Friday
Aug072015

UH-D Willow St. Pump Station... blasting off!

We’re official. The Mayor decreed it. Houston’s poet laureate seconded it. One thing we haven’t been pushing as much as I’ve expected is the ten year anniversary of the Tour. That’s alright, though. What’s cooler than not having to say it -- better still, what’s cooler than just having awesome things happen without making a big deal about it. Like having venues ask us back for next year, a year in advance. Like having the Mayor come out and hang with us, do some photo ops (yes), but also picking up everything our poets are dropping.

 

So. The venue is amazing, we show up and start doing our thing - clearing space of tables and setting up arrangement of chairs. There’s a projector with the WAT tour logo on the wall we’re fiddling with, I wish it were floating up and down like something from the Soul Train special effects department, but…still, we’re pushing buttons on walls, monkeying with the lights, etc. when a hulking security guard in a trim suit shows up, ear piece and all, asking if there's going to be a poetry reading tonight. The mayor’s advance-man! Lupe Mendez’s random tweeting worked. She read saw the tweet, followed the link and came. And, now we can’t be so cynical about new media, can we?  

 

 

Listen, we have the best poets. We have a great fistul of soulful poets who didn’t shirk or shy away from reading (for the fourth night in a row) in front of the Mayor and her poet laureate, Prof. Robin Davidson, a long time supporter and great friend of the tour.

 

Rain was the sacrifice. (I’m looking at my notes, recuperating from last night [Alley Kat, more on that later]) It started with a bang, her surprise-twist ending M. Night-inspired poem about unrequited love not being there when you need it -- won’t give away the ending. But it started a theme for the night that was tentative but there, about motherhood. Chris Crawford shattered us before the night even starting taking off about an early death, trauma, and childhood.

 

Royal gave the Mayor some of her own agenda in “Houston, we have a problem,” reminding us about the sex trafficking dark side of our city “rebirthed by Katrina” and the fairy tale aspect of forgetting, “how many poisoned apples can we eat before we throw up.” It exemplified that maternal wisdom the rest of the night continued: “Please, little black babies, don’t become untold history and endangered statistics.”

 

Winston did his trickster poems. There’s no slicker guy out there. I think of Winston as a baseball player, a pitcher to be exact: he can throw anything across the plate you want: hard truth, curved truth, screwball comedy. Last night at the podium he gave us some funny naming puns, but even in the act of naming there was again that maternal atmosphere of who is given what suitable name and, in a loving way, it had to do with how we are with each other.

 

Lupe’s piece followed suit. A piece about being the sideman during a love one’s sickness, bad health. This is something I know well, and Lupe speaks on it magically: “they ask if I am taking care of you,” but all he can do is soothe her and make soup, the simple household chores and little tasks that don’t seem like they amount to much. Oh, Lupe. My heart breaks thinking about it all over again.

 

Ha. And here my notes end! Your correspondent isn’t so faithful, he rather watch the performers than take notes. The rest is faulty memory.

 


 

Jonathan Moody did two pieces, one was what he read for the Draft this year, about getting. it. on. It’s sexy and “moody,” in all the right ways, but so sincere and, also, heartbreaking. Still, it’s better to hear it. I was joking with Jonathan about having specific intro music before a poet goes onstage, like WWE wrestlers, something that would get attached to them like a cue, and for Jonathan I would pull something from Prince’s early catalogue, Sign o’ the Times era. Also, and I’m stretching the theme here, it was about being able to/or not take care of someone. Like Lupe’s piece, like mine (about an affair between a teacher and student) and Rain’s.

 

Jordan expounded on a subject he had brought up the night before, illness, and how to better take care of himself - learning what was going into his body, the chemistry, the treatment, the difficulty. Kool B closed us out on a similar note, friends come and gone and the steady old reliable way of treating yourself with a pen and paper. That relevancy.


Willow St. Pump Station is a great venue, we’d been here once before, but tonight gave us a little more legitimacy (and a few poets who took selfies with the mayor) of not just how long we’ve been in Houston doing our thing, but where we can go, who we can get to hear us, and how respected and wide-reaching our audience can get. Who knows where we’ll go from here. I got plans, man, I got plans.

 


We’re official. The Mayor decreed it. Houston’s poet laureate seconded it. One thing we haven’t been pushing as much as I’ve expected is the ten year anniversary of the Tour. That’s alright, though. What’s cooler than not having to say it -- better still, what’s cooler than just having awesome things happen without making a big deal about it. Like having venues ask us back for next year, a year in advance. Like having the Mayor come out and hang with us, do some photo ops (yes), but also picking up everything our poets are dropping.


So. The venue is amazing, we show up and start doing our thing - clearing space of tables and setting up arrangement of chairs. There’s a projector with the WAT tour logo on the wall we’re fiddling with, I wish it were floating up and down like something from the Soul Train special effects department, but…still, we’re pushing buttons on walls, monkeying with the lights, etc. when a hulking security guard in a trim suit shows up, ear piece and all, asking if there's going to be a poetry reading tonight. The mayor’s advance-man! Lupe Mendez’s random tweeting worked. She read saw the tweet, followed the link and came. And, now we can’t be so cynical about new media, can we?  


Listen, we have the best poets. We have a great fistul of soulful poets who didn’t shirk or shy away from reading (for the fourth night in a row) in front of the Mayor and her poet laureate, Prof. Robin Davidson, a long time supporter and great friend of the tour.


Rain was the sacrifice. (I’m looking at my notes, recuperating from last night [Alley Kat, more on that later]) It started with a bang, her surprise-twist ending M. Night-inspired poem about unrequited love not being there when you need it -- won’t give away the ending. But it started a theme for the night that was tentative but there, about motherhood. Chris Crawford shattered us before the night even starting taking off about an early death, trauma, and childhood.


Royal gave the Mayor some of her own agenda in “Houston, we have a problem,” reminding us about the sex trafficking dark side of our city “rebirthed by Katrina” and the fairy tale aspect of forgetting, “how many poisoned apples can we eat before we throw up.” It exemplified that maternal wisdom the rest of the night continued: “Please, little black babies, don’t become untold history and endangered statistics.”


Winston did his trickster poems. There’s no slicker guy out there. I think of Winston as a baseball player, a pitcher to be exact: he can throw anything across the plate you want: hard truth, curved truth, screwball comedy. Last night at the podium he gave us some funny naming puns, but even in the act of naming there was again that maternal atmosphere of who is given what suitable name and, in a loving way, it had to do with how we are with each other.


Lupe’s piece followed suit. A piece about being the sideman during a love one’s sickness, bad health. This is something I know well, and Lupe speaks on it magically: “they ask if I am taking care of you,” but all he can do is soothe her and make soup, the simple household chores and little tasks that don’t seem like they amount to much. Oh, Lupe. My heart breaks thinking about it all over again.


Ha. And here my notes end! Your correspondent isn’t so faithful, he rather watch the performers than take notes. The rest is faulty memory.


Jonathan Moody did two pieces, one was what he read for the Draft this year, about getting. it. on. It’s sexy and “moody,” in all the right ways, but so sincere and, also, heartbreaking. Still, it’s better to hear it. I was joking with Jonathan about having specific intro music before a poet goes onstage, like WWE wrestlers, something that would get attached to them like a cue, and for Jonathan I would pull something from Prince’s early catalogue, Sign o’ the Times era. Also, and I’m stretching the theme here, it was about being able to/or not take care of someone. Like Lupe’s piece, like mine (about an affair between a teacher and student) and Rain’s.


Jordan expounded on a subject he had brought up the night before, illness, and how to better take care of himself - learning what was going into his body, the chemistry, the treatment, the difficulty. Kool B closed us out on a similar note, friends come and gone and the steady old reliable way of treating yourself with a pen and paper. That relevancy.


Willow St. Pump Station is a great venue, we’d been here once before, but tonight gave us a little more legitimacy (and a few poets who took selfies with the mayor) of not just how long we’ve been in Houston doing our thing, but where we can go, who we can get to hear us, and how respected and wide-reaching our audience can get. Who knows where we’ll go from here. I got plans, man, I got plans.

Wednesday
Aug052015

In The Inprint House - Day Three

 

Lupe starts with a poem referencing Narnia. A poem about a former student who couldn’t stay a student any longer, couldn’t stay in this life any longer, and now has to forever live in the words of that poem. Deep continues. A poem about bridges and towers of London, bridges over the Thames, and Bridges of Terabithia. It’s wonderful, the night’s only just started and a theme is emerging in this first half of the poetry round robin.

 

Marlon Lizama keep its going, fierce, hitting the air with his words like an amplifier forcing sound out of its little wooden frame: he writes about his students living in a world separate from others, not allowed to be themselves, that “he writes in accents because he refuses to let others write in his book,” refuses to let others influence him too much.

 

The Inprint house is full, we’re sitting on the steps and crowding the little white podium they use for First Friday readings (unless someone dramatically sweeps the small podium away from the imagined stage-space and equally imagined microphone!) and we’re one with the audience here. The energy is palpable.

 

Then there’s Bucky Rea, Houston’s metaphysical poet, turning the little living room space of Inprint into a raucous dorm room. Poets and spectators are sitting in chairs, but it looks more like their lounging on bean bags and might as well be sitting on the carpets of someone’s, a friend’s, home. How comfortable we all are now with each other. Bucky is making an extended metaphor about spit and love, how they fly together through space not knowing, not caring where they land. And it’s beautiful to hear him say it. More imaginative than most.

 

Jordan, a magical realist himself, performs a piece about a ventriloquist dummy with the punchline, what else is a black boy to do in America. Jonathan Moody answers: the false alarm of childbirth, being a man, a husband in that helpless situation, how early love is addicting and sweet and sappy like candy and how they came to prefer “the taste of parenthood love without even knowing its flavor.”

 

Fairy tales. Magic. Candy. And more imagination. Royal, the poet, “I will write my one million thoughts like one million dollars.” Don’t we all wish. Or, Stalina, in an imagined Spanish dialogue with her father, giving us what she wishes he would say, in her words, only positive things.

 

If the first half of the night was pure imagination, the second is harsh reality.

 

Joshua Nguyen characterizes this perfectly with a slampiece “Lessons from my Father.” Starts with the legend of a dragon biting a pregnant belly, then quickly links to immigrants, and his father telling him to “wipe the pain out of you,” “you name is a cousin you can’t communicate with,” and the hurt of being history-haunted. Drowning in the past and being saved by it, equally. How wonderful a new voice.


The week is just beginning. The range all these poets are displaying isn’t showing any signs of slowing or abating. In fact, tonight’s swift turn from magic to realism just lets me know they’re only now starting to flex their poetic muscles. Tonight was a dramatic change in tone poetically, but in the crowd we’re laughing and interrupting each other and hooting and jeering and commenting with side-talk, etc., it’ rowdy. It’s fun. The pushing back and forth I predicted starts now. And we’re jumping from fact and fiction too steadily to notice the difference. If you aren’t keeping up with us, you’ll lose us. Join us for the rest of the week, ya’ll. Who knows what level we’ll be on tomorrow!

Tuesday
Aug042015

Not a Quiet Monday, Talento Bilingue

 

The passion of poets. Mondays are always quieter, we sit back in the lush theatre seats of Talento Bilingue (one of my favorite east end gems) and let the dark swirl of music and 800 atmospheric speakers kind of teleport us somewhere else. But the eager poets of the tour know any stage is a stage for them to own, and any day they are able to perform is a good day. So, this Monday wasn’t as quiet as I thought.

 

Lupe sacrificed the night with a poem about his name and namesakes, “a fighter, a black volcanic rock burning against the steam on the ground.” Lupe and Stallina have a close connection to TBH, community activists and artists and long time members. This theatre has a long history itself. It tells you in the lobby. You can’t help but read the plaques and walk around the memorial they’ve placed for a local artist recently passed. And it hits me, these slower days, these Mondays are about the fighters.

 

Nine -- always smiling, sloganeering tee-shirt, bantering with the audience -- reads a profound poem about the techno-racists online, mentions The Shout (a local monthly series helping to bring class consciousness and race to the fore of Houston’s conversation through art) and laughs it all off afterward with a rimshaw crash in the air and a joke. He asks that we hug his mother who's in attendance tonight at some point in the evening.

 

 

Corinna, her poem is about fighting too, about finally (finally) being single. It reminds of Auden’s “The More Loving One.” (“Looking up at the stars, I know quite well / That, for all they care, I can go to hell”) She’s reverting that old cliche about the necessary beauty of the stars and their strange work on love, independence, and all that. A fighter. Her second poem hits hard, too, about her father, disease, the nurse work, the saintliness children must take up with age.

 

Jordan, our youth poet laureate, who loves the span of the stage and embraces the freedom the crowd allows him, spoke about how years earlier he begged to be on the tour, shouted out his mentors, Deep and Nine, then spit a poem about the perfection of art and art identity. Young man’s been fighting for chance to get a stage, to voice his mind. And he took it. “We are handcrafted masterpieces,” he tells us, “that took time to build.” The crowd loves him.

 

Deep, too, performs a piece about motherhood (the ultimate struggle!) and the worry abut being a mother and teaching her daughter how to be a woman, “how to load her voice with buckshot!”

Roses ends the night with a rarity, the most worthwhile fight I’d say, a love poem.


We’re all fighters, all voices looking for a microphone. Fighting to be heard. These doldrum Mondays when Houston is more convoluted than usual with lane closures, highway closures, construction and detours -- as one comedian put it, “Houston: I can’t wait until they’re finished building that city” -- with all the weeklong responsibilities and makeshift plans we have to route and remember, its these days when the art is needed most and you have to fight to make it important. To those poets that came out, to the audience, and the venue that housed us, RESPECT.

Monday
Aug032015

Bohemeo’s Down, 6 More To Go


Last night the heat disbursed just enough for one of Houston’s rare, brisk hygienic summer evenings designated by outdoor music, variety-pack string lights splashing the grass with mottled shadows of color, beer condensating on tables and a reposed clientele leaning back in plastic chairs, laconically fanning themselves or hooting and hollering, abruptly waking for applause.

 

Oh, Texas. This first week of August has a particular cruelty for us, unlike other states, we know there will be no substantive cooling off. But the courtyard of Bohemeo’s was full. The baristas and bartenders convincingly proved they’re the best coffee shop staff in Houston. Jessica, the manager, gave us her establishment for the umpteenth time, allowing us to kick-off our lil’ ol’ annual poetry celebration. Ten years old today.

 

What was the scene? Poets and writers standing in the lawn, sprawled on the grass, propped against fence railings, or paired off underneath the short trees or the wide rim of that ponderous fountain, -- it wasn’t like other readings, more like a concert, more like a family reunion. Lupe Mendez asks, when all the poets are freshly gathered and we are drawing lots for the night’s reading order, who has done this before? Whose first time here? He asks again as the emcee for the night, this time the general audience. Hands shoot up from the crowd, people laugh and jeer and tease each other. Family, near and far. Many first timers and many more too long in absentia.

 

One by one the poets took the stage, they’d perform one round robin with one poem each, then after each writer has taken the stage, a second round. This was no piety contest. I told one poet, don’t thank us - you earned your spot. It’s true. Everyone performed with wit and charm and surplus. Poets distributed alms for this summer of intensity and reckoning, poets prayed, they wired and submitted laughter to the good-hearted moans of the pleased crowd. We spent an unbelievably long time on biographies and introductions, these accomplished poets would be better served with an infinity symbol by their headshots.

 

As sometimes happens in these old, massive and well-intentioned meetings, groups splintered off and trickles of laughter and conversation could be heard around the stage if you pulled yourself away to hear it, but as family reunions go -- meeting writers for the first time and reconnecting with distant, long-rumored acquaintances -- it was never an ordeal, never rose above the microphone’s caress.

 

Last night’s focus, I think, was to introduce ourselves and set the terms of this week’s contributions. I can’t wait for tonight, and the rest of the week, when poets start becoming colleagues, then competitors, editors even. And, by week’s end, each other’s cheerleaders.

 

Here’s to ten years! Here’s to our poet family! To last night and  the nights to come!

 


 

Tuesday
May052015

Poetry Royal-Rumble, DRAFT 2015

I’m writing poetry. An event that’s all too rare these days. But I am finally, safely at home writing with the cat straddling the keyboard of the laptop, and what I’m most impressed with is a tagline I’ve added to the recent promotional material for this year’s DRAFT: One night, one Mic, one chance to make the line-up!

 

I’m in love with the sounds of that simple advertisement. The quick, flitty syllables and that hard repetition of “Mic” and “make” nestled in between the almost transitional sound of the soft “ch” in chance. This is as good as it gets. (...and nearly iambic, if it matters.) Besides this, I’m stuck between the usual sturm und drang of beginning a poem from scratch, writing with an audience in mind, and the thought of performing it some point down the line. But, needless to say, it has to be better than just good. No spot is guaranteed on the tour this year. All poets -- decades old veterans and last year’s returning crew -- all have to re-audition. No poet is safe.


One night.


First, some history. It’s a well known secret the WAT!? tour has always been a curated affair. As with all literary movements, happenings, any artistic endeavor ever, it began with a few friends who urged their friends and friends of friends (like a pyramid scheme) to write and perform and bring more people in. And it’s surely to their credit. No conspiracy there. But no one planned (or had enough friends) for this thing to keep going ten years!

 

On top of that they never meant to become an institution, to be the respected, senior statesmen of Houston’s poetry scene. We used to joke about having pop-up readings underneath bridges and in downtown alleyways. Being more in demand came with more pressure, and that old joke started to sound more and more satisfying. So, to accomplish something daring, something new, but staying loyal to the earliest mission of the tour we’ve decided just the thing to cleanse the palate lest anyone think we’re growing stale. This year’s DRAFT is a royal-rumble.

 

All fourteen spots on the lineup are up for grabs. Everyone is a free agent. New poets vs. established, style vs. style, in-the-loop vs. outside, stage meets the page! Like a fine sorbet, this year’s lineup will celebrate what’s come before as well as smooth the way for an exciting new future of the tour.

 

One mic.

That is to say, one person with no accompaniment. No props. No live animal-acts. One original poem. Of course, we all know, from out that one poem can come any number of magical things.


I always have to remind others that the Word Around Town does not favor any style or type of poet over another. We’re pretty hip and lit-curious that way. I hear all the time, I won’t go to the draft because I don’t “do slam style poetry.” Whatever that means! I am planning a tattoo on my back that will say “there’s no such thing as a slam style,” even one of the foremost slam masters agrees with me. (jump to 2:20). We have assembled a handful of awesome poets from different schools of writing that will serve as impartial judges this year. Yet another way this year is going to be different.

 

My mission, as I write right now, is to think of something in that two to three minute range, a kind of sweet spot between saying something not too lengthy but with a few fully imagined ideas getting across without boring too many people at once. I want something that is more or less easily digestible, a bit broad, nothing that would require a close-reading in a wingtipped chair.

 

And what is exactly wrong with poet voice, I ask you!? I affirm all rappers are beginning to sound alike, just as most slam poets talk out of the side of their mouths as they do another epistolary poem. We’re all moving from one trans-atlantic accent to the event horizon of auto-tune. I say, be bold and bring whatever style or voice or shamanic intoning you want.

 

One chance.

 

Last year we introduced summer workshops at Inprint, this year we’re adding some new and exciting opportunities. This year we’ll be taking the Word around our great state for the Word Around Texas summer tour. We’ve got a handful of classic poetry venues throughout the state where our veteran poets can mix and rub elbows with the local literati. We’re exciting about some new technology we’re going to be bringing out, film, publishing, and more offers for our poets and a chance to be a part of history.

 

Two years ago we had twenty-five poets, last year thirty. Who knows how many this year. We’re returning to some classic venues as well as new fan favorites. That means we have to get everyone in and out with no time to spare. So no introductions, no context, no explanation of what you wrote but by what you’ve written. In other words, put everything in the page and leave it all onstage.

 

I want to see some spectacle, some flame throwing. I’ve seen some poets play the audience like maestros with call-and-response, brilliant musical refrains, repetition and pure flat-out passion. Its hard to write a poem that does that quietly. But then, some of my favorite returning poets in the past were the quiet ones - the ones you leaned into to hear every night, who whispered sweet romance to the microphone like it was pillowtalk. Or funny, or interesting, or controversial. Plain weird. It takes too many forms to count.

 

As I wrote this, taking some time off from my draft piece, I thought it’d be embarrassing not to make the lineup this year after having made the team three (wow, count ‘em) years ago. But the same way the original organizers didn’t imagine it this far out, I never thought I would make the team in the first place. I certainly didn’t see myself doing it year in and year out. This is just to say, I remember all these amazing writers and creators through the years, how I’m trying to emulate them now, what they’ve done and do regularly on stage, and I think, this year, if I didn’t get selected, I would still love to sit back and enjoy all the marvelous things a new batch of poets will bring.

 

One night: May 15th

One Mic: Cafe Brasil.

One Chance: Register here today!