ones, the vaster regions can kinda blindside you. So yeah, we were in Virginia for a long time, and the Carolinas were pretty serious, too. But we finally made it to Raleigh in time for an impromtu lunch – Ven and I literally called our Raleigh friends when we were an hour away to get them to meet us.

We walked into downtown Raleigh and I had that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling in a good way, where I was owning my otherness. We got to the Raleigh Times, which has very cool decor: it’s wallpapered with huge, blown-up photos of old-school Raleigh and the original newspaper crew (read: dead white guys with cool hats who don’t smile).

Inside the Raleigh Times.

Very neat. Jesucristo that food was good. I had a sandwich of pulled pork from a local, sustainable farm, and we dug into fried pickles (WHO KNEW?)

Fried pickles are not a game.

with Ven’s friend Matt and my old friend Diana.

Diana.

We hung out and got Ven some super-potent coffee, an unusual break from his accustomed Starbucks fix.

On the road, the early evening air smelled wonderfully rich and sweet.

Ven and I didn’t get into Atlanta until 2 or 3 AM. Karen was sweet enough to stay up and wait for us until we got to her and Malika’s surprisingly luxurious place. It had been a long day, so we crashed immediately.

The next day, before the show, was mellow. Ven roamed around with his camera and I hung around the house with Karen and Malika. Chad and Nicole stopped in, in the middle of a long journey up the coast, and hung out with us for a while, then crashed for a few hours. That’s exactly the kind of random shit I love, running into other friends in unexpected places, everyone doing her/his own thing, pursuing different adventures. There’s such pleasure in that. The duct tape messenger bag Nicole surprised Karen with,

Karen was ecstatic.

the meltingly delicious split pea soup with homemade croutons Karen and I ate the next day,

Um, YES.

Ven and Karen and I walking around through a park after the show.

Ven took pictures too, I'll show you later.

Even the abrupt, haphazard way that Ven and I arrived in and departed from each city on our journey pleased me, because getting up and leaving in an instant feels very liberating to me. Knowing all you need is in the car, you’re gassed up and good to go whenever, wherever you want.

Though to be real, in this aspect I’m mostly talking about traveling, not touring. When you’re touring, there are always obligations – places to be at particular times, money to be made, and other folks’ expectations to negotiate…

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Wow.

28 May

Write Bloody Press just announced that I’m among the authors selected for publishing this year. Ima have a real book, babies! XD

Socialist Heart: ATL Post #1

26 May

After a few days’ rest in DC, my old friend Ven and I packed up his car (okay, Ven did all the packing, that’s his OCD) and headed south. Months earlier, I’d agreed to participate in one of Queen Sheba’s invitational slams in Atlanta.

I was flattered she asked me. People had given me great receptions on the road, but I still didn’t really feel like a rock star in a big way. Folks who get asked to do invitationals are usually either locals, friends with the band, or acknowledged as being worth widespread attention.

Of course, burnout had a serious hold on me. If New England had drained me something serious, WoW was the crowning blow. I had no business going back on the road so soon. Probably I would have lost my shit if I hadn’t been traveling with Ven.

Ven.

Ven and I go back about fifteen years. He’s someone I’d trust with my babies and my bail bonds. We’ve been on several road trips together, mostly to West Virginia (one of Ven’s favorites), and he’s someone I call every time I return to DC.

We left our little city and headed south in a 95 way. The weather? So overwhelmingly gorgeous. DC was at the peak of spring, mild weather, lots of sun, cherry blossoms and flowers all over. I remember being happily dazzled by the crowds of daffodils.

DC daffodils blooming.

As we drove towards Richmond, though, oh, the heat began to dance. I swear the sun grew more yellow, and we went with the windows rolled down. I slept a lot. I sang. Ven played a bunch of music off his old cassette tapes, including The Police. We talked a lot, then we stayed mostly quiet. We caught some rush hour traffic, but it was a good trip.

Aforementioned sun had grown even fatter as dusk drew near and we got into downtown Richmond. Ven and I were super hungry at that point, so we met my brother, John S. Blake, and Ven’s friend Kevin at a diner with notoriously excellent burgers and shakes.

Kevin.

God’s Fucking Galoshes. I still cherish the feel of those foodstuffs. BURGER. CHARRED ON THE OUTS, RED IN THE INTERIOR. BLEU CHEESE AND BACON. THE BUN HELD UP WELL.

Saints have been martyred for less.

ALSO THE MILKSHAKE MIGHT HAVE BEEN ANGEL EJACULATE. ALL I RECALL IS THE FLAVOR OF CHERRIES AND MILK AND COLD.

It even had sprinkles.

We went to a wine bar afterward, where Kevin and I drank to mild dizziness and Ven and John did not. When it became very late, we bade brother goodnight. I was a little sad. At this point, I knew I was moving to Chicago, and soon. No more spontaneous bus rides to DC or Richmond. The two of us have grown really close over the last year… I’ll never forget the afternoon I felt so sad, and John called me at random and I told him and he jumped on a bus that day just to get me to smile. He also somehow managed to make it to DC during one of the crazy blizzards we had this winter. We know secrets about each other. We read each other’s poems, too. 😛

John S. Blake.

I haven’t seen John since then, two months ago, which is about as long as we’ve ever gone without seeing each other since we became friends.

The rest of us drove back to Kevin’s house, where Ven inhabited the couch and I collapsed, as haphazardly as possible, fully clothed and perhaps without bedding, on the air mattress in the other room.

Now you KNOW I was tipsy, and you KNOW I was tired; I’m on some princess & the pea shit with air mattresses, but that night I was. out. cold.

I made a lot of mistakes.

21 May

Preface: Language consists of placeholders. In the same way that money is an almost universally accepted placeholder for value/worth, words are placeholders for thoughts, images, and emotions. Words and phrases mark what people who share the same tribe, village, town, city, culture, class, lexicon or beyond hold in common understanding as to definition or value.

Cliches and stereotypes exist for a reason. Both definitions overlap with the word “truism” because a cliche or a stereotype is “true-ish”. We use cliches and stereotypes as placeholders in our brains to help us to operate more efficiently as we travel through the world. At their best, cliches and stereotypes help us to read or communicate a situation quickly; on the other end, of course, they foster sloppy writing, ignorance, or sometimes transmute into slurs, hate crimes, or worse.

A self-conscious writer, one who’s just begun to consider the craft in the context of all who’ve written before, soon learns to disavow cliches. Although they communicate meaning quickly and efficiently, relying on cliches can hinder the development of a writer’s unique style. More sophisticated poets or satirists sometimes return to cliches to play with these notions after they’ve gained confidence in their own voices and feel they understand well enough the framework these placeholders set up.

When you announce to people you’re moving somewhere or traveling somewhere, most respond in cliches. The first time I traveled to Guatemala alone, as a woman, and knew no one there, whenever I told people, everyone who’d been told anything about the country said, “Be careful. Guatemala’s dangerous.” Likewise, when I told people the naturalist and I were moving to the Bay Area after graduating college, people said, “Well, it’s expensive.”

In both cases, I ignored the talking people, but in both cases, the talking people were generally correct. Guatemala definitely can be dangerous, if you don’t pay attention: as in many Latin American countries (and many outside the US), the CIA’s meddling (read: assassination and conspiracy) disrupted the country’s foundation 56 years ago, just as it was coming into its own as a democratic nation. I haven’t been to Guatemala in eight years, and I’m not the most observant person, but when I went, the fissures were obvious. You could see it in the broken infrastructure, and yeah, it sounds cheesy, but you could see it in the eyes of the people who lived there. And you knew where you were supposed to travel with back-up, because folks warned you where to go and not go alone. Our government annihilated something integral to that place, and poverty and despair breeds violence. But the place is in no way overrun by that fear. So many things we forget are still alive there.

Because few of us (US citizens) travel often, people tend to have overblown stereotypes when it comes to places. When the naturalist and I moved to the Bay, life was expensive. Very, very expensive. The rent was astronomical compared to what I’d known living off-campus in Massachusetts for a few semesters. The food was much more costly. Rent was obscene. And gigolos were charging $150 a quickie? As if. *snorts* Not like I have to pay for it. But I told the naturalist the same thing I told myself: We can exist here. There’s a way. There must be a way, or else no humans would be here at all. The Bay was and is habitable. But it was much more expensive than I thought, in the end, in ways I hadn’t imagined.

The major Chicago stereotype I’ve encountered thus far, having lived here for six weeks? “You’re coming to Chicago at a good time,” this from the natives or residents. Folks who don’t live here say, “…but the winters…” Hearing the same thing over and over gets boring, but I suppose I’ve grown old enough to listen to the truisms others spit. I’d like to live here, but I’m not at all interested in braving a full winter with full wind chill nowadays. And if said coldness should have a double meaning the way “expense” does in the Bay? *shakes head* I’m not into that. I’d rather be the one who feels than the one who doesn’t.

Right now, this city is gorgeous enough to shatter me. The buildings and bridges and parks and rivers and people… It’s a special place. I live in Albany Park, a quiet, family-oriented, leafy,

Dandelions and shit.

multicultural neighborhood in northwestern Chicago. Yesterday, my excellent Aunt Lee took me to lunch downtown, where tall shiny buildings sprout,

very shiny.

and we talked family and life in general. She dropped me at the Bucktown/Wicker Park Library and I browsed the stacks like an addict, then sat for a few hours reading graphic novels,

This one made me sad, which makes it good, right?

nervously avoiding families (I was reading in the children’s section). When my time was up, I walked to the Young Chicago Authors hideout in the East Village and worked with the Speak’Easy Ensemble for a show we’re putting up next week.

I work with crazies.

So far, the balance feels good here. I think I have, at the most, two more years of semi-city living in me. My guess is I’ll live in the heart of a major city when that hourglass runs out, but the potential of farm or country, or mostly transient life stays possible for me. We’ll see.

Yesterday I got an email telling me I’d been accepted to be a Cave Canem poet. I still don’t know what that means, really. And it’s beginning to look like none of my close friends will be there. Grateful, but sad. Maybe that’s my default. Working on owning aloneness, and happiness. I love you. I’ll see you soon.

Love, Love, Love.

13 May

A Short Note About Love

I say fuck love all over the place. If you have a chance to ream Cupid, or, better, to scalp him while you’re reaming him, please do so in my name.

[Um…theoretically. Please don’t rape and murder any actual human being to make me feel good, because (I promise) that won’t help. Me at least. And it probably won’t help you.]

Maintaining a relationship on the road is difficult at best. Some folks make it work for a while, but most who continue to make it work get settled together fairly quickly. There are exceptions. A few in our community have transitioned well from long-distance relationships or committed polyamory to traditional coupling, or some permutation involving openness and talk and genuine expression. They’re few. The long-distance stats are hindered by the general openness of poets to flux and all the romance and sex that goes along with it, I’d guess. The poly stats? Hmmm… Being responsibly poly (imho) takes a lot of maturity and clarity, excellent communication and self-awareness from all parties. Which is, as you must know, my dears, rare. Gorgeous when you can find it. And I’m happy to say it exists! But it is, unfortunately, rare.

So: given your livelihood asks you hop from place to place regularly, who waits for you at home? Your blood, hopefully. The friends you know from way back when, hopefully. Your man/woman? Well. For many of us, that’s where hope stretches thin. We’re not a school that waits for ‘Dear John’ letters, and certainly not ‘Dear John’ emails. As performers, we’re accustomed to being makers and destroyers; even simply as purveyors of this new interwebz thing, we’re accustomed to creating and destroying on a whim – and relationships are no different. Better to negate than to wait for the hammer to fall.

Those of us who regularly experience the euphoria and crash that comes with performance, plus the stress and time-warp of travel, often look for love affairs to soothe us, or simply to put us back in time and place. To know that, by touching the back of a Midwestern woman who has to wake for work by noon, we actually exist in this place and time…that alone can be such a comfort…

Ha, I’ve talked to Kim Johnson about this, and the phenomenon is surely different for women, because we generally just don’t get groupies like that. But for men, the opportunity to find assurance in a lovely fan’s arms each night is very real.

*shrugs*

I don’t fuck groupies. I understand the impulse, but fucking for fucking’s sake is not where my joy lies. Idolatry makes me extremely uncomfortable, as well. The men and women I’ve loved best have been those with whom the god/goddess complex is less of an issue.

But I know men’s experience in the game is very different, and I think women who identify as mostly lesbian have a different story as well. I can’t speak to either, really. As a woman who’s mostly straight and almost absolutely committed to her work, when I need to be kissed, I try to seek out lovers who truly understand and support that, and all it comes with. They’re few.

So regardless of my self-imposed hype, I stay pretty single. The work is that important. Shit, so am I. My track record with men ain’t half bad (I have good taste), but nobody can love me well unless I can. Women (especially), please read A Room of Her Own, if you haven’t, and seriously feel Woolf on all of that.

This post was supposed to be about love. My heart got broken again, recently, just when I thought that was impossible. Miracle 1? I still really do know what love means, probably better than ever. Miracle 2? I’m still IN love. Miracle 3? I really wanted to tell you all about this. Now I have.

Heart, Lungs, Legs (with apologies to Daemond Arrindell): WoWPS Post 4 and Final.

10 May

As an artist, I find it very easy to slip between the extremes of narcissism and self-negation, isolation and codependency. For a moment in that Green Room in Columbus, I felt really alone. A lot of poets had coaches or buddies to hold their hands: Megan brought Ayinde along for comfort, Tristan chose Baz to advise her, Eboni had Falu and Mo, Sierra had Colin,

Sierra & Colin.

and a lot of the women who’d made some kind of Finals in the past (rightfully) seemed to have a kind of preexisting sisterhood. Since I wasn’t repping a venue, and hadn’t for a good couple of years, I didn’t feel like I had folks in my corner rooting for me in the same way.

Of course, I hadn’t been alone at any point, and I wasn’t then.

Celebrating making the list.

Since I started slamming, I’ve had people holding my hand, pushing me to stay in the game and get better. Too many, far too many to name everyone, but going into this particular competition, Tony Brown gave me excellent, thorough critique on the three new poems I brought into prelims, Khary Jackson told me, as early as WoWPS the year previous, that I could definitely do it, and constantly pushed and inspired me to write more, my SF women (Mona Webb, Kim Johnson, and Lucky 7) gave me a quiet room to rest in the night before Finals,

Mona Webb, my first coach.

Copperhead Red and Andi Kauth agreed to be my posse in those restless moments when I was waiting for the final list to go up,

Copperhead Red.

Panama Soweto reminded me throughout the competition to trust my own instincts and told me wonderful jokes when my nerves were getting the best of me, and Sean McGarragle was my on-site hand-holder, meeting me outside between poems to advise me and tell me how things felt from the crowd.

Backstage proper, Megan and I gravitated to each other.

Megan's legs, two of innumerable gorgeous parts of her.

Rickman and I met in Richmond about a year ago, through Survivor, my brother and her coach. We supported each other through prelims, and as two of the dark horses in the race, coming from the same region of the country, the bond felt natural and welcome. Rachel McKibbens, who performed the sacrificial poems for the first two rounds, was a great help to me and everyone else. At one point, she comforted each of us individually, telling us all that no one could do exactly what each of us could do.

Rachel, also being fucking hilarious.

Rachel and Gypsee Yo were also two women who took me aside once I’d qualified for Finals and told me, “It’s about time,” which was totally unexpected, and brought me to tears…

But yes, we did the draw, and lo, I pulled a ten out of twelve. That’s a fantastic draw, for all of you keeping track at home. It was especially good for me given the way the round played out. One poet after another brought the dramatic, the tragic, beautiful but consistently solemn and heavy work. As the first round wore on, I got more and more restless, because I wanted to flip that energy soooo badly, and I began to worry someone else would catch on and beat me to it. Rachel saw the same trend. She kept saying aloud, to the room, “If I were a coach in this bout, I know exactly what I’d do right now. I know exactly who I’d send up,” and I knew we were thinking the same thing, and I hoped she wouldn’t offer that information up to the room. If someone had asked her, I’m sure she would have shared – but no one did. So we had a run of nine serious poems leading into mine.

And oh, it felt so fucking good to bring a funny poem onstage at that point. Stepping out into that spotlight, looking out at the full and eager house, how lovely and buzzing was that moment, especially knowing that the audience and I were on the express train to Joyville. Spot on, y’all. I felt like the Love Doctor. To me, nothing feels better than doing the right poem at the right moment, especially when it’s a funny poem – I can never get enough of that palpable relief and happiness that radiates from the audience. The judges felt me too, and I walked away with the high score of the first round.

Crazy eyes are my specialty.

***

INTERLUDE: How to Be a Funny Poet


WoWPS was one of a long list of competitions I’ve attended that made it apparent that lot of poets are afraid to perform funny work, especially when the stakes are high. This is justified only insofar as we as a culture tend not to give humor the respect it deserves. I talked to Mike McGee about winning his title using two funny poems out of three, and the kind of latent disrespect he felt from some of the community – as though winning with humorous work was somehow less valid. When Sonya Renee won her title, I imagine some of the same judgment was passed on her (although there were quite obviously other elements at play as well).

But laughter is as essential as tears. As a competitor, you really ought to have at least a few funny poems in your repertoire. Take my advice, darlings, and diversify the tone of your offerings. Or else I promise: if I think I can beat you and make the audience laugh in the process, I will do it every chance I get.

I was pleased, however, that a couple of different poets asked me, after competition was over, how to write a satirical poem. That’s a good look! It means I actually did get props for bringing the funny, and more poets are thinking about doing the same. It’s especially exciting, for me, to think of more women bringing funny poems, as we are generally so fucking eager to be taken seriously. These thoughts are especially for those women who want to get laughs.

1. “Funny” comes in many forms. Think about the voice you’re going for. Wry, sarcastic, deadpan, cheesy? Who/what makes you laugh? Study comedians who you like and think about why what they do works for you. If you don’t know many comedians, ask folks for recommendations. Think about your body: can you pull off physical or slapstick humor? Bringing a high-energy funny poem is often the best means of using the entire stage – and if you can do that well, you’ll reap the rewards.

2. Timing is everything. I was just talking to Baz about this. Some people have a natural sense of comedic timing. Others have to work a lot harder to make their jokes carry. Most folks mess up their timing a lot when they first begin to write funny poems, stepping on the audience’s laughter and rushing through jokes. Then there’s also the issue of keeping the momentum up and keeping the poem moving, so letting the laughs go on too long can be a danger too. It takes a fair amount of practice to learn how to play a funny poem to a room (and the laughs often come at different moments in different rooms, so some measure of flexibility is key).

3. Write your poems short. Most of my comedic poems clock in at about 2:30 if I read them straight through. That gives me a full 30+ seconds to allow the crowd to laugh.

4. Seriousness as foundation. Very few poets I know can pull off poems that are just plain silly in real competition (again, Sonya and Mike come to mind). That takes a pretty real mastery of comedy, I think. The audience generally wants to feel like you have something important to say, even if you say it with a wink and a nod. My two most reliable comedic poems (The Body Beautiful and The Miscegenator) both have an element of gravitas: the former poem flips in tone at the end and goes sincere, and the latter stays big and ridiculous but talks about a topic that people take very seriously.

5. Seriousness as spice. Ekabhumi told me that every serious poem should have a funny moment, and every funny poem should have a serious moment. This moment is what he refers to as a “release valve”, a chance for the audience to breathe. Generally I think this is very sage advice: when you give your crowd a little moment off, they tend to come back to you refreshed and ready for more.

***

I had a similarly lucky draw for the second round, and similarly good fortune in having style and content that contrasted strongly with my competitors’. The green room was suddenly almost empty going into the last round. My Rickman was gone, Rachel was gone, I was going first, and I was out of poems I really, really wanted to perform. I did the poem I thought was the cleanest and strongest out of what I had left, but for the first time that night I knew I wasn’t hitting it. It was the wrong poem for that moment, and I felt that the instant I started performing. I talked to Chauncey about this later, and she said that folks don’t really seem to understand just how many poems you need to get up there and stay up there, and I think she’s right. But taking fourth was a great honor for me. I’m proud of myself, and I’m super thankful to everyone who helped me get that far. I proved something to myself that night, and I walked away very happy indeed.

The End.

Abraxas

8 May

I’m bothered, I’m really bothered, because I don’t know what to say. I met someone online, pretty much, who’s actually close to folks I hug whenever I’m near them. Jeff and I weren’t close, but we definitely could have been. Fuck. He was just sweet to me. Just sweet. I never thought about it. He was a good man. I really hoped to know more of him. I’m sorry Scott, Vernell, and anyone who knew him. I’m sorry he’s gone. From what I saw, he was a really great man. I’m so, so sorry for the loss of him.