Sunday, June 28, 2009

Yes, We Are Heroes, At Least For One Day

I'm emerging from a two-day migraine but feeling the buzz from Friday night's reading nonetheless. Major thanks to all the readers, especially the ones who drove in from far off, which means all the featured poets! It went from personal to personal-is-political to language poems to language-is-political; so many references to music; so many more to wanting to break out of the narrow definitions of poetry, which you know is right up my alley. I gave up trying to hear the connections after a while--but there were two that I was feeling, and those were about feminism (though I think even many of the poets would not see it as such) and about how creativity isn't valued, not in a tangential way and often not simply through respect, either. But maybe that's just the headache talking.

Anyway, it started with Pam Winters, personal and precise--I really loved the poem about the showers at the music festival (I've been seeing these photos out of Glastonbury and wishing...) and hope it sees print/pixels soon; then The5thL took it a little further than last time, with some interesting surrealistic detours from Drifish; then David Beaudouin brought some beat energy to reading pretty demanding stuff; then Reb Livingston gave that whole "whoa, what was that? Did I just hear what I think I heard" effect. I like the emotion that comes across with someone saying straight out what's in their heart--but sometimes I think language poetry gets short shrift at the mic; it can be stunning read aloud.

Not even to the open mic yet--there we got stories and songs. There was one student/reader who didn't leave her email address, and I'm not going to post her name on this public place, but if you happen to come across this, Reader, I think your "dignitary" poem was the real deal and I hope to hear more from you sometime. The biggest surprise guest was Mr. Buck Downs, who recited intricate work from memory between bites of a cookie. Plus he called everyone who read "heroes."

Poets who can perform from memory are impressive. I protest that it's beyond me, but I should probably give it a try. The discipline couldn't hurt.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

JUST ADDED: The5thL PLUS Open Mic PLUS There's No Telling What You'll Hear When No Tell Motel Is Here

As I hoped, The5thL will be joining us Friday evening--these two poets need to be heard and seen to get the full effect, so come on out. From what I can tell, they won't be performing in DC again until the Capital Hip Hop Soul Festival, about a month from now, so now's the time. Everything starts at 9 pm. Lots of other mayhem Friday at the site, so it is guaranteed not to be dull as I must now apologize for feeling and sounding like after a long work day and a long run.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Reb Livingston read Friday. She publishes a lot of other people through the online poetry journal No Tell Motel, but what I've read of her own work is funny and makes me think, whether I want to or not. That is why I am not going to look at her work now, but you can, here.

And this is something she said about a month ago in an interview on the Writer's Center blog:

There were then (and are now) hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals contributing to the poetry community by supporting (i.e., publishing) the work of other poets. I wanted to be one of those contributors. To me it wasn't enough to just write my own poems. I wanted to do my small part to contribute. Poetry is a gift community. People who care about and are dedicated to poetry make sure poems get out there. They're not profiting, they're likely spending their own money and they're definitely donating their time and work. I do think that anyone who is serious about poetry is responsible to contribute in some way to the community, whether that be publishing/editing, curating a reading series, writing book reviews or essays, translating foreign-language poems, etc. That is how poetry thrives and I don't care what any studies or reports declare about poetry, it thrives and will continue to do so because it is not an industry. As other art forms come and go based on industry and market demands of the century, poetry will continue to exist because it does not fit into such models. Poetry won't become popular or profitable, but it will endure.

And now I come on like the big-hair lady on the PBS drive and add: You can also contribute by reading your poems and by buying CDs, books and magazines!

Photo: Not the most recent, but my favorite, being of simple tastes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"We Suck at Riverdance"

...but we are very good poets. Well, one can't be good at everything. I have to thank the scheduled readers and the open mic readers alike for making last Friday's reading so interesting; it took a lot of twists and turns, from a preview of Charles Jensen's latest work (he's also got a class coming up on series writing that sounds interesting), to isee's takes on Israel, Iran and America, to Caryn Sykes' intimate work, to Brewster T and Souley playing songs. Then some repeaters with new material came to the open mic, and some new ones, too--including The5thL, latest CD to the right, quote on the top. I'm hoping to see them again Friday or even that they could do a full show at Artomatic.

Because it will happen again, Friday, the 26th, 9 p.m. I'm also hoping we get a good view of the fire dancing--believe there should be fire dancing that night--from those big third-floor windows. Tell your friends. The cookies will be salty oat and mint-chocolate brownies. And maybe one more flavor, just for a surprise.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five Reasons to Do This In Public

I'm trying right now to figure out how to write to someone about something she asked about that has also been on my mind since I started writing again, two years ago: How do I know I'm a poet? How can I call myself one? This is just one of the subspecies of the "who do you think you are?" questions. These questions are highly effective at gaining power over others, and, not coincidentally, they're commonly asked of young people by older ones who have or want to have power over them.

But we're both older people, and we're still asking the question. Am I a poet, an artist, a...I guess for dancers and singers it's more clear-cut, but even they have their outsiders. Who told Bob Dylan he could sing, or Isadora Duncan, who violated every rule of dance, that she could dance? (The dancers who follow in her method today still break a cardinal rule: They have "wrong" bodies, and don't rein them in with costume in any way. It's really shocking to see them dance--to see parts of their bodies actually move, in a way proscribed in most dance. Who told these women of different body shapes that they could dance? But it's beautiful, isn't it? So what does that say about who we believe should do what?)

Anyway, no aesthetics; I only made it through those classes via ability to memorize and parrot. Even in a past life as a reviewer in newspapers I didn't so much place value (hated doing movie star-ratings) on things as describe them and try to amuse or intrigue readers; people can decide for themselves if they get a good picture and they deserve a fun read, is what I figured.

This "how dare you" deal is, I'm betting, pretty well-trod-road to exhibitors at Artomatic, where the impression outside the walls is often that you don't have to meet any "standard of quality" to "be let in."

It's a big puzzle in itself to be participating in pursuits that the world generally doesn't value much in a beautiful, glass-walled building, built in a way to be environmentally less damaging, surrounded by buildings half-built and half-empty and empty lots marked off by fences that are papered by murals of the finest marketing could come up with, telling you how exclusive and wonderful these buildings are and how living or working there will make your life special, and these buildings are mostly empty. No value in the buildings, no value in the companies, no value in the banks, no value in the work, no more. And throughout this crisis, economists tell us that it's our fault for lacking confidence, that after all, everything is only worth the value that we choose to put on it.

It's too funny when you really think it through.

There's lots more to say about all that, not now. I'll just settle for five reasons why you might come to an open mic and read your work:

1. It sends a message to the universe that you value what you're doing, regardless of who else does. I've found that this tends to sort of hit the reset button, re-establishing the value of what you do--for yourself and, oddly, for others. Or alternately, it primes the pump, and more things flow your way.

2. What you're saying might be exactly what someone needs to hear.

3. Some people can't. You might not be allowed to, tomorrow.

4. How else are you going to spend your time? Really?

5. Even serving as a bad example or a fool is a sacred calling by some lights.

I was so happy to see at the other night's reading the people milling and some of them stopping to listen. Even happier to see some brave people taking the mic.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fireflies Inside

All summer, you're likely driving over poets. Military Road. Don't say you haven't. In Rock Creek Park there's a cabin where there are readings, inside or outside, on Tuesday nights. A good crowd and the creek and trees.

Among many other things, including putting out a magazine of mathematical precision, poet Deborah Ager helps run the Joaquin Miller Cabin poetry series. (You could be reading there next year--it's open, selection entirely based on the work you submit by the previous spring.)

She'll be reading with us Wednesday at 7. Maybe she'll bring some fireflies.

You can read some of her poems on her website, and here are a few of those other things: "Her poems appear in Best New Poets 2006, Best of the Tigertail Anthologies, The Bloomsbury Review, New England Review, The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. She's received fellowships from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. She is founding editor of 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. The magazine publishes 64 poems per year."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vision + Words + Vision = More

Joseph Jones can get art out of a 4-year-old or someone my age. I had seen a couple examples in the workshop room and then saw the process in action briefly the other day after I was finishing doing a kids' workshop. He uses poetry as a starting point, giving people poems to choose among, which they then literally deconstruct, slice up and put on canvas boards and use as inspiration, picking out the visuals that strike them from the words. One woman was working with this line: "The best way for me to predict my future is to create it." Yes, indeed.

He'll be doing another workshop this Saturday; get specs at link above. He might come to one of our poetry readings and paint during the reading, which if it happens would be one of the cooler experiences of my writing life. It is odd being "just a writer" in this very visual environment--writing seems too easy sometimes when I see the work the artists put in--but the connections keep on coming and giving me more to work with.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Heading Down 95 South

The hectic has arrived...Friday 7-10 a packed reading from literary magazines Barrelhouse and Smartish Pace with stars including Terence Winch, I know he's good, and Sandra Beasley, whom I am given to understand from reliable sources is absolutely the sh--. In the Poetry Lounge, 9th floor.

Saturday night it's Busboys and Poets with a poetry jam, full backing music, very cool, dance and theater stage, 6th floor, 10 til past midnight.

Warmup: Fire dance with Playa del Fuego Fire Conclave, outside at 9:30.

Even earlier Saturday: Storm the Unpredictable on the Solo Stage, 3rd floor, 4-5.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kind of Like Madonna! Only Way, Way Different!

Richard Peabody is reading a week from now, and I'm not even going to try to condense the bio for this space. All I can think about at this hour is falling over laughing like 20 years ago hearing him read a poem with a line about "the cereal shot from guns." You'll just have to look here to get the full story. But those Morton Salt Girl-era poems are still fresh. Must be the preservatives.

He's published Paul Bowles and Nick Cave and A.M. Holmes and more than a thousand more. He can make a poem or a story out of standing in the kitchen, or listening to German metal at a stupid bar, or, of course, taking care of his kids. He's killed off his magazine and brought it back from the dead. Mondo Barbie, Mondo Jimi, Mondo Elvis, Mondo Abortion? (I wonder if he gets how brave he is, or how many artists he's made a difference to? We're not supposed to talk about things like that, but I can, because I never have to worry about being cool.) Do you know how hard it is to put out even one damn book? A really long time ago, he was a wrestler.

The other night my husband and I were doing late-night puttering, computers and phones and TVs going, and he had on Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead, and I was taken by this scene, just looking right past the whole Nic Cage factor, watching John Goodman do what he does, and there's this monologue for Cage and in the background this pattern of lights behind him, and I'm thinking gorgeous mid-60s technicolor, right, but the thing is with Scorsese, he's probably referencing 12 other pictures I don't even know about and have never seen, and here it's all packed into one simple almost throwaway scene in a picture not even considered by many to be his best. That's an artist on top of his game, and it's what you gain insight into when you see one who's been working that game for a while. Sprezzatura, and I'm sure there's also a word for it in Japanese. Come on out next Wednesday and see.

Photo: Another one I haven't read and want to. Angela Carter's in this one, y'all, it's just getting ridiculous!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

B&D Rock Opera

Just found out a chunk of "The Passion of Persephone" will be performed tomorrow night, I mean tonight, (Wednesday) at 6. It's a journey to the underworld; what could go wrong? Leather, Hades, darkness, testing limits, say no more. I've been curious about this one ever since briefly meeting the composer, Rosanna Tufts, at a woowoo-type event more than a year ago. Great voice. She did a work-in-progress version at the Fringe festival last summer, too, that I also missed. Sometimes I actually do get out of the house.

Sharing the slot in the Theater and Dance space will be "According to Us," a musical play about people who are homeless.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Peanut Butter Cup Concept

Thibeaux Lincecum's series of photographs with their subjects' poems printed on them is pretty transgressive--every photographer I've known has flinched at the mention of running type over the photo, and I've known very few poets who want their pictures taken.

Despite or because of that, it's fascinating; the poems function as self-portraits and the photos like portraits through another's eyes, so there are interesting angles and juxtapositions, who owns the gaze, who interprets, words vs. visuals cage match, you got chocolate in my peanut butter, all that. One nice piece is by isee, who will be reading at the comehearpoets reading June 19.

Lincecum is looking for more subjects to be part of the project--the goal is a book--so if he already has a photo of you, you can write a poem; if you're a poet, check his website for details, and if you want to get involved, he'll take a portrait or similar. He's comfortable to sit for, and for me, who hates getting shot, that's saying something. The work is on display on the second floor, near the elevators.

I'm always suspicious of NPR-induced revelations and discoveries, but there must have been a reason for me to be in the car Sunday, right where 13th turns into Piney Branch, and there they were talking about the poet Constantine Cavafy and a new translation by Daniel Mendelsohn, which I read a review of and thought maybe I should check that out, and then Mendelsohn read his translation of "Nero's Deadline." And I was all "fuck yeah! That's why you're doing this!" Poem made me laugh my head off.

My point being that hearing it made me get it. That's why live readings work. You can hear it here.

Or you can read the following translation, which is available free online. Those Mendelsohn translations I heard really got me because they are so unabashed and balanced about the eroticism of the poems. YMMV, read, hear, see what you think.

Nero's Deadline
Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard
the utterance of the Delphic Oracle:
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
Plenty of time to enjoy himself still.
He’s thirty. The deadline
the god has given him is quite enough
to cope with future dangers.

Now, a little tired, he’ll return to Rome—
but wonderfully tired from that journey
devoted entirely to pleasure:
theatres, garden-parties, stadiums...
evenings in the cities of Achaia...
and, above all, the sensual delight of naked bodies...

So much for Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army—
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.

--Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard, from the official cavafy website.

The really funny part that strikes me now is that I wrote a scene and song for a play where Thibeaux was supposed to play Nero, a stock-character Nero. But the scene got cut cause he had to work and it was too long anyhow. Not that he's Nero-like in any way. I remember as we were talking about it, he was actually trying to school me on some of the history, and I was all, don't confuse me with facts.

But facts make this poem funnier and sadder. One does feel a little foolish remaining devoted to pleasure when Wall Street falls down, but how much sillier must the ones who built it feel? And all we keep hearing is how nobody, but nobody, could have seen it coming.

More synchronicity: I had some of the best peanut-butter-cup cookies ever this just like an hour after hearing that poem. Maybe I'll get the recipe and bring some to one of these readings.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Surprise! Poetry in Motion

Because she might be the greatest hooper in the USA. Because she plays with fire. What else do you need to know? Surprise! Hoops and Fire Dance, 9 tonight.

If the weather isn't friendly to fire, she and her talented minions, um, comrades are doing it again Saturday night at 8.

(Then you can stay for Flush Gordon vs. The Criminal Union of Nefarious Treachery at 10:30, a musical that will blow your mind.)

Photo: From her website, modeling her t-shirts. Many talents.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

And Now...Charles Jensen. And For You, Open Mic.

It's getting kind of spooky. I keep asking really interesting poets to read, and they keep saying yes. Charles Jensen just came on for Friday, June 19. Among many other publications, he had some very chilling poems in No Tell Motel, whose editor Reb Livingston will be reading June 26, which I discovered poking around online late one night, and because I am an out-of-touch-with-literary-world person I was amazed at discovering, and I tried to read through all the archives that night, without success. I feel like a discount Kevin Bacon.

Plus, film. Here's his bio from his website, where you can also get links to some poems:

"Charles Jensen is the author of three chapbooks, including Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). His first full-length collection, tentatively titled The First Risk, is forthcoming in 2009 from Lethe Press. A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, The Journal, New England Review, spork, and West Branch. He holds an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis. He serves as director of The Writer's Center, one of the nation's largest independent literary centers."

Photo: Blatantly stolen from his website as well.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slam Poetry Crash Course for Teens

Wanted to write for two days, but was dealing with coordinating my daughter's social life, as well as a rash she developed that caused a minor medical panic then vanished after 8 hours as mysteriously as it had appeared (I suspect it was from when she and her friends were hiding behind juniper bushes at a party Sunday. Juniper is only fit for adults, when part of a properly prepared stirred-not-shaken medicinal regimen.)

If you're coordinating your children's schedules, add this: For ages 10 to 18, on Saturday, June 6, poet Gayle Danley will be giving a Slam Poetry Crash Course in the Education Room at Artomatic (should I call it the Utrecht education room and give proper credit? Why not.) On her website, she talks about slam poetry being "accessible poetry" that "tells your truth--out loud." Not a bad thing for people of any age to learn how to do.

She is an international slam winner and active poet, as well as a Howard alum. You can read more about her work here.

The class is from 3 to 5 PM. It makes a lot of sense to sign up first, here.