Scenes from the Barbershop Reading Series

In the middle of my National Poetry Month craziness–writing a poem-a-day, putting together Heaven Below, applying for VONA and Macondo, attending lit events and jus’ plain livin’–I was also feelin’ the jones to do more poetry readings. I was tellin’ Barb this and, sure enuf, she forwards me a call for readers to participate in a new reading series going down in a local barbershop. So I had to write to the curators with the quickness and try to be down with this. Here’s a snippet of my e-mail to Barbershop Reading Series curator, Michael McAllister:

I think the idea of a reading series in a barbershop is awesome. Some of the best stories (and sh•t talkin’) I’ve ever heard has come to me while waiting to get a new fade or catching a close hot shave so it feels only natural to bring some literature to a place where so much orature goes down.

Michael let me know the first few readings were booked but would not only look to feature me but also have Barb in the mix. Boo ya!

The first reading at the Barbershop was packed with lit fans, strong writing, engaged reading, great music and a wonderful sense of community. Yesterday’s reading was just as dynamic, full of fun, some good surprise, yummy cupcakes and (hell yeah) good lit.

I mirrored my set-list from the P4P reading but was able to include another piece from Heaven Below and dropped “Make Me a City” a two page poem that comes in at almost five minutes. The good thing is that my reading style has mellowed out from rollin-conversational into a more paced tone that allows me to really honor my word choice, line breaks and stanzas without losing urgency and emotional content. At least, that’s the plan ;-)

SET-LIST
• Heaven Below
• Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness
• How Much for the Building? Tenants Optional.
• What the Landlord said…
• Ash Wednesday
The Four Corners from By Lingual Wholes by Victor Hernández Cruz
• A Century of Writing

Ok, I didn’t exactly mirror the P4P reading as I left out “Orchard Beach: Section Four” by accident since I got lost in my own chapbook and improved a lil thanks to a bit of stage nerves. All good, as I ended up delivering the *Urban Arson* set of work which is short on laughs but long on dread, uneasiness and really gives you a need to ask for a heaven somewhere.

Brent Fluty went up next and gave a solid twelve minutes of fiction where his narrator is engaged in an affair with a Mexican who speaks almost no English. The power in this piece is how politically incorrect Fluty’s narrator is: he loves Latino men who are Latino, he assumes, he fetishizes and gets in some serious trouble as a result. And who helps save him, the Latino. I think I’d rather see honest writing that names-the-harm and deals with actual consequence then PC writing where all the characters live in a perfect happy post-racial world. But that’s just me.

Terese Taylor’s music rode the line between mellow acoustic and bar rockin. There’s a time and place for both and Taylor knows how to hit-the-gas or tap-the-break with her raucous tones.

Barb closed out with a Jaime Jacinto cover poem (dedicated to Manong Al Robles, which is almost like a double cover poem), excerpts from Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata. Let me tell you, these poems never lack in surprise. I’ve heard some of them dozens of time and I can still myself lost in new facets of the work. The internal music, the emotional resonance, the historical undertones; something new always hits me when I listen to a set of Barb’s work. A highlight was “how i no longer believe in pious women,” a poem with so much internal interrogation and melancholy, unrolling like a long trumpet strain and ending with a kōan like feel. (Barb’s thoughts on the reading are here.)

Props, shoulder-daps and big-ups all around to everyone at Joe’s Barbershop for so much hospitality and good vibes. Michael Mullen for the sound, Helane for the cupcakes, the folks workin the merch table, Joe Ghallager for the use of the spot and Michael McAllister for bringing lit out of libraries and into new spaces. The next Barbershop Reading is Sept 5th, come out and support a fine space for words.

YouTube videos from the Barbershop Reading Series are here.

Flickr photos from the Barbershop Reading Series are here.

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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