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Labia Versus the Machine: Round One.

16 Dec

In a recent post, my friend Karen made some interesting comments and observations about women in slam. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about and written a lot about, and still endlessly fascinating. I’m going to write a few posts reflecting on what it means to live this profession with this here vagina.

While at iWPS this year, I noticed (on FB) that an ex of mine was very noticeably, openly supporting a few competing poets. Although I was in solid contention after the first night, and made a point to let him know, his silence towards and about me saddened and overwhelmed me. This is a man who I’ve worked very hard to support and promote professionally from the very beginning. This is also a man who, even when we were together, displayed occasional jealousy and ambivalence when I began to be successful in this field.

This relationship didn’t end well, and it’s clear he’s still carrying a lot of sadness which seems to exacerbate the aforementioned behaviors. He’s also incredibly competitive, which explains part of the reason why he didn’t always support me while we were together. Karen’s take on it was simply that it’s impossible to be friends with some exes. Fair. I don’t blame him for that. And this is, in some ways, just one particular love story gone wrong. But this incident inspired me to talk about something I’ve had on my mind for a while.

For a woman poet, particularly one who almost exclusively dates straight men, it’s extremely important to be involved with someone who supports her art. I CANNOT emphasize this enough, and I can not say this too often. If your partner tries to prevent your writing, performing, competing, or touring, overtly or otherwise, I’d recommend you get out of that situation immediately.

If your partner is another poet, I’d highly recommend being involved with one who respects and enjoys your art. If your partner is a civilian, I don’t think it’s crucial that he/she understand your work, be a fan, or/and come to your shows, because poetry really isn’t everyone’s thing. But if this is what you do, make sure you’re involved with someone who gives you space and time to pursue your craft, and who, at the least, can be happy with and for you when you do well.

I love my ex very, very much, but this is an issue we’ve discussed and argued over too many times. And I know too many women artists (most of us, it seems) who have struggled hard for validation in our own homes – as though the weight of the world outside weren’t enough.

Be excellent. Be safe. ❤


Because I need to write new work…

2 Nov

…and it helps to have a network of folks to crit, talk shit, and rub my belly whilst I’m doing so, I’ve decided to participate in November’s 30/30 – which means writing 30 poems in 30 days. Check my notes on Facebook or lj if you want a peek at what’s coming offa the toppa. ❤

you came to take us/to recreate us

14 Oct

What an insane month it’s been. Capping off an insane summer. Working through my first manuscript was by far the most challenging and loneliest process I’ve experienced as a poet. Right now I feel exhausted, a little sad but satisfied, and eager to make new work.

So let’s not talk about that just yet. Let’s talk about Chicago instead.

This song right here.

Yes, a little love post about the Chi poetry scene. I moved here to be a part of it, feeling like I could both learn and contribute in a meaningful way, and folks have been really welcoming. I’ve stayed transient since moving here, and when I’ve been home, I’ve stayed fairly agoraphobic – so there are a lot of shows I either haven’t seen or haven’t seen enough of to really talk about; here are just a few Chi-town poetry highlights from your favorite misanthrope.

The Encyclopedia Show

Robbie Q. Telfer’s brainchild is one of my favorite shows in the country. Encyclo is among a new wave of shows that’s redefining performance. Their super-talented ensemble cast stays sharp, fresh and funny, and they invite top-shelf artists from all fields to contribute to each happening. Blockbuster and beyond, babe, if you didn’t know. Small wonder Encyclopedia’s gone viral, spreading from Oklahoma City to South Korea. *shrugs* You prolly don’t have to hit the Chi to see this show; at this rate, some permutation will be in your town very soon. (monthly)

Uptown Poetry Slam

The show that started it all stays one of my favorite slams in the nation. A lot of that has to do with SlamPapi Marc Smith, the man who invented the game that revolutionized poetry. He still hosts at the Green Mill, and he still shapes what the show means. Loves, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Marc do his thing. And for the slam nutcases: it’s very difficult to grasp the heart of the seed of this thing until you’ve heard SlamPapi himself sing, rant, and berate m’fs, all out of love. (weekly)

Mental Graffiti

MG doesn’t have the same outsider pull that the Mill does (by virtue of venue and legacy, in large part), but MG is where poets perform for poets. It’s one of the hardest rooms in the country – but also one of the most attentive and familial. I stay swearing that Tim Stafford, the host on most nights, is the funniest man alive – and the crew that works mostly behind the scenes includes Emily Rose and Amy David, two of the most solid organizers we’ve got. It’s a great place to get an honest read of your poems, and it’s a great night if you want to hear a range of fantastic work. (monthly)

Vox Ferus

This organization, in an earlier incarnation, actively brought me to Chicago. I moved here so I could be a Vox Ferus poet, back when the group I lived with was still defined as such, and our house was still the meeting place for the Vox Ferus After Dark workshops. The workshops still bring together professional and aspiring poets from a range of different sources, offering challenging and very diverse critique from its varied participants. Marty and Tristan work very hard to make the space safe in the right way, and difficult in the right way. VF is a great place to grow your game, and a great place to network with poets and poetry lovers. (bimonthly)

Real Talk Live

This is my baby. I developed the concept of this show in conversation with Andi Strickland, then my housemates, neighbors and I worked together (and continue to, although we’ve all moved) and made a pretty cool thing. Our idea is a commitment to honesty, joy and diversity. The notion is to give ourselves, the performers, and the audience permission before each show begins to be genuine. All the Real Talk folk are poets, but we try to book and invite folks who rep outside of that realm as often as possible, trying to actively cross genres and encourage collaboration while maintaining serious integrity of performance. This is also the most racially mixed show, in leadership and attendance, that I’ve seen in the Chi. (monthly)

Young Chicago Authors

This 20-year-old organization is incredibly crucial to the Chicago poetry scene. It would be difficult to understate its importance. With programs like WordPlay, the Saturday Morning Writing Program, GirlSpeak, Louder Than a Bomb, and all their other programs that bring professional and youth poets together, YCA has breadth and influence that benefits the poetry community immeasurably. They’ve got a few rockstar poet-organizers in their ranks, notably Toni Asante Lightfoot and Robbie Q. Telfer.

Muzzle Mag

I might be jumping the gun a little here, as Muzzle’s second issue hits the net tomorrow – and perhaps it’s a bit off-base to praise an online magazine that could be read as national, but eight out of the ten chief editors (including me) currently live in the Chi. Anyhow, I’ll praise Muzzle as it feels right now. Stevie Edwards, one of the poets who came out of Vox Ferus, recently created a magazine that’s truly progressive in its mission and influence, with high standards of content, but true openness to the spoken word community, and a real commitment to stylistic diversity. As an editor, I’m particularly impressed with the process Stevie’s implemented, which allows the rest of us to critique submissions with total anonymity. (quarterly)

Other noteworthy poetic endeavors in the Chicago community include: John Paul Davis’ Bestiary, a gorgeous lit mag that highlights the work of excellent poets and authors; the Speak’Easy Ensemble, a performance poetry troupe Marc Smith founded that brings performance poetry into awesome and unexpected places; In One Ear, the weekly poetry show at Chicago’s legendary Heartland Café; Safe Smiles, Billy Tuggle’s monthly, high-quality open mic at Trace nightclub; Mojdeh Stoakley’s Lethal Poetry, an amazing show that actively connects artists to community service; Cara Brigandi’s Grown Folks Stories, a monthly forum for storytelling that’s just as it sounds; Ian Belknap’s Write Club, a monthly show that challenges select artists to duel, debate-style, on pre-set topics; The Paper Machete, a weekly “live magazine” that stays topical, and doesn’t have the poetry bias that a lot of the other shows I’ve mentioned do. 😉

So yeah. This is a great town for art. Come visit. Move here. And if you already live here, even if you’re a homebody/introvert like me, you should be very proud of the way art breathes in this city. I sure am. ❤

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.

Agent of Chaos.

25 Feb

some Boise robots.

I’m beginning to think about getting settled again, much more so, yeah. Trolling cragslist tonight. Never ever my favorite thing, even less so when I’m not sure how my existence will look in the upcoming months. But for now I’m putting out feelers. I love this transient existence, but, paradoxically, the better I get at it, the more I fantasize about having a gym or a dojo where I regularly spar, my own kitchen, my own key, and a shelf where books and anime live.

There are times when my lifestyle contrasts starkly with those of the people I visit. Visiting Boise afforded me a great example of what can happen when worlds collide. I was staying with the incomparable Cheryl Maddalena, a fierce, honest poet and organizer.


Cheryl and I have much in common: we have similar worldviews, we often use the same content and techniques in our poetry, we both rock quirky femmey feminism on the regular, and we both developed our performance styles in the Bay. The trappings of our lives are very different, though. Cheryl has several degrees, a slam scene she founded and for which she’s responsible, a husband with a Real Job, two gorgeous little boys, two cats, and a big house in Boise to encompass them all.

Cheryl & sons.

Nice quiet neighborhood.

What would I do if I had people to take care of and big pretty things? I’m not even great at taking care of the assorted people and things already connected to me. All trappings have to be super streamlined. Anything high maintenance either gets left at home, or has to make do with getting ironed once a month/a whole bunch of text messages.

So what happens when these two worlds collide? Let’s draw a Venn diagram:

Small, cacophonous boys shock the weary traveler awake. The debaucherous visitor coerces the mild-mannered housewife into staying up til 4 AM writing and drinking beer. Cheryl makes Laura a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles and a glass of milk,

It was so delicious.

Laura stubs her cigarette butts out in Cheryl’s pretty porcelain bowl. /diagram

The other creature I spent lots of time with was Janelle.


Janelle swims around in the center of our diagram. Sometimes she’s the lightning rod of raucous, sometimes she waves in the current like algal bloom. Janelle and I ate delicious gourmet pizza, played trivia, frequented bars, beguiled strange men, watched a row of drunken patrons stand on a bar, pull their pants down, and let the bartender stick snifters to their ass cheeks…

If only I’d had a camera with a flash, I would show you proof.

When Cheryl and Janelle and I hung out together, we did things that were both enriching and frivolous, but mostly harmless, such as making earrings, or watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

My earrings.

When Janelle and Tara and I hung out together, we drank a lot.

Told you.

*shrugs* That’s why Janelle’s in the middle of the diagram.

Anyway, I felt like the loudest creature in Idaho. My time in Boise inspired me to coin the term, “Agent of Chaos” to describe this manifestation of myself, a blaze of honor – but also a warning, I guess. My bouts of wildness suit me because I don’t have to worry about feeding other people or making it to class on time, and because my shadow and I are in constant rapport. I have more to say about chaos, and I will tell you later, I promise.


INTERLUDE: Sonnets, Son.

Boris Pasternak once wrote, “form is the key,” actually as part of a longer quotation, but it’s a thought I return to from time to time, especially when I consider poetic structure. A teacher of mine once taught me this, explaining that learning to write poems in form can be incredibly liberating. I like the seeming paradox of that, like walking towards the wall in the labyrinth and finding a passageway.

I’ve been reading a series of new poems by this Chris Gilpin fellow, and it’s got me excited about sonnets again. Long before I’d ever heard of this wonderful monster called slam poetry, I wrote and studied the “all balls, no cock” variety (of Q-Tip fame). Suffice it to say, I read a fair amount of sonnets over the years, and the form itself does get boring unless folks sometimes break convention in one way or another.

Sonnets are especially frustrating for me, for some reason, but Chris has got me wanting to try the form out again. Who’s with me? I’ll attempt to match anyone who wants to throw down. Classic formula here, stick to the rules or break ’em as you like. Below you’ll find the first of Chris’ series (x-posted with his permission), which got me thinking these crazy thoughts in the first place. If you like this one, ask to see his others. They’re awesome, too.


The rain beats down against my roof tonight,
a-rat-a-tat-tattering finger tapping,
insistent like a salesman’s trap-flapping
“Hey-hey, buddy, you want this one, right?”
I twist the foam earplugs into my skull.
What I want is a serious sleeping pill,
but all I’ve got is this weak-ass NyQuil
which does little to beat life’s edges dull.
I’m fucked. I’ll never get a wink of sleep.
I lay entombed in sounds of wind and rain,
while ex-girlfriends dance through my tired mind.
I count them (which is more fun than counting sheep)
and smile: if I could do it all again,
I’d choose the same ones, or at least, the same kind.

Note: the Blonde Sonnets are my experiments with the sonnet form. The rhyme schemes do not necessarily conform to the standard Shakespearean or Spenserian blueprints. But they are all 14 lines long, play with iambic pentameter and attempt a volta – a shift of perspective, or tone – after the eighth line. My goal is to write them in the plainest language, with lightness and naivety, the passing thoughts of a blonde, like me. –Chris Gilpin


The work element of Boise was fantastic. The workshop I ran was small, but I loved the challenge I set for myself and those in attendance: I brought in Rob Sturma’s “For Black Girls…” from his new book, and asked everyone to try to write a poem about blackness. Yes, in the middle of fucken Idaho. My stipulations were to try to be humorous, and to avoid white guilt as best they could. The results were excellent, enlightening, and cathartic, I think. I got a good seed out of it, the short poem I’m now calling “Black Humor”. Isaac had some really good stuff going, too; I hope he’s working on that seed.

My set was alright, lots of anthems. Found myself wishing I’d taken Cheryl’s advice and gone a bit more experimental. The best part was a poem about pomosexuality Cheryl and I cowrote (on the aforementioned 4 AM beer night) and performed together.

This was our first draft.

During the slam, Tara Brenner performed some really ornate, solid work, Janelle surprised me by going dark and vulnerable, Kristen blew my mind with her innovation, and goddamn Cheryl did that poem I love about glow-in-the-dark white boys! Boise steady takes risks and sticks the landing, all while wearing 4-inch heels. That’s the sign of a grown woman, handling shit in stilettos, if need be. For my part? These boots are made for walking. Bringing the chaos to a city near you.

I’m So Happy ‘Cause Today I Found My Friends (They’re In My Head).

15 Feb

The fun part about writing these recollections a good month or so after they happened? Realizing full well the permeability of memory. Even trying my hardest to get the details just right, I always look back on these entries and shake my head, usually with a smile, at all I’ve gotten wrong. It’s just as Basho suggests: traversing the internal and external roads are very much alike, and accepting flux keeps ya sane.

When I said I slept soundly my first night in Seattle, I meant after the two hours or so I spent sipping rum and frantically trying to compose my set, singing loudly enough for Daemond to hear me two floors up. I was exhausted from my journey from Van, but I was also petrified at the thought of disappointing Seattle. I’d felt a similar terror before Vancouver, but this was worse – the worst I’d felt since my sudden Urbana feature about a year ago, when I was so nauseous and dizzy I could barely lift my head off my arms. So I shuffled songs and poems around, picked things up and dropped them, until finally my body absorbed the basic logic of what I’d put together.

Earlier that night, Karen and Daemond expressed mild surprise that touring poets feel so intimidated before their Seattle features. Well folks, for years Seattle has consistently turned out poets of the highest caliber whose work is respected on the page, but who can also represent with pride at any national-level competition. Seattle is also, as Daemond himself pointed out, one of the only scenes in the country (if not the only scene) where all the poets on the team tend to be firmly planted in adulthood. Grown folks who’ve been around aren’t the easiest to please.

I spent a couple more hours the next day tightening things up, then watching movies (She’s Gotta Have It and The Hangover) and For the Love of Ray J, because I didn’t know how to change the channel on Inti and Daemond’s swanky TV.


INTERLUDE: What Is Blood? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Debilitating cramps struck me this morning. Standing made me dizzy with pain. This hasn’t happened to me in a while, probably because I’m dry for the now, but accustomed to drinking fairly heavily; alcohol seems to act as a blood thinner or relaxant of some kind. Anyhow, I thought it was cool. One of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton, died yesterday, and I read her book of poems, Blessing the Boats, in memoriam. Clifton writes what may be the most moving uterus verse I’ve read. I especially like the poem below because, as a single girl uninterested in bearing children, I try to always celebrate the arrival of my blood, no matter how painful or messy it may be. [For the record, I have no rights to this poem besides the existential.]

to my last period

well girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
thirty-eight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and i feel just like
the grandmothers who,
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing, wasn’t she
beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?


Daemond and I headed to the venue early, early.

Said venue.

This gave me a lot of time to feel sick to my stomach, take a little nap, and stare dolefully at empty chairs while Daemond stayed busy doing twelve things or so.

Empty chairs, oooooooh.

In due time folks showed, however, in force. The venue was full of poets I knew and didn’t, and Civilians too, you know. My sister Aliah came through with a couple of her friends. Karen and Tara showed up, though they didn’t read. Jack McCarthy did, however, and unleashed my four-chambered monster as he always does.

Mild-mannered? Think again!

Daemond read D. Silence’s “Dance”, a pleasant reminder of Doug’s poetic dexterity.

Daemond reading.

I also got to hear Sara Brickman’s excellent sacrificial poem, plus Dane Kuttler’s muscular throwdown during the slam. And really cool work from a couple of folks I’d never heard, ever.

Dane bringing the noise.

You’re prolly getting tired of hearing this over and over, but my feature was awesome. I planned a special Seattle tribute, using grunge songs in my set to salute the place, and the crowd enjoyed it muchly. It was here that I encountered my favorite audience member of the entire tour: a ladykins in the front row who enthusiastically sang along with me, even picking up my slack when I dropped the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun”.

How are these girls so cool? How do they know all the lyrics?

The set ended with a standing ovation (thanks to Tara!). Post-show was the best ego trip, damn. Tara specifically loved “The Behemoth Feasts”, my soft-spoken poem about elephants. Karen said my feature was “even better than [she’d] expected,” which I choose to take as an awesome compliment, *wink*, and Jack really liked me, too. Not a damn thing better than pleasing excellent poets.

Sara Brickman and I commenced with the beer drinking for the remainder of the show (she is adorable when she’s tipsy, y’all).


But Daemond and I ultimately decided to head back to the house, watch some movie, and call it an early night. I don’t remember what we talked about on the car ride home. Don’t remember which movie we watched. But when I reach back into time, I remember Sara’s giggle. Karen’s little smile.

There it is!

Tara’s burning eyes.

Just like that.

Jack’s brow furrowed with appreciation. I can feel exactly the euphoria and satisfaction I knew that night, that same triumph and acceptance, and the same gratitude to Daemond for inviting me in and being my friend.

I hope I never forget these things. I believe in telling these stories and writing them down. I believe in the importance of remembering love, keeping it close wherever I go. I suppose that’s one reason why I do this. My, what big words I have? The better to love you with, my dear. The better, the better to remember you.

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.