Jeremy Stephens 7.8.03
THE CULT OF TOES, PRUNES, AND ALL THINGS CHEESE
COFFEE CARTEL W/ JUNE MELBY (AND HER BANDITOS LOS TOES...)
After the endearingly dubbed "June Melby Experience," I enjoyed my toes so much more! A thought was introduced to me that one of my toes might get the idea to secede from the union of my right foot (or left, to be politically correct about it) and take over southern California. Or maybe it would lead a rebellion against black-and-white striped socks and the poets that wear them. My size-challenged toe would break all guitars that enter poetry readings (except those carried by girls named C... wait, never mind), and use the kindling and strings to fashion weapons of mass flingage. My Napoleonic pinky toe will launch wave after wave of rotten prunes (if prunes even rot) into the mouths of all poets that are arrogant enough to use Kinkos to manufacture shirts in their likeness ("Fuck" is under-rated when used by a stoner). Later, a counter-attack would be lead by my remaining toes. Though unable to run at a full pace (due to the loss of a pinky toe), I would help plot a strike using limburger cheese and confiscated, guitar-based trebuche and ballistae, launching wave after wave of the smelly, cheesy goodness at the wee army of little guitar-bashing bastards.
THE CULT OF MELBY
Her droll sense of humor speaks the language of food, chickens, cows, jellyfish, more food, saltine crackers, dust, socks, toes, and still, more food -- this is the enchantment she weaves, and zealots we become. While watching her perform, you know there's more going on than meets the eye, you're just not sure what it could be.
I wonder if she knows about the line of bachelors waiting their chance in some gladiatorial event in which a battle-to-the-death will occur strictly for the right to ask her out. The amount of drool on the floor was near appalling, yet I can understand how easily one can fall to such a spell. The show is truly a good experience. I just can't help but wonder what she really thinks, what's really going on between the socks and jellyfish. Only the prunes know for sure.
BUT WAIT!!! THERE'S MORE!!!
Ms. Melby maintains a website which is a repository of all things June. And if you haven't seen her perform, she'll be poeticizing and converting people to the cause at the Ugly Mug in Orange, on July 23rd, and at the Liquid Den in Huntington Beach, on Aug. 4th, the latter show with Brendan Constantine. See her website for more information.
Steve Ramirez 7.1.03
The Steve Ramirez Tour Diary
(Note from John Casey: Steve Ramirez and Ben Trigg -- the frequently mentioned Two Idiots Peddling Poetry -- recently returned from a brief tour of the East Coast. Even though some thought they just felt like skipping out on their usual hosting duties at The Ugly Mug, the two were actually showcasing their skills for some audiences that might have otherwise thought the United States ended about 50 yards west of Utica, NY. The eternally-busy Steve was nice enough to revise some impromptu trip notes into a LitRave article...enjoy!)
Pink Pony West (New York City): An odd-looking room at first glance, the Pink Pony West reading series is actually located in the basement/bar of the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. It's a long, narrow, brick-walled room with a bar near the entrance (I hear they have a good wine selection, though I didn't try it myself). There's a raised stage at the other end of the room, with one mic with stand and chair for those who wish to sit during their five minutes (and someone actually did opt for this the night we were there). They pack the place on a regular basis (30+ people from a quick glance), and it's a warm, appreciative audience. Host Jackie Sheeler keeps things moving along very well from the back of the room, via a table-mounted mic. The open reading was a pleasant surprise (even considering a failed audience-participation attempt by the 'Dead Sheperd'), with good work ready well. To top it off, the room has very good acoustics (how they accomplished this with brick walls galore is a question for the ages), and best of all, is walking distance from a number of fine eating establishments (including the Cafe itself!).
Java Hut (Worcester, Mass): Ever wonder what it would be like if a poetry reading were more like the Rocky Horror Picture show? Visit the Poets' Asylum at the Java Hut in Worcester Mass (pronounced alternately 'Wi-stah' and 'Wou-stah') and you'll find out. Call and response between host Bill MacMillan and his INCREDIBLE crowd keep the night lively, entertaining and downright homey (yo). A good open mike of course can only be better with the inclusion of this year's Worcester Slam Team (including Ed Fuqua, Dave Macpherson, Seren Divine, Jon Wolf and seemingly every third member of the open reading... or were they just past members?), plus Lea Deschenes, Tony "Fuckin' Uxbridge" Brown, and Jack McCarthy! I need to to emphasize that this crowd put the Live in Lively. They not only respond to poetry (what a concept! Bless their poetic hearts!), but they make you feel like calling for a witness (I am healed!) by the end of the night. Much credit must also go to cohosts Bob Gill, Rebecca Henderson and the venue owner, a very good-natured woman named Bert. By the way, I hear the food is great (personal pizzas and falafel wraps at a poetry reading?? Woohoo!!)
Cantab Lounge (Cambridge, Mass): Another odd-looking place at first glance, the Cantab Reading (home of the Boston Slam) is in the basement/bar (sensing a trend?) called the Third Rail. The area for the readers is actually enclosed on three sides by waist-high chainlink fence (shades of Road House?) with entrances/exits leading into the infamous 'Cantab Circle,' a route through the audience that is obviously a favorite of many slammers throughout the years. The acoustics during the Cantab Circle are a bit odd... about three quarters of the way through it, you reach an area where the sound shoots up into an area behind the bar. Other than that, it's a great trip to make. Open readers included the Boston Slam Team, including Star St. Germain, Adam Stone and Nina Simon. We didn't, however, get to tell cohost Craig Nelson that we knew of the Sex with a Hippo poem. Guess we'll have to save that for next time. Highlight of the evening: an impromptu three round slam between host Michael Brown and Nina Simon.
From the "If you're going to steal, steal from the best" department: Michael Ubaldini with a "talking blues" song lifted from a VERY early draft of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan crossed with a plotline from "Ricki Lake."
Related news flash: All of rock music is merely a footnote to Bob Dylan. (Apologies to Bertrand Russell.)
When they finally make poetry events more like Homecoming dances: Daniel and Lori McGinn, your king and queen.
And along those lines: I'm still looking for a Homecoming date eleven years later.
Main Attraction, part 1: Michael Paul reading lots of wickedly good stuff, some of which will shortly be appearing in a book. Set list: "Fuck" (by Kim Addonizio), "The Americanization Of Oooga Booga," "Monday's Child," "Shellfish Poem," "What's In A Name," "Cowboys And Indians," "Mostly Unpunctuated Tercets Ending With A Poor Excuse For A Haiku," "Directions To The Next World," and "I Am Giving Up Confessional Poetry" (and a few other things).
Main attraction, part 2: Michael Sprake completing the "three Mikes and a mic" theme. (Get it? Get it? Nudge nudge wink wink...) Set list: "Cheetah In Cafe," "Project Projection," "Shed Of Sustenance," "Landescape," "Birds Of Paradise Lost," "Close Friend," "Wild Rice And Salsa," and "Trade Winds."
Weird coincidence: Both Mikes are visual artists as well as poets. Come to think of it, I know a lot of people who do both. Come to think of it, I draw remedial stick figures. Hmmmmm.
From the "I was there, but I still don't get it" department: Season Cole with a rambling story that started with a finger pointed at me and a reference to my feature at Alta, and ended with her passed out drunk in a gutter. If anyone can explain, please drop me a line. Please. I feel responsible, and I don't know why.
Carrot cake: Mmmmm.
Line breaks mix versus conservation of natural resources: Edwin, reading poems from paper cut in half vertically.
Sometimes it's more fun to watch the audience than to watch the poets: Steve Ramirez, Leigh White, Jeremy Stephens, and Amanda Stephens.
SOMEWHERE INSIDE THE SCARY CONFINES OF MY BEDROOM
I just read an interesting article in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers by Michael Depp about the "fading tradition" of writing as an avocation, rather than as a profession. (On a somewhat similar note, Dana Gioia wrote an essay some years ago examining the reasons why so few of the "great poets" had a significant professional career apart from their literary career -- Willams, Eliot, and Stevens come to mind -- and why the business world was such a small part of their literary works. That essay, along with some other good argument-starters, can be found in his classic collection Can Poetry Matter?.) Although my writing is certainly not at a level where I might actually contemplate basing a career change on that skill, his essay struck a nerve with me. Too often, a creative burst hits at 10 AM just when the coffee kicks in...and I happen to be busy at my desk or stuck in a meeting. Too often deadlines or other stresses exhaust my energy -- I get home and lack the energy to conjure anything onto paper. And, there are certainly those weeks when the rigorous thinking that goes along with engineering kills all of my mental processes...save those in my left brain.
Then again, my job has brought me to places in the world that I would have never seen otherwise which have given me ideas for poems. I work with some bright people, creative in different ways, who motivate me to keep writing. And -- last but not least -- the income gives me the freedom to explore literature which interests me and to support other local poets by driving to readings and buying chapbooks. (Not to mention attending the inevitable after-poetry social events, which is where we ALL know that 90% of the really interesting stuff happens.) Still...there have been days, especially the last month or so, that I woulld have killed in order to be able to ditch work so I could go home and get an idea down before it vaporized. (There must be at least ten poems hanging above my cubicle, and everyone else on the floor thinks it's just smog.)
I'd be curious to hear from the LitRave readership about how they handle the delicate balance between their day (or night) job and their writing. Does the job help or hinder your writing? Have you ever written a poem about work? If you happen to be a professional writer or teacher -- how did you decide to get into that field? Have you ever been tempted to change writing from your vocation to an avocation instead?
Hansel. Odysseus. Penelope. Hey, I recognize this dude from the Valley. Sex and cars...Y chromosome is the safe bet. Time to steal The Sports Guy's Unintentional Comedy Factor for the notes tonight. Lots of eye contact, especially during the lukewarm sex lines. Hey baby. Do you think they're dating? "I swear -- three more poems, that skirt was coming off." "I'm just going to read one more..." Respect Mindy or die! She's the hostess with the mostess hotness. Stop looking at my notes. MY notes. Mine. My precioussss notes. If your last name is "Starbuck," never admit in public that you're researched coffee. Or even drank coffee. "Shakespeare Did Not Drink Coffee Or Tea." Also, if I might contribute here -- "die" meant "orgasm," except when it actually meant "die." FIRM grasp of the obvious. "And The Fat Boy Sings" rocked. Mindy keeps calling Tricia Cherin "Patricia," but she doesn't seem to mind. Mindy keeps calling Harry Northup "Northrop," and I think he's pissed because he just thanked "Wendy" for introducing him. No, wait, he probably thinks that she IS Wendy. Crap, now I'm thinking about Northrop Grumman (our big competitor at work) AND thinking about playing the Peter Pan to Mindy's Wendy. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Either pick the fantasy, or the nightmare -- not both. Must...clear...head. Ah. Dates. Numbers. Jobs. SAG pension. Dates. Numbers. Jobs. SAG pension. Dates. Numbers. Jobs. SAG pension. Academics seem to be the problem. Hey, where is everyone going? NOW this reading is finally kicking off -- a poem about sex toys, and then a poem which starts, "I know why people jump from buildings." Too bad it's almost done. Oh...my...god. Catherine is cute AND just read a poem about integrals. Note to self: revise theories about the universe when you get home. Fried food. "Sometimes you just have to say fuck 'em all." And what can you really say after that?
Julie Bemiss 6.25.03
The Kotton Club
Double Feature: Beth (Beth Multer) and Buddha Hat (Sam Skow)
Beth Multer and Sam Skow performed at the Kotton Club, a double feature bill. The Kotton Club is smaller and more intimate than most spots, which works to its advantage. It has the feel of "theater in the round." TKC opened about 6 months ago, so be sure to join the open mic crowd Tues. nights. It usually starts after 10pm; this is definitely a place for night owls! A bar in the back serves coffees, teas, soda, beer, and espresso drinks, and the atmosphere is friendly and laid-back. It's free but they do ask for a donation to the "flower pot" to keep the poetry seeds growing at The Kotton Club!
Ms. Multer featured first. Her pieces were focused on the universal themes of rhythm and the cirular cycles of nature, spoken word, and music (namely, the beat of the drum). Ms. Multer opened with "The One" where the dj's music was on cue and Ms. Multer was still off stage. Her disembodied voice set to a "beat" got things off to a mysterious and imaginative start. Her next few pieces were performed without a mic, set to beats, one particular piece incorporating guest poets who sang back up while another artist friend danced. Ms. Multer also danced in tandem and built a seamless piece with movement, voice accompaniment, and music, creating a centered and very full performance as reliant on spoken word and emotion as on physicality and spirituality. This is a piece that begs more performances, as it is not easy to take it all in during the first viewing; like many of Ms. Multer's poems, this is heady stuff!
Ms. Multer was no stranger to costume design, either. Draped in a red flowing skirt and a fitted black tank, barefoot and braceleted, she inspired the very country her poems targeted: Africa. At once a very personal yet communal performance, Ms. Mutler is sure to keep stretching the boundaries in interweaving poetry and other art forms in future performances. Definitely not to be missed, this woman's creativity knows no limit.
Mr. Skow performed second, after an interlude of open mic readers. Mr. Skow, head shorn of his recent bleached locks, hid his shaved head under a floppy brown cap. At times and at certain angles Mr. Skow's profile resembled that of John Malkovich's in "Being John Malkovich" (the scene where Mr. Malkovich enters his own portal, head shaved, with a large "I Love NY" ball cap on). As we have come to expect the unexpected from Mr. Malkovich, the same may be said of Mr. Skow.
Dressed casually in a long-sleeved shirt and baggy pants, his dress helped to facilitate the intense physicality of his performance. Opening with a piece inspired by his unforgiving muse, Mr. Skow was unflinching, easily moving back and forth, twisting, leaning, and falling down on "all fours" (there is an achingly funny reason for this particular pose, for those who've not seen this more recent incarnation), all the while maintaining a rapid vocal intensity. Mr. Skow, no matter the intensity of his pieces (and they're always rather intense), consistently succeeds in making sure his words are understood with his very precise enunciation; there is not one word that isn't heard or misunderstood.
Mr. Skow then launched into a piece criticizing spoken word itself and some of the "poseurs" who inhabit the arena. His views are point blank yet pointed and full of pure grit. Though some audience members may have heard some of his pieces multiple times, Mr. Skow never fails to slightly alter each rendition, lending his performances a freshness that is immediately felt. His next piece was a curious and very funny twist on the male sexual bravado pieces audiences may often hear at some of the more slam oriented venues in town and he closed with the aptly titled "It will happen when I'm 60."
This reviewer hopes (expects!) these two poetic dynamos to double feature in the near future. Perhaps they will read and perform within the same piece? Keep a look out...these two will not go unnoticed. They perform all around town, so they're hard NOT to see and always entertaining. Check it out, y'all.
Jelena aka Helen the Bashful Dragon 6.17.03
(for Evan Drachman)
let me in
to your chamber
on a rainy day
drizzle your notes
over my blue mood
viola da gamba
I am a string
in a bottle
over your shoulder
between your legs
under your bow
on your fingertips
in 3/8 time
the sound of castanets
face to face
al capo da fine
on a rainy day
over my indigo mood.
(Copyright J. Andjelkovic, 2003)