The popularity and prevalence of the "poetry slam" appears to be on the rise and has precipitated similar interest in the more traditional poetry reading and poetry itself. Of course it doesn't hurt that many poetry readings have evolved into more colorful and varied affairs. Does this mean interest in poetry by the general public is making a comeback? Is poetry itself in the first stages labor for a long overdue rebirth? It seems that with National Poetry Month (which was in April) fresh on our minds, and the efforts of US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser to make poetry more accessible and an everyday event, there are a lot of literati asking that same question.
Most students are required to study poetry in school at some point and it's up to the teacher to make the poems, their impact and their construction a magical event. More than a lesson on literary history with memorization and a study of form, poetry can be a valuable tool in the classroom for inspiring students to take another look at the possibilities of expression. In addition to the poetry tournament, I recently read of two examples that give me hope that poetry is experiencing a revival. Gary Glazner, the poet-in-residence at The Santa Fe Desert Academy, coaches the Precision Poetry Drill Team. These students not only recite and appreciate the poetry they perform, but take poetic interpretation to a whole new level -- you can hear a sample of their performances here. Also, young students at an Iowa elementary school are learning the fun of poetry as they read poetry during the school's morning announcements.
Is poetry making a comeback? Most of us have always known that it never really died, but it's still nice to see examples of the art (and its appreciation) alive and well, especially in our schools.
reVerse skillfully and surprisingly takes 14 tracks of poetry, song and every shade in between, then weaves them together into a CD that is an insightful representation of some of the best lyrical minds writing today. The strength in this collection is definitely the diversity. From Li-Young Lee's steady opening track "Echo and Shadow" (backed by guitar and a haunting vocal), to the jarring chaos of Marvin Tate's "Take Off Your Shoes and Run" and later the gospel-toned "Words Are My Salvation" by poet Sherrille Lamb, listeners will quickly and directly gain a sense of the range in today's poetry scene. reVerse juxtaposes seemingly unlikely collaborators in such a way that you feel they were meant to collide. Some tracks are purely spoken word, some poets read alongside music in a range of styles and there are a few straight up music tracks thrown in -- but then again, where does poetry end and music begin? Alexi Murdoch's "Song For You" is a real hidden gem on this CD, as is Lawrence Ferlinghetti's performance of "History of the Airplane" and Kent Foreman's rapid-fire "It's About Time". Lou Reed fans will want to be sure to catch his reading of "The City and the Sea" and the intense, quiet "What It Was" almost told as a secret by poet Mark Strand will make you want to be the unnamed subject of his performance. Each track exists strongly on its own merit, but it's the sum of all parts that is the power behind this work. Listening to the CD in one sitting is an accurate re-creation of styles and personalities you could find at any poetry reading -- that is if you're lucky enough to attend a reading by the likes I've mentioned above.
reVerse does what it sets out to do. It blurs the line even further between music and poetry while celebrating them both and much more.
KC Clarke, Executive Director of The Poetry Center of Chicago and creator of reVerse recently took some time to share his thoughts on poetry, performance and the birth of reVerse:
Caryn Thurman: I'm curious how you first became interested in poetry and who some of your first influences were. How did you decide to make poetry a major part of your life?
KC Clarke: I first became interested in poetry in grade school through my 4th grade teacher Mr. Sutherland. He had a poet visit my classroom. We were living in Detroit at the time. Soon afterwards, my mother gave me my first books of poetry: Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost. I remember reading these books and in most cases having no idea what was going on, but loving it anyway. I've never been successful in resisting the artistic impulse. All said, I think poetry decided that it would be a part of my life. This sounds corny, I know, but I've sworn off poetry on several occasions and even got away from it entirely for a six year stretch during the late 1990s. This lead to a big relapse -- taking on the job as The Poetry Center's executive director. I think major league baseball is partially responsible for my poetry inclinations, but that is different conversation all together.
Poetry is the one area where I can include all of my artistic whateverings -- a cross genre of mediums and contents reduced into words. For me, the structures of poetry make it one of the most wonderfully morphable of art forms.
CT: I know the reVerse project has been a long time in the making. What prompted you to take on such a big project? How did the idea form and how has it evolved since you first started on the collection to what it is today?
KC: I love music. I'm always looking for good new work, even if it is only new to me. For instance, my recent obsessions include Interpol, The Faint and Arcade Fire. In a few months I'll start digging around and find some other bands/artists. Anyway, I don't have many choices in recordings of poetry. There isn't that much out there that combines poetry and music with respect to the art form of poetry. Most of the stuff out there either self-indulgent or is poorly recorded and produced.
I've always loved the Sire Records "Just Say Yes" compilations from the late 1980s. I think well-produced compilations do a good job at introducing people to new artists and artistic concepts. "Just Say Yes" put Depeche Mode with Ice-T and The Throwing Muses. Brilliant. Lots of electronica artists have become known through compilations. The fringe of music and the art of poetry aren't all that different is some respects. So put the solutions/outcomes/influences of all these things together and you get reVerse.
CT: I read a bit about the selection of the musician on the reVerse website -- did the final roster of artists grow and evolve over time or did you have a strong idea of who and what you wanted to include all along? Did you request specific works from them or did they select pieces they felt most strongly about?
KC: We had a pretty good idea of what people would offer since we asked for demos in advance. We included as many different aesthetics as we could. After our first studio session, we listened to the tracks over and over and found stuff we hated or were bugged by and fixed or replaced those things in other sessions. Alexi Murdoch and Lou Reed were wonderful late additions. We fell in love with Murdoch's EP Four Songs. "Song for You" is Murdoch's favorite from that album. We thought the piece Reed offered went spookily well with Ferlinghetti's piece, though they are thematically unrelated. The fact that Reed was featured on Just Say Mao, Volume III of "Just Say Yes" in 1989 is too perfect, for me at least.
CT: I see on the site that you refer to the current CD as reVerse Volume 1 -- I assume that a Volume 2 is in the works? When can we expect the next reVerse?
KC: Yes! We are working on Volume 2. I hope it doesn't take three years. But since it might take us two years to get the word out about reVerse Volume 1, who knows. There are not a lot of channels by which to easily promote and distribute a weird hybrid thing like reVerse, so we are in this for the long haul.
CT: I see you have a strong web presence with reVerse and The Poetry Center -- how do you feel the online world and "blogosphere" is changing the face of literature? Or is it at all? For better or worse?
KC: reVerse is primarily available via the internet. reVerse is its own little shop thanks to the internet. The net is good for literature, especially poetry. The traditional poetry publishing biz has produced lots of good and lots of bad books. One can find good and bad poetry on the internet as well. OK, nothing new in that comparison. Traditional news and information sources don't seem to consider poetry newsworthy. Can you imagine something like Blackbook actually devoting a dedicated corner of its magazine to poetry? Well maybe, but it is not likely. But we don't have to rely on Blackbook for our poetry, do we? We have the "blogoshpere." Viva la blogosphere! The only thing that is a bit scary about the internet is anyone anywhere can sit in front of a monitor in their underwear eating a block of cheese simultaneously posting outrageo us claims of being a sort of savior of poetry or whatever. People believe what they read. Hopefully as time passes we'll be more able to sort fact from fiction and enjoy both as they should be.
CT: Many writers on LitKicks have notebooks and notebooks (or document files and document files) of their writing, but may have never attempted to read their work in public. What advice would you give to someone who needs a little pep talk in this situation?
KC: I believe these writers should host their own poetry readings. Doesn't matter where. Host readings on a rooftop or in a garage. This way these writers can read their work for each other. They can invite other poets to come read. I'm completely serious. Reading in public is kind of like writing. A poet has to read a lot of poetry and write a lot of poetry to produce good poetry. Most people have to read their own poetry to an audience to become good at giving a reading. A Sony minidisk recorder is a handy tool. A poet can record and listen to their own poetry over and over. I don't know a single poet who doesn't have an opinion about what they like and don't like about how other poets read their work. If poets subject themselves to their own readings via minidisk, they can at least practice until they enjoy hearing their own poems.
CT: Finally, LitKicks always wants to know -- What are you reading? Any recommendations?
KC: Poetry: Franz Wright, Anselm Hollo and the book of Ecclesiastes (again). Fiction: Jose Saramago. Film: foreign Chinese films. The Suzhou River is an amazing flick.
(Thanks to KC Clarke for giving me a peek inside the creative energy of reVerse.)
reVerse Volume 1 is available through the reVerse website, where you can read more about the project, the artists involved and listen to an audio collage of the entire CD and individual track snippets.
It's nearly impossible to categorize Saul Williams, and what he does, with a conventional label ... which is exactly what he wants as he fights to tear down the walls and eschew all labels. Born February 29, 1972 near Albany, New York (after his mother went into labor at a James Brown concert), Saul began writing rhymes as a young child, influenced by hip hop -- particularly T La Rock?s "It's Yours." in order to keep things fresh and cover untouched territory, young Saul would consult a dictionary and use words he?d never before seen in his rhymes. Saul?s early years also provided his first acting role, playing Marc Anthony in the Shake Hands with Shakespeare Club's production of Julius Caesar. He was in third grade.
Eventually Saul moved from writing rhymes into the realm of poetry. "hip hop is a rhythmical, musical derivative of poetry, like the child of the traditional sense of poetry, poetry being the mother. I grew up with the child and after a while I was like, 'wow, you're really cool, I'd like to meet your parents.'" With poetry, Saul felt he could focus more in introspection, philosophy and metaphysics -- topics that were sadly being phased out of the ever more image conscious, braggadocio style that was overtaking hip hop. Drawing from a vast well of influences (including Kahlil Gibran, Allen Ginsberg, Rumi, Hafiz, Gil Scott-Heron and Jim Morrison) Saul began to develop his unique poetic voice blending elements of astrology, eastern mysticism, philosophy and social consciousness. He even took to incorporating hip hop?s art of sampling into his poetry. Meanwhile he graduated from Morehouse College, having majored in philosophy and acting.
Shortly after entering New York University?s graduate acting program in 1994, Saul attended his first poetry reading in Manhattan. A year and a half later he would blow audiences away at Brooklyn?s Moon Cafe when he took the stage and debuted his poem "Amethyst Rocks." From that point on Saul managed to pick up a number of gigs and take the slam scene by storm with his electrifying stage presence and poems that took listeners' souls to the furthest reaches of the solar system and returned them with adrenaline-fuelled hearts. It all paid off in April of 1996 when, shortly after the birth of his daughter Saturn, Saul won the coveted Nuyorican Poet's Cafe grand slam championship. He and the Nuyorican team would go on to place third in the team standings at the national poetry slam in Portland, Oregon. The team's road to the championship was the subject of the Paul Devlin film Slamnation.
Saul's graduation from New York University in May of 1997 allowed him more time to focus on his artistic output, which began with the film Slam, directed by Marc Levin. The film, which Saul co-wrote, centered on a young man who used poetry to break free from his given reality, and was a huge hit, winning awards at both the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. During this time Saul?s first book of poetry, The Seventh Octave, was released by Moore Black Press. By the end of 1998 Saul had penned deals with MTV Books and American Recordings, and was well on his way to hitting the market with his enlightened and enlightening language, taking the attitude that the only way to change something is to become it and do so from within.
Since then Saul has released two more books (s/he and , said the shotgun to the head.), the Rick Rubin-produced Amethyst Rock Star CD, and a scathing anti-war EP titled Not in My Name, as part of his continuing effort to expand the consciousness of the people, and show them the importance of language and art, as well as rescuing his hip hop roots from the over-commercialized self-mockery that is permeating the current market. "We're always saying 'word up' and 'word is bond'. Gang Starr's first fucking hit was 'these are the words that I manifest.' hip hop is about the power of word and when emcees forget that, they forget themselves and they become fucking caricatures of themselves, living out some dream that is not theirs. it's just buying into the American dream."
Whether you're drawn into Saul Williams' web through the intricate wordplay or mystic truths of his poetry, or through the genre-mashing sounds of his band mixing hard rock guitar riffs with heavy funk bass and turntables, one thing is certain -- you will be left thinking for yourself, which is exactly what Saul aims to do.
"We have socialized ideas of what it means to be conscious; we have a certain way that we expect these people to look and behave, certain things we expect them to say. I normally just tend to remember who Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz was, versus who Malcolm X was, and I try to remember the transitions like that in people's lives. A lot of people are walking around screaming about Malcolm X, but if Malcolm X was still alive, he'd be Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz and he'd be on some total other shit than the people who think they're practicing what they think Malcolm X would be doing?you know what I?m saying? So it's important to honour those transitions in ourselves, and I speak of the universe and the universal aspects of truth and understanding because that's what we're aiming for. That is the goal. If at the end of the day I?m just a great black poet, then something has been missed."
I rarely play clubs anymore, but I was asked by four different people to play at the Bowery Poetry Club. On December 3, my trio will accompany poet Ray McNiece, former writer in residence of the Kerouac Writer's Residence in Orlando, which I helped get started. After playing music for Ray with my trio, I will play a set of my own. Ray is an outstanding poet, scholar, teacher and ambassador for Spoken Word at its finest. I was honored to be asked by him to do this, as a way of also honoring my work with Kerouac. There is a whole Kerouac connection to this evening, because Steve Allen, five weeks before he died, in his last public concert, performed with me in Orlando and we raised enough money to make the Kerouac Writers Residence in Orlando a reality. After three years of fundraising, under the guiding hand of Marty Cummins, we put the Residence in the black. Steve Allen and I were the ones who first played for Kerouac's public readings.
I started collaborating with Kerouac in 1956 until 1969 when Jack died, and Steve Allen first played with Jack in 1958 at the Village Vanguard. That fall Steve had Jack appear on his national TV show, and also recorded with him.
Ray McNiece was chosen as a Kerouac House writer a few months after Steve Allen and I performed our benefit concert for the Kerouac Writers residence in the Fall of 2000. When Ray recently asked me to play for him, as I did with Jack, for a New York/Florida connection, I was happy that I was free to do so. The Bowery Poetry Club is one and a half blocks from the old Five Spot, where I played in 1957 before On the Road was published, and Jack used to come to the Five spot to read with me. (Bob Holman has a poster with a photo of me playing there from Esquire magazine, in his office. He is supposed to have it framed for the club. This photo is in Time Warner History of the 20th Century and the cover of two books. There are black and white copies available, and the proximity of these two places, with the Bowery Poetry Club a few hundred feet from the old Five Spot, where it all started, should be of historic interest).
Playing at the Bowery Poetry Club completes a circle, started 45 years ago!!!!
On December 11th my trio will be playing with a bunch of musicians from the Vancouver Bongo Beat label, singer/songwriter Lauren Agnelli (she was with the trio "The Washington Squares" and is WONDERFUL) and a group of poets chosen by web author Levi Asher whose site LitKicks was the first one ever to deal with Kerouac, myself and others in an intelligent way. They want me to be the Guest of Honor and also celebrate my 72nd birthday (which is actually November 17) as well as have me play. Like Bob Holman, Levi Asher brings distinction, scholarship and a sense of joy to a fresh way of looking at our era of the 50's. Not Beat but rather beatific... open, inclusive, warm and multifaceted.
On January 5th I'll be performing at a reading with poet George Wallace, who has a book and CD (I did all the music for him) published in Italy and coming out soon in the USA. I'll be playing music with George and then doing a set with my trio. This will be from 4-7 p.m. and should be fun. In the past two years, I have helped George Wallace to contact surviving members of our group to participate in two major events which he conceived and administered himself. The first, where the town of Northport celebrated Kerouac's presence there, and the Big Sur four city marathon readings, were both substantial and critically praised events that concentrated on the cultural aspects of our era, rather than a rehash of negative stereotyping. Jack and many of us still surviving were honored as artists who contributed something of lasting value and inspiration to present day artists. George Wallace, in addition to being a prolific and highly gifted poet with a unique style of writing and reading of his work, has a radio show for poets past and present and has created a website, PoetryBay that is a major outlet for many great young poets, as well as established ones.
On January 18th I'll be performing with Jason Eisenberg, keeper of the Lord Buckley flame, who is coming from Boston Mass to recite Lord Buckley's incredible raps. Lord Buckley was a major influence for Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and was the first to combine the works Shakespeare, stories from the Old Testament, the Bible, the biographies of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln with 1940's hip talk, the poetry of the streets. Buckley died way too young in 1960, I played with him the night before he died, at an event given for him by George Plimpton, to help him gain wider recognition. Jason Eisenberg is phenomenal, the best I ever heard with the exception of Lord Buckley himself.
I will be playing a set with Kevin Twigg on drums and John Dewitt at each of these four events.
People might be interested to know why, at this stage of my life, I am doing this. I can tell them that, having performed at the beginning of The Five Spot, and with Cecil Taylor, initiating the club as a major jazz center in January of 1957, performing with Kerouac in New York City's FIRST jazz/Poetry readings in Oct of 1957, composing music for FIRST Joseph Papp New York Shakespeare Festivals FIRST summer in 1957, composing music for the Lincoln Center Theater's FIRST production (After the Fall by Arthur Miller) in 1964, being chosen by Leonard Bernstein as the New York Philharmonic's FIRST composer-in residence in 1966, traveling to Cuba with Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, the FIRST musicians to play in Cuba since the Revolution in 1977, and being the FIRST musician to perform at the Bowery Poetry Club in a Gregory Corso Tribute before the Club was even supposed to be open, in the winter of 2002, I know what is of REAL VALUE.
The Bowery Poetry Club is one New York City's major cultural innovations of the new Millennium. At a time when Arts organizations are in chaos, it leads the way. Bob Holman is an outstanding poet, a visionary and community minded, just as Joe Papp was. He will set the standard for a whole new way (and a very traditional one) of bringing the performing arts back to where they belong...accessible, for all ages, of many different artists from varied genres rubbing shoulders with one another and having direct contact with their audience, always communicative, reflecting the poly-cultural treasures that make New York City a great place to be.
I am grateful to be free to be at these events. I not only see old friends in their 70s and 80s who come. My own children 23, 21 and 18 also love going there and so do their friends.
"So you better get this party started"
P!nk at a poetry reading? You better believe it. As the evening kicked off with the words "I'm Comin' Up" blasting through the Bowery Poetry Club, there was no doubt that this would be a night of raw energy and talent. At just a few minutes past 7, the club was already filled with people and the performers were ready to roll. Levi Asher of our very own LitKicks and Janan Platt of AlienFlower took the stage to welcome everyone and gave a brief overview of what would be taking place. Janan and Levi immediately set the tone for the evening by reading their collaborative piece, "What You're Looking For", a steady stream of seemingly unconnected phrases and thoughts read together simultaneously. As the piece ended, Lorraine Dechter gave a short follow-up to the poem, explaining that the words and phrases were culled from internet search keywords used to find Alienflower. Lorraine also read an interesting cut-up piece based on her and Janan's observations of New York City.
Lorraine introduced the first of the LitKicks Action Poets, the ever-talented Jamelah. As each poet took the stage, they were handed a flower to add to a vase placed in front of the microphone. Jamelah read her very poignant piece, "September 11th Birthday Girl" and immediately had the crowd hooked. She then read two selections from her new chapbook "Sketches of a Return Journey". The first, "underneath the audio", was a slice of reality taken from a father-daughter relationship. The choice of words and descriptive language in this piece brought it to life for the audience and you felt as if you were there witnessing the scene. "the water was moving too fast" was a haunting narrative of an inevitable goodbye. Jamelah's writing is simply beautiful and her performance kicked off the Action Poets series with a lyrical intensity I've yet to see matched.
As Levi introduced Litnrod11, the LitKicks faction who had attended the previous night's rehearsal knew they were in for a treat, as they had already witnessed his cool delivery of the poems "The Last Time I Was in New York" and "Circus of Dreams" as well as his devilishly humorous, "The Perfect Taco". I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found myself repeating the unforgettable refrain "On to Chicago" taken from the first piece that he read. The crowd in the club was no less impressed with his performance and sat perfectly still as he read "The Poet's Dirty Socks". As he finished up with "The Ballad of Dori Danger", he then introduced her, our own Doreen Peri.
Doreen took the stage and read the reply to "The Poet's Dirty Socks", which was a perfect response, perfectly presented with her rich voice and fluid movements. Next was "Installation of a Deadbolt" a chilling and passionate piece that she read with a wide range of emotion. These emotions were further heightened by Litnrod's flute accompaniment. Doreen closed with "Guess Who I Slept With Last Night", the tale of a nighttime visitor that had the audience giggling with the realization that it was in fact "that damned mosquito".
Billectric was up next, and kept everyone laughing with his tale of "How I Found LitKicks". His wry delivery and honest smile added such a personality to this performance, there was no one in the place that could help but have a good time watching him. He clutched a bizarre looking flower as he read. It was truly reminiscent of a "Laugh-In" dream sequence. He followed up by performing his own arrangement of Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet, which he dedicated to Doreen and Litnrod. As Bill sang and strummed the guitar, we got to see what a truly versatile performer he really was. As Bill left the stage, an enthusiastic table of LitKicks poets, all amazed at what they had just seen, greeted him wide smiles.
It was then turn for me to get up on stage and close the "Action Poets" segment of the show. I took the stage and warned the audience that someday their random words and conversation bits may one day end up as a part of one of my twisted poetry series. To demonstrate, I read a few short poems including "edit me". To illustrate the Action Poetry-style of poetic collaboration, I then read the call-and answer-pair of "I Sold my Summer" (written by jota) and my subsequent response to that poem, "I Stole My Summer". I then had a mild panic attack set to words with "Frenzy", which I followed with a poem to my father, "Inheritance". I then called Levi onstage to accompany my final two pieces with quietly played guitar. "Floor" was a short descriptive piece that had recently started a lengthy Action Poetry thread. I then ended with a dual language poem, "Together". Backed by the faint strumming of guitar, I hope the feeling of unabashed love in this piece was apparent, no translation needed.
The California poets then took the show in a new direction as Lorraine Dechter read several inspiring and lyrical pieces. Her heartfelt delivery of these well-written lines showed the skill of a true performer. Her cut-up piece "The Beginning of a Childhood Fairy Tale" was a bittersweet account of a young child who loses his father and was read with the tenderness only a mother could give. Two selections, "Woman" and "Orion , were sung a capella and Lorraine held the attention of everyone with the strength of her voice.
Janan Platt, co-host of the evening and creator of AlienFlower, read a few of her pieces, including "Flowa" (the New York city pronunciation of "Flower", she explained) and "Woman with the Lawn Ornaments." Janan's subtle interpretation of these works allowed the words to speak for themselves, especially the fabulous wordplay of "Flowa" in which fantastic descriptions create an dream-like image.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Levi came back to the stage to read three excerpts from his novel The Summer of the Mets (which will be available in paperback later this year). Although I had read the novel last summer, hearing Levi's voice retell the story was like nothing else. As Levi read, Litnrod played gentle melodies on his flute and Lorraine provided accompaniment on guitar; the quiet music set the perfect backdrop for the many moods of the story. The first passage introduced the main character, Chris, and was told in an innocent and honest fashion. As he recounted the summer vacation boredom of a teenage boy, heads nodded in recognition. In the second excerpt, we got an even deeper sense of Chris's internal feelings as he finds his first love. Mr. Asher's description of the excitement and amazement of new love was instantly familiar. The dialogue in each section was superbly read and the mellow sound of Levi's voice only made the story more lifelike. As he finished with a vivid account of a single inning during the 1986 World Series, you could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone waited to hear which way the game would go -- even those who already knew the outcome. Each piece worked very well alone, but together they really made for a powerful presentation and I'm sure The Summer of the Mets already has quite a following.
John S. Hall then took the stage quietly and timidly ... but as is often the case, looks were deceiving. He read many hilarious and high-energy poems like "Nickels for Ned", and he shared an alternate take on the "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker. His stage presence and demeanor only heightened the humor of the writing. After getting the green light to read two more pieces, John read "The President" (formerly titled, "The Mayor") and "The Miracle of Childbirth", prefacing them by saying "These next two pieces are made up almost entirely of curses". These last two were impressive on shock value alone, however even beneath all of the profanity; the audience felt a sense of awe at his ability to express so much in the use of just a few repeated words. As John S. Hall left the stage, we all felt as if we'd just witnessed a hurricane and lived to tell about it.
We were all then treated to some music by Lauren Agnelli, a talented and accomplished musician. Lauren started the evening most respectfully with a tribute to Elvis (who had died on this date, August 16, 25 years earlier), "A Fool Such as I". Lauren also performed "Sand Castle Song," and the raucous "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad,". She then sang a beautiful selection, "She's Gonna Change", joined by her friend Ken Anderson on vocals and tambourine. She closed by sharing her short poem "Spring Girl with a Song", a piece from the voice of Persephone.
Tom Goodkind of the Washington Squares joined Lauren on the stage, along with Billy Ficca of the seminal 70's punk band Television, to cap off the night with a long awaited Washington Squares reunion. The Squares were an excellent closer for the show, singing "Charcoal", "Greenback Dollar", "You Can't Kill Me", and the Civil War themed ballad, "Two Brothers". The chemistry of this group was apparent and they played with such heartfelt intensity that no one could resist moving along to the music. They closed with "Goodnight Irene", inviting anyone from the audience to come onstage and be a part of the action.
Before we knew it, the show was over and the bouquet on stage was finally complete, just as it wouldn't have been the same without each individual flower, the show wouldn't have been the same without each individual performer who contributed. It was a great night filled with a wide variety of styles and voices, all coming together to make for an intriguing and entertaining display of talent.
Jamelah, Litnrod, Doreen and Billectric
Litnrod on stage
Firecracker and Jamelah
Firecracker and Levi on stage
Litnrod and Doreen
Billectric and Levi's Dad
See the Poster.
Read another review.
Pictures from the Rehearsal.
More Pictures from NY and Rehearsal.
So I only got the go-ahead to do this show in early April, and called in Brian Hassett to help me arrange -- the last show he and I did together was the excellent but overwhelming 5th Anniversary show in 1999, and Brian and I both agreed that we wanted this one to be less totally insane then that one. The world-peace theme called for a different mood, and the evening began with a few songs by the Chess Shop Divas (Deb Reul & Amy Coplan on guitar, keyboards and harmonies), followed by Nicole Blackman, who read a beautiful and sad account of her work as a volunteer at Ground Zero last fall.
Next up was Sharon Groth with a poem about love and war and rocketships, followed by Eliot Katz, the rabble-rousing New Jersey poet who had co-edited Allen Ginsberg's last book of political poetry ("Poems for the Nation").
Eliot was followed by the one single person from the LitKicks message boards who had bravely volunteered to try her stuff onstage, the always-charming Lucy Torres (aka Gothic-Hippie-Chic). She read a poem by litnrod11 as well as a few of her own.
Next up was Sander Hicks, who talked about George Bush for a little while before giving us a powerful reading from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", which was appropriate because Holman had just installed the first decoration in the club, a huge Lite-Brite portrait of Walt Whitman (yes, Lite-Brite).
Sander was followed by one of the highlights of the evening, a few minutes of African melodies and singing by the cora master and griot Papa Susso, whose performance totally brought down the house. Bob Holman joined him for a second piece, a West Africa/New York storytelling collaboration, and I followed this with the poem I'd written for the evening, my "ode to aggression" titled "Fight".
Todd Colby, author of Riot in the Charm Factory followed with a few sardonic and unique pieces, and was followed by Living Theatre veteran/performance artist Pat Russell ("Views of Life from the Seat of a Bike: A New York Story").
We took a short break, and then Stephan Smith took the stage. If you haven't heard of Stephan, I hope you will soon. He's one of the best new folk/protest singers around, and has been performing with folks like Pete Seeger. He's hoping to do some good stuff of his own at Bob Holman's club -- stay tuned for more on that front later.
Walter Raubicheck followed with an excellent reading from Dylan Thomas, and after then Brian Hassett began the long sequence he'd been planning for the second half of the night, a stream of unstopping poetry and music which he'd been calling "The Wheel" as the idea was to wheel in one performer after another without pausing for introductions or polite clapping or any of that other stuff you always get at one poetry reading after another. Brian's Wheel included more songs by Deb & Amy and poetry by George Wallace, Angela P., Bob Holman and Brian himself, and music by Will Hodgson, Geoff B. and several others. At one point during this joyful stream, a bassist playing a standup bass even seemed to have materialized out of nowhere (I know we didn't have a standup bass in our plans) and there were many other magical moments.
I had hoped to join this myself and read some poems that had been posted to LitKicks after Sept 11, but we were way overtime and there was no way to do it. After the "Wheel" we totally changed the mood and closed the night with a killer set by a punk band I really like, White Collar Crime, led by Sander Hicks. This is a very unusual band -- they have no guitars (this seems to be part of their political mandate somehow), they play really loud, and I just like them a lot. Check them out if you can.
It was all over around 1:30 a.m. How can I sum up the night? I am still in a daze, and it is dinner time the next day. We were there to make some kind of a point, to the world and to ourselves. I think we made the point.
Here's the poster if you missed it.
And here are some pics (thanks to Tony & Stacy Leotta):
Deb Reul and Amy Coplan
Bob Holman and Papa Susso
Sander Hicks and White Collar Crime
The Walt Whitman LiteBrite
He's been described by Allen Ginsberg as an "energetic Bodhisattvic poetic spirit," by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as "un brave type!," by Douglas Brinkley as "one of the remarkable poets of his generation" (Ron was born in 1950), by Hunter Thompson as "crazy as ten loons."
No doubt about it, Whitehead is a charged and driven charismatic person. His aura of positivity and his Never Give Up attitude --- which the Dalai Lama supernaturally sensed when he imparted the poem of that title Whitehead transcribed and made verse --- are not just perceived but are felt as an irresistible force.
He's a humanist tapped into the Ground Source, a man with a conscience and indomitable spirit, a voice from beyond in the here and now, learning as well as teaching as he travels his path, using poetry as his chosen vehicle. It could have been music, it could have been visual art, but those medium's didn't & don't suit his purpose, which is to rouse as many people as possible -- especially Americans -- out of the big sleep.
Though much of Whitehead's early poetry was designed to tell you about himself as a way of letting you know it's alright to be yourself, he has, since about 1992, decided to become more than an individual beacon of light putting words into books that ultimately languish on library shelves. He's decided to become a visible, helpful, loud-and-clear instigator who is at once actively inspiring and at the same time recruiting already-awake enlightened souls to action against repressive forces of darkness that seek to put the proverbial Orwellian boot on a person's back when that person is down. That person is only down because he or she allows himself or herself to be down and devoid of hope, devoid of The Self. And that person represents the collective person, represents all of us in this world.
Whitehead's call to arms sounds at first revolutionary, but it is essentially basic, heartfelt and intelligent: It's about not conforming to the nationalistic, racist, sexist, evil consumer-producer culture that international governments of the 19 th and 20 th centuries have sent down to us as our legacy and our collective fate.
The only way to fight those in control, at any given time, is to remain an open, caring and aware individual with a humanist conscience. That's more than just a personal belief --- which becomes poetry ---on Whitehead's part; it is the only effective resistance against what used to be called "the tide of conformity." What Whitehead does in not rabble-rousing; it is the same
thing Emerson stood up for, Walt Whitman stood up for, the same thing Gandhi stood up for --- and one telling fact about post-modern world-civilization is clearly seen in the way these people automatically become lightning rods.
Whitehead has come under fire for being anti-American over his 'I Will Not Bow Down' (Hozomeen Press, 1996) and 'Declaration of Independence This Time' (Hozomeen Press, 2001), two savvy works that are as American as apple pie before the apples & grains were mixed with toxic ingredients and baked into a force-fed pastry of imperialist fascism and closed-mindedness by self-serving smug moronic politicians and Puritanical charlatan embeciles rich enough to advertise themselves as guardians of an inherently detrimental, even deadly, status quo.
Whitehead's agenda is not entirely individualistic, not in the negative sense anyway. He has shaped his persona in such a way as to make of himself an example, James Joyce's "universal in the particular," and the ramifications cause his stance to become political in contemporary society and partly due to the way contemporary governments operate.
Whitehead is decidedly and consciously an Emersonian Kentuckian, a Walt Whitman with a political agenda, philosophizing and yet merely describing the current circumstances, but also offering indispensable pragmatic advice rooted in his own experience of surviving these years since Ronald Reagan and his cronies effectively killed the so-called counter culture of the 1960s.
What Reagan and company didn't count on was that there were true believers among those now derisively called "baby boomers."
Yes, Whitehead was over there in Washington D.C. turning over trash cans on the street in protest of the Vietnam Conflict, dodging tear gas canisters, at the behest of the likes of Jerry Rubin. But Whitehead (and others of his generation) realized that social revolution had already been won by 1973. The Republicans also realized they'd lost that battle for the American conscience by then, and many on both sides of the cultural revolution thought the war was over during the 1970s. The sheep retired, at that time, to New York and Paris discos, with their vials of cocaine, ridiculous clothes, and other leftover surface trappings of "the second revolution." Whitehead himself had found his soul-mate, Nancye, and retired (ca. 1974-78) to his native Beaver Dam, Kentucky, to sell Nissans for an Owensboro dealership and raise a family.
But the post-Nixon governmental backlash was still in the works, and when it hit full-force with Reagan leading the charge, Whitehead was one who decided not to sit around and be discredited for having been a part of the 1960s. He was too much a man to deny that part of himself and retreat to a cloister, a la his much-admired Thomas Merton, and, anyway, Whithead had snake-handling holy-rollers in his ancestry. Total defeat is inadmissible to him; self-emasculation is not in his nature.
His option, he felt, was academia, and he enrolled at the University of Louisville around 1980, finding a mentor in Dr. Donald Slavin. Slavin encouraged him not only to consider teaching as a profession, but also to write, something Whitehead had had in the back of his own mind since childhood but had, like many writers, only trifled with and not considered seriously as a profession. He was instantaneously sparked by his studies and Slavin's suggestion, and ended up taking over editorship of Thinker Review, the university's student publication. Using his car-salesman skills, he talked U of L out of a previously unheard-of $15,000 budget, and he modeled the resulting publication on The Chicago Review and Triquarterly. The book was a resounding success, and his tenure as editor was extended. For the second Thinker Review, he contacted a multitude of nationals and internationals, and scored a huge coup: he got Seamus Heaney to contribute a pre-Nobel Prize poem, along with contributions from Diane di Prima, Lucien Stryk and Eithne Strong. He also made a contact with Allen Ginsberg, and ended up bringing Ginsberg to Louisville for a reading.
Ginsberg proved ultimately to be a lifelong ally and friend. And it was not a matter of Whitehead riding on the famous author's coat tails.
Ginsberg had, by 1979, been reduced to getting himself featured in People magazine sitting on railroad tracks blocking trains from delivering nuclear wastes here and there.
Once the Whitehead-Ginsberg contact was made, it morphed into a friendly symbiotic relationship. Ginsberg lent his name and his then-shrinking credibility to Whitehead's efforts at organizing readings and his inroads into publishing. Ginsberg also turned Whitehead on to his insider list of contacts. Whitehead jumped waist-deep into the reviving of Ginsberg's lagging career as a poet, though at the time it seemed a daunting task for a complete unknown like himself, but he did manage to inspire Ginsberg to start howling at pulpits and lecturns again instead of spending so much of his time on photography and on getting himself arrested for belated ineffectual protests and playing the victim.
Whitehead's causes and plans of action were unformulated at the time, but he was soon finding his feet, after much soul-searching and a lot of knocking on doors he had been pointed to by Ginsberg.
Whitehead's personal ideology, rooted in much-maligned teachings of Ram Dass, in literary treatises found in novels such as Knut Hamsun's Hunger, in Edvard Munch's profoundly expressionist paintings and prints, in music from Bill Monroe to the Grateful Dead and Sonic Youth, soon became fully integrated with a crystal-clear understanding of what Abbie Hoffman had tried to accomplish; with an intimation of what past sages (from prophets to our own Thomas Jefferson) had been up against; with what documents such as the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights stand for in real time as applicable declarations and not just as a hopeful but to-be-disregarded ideals.
Everything Whitehead had ever learned or had intuitively known fell into place by the mid-1990s. He was inevitably moved to take action --- not only to write books, but also to tie himself to a socially submerged upheaval that he was surprised to find was happening all over the United States and Europe. He has emerged, subsequently, as a leader in that underground, though it is not his intention to be a leader. His intention is only to instigate awakening among those who wish to awaken, to kick in the ass or tweak the cheeks of those who would have others sleepwalk through lifetimes:
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;These words are partly appropriated from William Butler Yeats, doctored of course, and Whitehead "dedicates" his co-opted rendering to "The Fathers Who Art Round(Heads)" -- by name: Rush Limbaugh, George Bush, Pat Robertson, Kenneth Starr.
Things fall apart; the centre will not hold;
The power-mongers are loosed upon the world;
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.
-- from The Reformation
That such a writing would be considered dangerous or threatening, and could potentially draw down the wrath of American elected officials, speaks for itself and shows us how drastically and dramatically America, in particular and as an entity, has been circumvented and perverted. Whitehead is keenly aware that basic American freedoms are disappearing rapidly as we enter the 21st century.
"She is cast from the garden into what she thinks are dreams, nightmares. She attempted to accelerate the qualitative growth of the animal race. She slept with one who was superior to the rest. Centuries of teaching had gotten nowhere, but with Canto's admixture she could change that. Did she deceive herself? Had she been deceived? Nothing is clear..."One of Whitehead's quests involves an articulation of 'The Ocean of Consciousness', in order to tap mankind into "the qualitative growth" that will make us truly civilized.
-- from 'White Horses'
'Blood Filled Vessels Racing To The Heart' (Hozomeen Press, 1997) was an attempt to explain the Ocean of Consciousness in apolitical terms. Unfortunately, it fails as a manifesto because it speaks academically instead of pragmatically. There is much finger-pointing toward as-yet unrealized historical ideas of merit, and the implication that these ideas can be realized partially redeems the text.
'The Beaver Dam Rocking Chair Marathon' (unfinished as of this February 2002 writing, except for volume one, issued by Tilt-A-Whirl Press, 1998) goes further toward articulating this Ocean of Consciousness, to which we all belong but are taught by social institutions and governments to deny in order to perpetuate feelings of hopelessness and alienation that keep a galvanized and earth-shaking irrevocable spiritual and political revolution from occurring.
Whitehead finds himself, in 2002, as a link between the Beats, Scandinavian expressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European poets in the tradition of Yeats to Heaney, modernist writers such as James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and so-called Generation Xers and now Generation Post-Xers, whom he has been professor to during the 1980s and 1990s and is still teaching in the first decade of century 21. Along the way, he's linked arms with other inter-generational luminaries (and I use the term "luminaries" not in the sense of celebrity, but instead in its literal sense) such as Casey Cyr and Bob Holman.
"Many times I've thought I needed to move to New York or San Francisco to make myself heard," Whitehead said to me once, "but Ferlinghetti told me there was no need for that, that I was already making myself heard based right here in Louisville [Kentucky]. And I have a love-hate relationship with Kentucky, but it was no different when I lived in Rekjavik [Iceland] for two years. I still had to travel to Netherlands and read in Amsterdam, still had to travel to Wisconsin and New York and New Orleans to read. So no matter where I live, I'd still have to travel, just like the Rolling Stones have to travel, which I don't mind at all. I'm a restless spirit anyway."
The books are out there. They're on the shelves at City Lights, on the shelves in Chicago, on the shelves in Portugal and India. So are the books of others he's published since founding the Kentucky-based Literary Renaissance in 1992.
Literary Renaissance has imported writers, artists and musicians to Kentucky, and has exported Midwestern Americans to points all over the globe. The idea is to pinpoint individuals and groups with something to transmit and help them make themselves heard --- on a stage, in bars and cafes, in auditoriums at universities, on the radio, through CD releases as well as books. He finds the avenues, and he speaks and he brings others along with him to speak and play music and otherwise communicate worthy ideas or statements.
A subsidiary of Literary Renaissance is Published In Heaven, an outfit that has published and continues to publish a series of chapbooks as well as poems and visuals on posters and including material by everyone from Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to Yoko Ono to former American president Jimmy Carter.
Whitehead has also been a tireless organizer of reading and music events since the 1980s. His "insomniacathons," which sometimes go for three or four days nonstop, are now legendary.
These events and CDs take the word off the page and make them real, while leaving the pages and CDs for history, in case history's interested.
Lots of writers don't know how to get out of their own vacuums. They're not fit for society or society rejects them for one reason or another. Society puts them in this quandary and the result is a standoff: They want to deal with everything second-hand, through their writings. They can't or don't know how to deal with the reality of what's happening. Again, this is something the so-called Status Quo requires of all citizens, all who would fit into the "normal scheme of things."
Whitehead doesn't fit into that normal scheme of things, and he's not willing to retreat and forget it, because he knows that "normalcy," as it is generally conceived of, is a political and social ploy that keeps individuals from being shining examples of humanity in the Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu or even Agnostic reality.
He writes his blasts against dangerous political idiocy, he writes his contagious love poems, he co-opts what makes sense to him and passes it on in the same way those before him have, like shamans, passed on what is valuable -- then he bothers to hit the road and read it to people, face to face, to meet his audience and other poets on similar quests, instead of just tapping it into a computer file and letting a newspaper or book publisher send out sanitized reviews which either fall upon deaf ears or circumvent the real message. He interacts with people, is a citizen diplomat, finds some who are in common cause with him, ends up arguing wrestling with others who aren't.
But he's unstoppable now that he knows what his mission is:
What world have we born ourselves into?
Do we have a wrestling, not against blood and
flesh but against governments, against authorities,
against world rulers, rulers of darkness, against wicked spirit forces in heavenly places?
What world have we born ourselves into?
Should we put on the suit of armor from God?
Stand firm with out loins girded with truth?
Is this where the intelligence that is wisdom comes in? Seven heads mean seven mountains?
What world have we born ourselves into?
-- from 'What World Have We Born Ourselves Into: The Apocalypse Rag'
Copyright by David Minton
To learn more about Ron Whitehead, check out TappingMyOwnPhone.com.
I knew my friend Brian Hassett knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked him to get involved, and with his help we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club The Bitter End, in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept growing until I had assembled such an amazing group of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself. I spent much of the last few weeks running around the city like an idiot, trying to organize posters, hotel rooms, musicians ... in fact some friends report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway, Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was time to get on stage. Here's how the night went down:
Vermont writer Marie Countryman opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed by an excellent short story, 'The Shock of a Feather' by novelist David Alexander. Next, web writer Xander Mellish read the beginning of her short story 'Extraordinary' to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who read the introduction to her just-published Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.
The evening then started to veer towards the outer orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman, accompanied by legendary jazz composer David Amram on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I'd like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little more gentle when Briggs Nisbet read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed by two sublime haiku readings featuring, first, Beat scholar Walter Raubicheck and then Cor van den Heuvel, editor of the new 'Norton Haiku Anthology', both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.
Smug.com's talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story, 'Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall', about strip poker and skin types, and this was followed by what was possibly the evening's most unique moment: a spontaneous spoken-word performance by John Cassady, son of Beat legend Neal Cassady. John had never visited New York City before, so a lot of people had come down specifically to see how Neal's son had turned out and what he looked like, and not only the Village Voice but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut. John is a nice guy but also a "regular guy" like you or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what all he'd say when he stepped up to the mike. As the Mighty Manatees (a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite) kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later John was riffing left and right on an unpublished letter he'd found in his father's papers, and the "John Cassady Rap" was becoming legend before my eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang Chuck Berry's "Nadine" as a tribute to the Dad he'd been missing for the last thirty-one years.
The show went on -- Robert Burke Warren stepped up to the mike and ripped into "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then the David Amram Trio went onstage to sing "Pull My Daisy" and jam. I read a short story of my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster Mark Thomas, creator of Sorabji.com, who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop poet Charles Plymell who read an extremely affecting fable about John F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played behind him.
Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming screenplay, "Don't Be Denied", and after this began the main "I'm not worthy" part of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving independent writing/publishing scene of today. First was Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as a calming humming sound played on the PA, then Richard Hell a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent punk rock in the early 70's, and then having the talent to write the excellent novel ' Go Now ' in the 90's. Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us "I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway" (fair enough), and then recited his unique poem "Weather," which contains 12 different alterations of a single poem, each growing in its own unique direction. Hell was followed by Lower East Side poetry hero Bob Holman, who years ago helped start the spoken-word revolution with his friends at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in the East Village, and now helps to run the excellent About.poetry website (among many other things). Holman took the band with him on a bizarre "Peter and the Wolf"-style instrument-vocalization jam that had subtle moments and also occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming and yelling, Holman-style.
The show continued: Meg Wise-Lawrence delivered a smoky, snaky performance of her prose-poem 'Twelve Beginnings ... One End' accompanied by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, who read his powerful "I Will Not Bow Down" among other things, and Icelandic web innovator Birgitta Jonsdottir Next up was a thoughtful language poem by Aaron Howard, a light-jazz-toned excerpt from Breathing Room by Christian Crumlish (the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and funny moments with John Grady (whose "New York Bagel" is one of my favorites), and a closing performance by avant-garde/surrealist Gregory Severance. With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees, David Amram and John Cassady stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a couple of Dead tunes, 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road Feeling Bad'.I know everybody who was there enjoyed it -- in fact there was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event that has made many of us, myself included, think back to that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and thanks to the Bitter End for letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn't stay out late enough to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night -- we learned a lot and will know better next time.
Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry, and this night proved it to me.
-- Levi Asher
-- July 28 1999
The Living End!
by Marie Countryman
Brian Hassett writes ...
The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
1. I haven't reminded you recently to check out Ken Kesey's site. You really should, because Kesey is a vibrant and original thinker with a great sense of humor, and he's also got a good official site, run by his son Zane Kesey. And you especially should visit now, because Ken and Zane and Neal Cassady's son John Cassady and a bunch of others just drove "the bus" (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) to Cleveland for a ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. John and his girlfriend Pat and her brother Dan tell me they had an amazing time, and I'm really jealous because I should've gone but I just stayed at home. Oh well ... we can all enjoy it vicariously.
2. Check out Mouth Almighty, an experimental record company, created in conjunction with Mercury Records, and dedicated to the art of spoken word poetry. This is partly the work of Bob Holman, who may be downtown New York's most important poetry cheerleader now that Allen Ginsberg is dead. But the poetry spirit is still alive like crazy around New York -- there's the Nuyoricans and Tribes and the St. Mark's Poetry Project, and over in Brooklyn is McLean Greaves' gorgeous Cafe Los Negroes. Speaking of Brooklyn (and speaking of Ginsberg), I was at Brooklyn College last week for a memorial to Ginsberg, who was a professor there until the time of his death. Here's what I read.
3. I've recently exchanged a few emails with a fascinating survivor of the Beat and post-Beat 1960's and 70's, Charles Plymell. His 1971 book "The Last of the Mocassins" has just been republished, and you can also experience his honest and fresh voice at the site above, along with many photos and interesting asides.
4. The New Yorker wrote a really nice review of the Literary Kicks Neal's Denver section in the May 19th issue. But do they publish my short stories? Fuck no. Speaking of short stories ... some of my more somber friends consider this beneath contempt, but I've been listening to Phish a lot lately. A real lot. What this has to do with short stories is that their bassist Mike Gordon just published a book of his own stories, which he'd been writing for the Phish zine Doniac Schvice. And the stories are excellent! Just to give you an idea what Mike Gordon's strange prose sounds like, here's the first paragraph of the first story in the book: "As far as tykes go, Johnald was a wee bit irregular. For one thing, he had an amrope coming out of his head. You may be wondering, 'What is an amrope?' I won't piss on you for wondering that. Actually it's like an antenna, but it's got some mold on it. It's not something you buy at a store; maybe you do buy it in a store."
Weird. Kind of like ... like Richard Brautigan meets Tickle-me-Elmo. It works for me.
On Valentine's Day, Meg Wise-Lawrence and I hosted a fiction/poetry reading of Web writers at Biblio's cafe/bookstore in downtown Manhattan.
The agenda was pretty loose -- we'd selected an eclectic group of thirteen readers from various places on the internet, and we'd given no instructions except to keep it to under ten minutes. It turned out to be a great night! First ...
Meg Wise-Lawrence (aka The oMEGa Female,
whose work has also appeared in
Enterzone and Literary Kicks)
kicked off the evening with a
short spoken-word performance. I then pulled
out my guitar and joined her for an homage to
Patti Smith which had been inspired by a passage
Meg had read one night in a physics textbook.
Ted Fristrom read a short story, Space,
which first appeared in
Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour
Peter Crumlish read a story, The Last to
Know, that recently appeared in Enterzone.
Clay Shirky, author of the book Voices of the
Web and frequent contributor to webzines like
Urban Desires and Word
performed an interesting hypertext piece,
Notes on Sinking, by mixing up a bunch
of index cards and reading them at random.
Maureen McClarnon, whose work has appeared in
the io section of Alt-X,
read a few short poems.
who runs the io section of Alt-X,
read a couple of pieces, assisted by
his friend Mary.
Galinsky, producer of
host of its "GO POETRY" venue,
is a real panic. He does energetic, warmly
humorous spoken-word bits about everyday life in New
York City, growing up, being a teacher in Brooklyn ...
if you ever get a chance to see him perform, don't
David Alexander read a short story, Shock of
a Feather, about a siamese twin. David's
stories have appeared in Enterzone.
Nicole Blackman, a Dorothy Parker for the 90's,
told us horrifying truths about Alanis Morissette
(published in Sonic Net) and read a piece about
traveling with an all-male rock band.
Jamie Fristrom (who runs Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour,
and who I hope will someday earn enough
money with his excellent writing that he won't have to
code video games in San Diego anymore) read a story
about a guy who codes video games in San Diego.
I closed the evening with my story, Snappers,
from my Queensboro Ballads web project.
(Thanks to Tony Leotta for taking the videos I used to get these pictures.)