Stark lines in the sand

A recent discussion in Morris Stegosaurus’ journal and a conversation last night about the poetry scene got me thinking about change and evolution and what influences both.

I haven’t been to Bar 13 in the longest and have been waiting for the next UPPERCASE to come around as a reason to go. UPPERCASE always represented the best of what we did there with the series, putting the spotlight on a handful of relative newcomers and giving them the room to stretch their legs beyond the confines of the open mic or the slam. For many, it was their first time ever as a featured poet. The vast majority stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park and were always appreciative of the opportunity. The criteria was admittedly subjective as I was influenced as much by the quality of the work as the quality of the person, and I frequently took chances on people who, by the definition of some, weren’t “ready yet” – a bullshit descriptor in a scene predominantly made up of relatively unaccomplished amateurs.

Anyway, I check their calendar every now and then, hoping to see an UPPERCASE on the bill and have been disappointed every time by its absence. Someone suggested that there just weren’t enough good new people to schedule one but I see that as the craftsman blaming his tools. It’s been six months or so and there haven’t been three decent newcomers on the scene? There’s more than that many at every Acentos! What. Ever.

More discouragingly, I’ve noticed a narrowing of their focus as they’ve begun doing more targeted formats like GrooveNation, for black poets; Raise the Red Tent, the rejiggered – and reportedly more restrictive – House of Woman-aka-WomanNoise; and now Q2, the new queer reading that started out at the Bowery.

Ironic that a venue once known for having one of the most inclusive reading series’ in the city is now drawing such stark lines in the sand. Disappointing, too.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking again about the show I’d proposed to Bob Holman a while back that hit the back burner after we couldn’t settle on a workable timeslot and then the holidays came and then I decided I was done and blah blah blah. It got me thinking about what I’d set out to do back in 1998 when I practically lived at the Nuyorican but saw a need for something outside of that, where poets & audience who enjoyed slam but wanted another forum, with a similar energy, that supported the non-slammy stuff. And so a little bit louder was born.

Much moreso than the current Monday night show at 13 , I think that it’s Acentos that has picked up on that mission, creating the kind of space where everyone is welcome on the mic and everyone is made to feel comfortable. Except…it’s focus on Latino writers, necessary and admirable as it is, and it’s location in the Bronx mean that there are certain limitations on what it can ultimately accomplish in terms of developing a diverse community. Some of my favorite poets will never be able to feature their work there beyond their 3-5 minutes in the open mic. (What I love most is that they show up and support despite this, a true sign of being in it for the love more than the attention.) This isn’t a bad thing at all as it represents their commitment to a specific mission and they accomplish it exceedingly well with each successive show. It’s totally different from a once welcoming-to-all weekly event like 13’s switching to more exclusive niche formats, though.

The potentially great thing about the Bowery Poetry Club is that it’s a full-time performance space with a calendar, if not audience, that’s able to support a wide spectrum of events from the open-to-all Urbana slams to the completely esoteric Taylor Mead Show and all kinds of things in between. Plus, it’s a great physical space. As such, I emailed Bob today to restart our talks about doing a show there.

Completely contradictory to what I said a week ago, I know, but that was February!

Here’s what I sent him, in the “hypothetical press release” format he prefers:

louder than words

with Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

“If you are of the opinion that the contemplation of suicide is sufficient evidence of a poetic nature, do not forget that actions speak louder than words.”–Fran Lebowitz

“Idiosyncratic and incendiary” poet/writer/malcontent, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez hosts a live, interactive variety show at the Bowery Poetry Club featuring poets and musicians in an engaging format that embraces the simple idea that art can be a catalyst for change and be entertaining at the same time.

“The whole scene has gotten too safe, too predictable,” explains the founder and former curator/host of the highly acclaimed a little bit louder reading series, and co-author of Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Pr, 2000). “I want to shake things up a little bit. Put a little controversy back into the mix and challenge the artists and the audience on their easy acceptance of bullshit.”

The 90-minute show will be co-hosted by Eric Guerrieri and Helen Yum and will feature music and poetry performances by both well-known and up-and-coming artists; improvisational debates between the hosts, featured guests and audience on a variety of controversial topics; plus, door prizes and a community action information table for turning words into action.

Feedback is welcomed, wanted and encouraged, whether in the guestbook or via email. Save the flames for my comments about 13. It’s called an opinion and I’m entitled!

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