You know that feeling…

April 11, 2013

…when you have a draft from a blog post that you meant to post two months ago, and the first line is about how much you’ve neglected your blog?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my thoughts from February 19th:

“Hello lonely little blog, it sure has been a while.  And while the whole of the East Coast has been covered in 30” of snow, I too have been pretty busy down here in Santa Cruz.  Nothing so epic that it stopped traffic, but it has been a good time.  What have I been up to, you ask?  Well, among other things, this:

...Petrarchan? Shakespearian? Spencerian?  would you like half rhymes with that?

go ahead…ask me for a sonnet.

Sometime last month I had a yearning for a typewriter.  Couldn’t explain it, and certainly couldn’t justify it.   That is, until I thought of a man I had seen on the streets of Northampton sitting at a typewriter with a sign that said “Poems: top of the head $1, bottom of the heart $5”  I had always wanted to do the same thing, but I was nervous about both my poetic ability, and the fact that I would totally be stealing his style (now if you want good poetry in Northampton you have to go here).  But Santa Cruz is an interesting town, a great number of things set it apart from Northampton, including the fact that one does not need a permit to busk.  So I purchased the typewriter of my eye, from a thrift store ($65) an ottoman from Marshals ($35), and some plywood and wheels from probuild ($12.50).  With a little help from the best glassblowing shop in Santa Cruz I was able to get the whole rig together ($112.50).  Three days of busking later, I had made back all of what I had spent.  Here’s the happy ending to the story: it turns out that writing poems on the streets pays an even scale of $10/hour (that was in February.  March seems to be closer to $16).  Goodbye endless hours at an unpleasant job; hello becoming a much better writer.  Don’t worry, folks who are concerned for my well being, my mother has beaten you to the finish line where you freak out about me not being able to eat: I’m still picking up shifts at the cafe, but I make more money writing poetry…who knew?

Speaking of better writers, here’s another thing I’ve been doing:

April flyer

I know it’s not the best flier ever, but it is what I’ll be typing all my poems on the reverse side of for the next month  (I’m an evil marketing genius).  One could theorize that I am simply not capable of moving to any new place without starting a poetry reading.  You could build some pretty solid evidence for this argument, but this reading does feel a bit different to me.  In many ways, it feels like it’s my audition for the Art Bar.  I’ll be running this event at a café with a beer and wine license that is the only venue located in the middle of the Tannery Arts Center, which I have previously gushed about here.   Speaking of the tannery:

That’s where I’m going to live starting in March.  Yes, I’ll be moving into the Tannery!!!  I can’t even express how excited I am.  This is the largest project that ArtSpace has ever funded and I’m going to be running poetry events and living it!  For the next two weeks I’m going to be concentrating very hard on how to count my blessings while simultaneously looking for ways to convince Rebecca to carry beer and wine cheap enough for poets to buy.”

The big updates since that post:  Living in the tannery is awesome, the reading series is going great (in fact I’ll be hosting events on Friday and Saturday as well starting in May), Rebecca now carries $2 Rolling Rocks, and busking is going great as evidenced here:


Poetizing - A reading

More pictures of typewriters, and posts to the blog to come soon!  Also, I’m thinking of starting …ugh…a twitter account with some of my adventures writing poems on the street.  Thoughts?


or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the fact that I’m stuck in the Albany airport. (a photo essay)

A little backstory: flying a redeye into Logan Airport, I was supposed to have a layover at JFK, however, nothing had landed in in JFK that morning due to FOG (that’s right, I flew FROM San Francisco TO New York, and got delayed due to …fog.)  so the rerouted us to Albany, NY, and at first I was upset to be stuck in …ugh…albany, but then I figured “well…I’m probably smart enough to figure out how to get to Boston from here without going back to JFK where there’s a morning’s worth of air traffic backed up.”  I slipped into a zen-like state, possibly brought on by sleep deprivation and decided to proceed joyously knowing that I would be in Massachusetts soon, surrounded by wonderful people.  And in the process I snapped some photos thinking “this will make a great blog post sometime.”  three weeks later…

I did not have time to check out the meditation room, I was busy trying to find out how to get to Boston without going to NYC first.

I did not have time to check out the meditation room, but this did influence the title of this post, which I feel was worth it.

good thing the Albany airport doubles as an art museum.  Look at this beautiful hanging glass!  Maybe that's why people decided it's a fine place to stop and meditate.

good thing the Albany airport doubles as an art museum. Look at this beautiful hanging glass! Maybe that’s why people decided it’s a fine place to stop and meditate.

and then I looked up and saw this.

and then I looked up and saw this.

they also have willow tied together with twine!  (for perspective, that's my briefcase in the bottom left hand corner)

they also have willow tied together with twine! (for perspective, that’s my briefcase in the bottom left hand corner)

a close up view of the willow and twine.

a close up view of the willow and twine.

eventually I was able to convince Cape Cod Air to take me to Boston on this plane (the smallest I've ever been on).  It took lots of running around an airport that I could have been meditating in, but I was able to make it.

eventually I was able to convince Cape Cod Air to take me to Boston on this plane (the smallest I’ve ever been on). It took lots of running around an airport that I could have been meditating in, but I was able to make it.

on the trip from Albany to Boston I could make out the geography of New England in a way that I found far more thrilling than I expected to.  Look!  I used to go swimming there!

on the trip from Albany to Boston I could make out the geography of New England in a way that I found far more thrilling than I expected to. Look! I used to go swimming there!

I even saw the fog that prevented us from landing in NYC.  But we did land in Boston soon after, and I had a lovely breakfast with my mother and spent the rest of the week in the company of good friends...

I even saw the fog that prevented us from landing in NYC. But we did land in Boston soon after, and I had a lovely breakfast with my mother and spent the rest of the week in the company of good friends…

Hello neglected blog

December 4, 2012

…so you remember that last post with the photos that happened almost a month ago?  The one where I mention that I have a job working somewhere awesome?  Right, well that’s a true story.  And the downside to that whole “true story” thing is that I have a whole lot less free time than I did when I was unemployed and kicking about the country, add to that a crazy busy trip back home to celebrate my birthday and thanksgiving, and a botched attempt to sell my car, and it all equals very few blog posts.  But now I’m back in the Cruz with a (theoretically) more settled job schedule, so I’m going to try to get back on this whole practice of updating about my personal life, and also about awesome arts organizations, and then hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to travel to Southern California to visit my wonderful family who has been adamant about welcoming me with open arms since I traveled out here months ago in the first place.

In the meantime I’m going to leave you with these two treats:

1.  An outstanding “name your price” download from MN based “Doomtree” collective member Paper Tiger called Beat Tape

2. A photo essay of my travels back to MA which will be following shortly with an outstandingly clever title.

More on LitSlam

November 18, 2012

So you should probably check out THIS VIDEO ON YOUTUBE

which I have written about here

and if you don’t have plans to show up in Sudbury and surprise me for my brithday, you should go to their book release here.  This book release is going to be dope.  seriously, you want to go.


welcome to my camera (click through for larger versions):

look at that sky!

The Tannery Arts Center and Rebecca’s Cafe: my current place of employment!  (sorry about the shadow: couldn’t convince city officials to move the streetlight or the sun for the purpose of my photo shoot)

The view from the courtyard behind Rebecca’s at the Tannery. So psyched to be volunteering to help fund raise for a performing arts space just out of frame of this photo!!!

This is what Tannery Arts Center looks like without the sign in front of it.

Erol Specter doing his thing at the Tannery. More artists and what they do can be found here:

Just a small sample of some of Erol’s work.  I…I really like belts…and shoes.

This is where I live! interior photos coming as soon as the interior isn’t a mess.

This is my view when I step out my door in the morning.

stone and shoes.

Open During Construction

November 7, 2012

The sound of construction is a mutinous beauty,
such a perverse pounding to stand pillars, the scaffolding and slashing
of structured corners
we walk between: this could be any city;

the window washers could hate their jobs
or their wives; falling bricks could catch
in the hefty black netting , a weight  that hangs
like a swallowed love for a woman with a familiar heart.

And that bucket is large.  I had the joyous experience of meeting with Rachel Goodman, the Capital Campaign Director for the Performing Arts Center, and I am very pleased to say that starting next Monday, I will officially be volunteering with Tannery!  This place is impressive; I want to tell you about everything they do, but there are new things happening here everywhere I look.  To begin, they provide low cost housing for artists, which is an exciting resource for someone who likes art, and having a place to live, and doesn’t necessarily have a ton of money to throw around.  This is something that always intrigued me about AS 220 in Providence, RI, which is a fantastic  arts and community center where I would probably be volunteering and raving about on this blog if I wanted to live in New England.

This former leather tanning factory has been converted into 100 live-work spaces and 35,000 sq ft of artists studios, which I was able to wander through on their open studio day last weekend.  They have a digital media center, a dance studio, a kiln, I’m pretty sure there’s a darkroom hiding somewhere around here, and there’s a 27′ tall curious woman.   One of the newest additions to the Center is Rebecca’s Café at Tannery, which serves great coffee, espresso, sandwiches, salads, as well as beer and wine.

In the near future TAC is opening a performing arts center and is currently in the middle of a large scale capital campaign; this is where I got really excited.  Who wants to know about what it takes to raise a bunch of capital to start a performing arts space?  This guy.  It only took about a week of bombarding all applicable professionals with my resume, and knocking on office doors to get recruited as a volunteer, but what’s even more exciting is that this space is overflowing with artistic intensity.

Today, Sam showed me his letter press, tomorrow I will be volunteering at Catamaran Literary Reader’s release party, and I also got a paying gig as an artist model on a weekly basis for one of the drawing classes out here.  I know mom, it’s not a job, but it does mean that my budget now has an “income” line above the growing list of “expenses.”

Next step?  Get a real job.

A quick update

October 29, 2012

Well, it has been almost a week since my last post, and due to Frankenstorm, I think I’m actually more worried about my Mom than she is about me.  Regardless, I should probably provide an update so she has one less thing to worry about after the Citgo sign has been torn down:

Mostly it has just been job applications and what I am now calling a “elegantly botched” interview.  Here’s to job searching in Santa Cruz.

I am excited for this upcoming Friday though, when I will be volunteering at the inaugural issue release party for Catamaran Literary Reader at the First Friday at Tannery Arts Center.  Also, I think I have a crush on Tannery Arts Center.

After that I may go down to LA to visit family, and because I’m really bad at staying still.

So last week on Monday I attended LitSlam at Virachocha, possibly the hippest slam venue in San Francisco right now.  I guarantee you that no matter how I try to describe this place to you, I will fall short of its typewriter-filled, vintage-speakeasy, hardwood and washboard-lamp charm.  All in all I’d say it’s in my top five favorite rooms in which to experience poetry.

I originally walked through Virachocha’s doors for the New Sh!t show, which I’ve already gushed about a little bit on this blog, but I want to repeat: it was awesome.  I think it is artistically important for writers to have a place to share new work. Especially in this art form, which so often only acknowledges poems that are written in a certain style, the process of experimentation and creative variation can often use all the encouragement it can get.

These shows and others like them are doing something vital for the slam community: they’re creating platforms for slam poetry to start to escape some of its stereotypes. (If you don’t know what a poetry slam is, here’s a link to get you started.)

Before I go on, I feel compelled to say that everything that follows is not meant to be an authoritative account, but rather the observations of one writer.

I think one of the most interesting things to note in the evolution of the poetry slam is what prizes go to the victor.  In her outstandingly informative book “Words in Your Face“ Kristen O’Keefe Aptowicz identifies the publication of Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 1994 as one of the major turning moments in slam.  When Aloud was published, winning a slam changed from being a mock-competition where poets would get scores from randomly selected judges in order to win a box of twinkies, a half-expired Metro card, or bragging rights and became a real competition, successes in which can get a poet published and advance their career as a writer.  Around this time, it starts to become possible to book a national tour by winning enough slams.   Soon after, as solidified with the premiere of HBO’s “Russell Simmons presents: Def Poetry Jam,” winning this competition can get you on national television.

It is impossible to have a mock-competition based on art with life altering prizes and expect the competitors’ art not to be affected.   (Especially in America, where we have tendency to get carried away with competition when television is involved).  I do believe that Slam has something outstanding to offer the world right now.  It is a truly open art form, and a truly American art form.  This is what we’ve made: jazz, rock & roll, and the poetry slam.

Many other people have written very thoughtfully on what the pitfalls of slam are, but let me try to summarize the main points that I have heard raised:  the slam format encourages lazy work.  The judges often reward poems for shock value.  Some poets end up “writing to the slam,” specifically producing poems that are neither genuine nor particularly well crafted, but simply writing poems because they want to win this game…this game that was meant to be a joke, a mock-competition.  Somewhere we lost this joke.  (I often repeat the phrase, “This Picasso is a 6.2, but this Cezanne is a 7.4!”  This should sound absurd, because it is.)

Slam also attracts many amateur artists.  I don’t view this as a negative, but rather a positive consequence of the slam, although there are definitely those who disagree with me.  This can have negative consequences when someone from outside of the slam tradition attends one random poetry slam, sees artists who are clearly new to the medium, and dismisses the entire performance form as sophomoric.

Slam is loud at times, which again has negatives and positives: some pieces demand volume, but often new writers experiment with performance without a strong backbone of craft and mistake loudness itself as a style.  Yet again, the result is audience members who will attend one poetry slam and assume that they have seen everything that the poetry slam has to offer.  I equate this with going to a middle school orchestra recital and assuming that you hate everything about the clarinet, which is actually a gorgeous instrument.

So yes, there are negative things about the slam, but this is all background for the question that is often on my mind:

How does one respond to the path that the art form has taken, not in a personal/artistic sense, but as an organizer and presenter of the art form? Can the structure of the slam itself be altered to encourage meaningful performance poetry?  What can hosts of poetry readings do to respond to the loss of the “joke” or “game” of poetry slam, or is the answer to get rid of the game altogether?

These aren’t so much questions for poets, as they are for organizers of poetry readings.

In my opinion, by far the most important thing that someone who believes in this art form can do is find the poets who are challenging and dedicated to producing outstanding work, get them on a stage and into the spotlight, and get them cash for doing it whenever possible.   The cash is not only to encourage and affirm that one poet, but to acknowledge the gift that they are giving the poets in attendance and the audience at large.

Almost every venue where I have seen outstanding poetry has a commitment to bringing out great features on a regular basis, but in addition to that, recently I’ve seen organizers taking steps to alter the form of slam itself to create a different attitude towards winning a slam.  (Which could, theoretically, affect the form of work the slam solicits.)

Poets Battle & Jam in Santa Fe has a potluck prize that goes to its winner.  They set up a paper bag by the stage and anybody can put in whatever they have.  Some people might frown on this as bush league, but I love it.  Getting on the Santa Fe slam team (qualifying for the local Slam Team, which then goes on to compete at ***the National Poetry Slam***, is often the function of a slam series) would not have meant much to me, but it was really cool to walk away with a bag of local squash, cucumbers, $5 and a copy of American Gods and Snow Crash.

LitSlam produces a literary magazine, Tandem, from their 10 month slam series.  The format for the poets is almost exactly the same as it is in a regular slam except for a change in time limits from 3 minutes in each round to ascending 1, 2, and 3 minute rounds, and the judges are called “editors.”  One of the editors is not selected at random as in a typical slam, but selected by the organizer.  In addition to scores, all editors also provide comments on the poem that are then given to the poet.  The winning poet gets 3 poems published in the literary magazine; the runner up gets one.  The magazine also publishes the work of any poet who features at the venue.  Their first volume is coming out on November 19th, I will likely post about it enthusiastically.  I really love this format: it encourages active listening in the judges, and the time limits prevent the evening being entirely filled with three-minute long heavily practiced slam poems.  I don’t know why this isn’t happening everywhere.   I think Northampton should get on top of this.  I think everywhere should get on top of this.

At Northampton Poetry I always made a point to have as many prizes as we had competitors, so it made no difference whether or not you won, because well…it was kind of like Little League, everybody gets a trophy just for coming out.  This was never really telegraphed to the audience, but the point was to break the idea of competition among the poets.  In his poem “Disclaimer” addressing the purpose of slam, Bob Holman writes: “We disdain competition, and its ally, war.”  Usually one prize would be, well, cooler than the others, but it was mostly gift certificates to local used book stores or cafes.

If it is impossible to have a mock-competition based on art with life-altering prizes without influencing the competitors’ art, Northampton Poetry attempted to level the playing field: there’s no reason to alter your style for a prize that’s equal to the reward for simply competing.  Santa Fe is doing something different, which is to make the prize donation-based instead of set, so poets are rewarded by the open generosity of audience members and other poets, while LitSlam is using the idea of a prize that appeals to poets interested in publication to create a forum that encourages and augments worked being created by the tension between slam and academic poetry.

I think it is wonderful that people are thinking about this.  I would love to hear about any different creative presentations you’ve seen of slam, or poetry in performance.  Have you seen any creative innovative presentations of slam?  Let me know!

…I haven’t forgotten about this blog.  I’ve been working on a post about the Lit Slam, and it turns out, I have a lot of things to say about poetry and competition and ways to present slam poetry.  This post is currently pages long, single spaced word document.  I’m going to try to cut it down and make it reasonable to read.  Hoping to have it up by Saturday.  Also trying to juggle the whole “intelligent, well-crafted blog post” thing with the “job search and moving into a new place” thing is an interesting balance.