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Through the Lens of Ven Smith: ATL Post #4 and Final.

29 Jun

I’m lucky to have a lot of talented people in my life. Many of these folks are handy with the word, but a lot of them are brilliant in other ways as well. My good friend Ven Smith is certainly one of those stars, someone who, if I could afford to, I’d definitely pay to roam the planet with me just for the sake of seeing what he sees. Ven traveled with me to Atlanta and took a bunch of incredible photos; I’m reposting a few of my favorites here, with his permission. If you like his work, friend him on FB and tell him so.

Kevin in front of Galaxy. Richmond, VA.

Me and John "Suvivor" Blake in Galaxy. Richmond, VA.

Nice shot of Kevin. Richmond, VA.

Me, John, Kevin and Ven at Galaxy. Richmond, VA.

Me on the steps of Kevin's house. Richmond, VA.

Me and Matt outside the Raleigh Times. Raleigh, NC

Me and Diana outside the Busy Bee. Raleigh, NC.

Smokestacks. Atlanta, GA.

Oakland Cemetery. Atlanta, GA.

Oakland Cemetery. Atlanta, GA.

Wes Able. Atlanta, GA.

Tyler at Kavarna. Atlanta, GA.

Tyler and Karen Garrabrant. Atlanta, GA.

Me at Grant Park. Atlanta, GA.

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…

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.

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.

When You Come Undone.

1 Mar

I had a lot of lovely chance encounters in the Bay. Hung out at Denise “Merry Sunshine” Jolly’s beautiful apartment, dinner with Mona and Denise when I first arrived in town, fresh-squeezed grapefruit drinks at Van Cleef’s, recorded tracks and ate a fabulous potluck dinner at Jamile’s place,

Jamile's potluck.

hit Mona’s elegant Ladies’ Night with Kim and Leigh Ann, drank and bullshitted with 2/3 Proletariat and Lauren, ate Bakesale Betty’s and hit the East Bay Depot with my old friend Diana,

Diana

walked around Lake Merritt with Chas, had a lovely conversation and a couple of glasses of wine with the marvelous Ekabhumi,

Ekabhumi

ran into Stephen at Whole Foods, ran into Eka and Felicia while playing pool in Berkeley, &c…

How can you NOT be good at pool when you're this tall?

I spent most of my time in the Bay with two duos, however, and I’d like to talk about them now – partly because I’m so grateful to them for their love and care, partly because I think they really illustrate the two crucial non-business friendship types essential to well-being on the road.

EXTENDED FAMILY

Kat & Jack flirting...

I stayed with Kat and Jack Thompson, to whom I affectionately refer as “Mom & Dad”. I’m their wayward daughter, which means I get my own key, and I try to let them know when I’ll be home ridiculously late, or not at all. These two don’t judge or try to control me, but they care about my well-being, who I’m with, and what’s going on in my life. They feed me sometimes. Notably, Kat fattened my ass up with BACON CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES.

Yumm...

Kat and Jack also invite me to important shit, like their wedding, and Jack’s birthday dinner at his mom’s house.

Jack's birthday.

Our relationship is excellent and abiding, and though I met Kat through poetry, what we do together covers a lot of who I am that isn’t a poet. I watch anime with Jack and play his video games. I hang out in the kitchen when Kat cooks and go patracking with her. The Thompsons let me stay on their couch, like, forever, without demanding anything of me.

My road folks.

Why This Matters When You’re Touring

You need to be around people who will love you unconditionally. A lot of the affection you get on the road can feel very performance-based (literally), sometimes very artificial, so to stay grounded, it’s important to have great friends who are either uninvolved, or only peripherally involved, in the poetry scene. It’s also important to remember that, no matter how many hours you spend absorbed in your craft, you will always be more than a poet. You need this element, people, so you don’t take yourself too seriously, and so you can take your (often) small but inevitable professional failures in stride.

EXPERTS IN ADVENTURE

Dre

The other duo I spent most of my time with was Dre and Patrick.

Patrick.

I call these two my Holy Fools, because they pursue all kinds of mischief and paths that shouldn’t work out, but somehow do – they emerge from dangerous and bizarre situations without a scratch, and there’s an inexplicable rightness to their direction. The three of us composed a half-insane poem that somehow turned out magic, hit numerous taco trucks throughout the Bay, and generally got wild. On Dre’s urging, we wandered around an abandoned estate the night after my SF feature, talking about ghosts. On a whim, Patrick took me to an amazing soul food restaurant where I had the most luxurious meal of my tour.

o heavenly pork belly

Generally, strange and wonderful things happen when these guys are around.

Why This Matters When You’re Touring

It’s important to stay grounded, as I said, but it’s hugely important to take risks and see the unexpected as well. Hopefully every show where you perform involves some of that from you and others, but again, you must remember the world outside the stage. You need to stay in love with life, to stay excited and keep your mind moving. Traveling with guides like these is the best way to get back into your body, and back into the world.

I promised I’d talk about chaos again, and here we are. The Holy Fools invite this, and I must say they’ve helped me to embrace it. I’m kind of in love with it right now. The joys of flux, of not-knowing. Chaos keeps me honest. And it keeps my temperament sweeter, for real. When I expect to not-know, and I expect to not-control, a lot of anxiety dissolves from life on the regular. It also keeps me excited. Joyful. Anything can happen.

This is a good note on which to end my PNW/Bay Area tour blog, I think. Let me leave you with a Rumi poem I absolutely love. I’ll start blogging about the leg I’m on in soon. Thanks for reading, my loves. It means a lot to me. ❤

Zero Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

The Golden State.

27 Feb

Returning to the Bay for the third time in the year and a half since I moved away finally felt like coming home. Before I even saw any of my friends I felt it. Looking down on the lights sprinkled in the folds of the East Bay hills, smelling the warm sugared air as the winter rain fell… I wanted to leap around the Oakland airport –but I let my smile handle that instead.

I was a whole different kind of terrified about performing in the Bay. I started slamming there. San Francisco was the first team I made, Berkeley the second. Out of all the folks in the slam scene, the ones in the Bay have seen me at my craziest, and my most vulnerable. They saw me slam when I was just beginning to find my voice. I was determined to show them how I’d grown.

Luckily, I booked smart, so I had plenty of chances to showcase my range. Apologies in advance if I don’t remember every detail regarding who performed where, and all. I was in the Bay for a solid three weeks, so the details are a little blurry. Anyhow, these are all the places I featured in the Greater Bay Area:

SAN FRANCISCO

The City Slam

The City Slam has a distinctive flavor. Slaminatrix Mona Webb has made a point of cultivating a safe space for women, queer folk, and people of all colors. The show feels much more sophisticated than a lot of slams, very cosmopolitan, very adult. It’s the one regular show in the Bay you can dress up for and not feel out of place – and that’s a big deal in California. Mona encourages different kinds of performing artists to come through, so there’s typically some music, sometimes theater or dance.

Chas.

**highlights: performing “Camp Victory”, our SF 2007 team piece, with Kim and Lucky 7; getting to see lots of folks for the first time since iWPS; hearing amazing poetry, much of it new, from Kim, Chas, Terry, Patrick, Dre, Lucky, Matt, and Stephen; seeing the proud tradition that started with me, as Mona’s first rookie, has continued with the flourishing of lots of young voices in the San Francisco scene.

Denise & Kim.

**lowlights: still being too disoriented to catch everyone else’s poems; feeling rushed for time; following Joaquin Zihuatenango – the gesture was really sweet on Mona’s part, and I don’t feel his poetry’s especially better than mine, but I was a little uncomfortable because Joaquin’s been doing this a lot longer than I have, he’s a national champion, and I think he would have given the feature a more polished finish.

Terry Taplin.

MODESTO

View of Inland Cali.

Although I lived in Oakland for three years, I never made it out to Modesto, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I took a train inland from the Bay. The journey was pleasant and meditative. There were plenty of open seats, and it was a sunny day on the top deck of the train. When I arrived, Sean Franco met me at the station, and we paused for a moment at a gorgeous little cafe. At twilight, we headed to the show, which had a wonderfully large audience with a great age range, many of them hungry for poetry.

Dusty Rose.

**highlights: performing in the round, super-physically, off the mic, and feeling I really got how to use the space; Sam Pierstorff’s smart, biting, but loving hosting; Shawn Franco’s startlingly quiet, naked performance; hearing challenging poems from a young man soon to be deployed; Dusty Rose’s newfound mastery of her craft; The Saint’s love poem, dedicated to yours truly.

Sam Pierstorff.

**lowlights: can’t think of one, actually. I’d call this one one of my top three performances. I had an incredible time.

Shawn Franco.

BERKELEY

The Starry Plough

More than anywhere else, Berkeley feels like my home venue. The Starry Plough is the show Christian and I used to attend religiously (again, slam is like church for me). I felt a lot of pressure to ace my Berkeley show, since it’s one of the venues poets across the country murmur about. The weather was shitty, so the crowd was a little light, but there were plenty friendly faces to make me feel at home.

Jason Motherfuckin' Bayani.

**highlights: Jamie, one of my favorites ever, hosting bawdily as ever, exhorting the crowd to get off their asses; performing “Spinster” exactly as I had to and feeling that moment of genuine grief resonate throughout the room; seeing excellent work from Stephen Meads, Sam Sax, and Jason Bayani, and several new women; rolling with the homies; getting to hang out with Shahin; Naz telling me I’d become “quite a performer”; Matt Blesse’s big grin when I got offstage letting me know I’d really done it right.

Sam Sax.

**lowlights: some folks I really hoped would show didn’t. Since Berkeley’s the show with the most poet crossover, not seeing people up to that point let me know I probably wouldn’t at all.

FAIRFIELD

Fairfield

Patrick, Dre and I drove up to Fairfield for Barbara and Go’s show. Like many inland California towns, Fairfield has a strong stripe of ignorant hick, with a healthy underpinning of methamphetamines (yeah, I said it). However, Barbara and Go have carved out a genuine haven for artistic freedom and expression. The two of them emanate such powerful love that the Fairfield slam feels totally immune to the creepster vibe of the city as a whole.

Forward

**highlights: a bunch of comedians performed in the open mic, to my delight; poet friends from all over, as far away as Sonya in DC, checking in online; watching Selene Steese deservedly win her first slam ever; Foward performing before and after removing his pants; performing a new team piece, the sexy librarian poem, joyfully and successfully with Dre and Patrick; feeling the crowd’s delight at everything I did; hugs from Barbara and Go.

Barbara

**lowlights: there was some grumpiness on the car ride over; some douchebags tried to start shit after the show.

The Road to Fairfield.

OAKLAND

Oasis

Oakland was the last show I did in the Bay. I was scheduled to perform in Santa Cruz the Tuesday after, but a sudden turn in my friend Gabrielle’s health convinced me to buy a ticket to Austin as soon as possible. The Oakland show takes place at Oasis now, which is a warm and versatile venue for the kind of show Naz and D put together. The crowd was small but very engaged.

Joyce Lee.

**highlights: the feeling of being among family that Oakland does better than any of the other Bay shows; great poetry from Naz, Dahled, Joyce, Stephen (best balls ever), Dre, Jaylee, and a few folks who were totally new to me; flirting with the audience; making Joyce’s jaw drop; winning over the doorman, who was stoical my whole set; almost losing it when I sang part of “Hallelujah” after reading my poem for Gabrielle, and knowing Naz was with me all the way; recording goodbyes for Gabrielle from everyone who had something to say.

Jaylee Alde.

**lowlights: I was feeling a little insecure, and could have brought a set that was tighter and more confident.

After Oakland, Mona drove me to the train station so I could try to catch a show in San Francisco. She looked at me, coach to rookie, poet to poet, and told me she was so proud of me. Of everything I’ve been doing for the past year. That was the best gift I could have gotten from a trip to NorCal. That and feeling and knowing that the Bay is still my poetic home, and that’s still where my slamily is. I am so grateful.

Mona.