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Monday, July 30, 2007

What dreams are made of

As my summer comes to what feels like a sudden and disheartening halt, I find myself assessing what exactly I have gotten done over the last 8 weeks. Have I come any closer to making my dreams real? What are my dreams? Has all the time I have devoted to trolling the local papers for open mics, driving around central Florida in search of dimly lit venues, and the ridiculous number of hours I have spent harassing my web-designer, fellow poets, friends, and internet forum buddies about "the national poetry scene," poetry tours, and poetry websites amounted to anything in the grand scheme of things? In my little scheme of things?

This poetry business is something I do because I think it matters. Its part of a grandiose dream I have of changing the world with my art. I try to change the world in other ways too- by teaching, by protesting, by signing petitions, writing irate letters-but it is my art which speaks with the most authentic voice about who I am and what I am about. It is my art, I have been told, which changes people.

Years ago, when I was founding a black arts collective in Washington, Dc, I asked all the women in the group to write a small blurb about why they wrote. We collected the blurbs together to make a flier for one of our early performances. I recall looking over it years later and thinking wow, we were a dramatic bunch, weren't we?

Erica, Janelle, Ellen, Pariss, Deniece, Rochelle, Carla, myself….Every single writer in the group claimed to have some extremely important reason for writing. We were all trying to touch someone, to change someone, to end racism, stop the violence, save women. We were passionate and ambitious and it would be easy for the older, more sedate me to look back in laughter at such dreamy proclamations. Who did we think we were, anyway?

But the truth is that we knew who we were. We had decided to call our collective Daughters of the Dream. We saw ourselves as King’s legacy and we intended to live that dream- as artists, in our writing, with our words. We weren’t confused or self-involved (well maybe a little- we were young after all). We were dreamers.

In a stanza of one of my poems I have written:

What will you make
Of my urban league father
Telling me I can be anything/do anything
Playing me the recording of
Martin Luther King’s
“I have a dream” speech
Over and over and over again
Telling me I AM that dream.

I suppose I still imagine that my generation has an obligation to at least try to walk in the footsteps of our more courageous predecessors.....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Poetic Fakeries, Mixed-race internet hobo-ing

I heard about a happening poetry open-mic in Orlando on Thursdays run by a local spoken word artist I know and headed over there with a friend. The event was held in a vegan cafe full of fliers about world peace, global gardening, organic farming, conflict-free trade, and other important issues. Such a location is guaranteed to draw a progressive crowd. If you write poetry like I do, having a progressive crowd is always a good thing. I was psyched.

But even the best laid plans are easily dashed. Despite my calling ahead TWICE before traveling the 45 minutes to get to this venue, I was not notified that the event had been cancelled until arriving to sign up (promptly, I might add). The not so prompt 10 or 12 of poets who arrived after I did had also not been informed. The guy behind the counter apologized for telling me the gig was a go when it was not but passed the blame onto the event organizer, Willie Lowman (his stage name), who, according to the veganista (vegan barrista?), had called in last minute to cancel the event. I guess we artists don't have a reputation for being flaky for nothing....

I could not help wondering though, flaky poets aside, if I wasn't caught in the middle of a more sinister plot. I have heard of these cafes and bakeries that are just fronts for drug dealers. The sign says bakery, the furniture says bakery, the coffee smell says bakery , the IRS tax return says bakery but nobdy who knows better would go there to buy baked goods. Its called a fakery.

Had I somehow stumbled into a poetic fakery? Were the fancy fliers I had seen strewn about at events around town just props used in a much larger deception? Who was this man with a fake name and why was he trying to lure unsuspecting poets out to small cafes late at night? Had I been bamboozled ? I may never know. At least the vegan food was real... and tasty if overpriced.

When I am not busy taking trips to advertized open mics, I am devoted to my other life as a dedicated internet hobo in search of websites, forums, blogs, and other virtual meeting grounds for mixed people all over the world. What do I mean by mixed, you ask? Other terms sometimes used for people like me include:

mustee,mestiza,half-breed, quadroon, hapa, biracial, triracial,pardo,
moor, haafu, mixed-breed,half-caste, two-tone, Creole, mulatto,
multiracial, doogla, sambo, santantone, mongrel,
metisse, salt-n-pepa,mixed-caste, interracial, yellow, zebra,
multiethnic, castizo,newpeople,breed, Eurasian, moranos, Afroasian,
mutt, chinee, brown baby, mixedblood, light-skinned,rainbow,
highyella, metisse, chameleon, morena
mixedheritage, colored, chinee, wesorts,
lumbee, Afrodeutscher......

the list goes on

We are everywhere and apparently we are now internet savvy. Mixed people of the world unite!!!! You have nothing to lose but your race!

Friday, July 27, 2007

We Are the Women

A poem about survivors

You Look Like My People (3)

A poem about the existence of ties that bind people beyond biology

The Picnic

A poem about racial profiling

Wonder Woman

Purple People

A poem about being proud of who you are

Friday, July 13, 2007

Performance Tonight

I will be performing at Barnie's Coffee of Lake Mary.

120 International Pkwy Lake Mary, FL

Come out and see me :)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Luck and Danger of Being "on the List"

Ever go to an open mic and have the owner of the venue chase after someone with a machete? I couldn't make up better fiction if I tried. Tonight I tried to go check out a new open mic venue in a nearby town (location purposely undisclosed) but never saw the stage.

I got there early to "get on the list." The host told me I was lucky he was gonna let me perform even though I had not called him earlier in the day. He was gonna "squeeze me in". When I asked him how many poems I would be able to read, he said, "Probably only one. Too many people on the list now that you have been added!" That's right my tardy arrival will ruin things for everyone! Rule #1 about open mic-ing: DONT BE LATE.

The open mic host or MC is a unique beast: moody, powerful, by turns generous and cruel. One night the beast will bite your head off in front of a packed house, another night he or she will sing your praises and give you the primo spot. Arriving late to an open and asking too many questions are both moves that are guaranteed not to endear you to the MC. I had been put on notice. I knew I had to be on my best behavior.

So I tried. I sat quietly in a corner of the restaurant perusing the menu while calculating the effect my leaving and coming back right before stage time would have on my relationship with the MC when a heated argument broke out amongst the workers. A strike about unfair wages? A debate about the best way to make tonight's special? I had no way of knowing as their highly accented English was not entirely comprehensible to an outsider like me. The argument ended and a woman sat nearby with puffy eyes looking sad and angry. Another woman came and led the girl out onto thte street to wait for someone.

Not wanting to embarass her, I tried to appear disinterested. My facade however was quickly shattered when a man came running past me with a cutlass as long as a yardstick but much sharper. WTF?

The rest of the people, who apparently were privy to the true state of affairs, had already run out of the restaurant. This left me and one kitchen cook to fend for ourselves while the machete wielding man stood in the doorway of the eatery slashing his huge knife in the air at the people outside. About 6 feet separated me and the crazy man. The cook was safely esconced behind a tall counter. Lucky her.

I would like to say I went running screaming from that place, never to return. After all, nobody wants to risk losing an arm for a ten-minute spot in an open-mic, right? Or that I wrestled the man to the ground and retrieved the weapon thus saving everyone.

The true ending to this stranger than fiction account is much less spectacular. I merely edged my body towards the kitchen door to place some distance between the madman and me, scanned the joint for other exits and proceeded to discuss with the cook which of the items I had ordered were missing. Stuck around long enough to pay for my food and make sure the knife had been wrestled away from the man (by none other than the MC! All that attitude is good for soemthing it seems) and the exit was clear. Then I left.

Since I was the only non-employee who witnesed this display of faux masculinity, I suspect that the open mic went on. Upon the insistence of my lawyer, Ava, however, I did not return to the scene of the crime that night. While I thought the story might provide the perfect set-up for my Wonder Woman poem, she felt certain my work would be likely be labeled "femi-Nazi" by the likes of men who thought that brandishing rusty machetes was a good way to settle a disagreement.

What were they fighting about? I may never know but on my way out I asked the MC and he told me the woman who had crying had been punched in the face and her brother had come to protect her. Since the man with the machete was neither the wronged party (the woman), the assailant (escaped on foor I was told) nor the protective brother, it was never made clear to me who he was trying to kill. I have good reason to believe he was on the wrong side.

Some happy unsuspecting performers came sauntering in as I was leaving, oblivious of the drama that had transpired. I felt envious of their calm self-satisfaction. I may have to ammend rule number one regarding timeliness. A late arrival would have made all the difference last night....

Tampa, Difficult Subjects, Pride

Friday night I drove all the way to Tampa to read some poetry in an open mic at Jake's Java Joint. Performers included a mix of poets and musicians and they were very friendly. The venue looked like an office supplies store by day/ nightclub by night. They had couches, a black backdrop with shimmery lights, smoothies, snack food, espresso and many pieces of office equipment piled up in stacks along the back half of the space. I couldnt help feeling we were part of some underground arsty employee heist of an unsuspecting office supply chain. Kudos for making the most of your day job, you overworked xeroxing artiste!

Ava (my publicist) and I arrived very very late and thus missed most of the other performers but the audience was quite forgiving. I read two poems, "We Are the Women" and "Purple People". "We are the Women" is about survivors of child sexual abuse and as such is a risky choice. Are they gonna cry? Tune out? Walk away in horror? One never knows. I got lucky (if such a word can ever be appropriate given the subject matter) --nobody stood up and walked out.

I have had the simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate experience most of the times I have read that poem of having a large number of audience members respond to the piece by looking at me with looks of unexpected but frank recognition. They KNOW what I am talking about even if they wish they didnt. For most poems, such looks would be entirely gratifying but seeing these looks in response to a poem about survivors and incest is bittersweet. Looking into their eyes makes it difficult for me to finish the poem without crying even though I recognize with some satisfaction that such responses mean I am speaking FOR as well as to many people with this poem. It is my hope that when I read it I am speaking for those who cannot or will not speak of such things. Why should they? Living through it is enough.

The people loved Purple People but then they always do. What's not to love about a poem about loving yourself? Loving your mixed self when people want you not to?

I got to talk to a number of poets after the event and found out that Tampa is boiling over with poetry venues. I will be back!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hookahs and Poetry: Bad mix?

Decided to go to Natura, a small coffee house near the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Thursday night. This is a very cute place and quite possibly the only place in the South that serves my tea, Yerba Mate! Long before energy drinks were invented by westerners, the Indigenous folk in the Amazon had cultivated and perfected this tonic for energy, the prevention of disease, and general health...but I digress. Poets have to sign up early in the day for Natura because it is a popular place. Not knowing this, I got stuck with the only slot left for people who call up the night of the gig in search of a open mic slot: 8:15.

At 8:15 Natura is full of disgruntled 20 year old boys smoking hookahs filled with flavored tobacco. They are young, they are surly, they are without dates, and they are coming as close to getting high as they legally can given their age and various state and federal laws. Maybe not the best crowd for poetry?

Turns out Natura does not get hoppin til 9 or so. Who knew? Apparently all the Indie Musicians, poets, artists, alternative, progressive t-shirt wearing, and healthy types in Orlando. Standing room only. Some good music. Too bad my spot was over by then.

Earlier in the evening, since it was not clear that my audience was more than vaguely aware there was even a stage in there muchless a performance going on, I read a really long poem, Names, which talks explicitly about the crimes white Floridians committed against Native Americans (Seminoles) in Florida. I figured I had nothing to lose.