Posts Tagged ‘spoken word poetry’

Chico is a cute little town in an expanse of nut groves.  Taz, the organizer of the Chico slam, did the legwork to pack out the Chico Peace and Justice Center. The space felt like home, exactly the mix of woo-woo and militance that I’m used to: prayer flags flapped across the ceiling and a sliding scale zine table at the side of the room.

I was impressed by the performance chops of the slammers. While we were waiting for the spacd to open, we met a man who was there for his very first slam. He looked down and shuffled from foot to foot when I greeted him.  On the mic, he delivered his work with conviction, and landed in third place.  

We were also blessed with the only only queer-specific poem of our whole tour.  Now, coming from Seattle, where queerness and poetry are synonymous, I was surprised by a lack of queer poems as we traveled down the coast.  The poem started “dear mom and dad. . .” and was an unapologetic coming out poem from poet Daniel Smallwood.  It was a real treat.

In so many ways, Chico was warm and welcoming.  I look forward to going back on my next tour of the West Coast.


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Glassless Minds organizer Rolland Tizuela and me

The love was palpable at the Glassless Minds show in Oceanside, CA, about forty minutes north of San Diego.  Most of the poets and audience members showed up wearing Glassless Minds shirts and patches.  The open mic was packed with talent, and Rolland Tizuela, the organizer and host, hugged each performer as they got up to speak.  Rolland said that we were the first touring poets to come through, but the audience showed us so much love, like they knew how much touring artists need that kind of support.

Several fundraisers were going on at the show.  One person was selling donated books to get to the AWP conference in Boston.  I bought an amazing pop up book there.  Another person was selling empanadas for a different fundraiser.  After the show, there were so many hugs and handshakes.  A woman approached Casey and me and offered us empanadas.  She introduced herself as Rolland’s mom.  

I recommend every touring poet stop by Oceanside for Glassless Minds to hear good poetry and experience this kind community.


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Me and Shihan Van Clief

On Tuesday, November 6, Casey Tonnelly and I featured at L.A.’s nearly fifteen-year-old poetry Series, Da Poetry Lounge.

The host Shihan van Clief engaged the audience in a brilliant way that I’d never seen before.  He opened by asking if anyone had seen any movies, and asking audience members to argue with each other about whether a movie was good.  Throughout the show, he talked about the election that day, and even played Mitt Romney’s concession speech on a projector.  The second host, Natalie Patterson,  drew the audience into a conversation about dating protocol. This venue is packed out with 200+ audience members every week because the producers of Da Poetry Lounge relate poetry to everyday life.

I don’t think this is a small triumph: many poets struggle with accessibility.  How do we write interesting, challenging work, and stay relevant to the general population? From Shihan’s inclusive hosting style to the poem on the open mic addressing Kreayshawn to some gorgeous a capella  hip hop pieces, Da Poetry Lounge holds space for people with many different interests to enjoy and create poetry.  I am glad that I had a chance to feature at this venue, and I hope to visit again when I tour the West Coast again.

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I didn’t stay for the slam, because it goes so late, and I have to wake up at 6:00 for work.  There were a few pieces worth noting, though.

Dane Kuttler’s eulogy for Maurice Sendak was a magic labyrinth, just as any poem about his work should be [full disclosure: Dane is my co-editor for the collection In the Biblical Sense: An Anthology of Ap0cryphal Poetry].  The poem begins, “Inside every human is an oak door with a brass knob. . . this is where the wild things are.”  The poem gives the feeling of being led by the hand through a thick forest in the winter, all bare branches.  We’re going somewhere, but it’s kept a mystery until we arrive.  This poem is rich with the identification of introverted writers, showing us how a closet could be a refuge, and in sickness, an apartment could be an island.  Dane’s performance of this piece was so raw and personal.  It exhibits her recent streak of dream intermixed with concrete experiences, and I so enjoyed it!

Also on the open mic, Sean Patrick Mulroy performed “Fair.” In it, he creates a sepia-toned picture of a carnival.  A jock, “the one whose sweat-ringed jersey burns a hole in your stomach” apologizes for past homophobic remarks and takes a boy on a date to the fair.  There, they act out an all-American date, complete with ferris wheel and jacket sharing.  I won’t spoil what happens at the end.  Of course the double entendre of “fair” is great, but I find the craft of this poem is the precision of the images Sean Patrick creates.  It sounds like a faded photograph or film of a fair from the 1950s.  I could smell the popcorn, feel the clouds of cotton candy.

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Marita Isabel and Okanomodé featured at the Bellevue Arts Museum’s event, BAMignite: Funk Out!  The show was built around the museum’s exhibit of quilts, presumed to be made by Black women (more on that later).

Apropos of the theme, the first two poems explored the complexity and power of femininity.  Okanomodé opened with “Like Woman.” The poem’s thesis, “Man that I am, why wouldn’t I want to be like a woman?” rings through the poem, in his descriptions of all the roles of women, “footsoldiers, bearers of starfish, starfruit, keepers of the flame.”  Marita’s first poem, “Lady Dandelion,” stands slut-shaming on its head.  The dandelion “directs the wind with her own desire,” and makes the patches of dirt wait for her, before she becomes a “liberated slut.”

The second set of poems addressed the exhibit more explicitly.  Marita’s “Rorschach Test” addressed a particular quilt, and compared it to all the similar things she sees in the world.  Then, she talks about how the meaning has been stripped in the gathering of these quilts, with “I wonder if there are codes in the quilt only decodable by African Americans.”  Okanomodé’s “Herstory” was a gorgeous display of some of that lost meaning.  The quilts were “telling stories in tactile and textile,” like “an evening star to lead them north.”  He explains that the quilts are “worthy of our reverence not because they hang in galleries,” and rise above “dismissive phrases like ‘outsider art.'”  These two pieces helped to explain the context and the content of the work that the plaques mounted on the walls had not even attempted.

For the finale, Marita and Okanomodé composed a duet.  The echoes in their composition were exaclty right.  Each of them guided us through their creative lives, starting in middle school, up through their fears of performing as early adults: “I was scared of letting someone else’s speakers amplify my words.”  Then, the release of realizing how healing self expression can be: “the truth always becomes obvious when you write it down.”

All of this thought-provoking poetry was in the context of an exhibit with no artists’ names.  The collector, Corrine Riley, bought the quilts from estate sales and garage sales, but did not keep any information about the people who made these or sold them to her.  The quilts were arbitrarily named and dated by the white lady collector.  One quilt’s plaque literally described it as “primitive.”   Black art was stripped of Black artists: the people who created the work of this exhibit have had their voices bleached out of it.

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Photo by Rae Ludwig

I will double feature with Casey Tonnelly at Seattle’s queer poetry show, Spit!  Casey’s style and mine complement each other well.  I tend toward magical dark imagery, while Casey tends toward humor and story telling.   Seattle Spit has been a great community space since I moved to Seattle, and I’m excited about my second feature there.  An open mic follows our feature, so bring something to share or just come to listen.    See y’all there!  8:30 Thursday, August 9, The Wild Rose, 21+, free.

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At a house party on Capitol Hill, a chain mail shirt was hanging between two horns on the wall.  More than fifty cute guys shuffled through the kitchen out to the deck.  Delicious local brew and sangria flowed from taps in the living room.  When I arrived, the door guy gave me a  badge, like ones I’ve worn for Dragon Con or NPS.  This was no amateur party.

Since the first time I heard Morris, I’ve loved his bizarre images and the visceral sense his work makes.  Morris’s performance was as engaging as ever. He appeared to be possessed by each poem, channeling its full intensity.  Morris travels from silly to existential in the space of a few minutes. Here are some of my favorite moments: from his poem “Narcissus,” “You can’t slice open a zebra, expecting to find sparklers.”  From “Recession,” “I had my wings clipped so I could get at job at a nice factory,” pretty much sums up the sacrifices and compromises we make in order to get by.  From “Undertow,” “The moon contemplates the man.  I ride the bus to the bus.”  My favorite performance of the night was “Incomplete Outline of the Thirteen Steps to Becoming,” a bit during which he appeared shaken up, correcting himself as part of the poem.  From that, “The first step is to accept that you might be crazy.  The second step is to realize you’re not crazy.”  How gorgeous and affirming!  His final piece of the night reached new heights of surrealism:  “You will find a box the size of the sky,” “You will swallow the banyon tree and spit toothpicks into the sea,” and “humming like an egg begging to crack.”

Morris was accompanied by a guitarist and a cellist during his set.  My favorite accompaniment piece was “Rude Mechanicals,” which featured a lot of noise and screeches on the cello and guitar, to set the mood of a dystopic future.  I often find that unconventional instrumental work can really bring out the mood of a poem.

Morris’s book Zebra Feathers is forthcoming from Minor Arcana Press on December 1.  I am already excited to read this book.  Minor Arcana Press is a new, Seattle-based imprint of Squall Publishing, and its first book, Evan Peterson’s Skin Job, will be released in September.

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