The LA Times Festival of Books
If you're reading this, then you know LitRave held an exhibition slam on the Etc. Stage as part of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday morning. So, I skipped my usual Saturday morning basketball game for a different kind of competition. (I wasn't competing, of course -- anyone who has seen me read would consider me more of a "thud poet" than a "slam poet.") After getting appropriately wired on coffee, I drove from Redondo Beach up to UCLA. Fortunately I had left some extra time, since the traffic on Sunset Blvd was inhospitable -- I probably spent 20 minutes between the freeway exit and Westwood Plaza. I got to the stage just as the previous act was finishing up (a cool jazz/funk/whatever band) and said hello to the half of the performance team who had already showed up: Wayman Barnes, Frankie Drayus, Charlotte O'Brien, and Brendan Constantine. Unfortunately, the OTHER half didn't show up for a while. Snow Plough appeared a little while later and broke out the cell phone to track down Damon Rutledge (the MC for the event), DJ Jedi, and Ratpack Slim. Fortunately everyone showed just in time, though Jedi never got to do anything because his gear didn't make it to the stage. (I didn't catch the whole story.)
I can't really tell you much about the individual performances, since I was busy at the table (more on that later). The sound was LOUSY off to the side of the stage where the LitRave table was located, so all I could pick up was general tone from the poet and the crowd reaction. (I did wander out into the crowd at one point to check the sound there and take a couple of pictures, and it sounded terrific, which is what matters. You just can't expect good acoustics at all points for an ad hoc outdoor event.) I CAN tell you that the crowd was easily hundreds of people, and they seemed to be entertained by the wide variety of styles onstage. Slim and Snow Plough made the final round, based on audience applause, and that Snow Plough won the whole thing by a hair. (Talking to her later, I found out that she also graduated from UCLA in 1999 with a science degree -- go figure! Super-cool girl, and she knew how to play the hometown edge!)
I talked to a lot of cool people at the table who grabbed bookmarks and flyers, signed up on the mailing list, and even bought some LitRave CDs! One lady I talked to had been going to the Ugly Mug regularly and chatted about that Tebot Bach anthology. Another guy had stopped by since Slim used to work with his grandson at a record store and wanted to check out his poetry. One guy stopped by to say that Brendan was among the best poets he had ever heard. Snow Plough's family came out to support her, and there were plenty of other poets in the crowd that I recognized: Marie Lecrivain, Angel Perales, UnSaen, and probably more that got lost in the crowd of people. The coolest thing had to be the crowd of kids who went up to the fence and asked the performers for their autographs!
It was a fun morning overall, last-minute chaos notwithstanding. My only huge mistake was wearing a UCLA sweatshirt to represent my alma mater. Hint: UCLA logo + standing at official-looking table + standing next to map = ENDLESS crowds of people asking how to get from here to there. Thank goodness I had remembered to bring a short-sleeve shirt in case it warmed up. If I had gotten tips, I could have retired early!
Golden West College
As one final highlight to the Orange County Poetry Festival, the Tebot Bach monthly reading at Golden West College featured the poetry of Naomi Quinonez and Patricia Smith. Naomi, assistant professor of Chicana & Chicano Studies at California State University, Fullerton, read a selection of poetry largely focused on ethnic and cultural issues in Southern California. At least two dozen of her students took time out of their Friday night to hear her read...and to get some extra credit. (Speaking of credit -- a few even stayed all the way through the reading, instead of leaving at the break.) Set list: "Returning To Azlan," "The Western Work Ethic..." (long title I didn't manage to write down in entirety), "Mystic Mangos Roll On L.A. Freeways" (a VERY long and ambitious piece), "Bumping In Wall" (not 100% sure of that title), and "We Are All Connected." As for Patricia Smith, winner of multiple US National Poetry Slam championships and recipient of the Carl Sandburg Award (among others), what can you say, other than she is a must-see performer from the very top tier? (In fact, literally all my notes say from her portion of the reading is "DAMN." She is one of those rare poets whose performance skills match her estimable writing skills. If you missed her...you missed out. (However, you have a small chance at redemption -- she is appearing at The World Stage this Wednesday night.)
Paul Suntup, relieved of his usual hosting chores, read Jeffrey McDaniel's poem "The Benjamin Franklin Of Monogamy" from the new Tebot Bach anthology, So Luminous The Wildflowers, to start the open mic part of the reading. Host Michael Paul read Ellyn Maybe's poem "I've Got Something Orange To Tell You" from the same book. "Little Bob" read two poems which were direct responses to readers from the anthology debut reading earlier in the month -- Lee Mallory and Stephen Burdette, if you're keeping score. Daniel McGinn read some newer pieces, including an acrostic ("William In The Garden") and the exceptional "Explaining Jane." Mel Bernstein had his poem "In Mexico" read in Spanish by Edith Vasquez, and then he read it in English. Kendall Evans read a poem with two voices, enlisting Andre Jacobs to read the part of the Sphinx. (He didn't have to remove his nose.)
Readers: Paul Suntup, Sharon Saunders, "Little Bob," Jaimes Palacio, Myrenna Ogbu, Daniel McGinn, Naomi Quinonez, Patricia Smith, Michael Paul, Mel Bernstein, Andre Jacobs, Kendall Evans, Cathie Sandstrom-Smith, Brenda Yates, Aaron Roberts, John Casey, Edith Vasquez, Victoria Locke.
Upcoming features: RAC and Ellyn Maybe on May 30.
Jeremy Stephens 4.24.03
Shakespeare's Birthday @ The Two Idiots Peddling Poetry
THE VENUE -- UGLY MUG CAFÉ: Well, if you haven't been to the Ugly Mug, you're missing out. Out of all the Orange County poetry venues I've attended, on average the Two Idiots bring in better features (or have them first), better open mic readers, and a better vibe.
On Wednesday, we celebrated Shakespeare's Birthday! His bones turned 439 years old. I hope he rests in peace, or at least is haunting someplace cool, like a castle or something.
Anyway, lined up for the night's feature, The Two Idiots booked Myrenna Ogbu and John Gardiner to read/perform some of the author's works. Unfortunately, they decided to celebrate William's birthday elsewhere, and are currently unavailable for questioning.or interrogation. Mwha ha ha ha ha.
Our mascot for the evening's events was the adorable William the Bard Bear, provided by host Ben Trigg. The bear was a big hit with the ladies. Wait.I liked the bear, too. But I'm not a lady. Dammit, I've screwed this up.
Short of features, it was an ALL OPEN MIC, ALL THE TIME, with some memorable performances by both poet and our new favorite heckler, Mr. Bruce Shasky.
Amanda Stephens, Bruce Shasky, Brian Harris, Brian Bywater, Jeff K, Jason Macbeth, Aaron Roberts, Jordan S., Ben Trigg, Jason Macbeth, Sid Shifter, David, Emmanuel, and Richard, Samera, Cora Outlaw, James Palacio, Carrie Seitzinger, Sonny, Michael Roberts, Devon, Greg Austin, Phillip Jacobson, Eddie O'Howles, Zainab Outlaw.
Several people read Shakespeare, with two memorable performances by Jason Macbeth and James Palacio, helping to reinforce the theme of the evening, while other poets wove their work in-between.
My sister, Amanda, was the first to read, and chose a few Shakespeare pieces. I mention her because she's my sister, dammit, and I'm writing this.review thing. It was also her first time reading at an open mic. She did pretty good for her first time up. Of course, she was reading Shakespeare. We'll see if her own stuff adds up.
Mr. Shasky, whom I shall dumb, I mean dub, Heckler of the Highest Order. Bruce (may I call you that, Bruce?) took it upon himself to introduce a new concept to the reading; Interactive Poetry. This is where said Heckler of the Highest Order gets to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and as loudly as he can. Though innovational, and this concept didn't seem to catch on. When he broke Poetry Reading Etiquette Rule #312 (Thou Shalt Stay For Thy Peers' Poetry If Thou Hath Read), no one seemed to care, or take much offense.
Some pieces I really enjoyed included:
Scenes from our Nation's Capital, by Jason Macbeth. This guy's performance puts me to shame;
Slippery When Crunched by Aaron Roberts, who style is becoming a better each time I hear him;
The Ring, by Sid Shifter, whose imagery I really enjoyed;
Her Arms, by Carrie Seitzinger, who informed us she memorized it from a dream, then wrote it down. The concept alone inspired some interesting thoughts and philosophical musing;
Spring time, by Greg Austin, who just kicked ass. This dude is raw, and weaves an awesome image;
Love like Addiction, by Zainab Outlaw.I love this poem, what more can I say.well I could say more, like "I liked this poem, a lot", yeah, anyway.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHAKESPEARE!!!
John: I'm glad to see you're back. I used to see you everywhere before and then you completely disappeared for a while and now I see you everywhere again :-).
I used to NOT know your name back when I didn't know anybody's name, except I would think- hey- there is that one guy who I see everywhere and who writes really really really really good poetry- make a mental note- find out his name or remember it when they announce it so that you won't have to follow him and embarrass yourself and just to be safe; make sure to sign on first on the list.
But now that I have made friends in the poetry community- I asked what your name was and therefore was able to introduce myself and say hello as if I knew you.
Boy- this sure was a long note just to say I'm glad you're back and reading (and writing).
ALTA COFFEE HOUSE
Lee Mallory's monthly reading at the Alta Coffee House in Newport Beach celebrated its tenth anniversary as part of the Orange County Poetry Festival on Wednesday night. The featured readers, Carole Luther and Leigh White, were representing FarStarFire Press -- Carole as founder and owner, and Leigh as a recent addition to their series. This small press, in collaboration with the Pale Ale Poets reading series, has put into print the work of so many Southern California poets, including just a FEW of my favorites: Daniel McGinn. Derrick Brown. June Melby. Paul Suntup. Michael Paul. Benjamin Trigg. Leigh White. Lee Mallory. Sarah Maclay. Holaday Mason. John Gardiner. Katya Giritsky. Jaimes Palacio.
Ryan Strassburg opened things with a nice set of music -- guitar, harmonica, voice, and managed to work some inside jokes into the lyrics. Carole started the poetry with a set of her work, including several haiku and tanka. Of particular interest was a poem she submitted to the last Tebot Bach anthology ("64 Crayons") which ended up being published as a haiku ("I Am") -- she read both versions. She finished with several haiku from Jawanza Dumisani, whose chapbook is about to be published by FarStarFire to go along with his feature on April 16. Set list: "Workday Haiku," "Third Thursdays," "Weekend Haiku," a tanka about dogs, "Alliteration Absolution," "I Was Thinking About Mongolia," "64 Crayons," "I Am," "Practically Perfect," "Gone Things," "Poet's Haiku," "Male-Bashing Haiku," "5 O'Clock News," haiku by Jawanza Dumisani.
Leigh White read next, and if you haven't had a chance to hear her read -- make the time. She has a talent for crafting pieces which are equal amounts bitter and poignant (OK, sometimes mostly bitter) but which exhibit a dark, liberating sense of humor. Her imagery consistently grabs your attention, perhaps related to her other life as a graphic artist and painter. My favorites? "California Pull-Out," which had a devastatingly funny description of a former lover as a Pinocchio in reverse (you can do the math), and a foreward she wrote for Derrick Brown's book, I'm Easier Said Than Done , which captured the elusive Mr. Brown quite eloquently. Set list: "The Most Beautiful Havoc," "Open Casket," "Foreword," "Maybe I Have Depression," "California Pull-Out," "Closing Argument," "Sticker Shock," "Snake Charmer."
After the features: more music from Ryan (including an odd incident where Lee attacked him with a warm pat of butter), and a brief open reading. Lee announced to everyone's surprise that there was a secret judge for the open readers, and a cash prize for the winner -- cue visions of slam nightmares. (As it turns out, there were three prizes: $20 for the winner, and FarStarFire Press chapbooks for second and third place.) The open readers were interesting across the board, but the funniest trend that developed was that everyone was flirting with Leigh. Ryan worked her into several of his songs, and an open reader named Finn actually wrote a tanka on the spot which compared her to Daria...in a flattering way, of course. (My two cents is that she IS lovely, but the Daria thing...nah.) After the open readers, Lee brought up the not-so-secret-anymore secret judge, longtime OC poet John Harrell, who read a triptych of war poems spread over time.
Third place? Yours truly. (Hey, I'm stoked since I got a rare initialed copy of Misty Mallory's chapbook as a prize, which will go nicely next to Lee's chapbook that he graciously gave to me earlier in the evening. Besides, my therapist says it's helpful to put a happy face on.) Second place? Ricki Mandeville, another FarStarFire poet. First place? Bruce Croffey, a gastroenterologist from Encino (if I heard correctly). I really liked his work, especially "Cinderella" -- the judges made a great choice.
Readers: Ryan Strassburg (music), Carole Luther, Leigh "Daria" White, Beatrice, Bruce Croffey, Finn, Ricki Mandeville, John Casey, John Harrell.
SACRAMENTO POETRY CENTER
(From the LitRave on the road department...)
While on a business trip to Northern California, I found some time to check out a local weekly reading sponsored by the Sacramento Poetry Center. Despite the folding sign on the sidewalk that said "Sacramento Poetry Center," the first thing that strikes an attendee is...ballerinas? The reading is held in the practice room of the Sacramento Ballet Company building -- if you can get over the mirrored wall and the loud echo (large room with wooden floors -- ouch!), it's a decent space.
On this particular night, host Luke Breit led off by announcing that one of the two features, Natalie Gordon, was unable to attend due to a work schedule conflict. (TRUST ME...I know that story all too well.) The other feature, local favorite Kitt Gardner (introduced as "a highly irregular noun and verb"), read for nearly 30 minutes. Her set included a poem written in response to a quote from Jack Kerouac ("Girls aren't as nice as they look"), a poem written in response to a William Burroughs piece ("A Thanksgiving Prayer"), and several poems written to her lover. Set list: "Tattoo," "First Date," "Rendezvous," "The Marriage Of Brooding To Bliss," "On Devotion," "Girls Are Nice," "Sunday At Hometown Buffet," "For Billy Boy," "Avery Slavery," "Pitbull Rosary," "95 Pounds, Good Things Come In Small Packages," "Unoriginal Sin," "Rachel At 18," "About Ted," "A Thanksgiving Prayer" (William Burroughs), and "Thanksgiving Poem."
The open reading had exactly two readers signed up (including yours truly), but as each person finished, another person strolled in to swell the list to a whopping five readers. (Two of the five read poems from other poets, incidentally.) One moment of extreme levity (well, at least it struck me funny in my plastic chair): Liz Purcell introduced the poem she read as a favorite she just found from "a new poet...well, new to me" -- and then launched into "The Cremation Of Sam McGee" by Robert Service. (A quick Googling yields a few facts which might interest you. He was born on January 16, 1874 and died September 11, 1958. He wrote over 2000 poems, 1200+ of which were published. Many of his poems were about his experiences in the Yukon Territoty. And, veering from fact to opinion: his poetry seriously bugs the hell out of me.) A girl named Anna Ortiz who read last injected some energy with a slam-style piece, and then sang two original songs ("Jail" and "Lighthouse"), kind of torch-singer-jazzy-but-more-contemporary, if I may abuse some hyphens. TERRIFIC voice, though -- she made the echo in the room sound positively great.
Readers: Kitt Gardner, Liz Purcell, John Casey, Susan Banta, Lee, Anna Ortiz.
Upcoming features: Check their website ( sacramentopoetrycenter.org ) for more info. Oh yeah, if you're in Sacramento this Wednesday (3/5) and you still have some energy left even after you've been running around all day protesting the war through poetry, Buddy Wakefield is at someplace called the Jamaica House at 9 PM. Buddy rocks.
Robert Peake 3.6.03
Jawanza Dumisani In His Element
Every once in a while a reading combines all the right elements and the alchemy of something truly memorable happens. Jawanza Dumisani's featured reading and book signing at The World Stage tonight was one of those rare and precious events. It's fitting that he returns to the place of his poetic origins to launch a stellar new book from FarStarFire Press called _Stoetry_. This was indeed a homecoming.
To Jawanza ("J.D." to his close friends) read in his sonorous, careful way is always a privilege. But tonight was unmitigated delight. Some people are born to savor words, to spill rhythms that entrance and astound. Jawanza combines powerful artistic instinct with a dedication to craft that can only be called passion. To hear him speak is to hear the joy and essence of poem craft come alive.
The Los Angeles community has been gifted with a lush book from an inspired poet. Rarely have I left a reading feeling, like tonight, so unmistakably as though I had witnessed the miracle of birth.
SOME HOTEL ROOM SOMEWHERE
"Happy Paper Or Plastic Birthday, John Casey"
Yes, someone really wrote me a poem with that title once upon a time. And yes, I'm going to steal that title someday soon. But not today. Here's to getting old.