Checking-In With The Stage Poets

Aug. 30, 2009
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I can’t find any proof of it, but I’m pretty sure locally-bred nonlinear intellectual Matt Cook once said that DaVinci had invented a working helicopter long before they’d ever come up with a practical airplane. I don’t know if this is true and I can’t remember for certain that it was Matt Cook who said this, but I remember him saying that all his best friends skipped the plane and went straight to the helicopter.

I can identify with this.

Some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever encountered have been extremely impractical. This is significant: it should be pointed out that impracticality is not absolutely necessary for genius. Truly impractical people, however, make an art form out of genius. I'm not saying this is good. I'm not saying this is bad. I'm saying some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known have been performance poets.

There is no questioning that poetry is highly impractical. Few manage to make money and even fewer manage to make a living as poets. Those who become famous as poets are mythical—they don’t actually exist. I’m sure of it. There’s really no glamour in poetry beyond the words and the words themselves are never terribly excited to work with you as a poet. Chances are, very little of what you say as a poet will reach very many people and it will almost certainly be misunderstood. When it’s at it ‘s best, poetry kind of an extravagant attempt at non-functioning telepathy—highly impractical. Bar and café style performance poetry takes this kind of impracticality and amplifies it considerably. In the early ‘90’s, I asked a rather brilliant gentleman performance poet who called himself Desmond if he’d ever had  anything published. He responded by saying that he’s not “in this for immortality.” At first, this seemed like a non-sequitur to me . . . months later, I realized his answer was extremely precise. As a performance poet, you’re living for that moment between audience, language, text and identity. It’s a fleeting connection. It doesn’t always happen. And by virtue of the ephemeral nature of stage performance, it’s temporary and very short-lived. As sure as you’re getting on the stage, you’ll be getting off the stage. And there’s no glamour or immortality in that. It’s a different way of connecting up with reality and the language, though . . . and it’s truly unique to performance poetry.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a regular to a bar/café performance poetry venue, but it was a big part of my life for nearly a decade. In the late ‘90’s. there were poetry open mics every other night all over the east side. Now there are only a couple weekly venues that I know of. I just got a press release for Still Waters Collective—a long-running stage poetry series run by Milwaukee poetry icon Dasha Kelly. Every Thursday at the Taste of Art Café on 4701 West Lisbon. September 3rd, Still Waters presents local poet Michael Cockroft. There’s a slam competition on the 10th. Korim--a guest feature from Austin, Texas comes in on the 17th. On the 24th, there’s a collaboration where attendees are encouraged to scribble something out to perform based on a single word and the 24th. Every performance is opened and closed with an open mic.

And of course, one of the longest-running performance poetry traditions in Milwaukee continues at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn on 1001 East Locust St. every Monday Night. It's where I met my wife. I remember going to Poet’s Monday long before I met her. I started going back in ’95 when it was downtown at the now defunct Café Melange. It had been at a few different venues since then, finally landing at Linneman’s, where it’s been for quite some time now. The show starts every Monday at 7:30pm with what has historically been the most stylistically diverse poetry open mic in the city, followed by a featured performer of some sort. The evening is hosted by Timothy Kloss—easily one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered in any format . . . but not the most digitally connected guy in the world. There is no Poet’s Monday website. As of this writing, the list of upcoming features hasn’t posted yet on Linneman’s website. I hope to make it back there sometime soon.

There’s a myspace page for the venue, but that hasn’t been updated for a little less than a year now. It is interesting to see through the Myspace page that Desmond’s still performing as Edgar Allen Cash (and you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard The Raven performed as a Johnny Cash song,) and Chuck Claymore (a staggeringly clever and witty guy known around the circuit as “Askew,”) has moved to North Hollywood. Things move ever forward as always . . .


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