Archive | Shows RSS feed for this section

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. ❤

Advertisements

Real Talk Live: It’s the Sexiest Room You’ve Ever Seen.

20 Aug

It’s Real Talk Time! If you missed last month, make it up to yourself and join us for our next installment on Friday, August 27, 2010, 7:30p (Doors @7p) at the Real Talk House (4520 N. Monticello Avenue, Chicago, IL).

We’ve got an amazing night planned for you. Poet Jamaal Vs. May from Detroit and Comedian Brendan McGowan from Chicago are going to wow the crowd something serious.

Some info about them: Jamaal Vs. May is a poet, editor, producer and recording artist from Detroit, MI. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Atlanta Review, Verse Daily and The Collagist among other magazines and anthologies. He has received a Bread Loaf Work Study Scholarship, a Pushcart nomination, an International Publication Prize from Atlanta Review and a Cave Canem Fellowship. May is a two time Midwest Regional Poetry Slam Champion and two-time Individual World Slam finalist. He is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College and teaches poetry in public schools through the Inside Out Literary Arts Project. His first chapbook “The God Engine” was published by Pudding House Press in 2009. Production and engineering credits include The Last Poets, Dead Prez and The Four Tops. http://www.versiz.com/

Brendan McGowan is a stand-up comedian with a focus on storytelling and social satire. Born and raised on the north side of Chicago, he has performed at all the premier independent showcases in Chicago, as well as in comedy clubs throughout the Midwest. Brendan recently ranked among the Top 10 best comedians in Chicago by Comedy.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JdE4Dd-8qg&feature=related

As always, we are an 18+ performance space. There will be an open mic, but the list fills fast! Get there early to grab a spot. Requested donation at the door. Rumors of a cash bar with wine, PBR, water and soda for sale.

Join our FB group here. Invite your friends, tell everyone you know. ❤

The Avenue at 4520 Presents: Real Talk Live

16 Jun

Gorgeous Humans!

You are all cordially invited to the first ever edition of Real Talk Live, a house variety show taking place at your friendly neighborhood poet house, 4520 N. Real Talk Avenue (“Monticello”, to the layman).

We’ve planned a stellar evening for y’all, with two mind-blowing features. Our poetry feature will be none other than Omoizele “Oz” Okoawo, a force in poetry slam for nearly a decade, both as a remarkable performer and a talented coach. Oz placed in the top ten individually ranked poets in the 2007 competition, represented Boston’s Cantab Team in their 3rd place finish at the National Poetry Slam, and also represented the Cantab at last year’s Individual World Poetry Slam. If you don’t know this man’s work, prepare yourself for spectacular craft and performance, both.

We’re also going to have a special performance from two violinists from the Chicago Symphony (yeah, I said it!).

For our inaugural venture, all of the Real Talk poets will also be performing: Roger Bonair-Agard, J.W. “Baz” Basilo, Emily Rose Kahn-Shehan, Stevie Edwards, John Paul Davis, and Laura Yes Yes.

There will also be select open mic spots open, but spaces will fill up quickly – so arrive promptly at 7 PM if you want to share song, poetry, comedy, or the elusive other performing arts.

Strange games and prizes, rumors of PBR, and requested donation at the door. 18+ please! Invite your bros and sexy neighbors.

Love,
The Real Talk Family

Business vs. Pleasure – WoWPS Post #1

3 May

Will Evans, one of Columbus' many amazing organizers, with Copperhead Red.

Alright, humans. I’ve decided to take the month of May off Facebook in an attempt to improve my quality of life. I’m making exceptions for all stuff photo-related, and tagging folks on blogs – but I’m not responding to any comments, tags or posts on FB at this time. In other news: after years of courting, I asked myself to be my girlfriend – and I said yes. We are very much in love.

When last we talked story, I’d just finished an intensive mini-tour of New England and was on my way to Columbus for the Women of the World Poetry Slam. I was a little burned-out and ambivalent going in. My experiences with individual competition had been disappointing – and given the level of exposure I already had within the family, I wasn’t sure my investment (registration, travel, hotel, living expenses) would be well-spent. But a family reunion’s a family reunion, right? Leave it to me to let my heart come before business – at least in theory…

Family milling about before prelims.

***

What Makes a Great National Poetry Event

Obviously the concerns of money, relationship with the city, and all the professional stuff matter, but as a participating poet/volunteer who doesn’t really have to worry about the behind-the-scenes stuff, I have my own checklist as to what makes an event successful. The Columbus organizers did a stellar job on all these fronts.

Reasonable walking radius. Most poets don’t arrive at these events with their own transportation, so being able to walk from one venue to the next with ease is a real treat. The Columbus venues were almost all located within a few blocks of the hotel.

Good relationship with the hotel. This makes a huge difference. Nasty hotel staff have seriously fucked up some poetry moments for me. I don’t know how much the organizers can control this, except to make sure the hotel has some sense of who they’re dealing with, and to get us a 24-hour room in which to wile out. I really liked the hotel staff in Columbus. The doorman was a darling, and the cleaning staff very sweet and courteous.

Free food. Most of us are broke and don’t take good care of ourselves, so a free meal is a big deal. Especially a delicious one. Columbus offered free soul food before finals, which I hear was excellent indeed.

Appropriate venues. Cafes with sass, bars or clubs prepared to devote the evening to bouts, and accessible blackbox theaters are all fine examples. You want spots where ordinary folks will be anyway, or be near, without the poets having to compete with TVs or surly patrons for attention. The venues should also be sized appropriately, so a crowd of fifty doesn’t feel like a crowd of five. In both my preliminary venues and the finals venue, I felt the organizers had done an excellent job picking the proper spaces.

Good example of a nice, packed venue.

Good staffing. Impartial, professional volunteers make a big difference, too. Hosts make an obvious difference in the pacing and quality of a show, but all the background folks – official and otherwise – keep the event as a whole feeling organic. Columbus felt seamless.

Two of our handsome volunteers.

Asses in seats. There’s nothing more disheartening than having a room full of hot poets ready to spit – but no non-poet audience to watch or judge. This has been an issue at every national event I’ve attended – but Columbus did a good job. Bouts generally started on time, and I wasn’t witness to any truly desperate scrambling for judges.

***

With all that said, this was still the least fun I’ve ever had at a national event. The poetry was phenomenal, of course – what I got to hear of it. These months later, the two poems I heard for the first time in prelims that have really stayed with me would have to be Chauncey Beaty’s fruit flies poem (um, guffaw), and Rachel McKibbens’ last love poem (chills). When I’m competing, I don’t get to listen as closely or attentively as I’d like, so I’m afraid I didn’t get to hear or properly retain a lot of amazing poetry. That’s part of why I didn’t have that much fun. I was serious. I stayed serious through prelims, even after the bouts. I wasn’t around to play with my friends very much – but hey. I made it to finals stage. That was the goal all along.

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. 😉

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. 🙂

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.

Oh, New England!

12 Mar

Worcester.

The day after the Nuyo, Khary and I traveled (by train, the best way) to New England. I stared longingly out the window a lot. I hadn’t been back to Massachusetts – besides a transfer or two at Logan or South Station – in five years. Gorgeous, gorgeous Massachusetts. Purple and blue woods, little frozen lakes and ponds, breezes heady with sweet ice and rotting leaves. Late winter nostalgia: I miss the comfort in being sad. The deep aloneness of genuine winter that’s impossible to find in California or DC, how it ebbs and flows from melancholy and to joy as the seasons turn. The abandoned farmhouses and brick millhouses scattered in the quiet woods, sometimes peppered with graffiti, the places where kids go to feign boredom and smoke pot.

Here live Lauras sixteen to twenty-three, and all the people she loves and walks and talks with in these woods, the words they speak feeling very important, everything relies on their finding the right words… People she kisses, laughs, reads/writes and makes love with, trapped here forever. In real time, all of us are scattered now, and, but for sightings brief and occasional, almost entirely lost to each other.

Bittersweet is one of my favorite flavors.

Worcester view.

Yes, homecoming. I saw my first poetry slam ever in Worcester, back when the naturalist and I had just begun to be in love, and we still made each other happy – just happy. The Massachusetts poets were my first. Ryk McIntyre and Bobby Gibbs were at that first slam, and Bill MacMillan hosted. Iyeoka and Oz Okoawo were the first features I ever saw, at Hampshire College, followed by Tony Brown, Corrina Bain, and Sou MacMillan. Boston’s Cantab was the first Big Venue I ever attended, where I saw Jack McCarthy, Simone Beaubien, Eric Darby, and J*Me read for the first time. It would be a while before I saw Jared Paul, but I competed in a slam for the first time on his stage (long before it stuck), at the Providence Poetry Slam at AS220. The Worcester Individual World Poetry Slam was the first national event I attended, where I met Gabrielle.

Tony.

Tony picked us up from Worcester’s big beautiful train station. He’s a great first face to see. We’ve been friends for years and years, sharing poems and critique and love and snarkiness. We drove over to the house he and Missy share with Mike McGee, and the bunch of us sat around and talked for a while, unwinding a little before Mike’s Kitchen Sessions.

Missy.

***

INTERLUDE: Best Songs About the United States

Born and raised in this country as a conscientious female of color at the end of the twentieth century, I’ve had plenty of occasion to be embarrassed about my national identity (in an earlier entry, I mentioned how silly I find the concept of having national pride). It wasn’t until the night of 09/2001, when one of the deans at my college, who was trained as a storyteller, spoke to a group of us at the arts house about what genuinely is beautiful about this country, culminating in a moving rendition of “This Land is Your Land”. Since then, I’ve been very aware that my favorite songs about Americanness are songs that celebrate the place for itself. Here are a few of my favorites that meet those criteria. I’m not linking to music here, but finding renditions online should be very simple.

This Land is Your Land is one of those songs that feels really timeless, like it could’ve been around forever – but Woody Guthrie wrote it in 1940! I know, right? This might be my all-time favorite song about the US, because it celebrates the whole of the land, “from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters”, and gives custody of the land back to we the people. Never fails to move me, never fails to get me singing along.

Country Roads, by John Denver, is another gorgeous song about place. And anyone who’s ever driven through the countryside of West Virginia knows just how stunning the landscape around those parts truly is.

Autumn in New York, by Vernon Duke. Sweet, melancholy, a lovely portrait of the busy city in its quieter moments.

Oh Shenandoah is one of those songs I wail sometimes. The melody is so rich with longing – and the lyrics happen to refer to the area of the country from which I hail, so this is a special favorite of mine.

Mount Pleasant, by Tuscadero, is, of course, even closer to home. I fucken adore this song. It captures the sensibility of DC in the days when I was growing up, a pure celebration of the city for itself.

New England, by Jonathan Richman, is the song to which the title of this entry refers. Hilarious and beautiful in its simplicity, this song always gives me palpitations and crazy nostalgia.

What are your favorite songs about the United States as a place?

***

That night, a bunch of Mike McGee’s friends gathered in his kitchen to read poems. I heard a lot of innovative and well-crafted work that only reinforced the stereotype of New England as a literary mecca. I performed what I think is my best poem, if a difficult one to read (The Kunstlerroman of Roger Bonair-Agard, the Greatest Lover In the World), and got a very good response, especially from Victor Infante, who’s definitely difficult to impress. Khary did an hour-long set (!) that showcased his beautiful strangeness, his adeptness with the language of the brain and body, and his quirky humor. It was a real pleasure to see him perform a full feature for the first time.

Khary preparing his set.

I have some video from Kitchen Sessions which I’ll upload soon, I promise. I missed a lot – the battery on my little camera died after forty minutes or so – but there should be a bit of sweet footage I can share with y’all.

Kitchen Sessions poster.

Do me one favor today: take a minute or so and appreciate something of the land, even a manmade part, if you want. The oak trees in your suburbs, the lake nuzzling your city, the sun gleaming off the face of a skyscraper, the mountains or vast plains you can see in the distance when you look a particular way. Just let something beautiful and still enter your mind for a moment. When we rode through the Massachusetts countryside, I realized just how long it’s been since I gave myself a chance to really do that. But theoretically, one of the best things about being a poet is giving yourself an opportunity to allow that stillness into your life, more and more, looking more and more closely at what surrounds us, and what we take for granted, every day.

Love.

Outside Mike's window.

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.