Luis Cartagena’s feature last night was…interesting.
He’s an acquired taste and what I love about him most is his desire to push the boundaries of so-called performance poetry. He’s willing to take risks most of us wouldn’t go anywhere near and is always eager for feedback. I spent as much time watching his performance as I did scanning the faces of the audience, variously enthralled, confused and discomfited, sometimes all at once. Using costumes, music and movement – including a bizarre Britney Spears-backed dance interlude – he threw stuff out there that the average poetry audience rarely if ever sees, stepping squarely on the line that separates “poetry, performed” from actual “performance poetry” without completely crossing it.
It was that reluctance (?) to cross the line that kept it from being a better show, though. At his core, Luis is a page poet, willing to experiment but ultimately anchored to the mic stand. He needs to cut the cord – literally; perhaps as simple as working with a lavalier mic? – and fully incorporate the interesting backdrops he creates for his work, giving in to the movement and stagework that currently serve simply as interesting bookends to his readings.
For all the sameness and unoriginality that permeates the poetry scene, poets like Luis are an important ingredient for moving things forward and clarifying and expanding the definition of performance poetry.