Monday, March 30, 2009

Come to New York City and watch me read poems and play guitar.

My friend Paris and her friend Allison are opening a new art collective space in New York City. They've named it Epoh Owl (I have to admit that I don't know what that name means; Wikipedia doesn't have Epoh, BabyNames.com doesn't have Epoh, so I'm at a loss, but I do love owls).

Epoh Owl's grand opening is this Friday, and as part of the celebration, I have been invited to do whatever I want in front of a microphone for half an hour. According to Paris, there will also be "electric blue ambiance," "flavor from both coasts," "an authentic Farolito runway," "dancing," and "mystery."




INFORMATION:

Epoh Owl is(/will be here on in) at 38 Marcy Avenue (at Hope Street), in Brooklyn.

The opening begins at 7.

Admission is $3, but it goes to help make this art space a permanent thing, so I would call that a bargain.

My set begins at 7:45.

The festivities will last until roughly 11pm, at which point I will have had a lot to drink and will probably do something foolish. Or actually maybe I'll just behave myself and go to sleep, since I'm supposed to stay with Paris, who will have her mom with her.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I read my poems at a church this morning

It was out in Salem, at a little Unitarian Universalist church right by the commuter rail. Sam got us the gig through his UU connections, but he was still in Oregon today, so I did it alone.

It was a small congregation of friendly small-towners. They gave me coffee beforehand and hummus and bread and salad afterward. I read these poems:

Meditation on a Signature

My signature
on the screen
at Trader

Joe's, where I have purchased
70 dollars' worth of health food
so I can go back to living at home

looks like I didn't used to believe
my own signature would ever look
when I was in the third grade

learning cursive. They were teaching us
how to write with our hands casually
without stopping. I thought I would

always write my name carefully. I thought
that my name was too important to scrawl.
I also thought my stuffed shark loved me,

which is ridiculous
because in most cases
sharks do not love humans,

but before one's trust in the inanimate,
before one's love for the ungiving of love,
even before one's ability to stop mid-word,

belief in one's name must be the first to go.

*

Some Very Cheerful Moments Happen To Me When I’m Too Depressed To Appreciate Them Fully

Sometimes, when I'm depressed,
I find myself somehow
walking down Harvard Avenue
wearing or carrying something
that would seem more fitting
for a non-depressed person
to wear or carry, like I'll be carrying
a stuffed monkey with fairy wings
that meows like a cat when you squeeze its hand,

and an old-ish lady who looks like she's been crying
will stop me and say, "Where did you get that little guy?"
and I'll have six beers in me, so I'll have to say, "What?"
and the old-ish lady will say, "Where did you get your friend?"
and I'll say, "My friend gave him to me. Here, check this out,"
and I'll squeeze his hand, and he'll meow like a cat,

and she'll chuckle and look at me
like she's completely done crying
and say, "What's his name?"
and I'll say, "I don't know.
What should his name be?"
and she'll look at his red and pink shirt and say,
"Happy. Happy--Heart."
and I'll say, "Happy Heart.
Okay." and I'll smile a little,

and I'll kind of want to ask if she's been crying,
or talk about why I've been crying,
but instead I'll turn back around
and continue walking home,

and I'll pass out over the sheets of my futon,
and at some point in the middle of the night
I'll toss to the corner of the futon
and squeeze against something
and get woken up by a meowing sound,
and I'll think it's my housemate's cat,
but it's Happy Heart,

and I'll smile again, and fall back to sleep
before remembering how depressed I am.

*

Okay

When I was two years old, I fell
and caught a huge splinter in my chin.
My mom says I bled a lot but didn’t cry.
I still have the scar under my beard.

Earlier today, my housemate’s cat clawed me in the face.
I thought my eyebrow was going to bleed. Meanwhile,
the cat kept rubbing up against the chair and meowing
as if she wanted me to keep on petting her.

My face has been in a small amount of pain all day.
I’ve been considering writing a song called
“My Cat Just Clawed My Face.”
I wouldn’t call it, “My Housemate’s Cat
Just Clawed My Face,”
or even, “My Cat Clawed My Face
On The Day That I Wrote This Song
(But Now I’m Okay).”
Sometimes, when you’re writing songs,
you have to lie a little bit
so listeners can sympathize with you better.

My housemate’s cat is usually a better cat.
Her name is Sundance. She is tiny and hyper, and graceful
except that she always bumps her head on low furniture.
I love her even when she claws me.
Sometimes I think that I love her so much
because I’m always a little afraid that she’ll claw me
and therefore always a little grateful that she’s not clawing me.

The great thing about cats is that they’re such chaos,
it makes them the perfect creatures to adore.
I could start shutting doors behind me,
avoid Sundance’s torn-apart cardboard scratching box
every time I go to my refrigerator,
or I can stoop down and give her a pat on her knuckle head,
no clue if she loves me or hates me,
enjoying the company for a second,
and maybe just minding my eyes.

*

Reading at this church was a really calming experience. I felt more like I was sharing my story, and less like I was performing my work--not that the latter can't be uniquely rewarding, in its way, but there wasn't any pressure. I'm kind of glad I didn't say yes to reading off of the higher pulpit. They had one pulpit that looked like a one-person elevator, further up on the wall than the organ platform. Actually, that might have felt pretty awesome.

I think that even the fullest life must be so full of regrets.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Slam Poem #10 (All Religions are the Same)

Muhammad's Wikipedia page tells us
that the great prophet led the believers
to battle with tribes twice their size,
and that these tribes were slaughtered
into submission to an all-seeing god
just before the prophet's farewell tour.

A white guy with dreadlocks told me
that Buddha looked at his finger
and that Buddha saw the Buddha
and that Buddha killed the Buddha.

Jesus's PR representatives confide
that Jesus flipped the merch tables
in a church, and that he could be "kind
of a righteous asshole sometimes."

They teach us at Jewish camp
that Abraham used to be named Abram
until he started talking to God,
and God told him he should totally
put "ham" in his name. We imagine
that his son loved that story.

Someone named Fred wrote
about someone named Zoroaster
Zoroaster climbed a rock once,
jumped twice, slipped a little,
straightened up and sat down
on a beetle (though this
he would never know).

Slam Poem #10 (Stop the War)

.0 (The American Flag)

The daughters of the revolution
sewed red stripes on the American flag
to symbolize their brothers' blood
which ran through their uniforms
onto the streets and the soil
that was supposed to be freed.
A century after their deaths,
they were granted suffrage.

.0 (The Star of David)

If you tell me the star of David
is burning on a stranger's lawn,
then please call that a desecration
of the star of David. We can bow
our heads together for this stranger,
but after that, I want you to tell me
about the last time you picked up a rock.

.0 (The Peace Flag)

Every week, I walk through Brookline Village
to buy groceries, and I see the town elders
holding up rainbow peace flags and picketing
a war for which their president has announced
an exit strategy, and I can see them walking home
after a couple of hours, alone, going to bed, hoping
to dream, once more, of their glorious war in the Sixties.

Slam Poem #10 (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)

When I say sex
you say love

When I say love
you say marriage

When I say marriage
you say big house

When I say big house
you say prison

When I say prison
you say you've never been to prison

and I say me neither
and we both agree that's pretty lucky

because we've both done some bad things.
Everyone's done some bad things

because things are fun to do
even when they're bad

but you have to be careful.
Everyone should be more careful

especially around people who have been to prison
because they had to sit in a room with one other person,

whom they probably didn't like, for a long time,
and if they don’t like you, that could remind them of some bad things.

Slam Poetry Ate My Balls

Last weekend, I coached the Emerson College Slam Team (a.k.a. "the /b/ team") at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (a.k.a. "College Nationals"). The team was made up of my friends and excellent poets: Maxwell Kessler, Carrie Rudzinski, Carlos Williams, George Watsky, and (our rookie) Peter Lundquist. We made finals and took home 4th place.

I'm very proud of my team for getting to finals, and all four of them gave extremely good performances of extremely good poems, and the crowd seemed to love all four of them like long-lost children. Some other teams, such as UPenn and UC Santa Cruz, put up some really good poems in slams that I saw last weekend. That said, I came home with some freshly agitated opinions...

Many of the performance poets I know will agree with me when I say that Slam Poetry is one of the stupidest inventions of the 20th century (ranking just under the neutron bomb or the self-spinning fork, depending on which definition of "stupid" you're using). It was designed to steal poetry back from the academics, but now that poetry belongs to the people, it's just a really flimsy centerpiece for this community of orators, too many of whom seem less interested in the craft of poetry than they are in half-informed political grandstanding.

The main problem with slam, structurally, is that it forces the judges, randomly selected audience members, to give public scores to the poets. Audience members who have never seen a poetry slam before are especially encouraged to judge, so not only do they have to evaluate art in front of a crowd of strangers, but they very well might have to do so while forming their taste in said art form.

But the biggest problem with public scoring, as many slammers will tell you, is that a lot of poems that get performed at poetry slams deal with hot-button issues. Understandably, most judges feel uncomfortable giving a low score to a bad poem denouncing a hate crime, but they might give a low score to a great poem about, say, the troubled life of an ambulance driver.

I feel that poetry is an inherently valuable addition to social discourse. When people listen to any well-written poem, they are moved to think about the world in a way that they have not thought about it before. To submit oneself to an evening of good poetry is to appreciate existence on a higher level than usual--which, frankly, is good for humanity. Bad poetry at its best is boring; at its worst, it appropriates and trivializes the struggles of humankind, all of which deserve more attention than it takes to write a half-assed poem and perform it without having revised it thoroughly. Any mechanism that favors poor writing of a particular political persuasion over effective writing is a harmful one.

Still, Emerson's victory, paired with the Cantab team also taking 4th place at Nationals (and the recent attendance boom at the Cantab) gives me hope that good poetry is on the rise, and that it might soon overshadow the gaudiness of slam.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Roasted Pepper Walnut Pesto

Radiatore

My favorite kind of pasta is radiatore.
I eat it in pesto fresh from the pot
and pretend that I'm eating radiators.

It's like when somebody tells you that
the world is on their shoulders
or that their heart belongs to you,

because unless you're some kind of heart realtor,
or a titan, or a giant, these situations are impossible--
it just humors us to pretend for a while.

*

I mostly just got this pesto recipe from about.com and further simplified it, but I cannot stress enough: radiatore is the most satisfying shape of pasta. It's like the golden rectangle--it's objectively perfect.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2/3 cup of roasted red peppers

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic

  • 1/3 cup of walnuts

  • 3/4 cup of fresh basil, coarsely chopped

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • a package of radiatore (or other inferior craterous pasta)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare the pasta in a large pot.

  2. Put all the other ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. If it comes out too dry, add more oil. This is a delicious pesto that goes well on crackers or pita chips, if you're feeling snackish.

  3. Pour the pesto onto the finished pasta and mix it around.


I won't get in trouble from plagiarizing from about.com, will I? If this post is illegal, then I'm sorry, please don't take legal action against me, I'm just an unemployed English major.