Scenes from the Watershed Poetry Festival

Yesterday Barb and I hit the Watershed Poetry Festival for the first time. A stellar line up, gorgeous day and attendance credit for my poetry class made this a must-attend for us.

We missed out on the Strawberry Creek Walk but got their in time for the Open Mic and got to enjoy almost all of the day’s features. Almost because the allure of the Berkeley Farmer’s Market was way too strong,  I had to return a book to the Berkeley Library, and (on the real) the day was just way too hot.  Next time we hit the Watershed, we’re coming armed with blankets, umbrellas and picnic food. Believe that.

Some highlights of the festival:

  • David Mas Masumoto is a brilliant storyteller with such vivid details, rich history and intense nature imagery that I was shocked to find out he is a novelist and not a poet.  His “Sweat” story had a great refrain that channeled all the energy and traditions of the finest Fresno literary traditions.  He also displayed some fine oratory skills with his call-and-response story, “Buddhist Tractor.”   Masumoto also spoke of the backstory behind his latest work, Wisdom of the Father; where he helps his father recover from a stroke by reteaching him how to farm, reversing the roles of father/son, master/student and (in my estimation) historian/audience.  I can’t wait to jump into Letters to the Valley, Masumoto’s pastoral epistles that we happen to already have in the Sexy Loft Library.
  • Carol Moldaw presented a beautiful set of poetry directly referencing various definitions of watershed.  Her work balanced a fine line between high academic diction and accessible locales.
  • Not only would this be my first Watershed but also the first time I hear Kim Addonizio read.  She read mostly from her latest work, Lucifer at the Starlite, both off-page and with musical accompaniment from the guitarist of her band.
  • The youth poets from Poetry Inside Out, River of Words and California Poets in the Schools really brought their A-game.  All of them had strong poetics that clearly came from some clear poetic form instruction with the favorite seeming to be personification poems.  All of the poems stayed true to their poetic intent and allowed the various poets to really enter into the text which showed in their strong presentation skills as well.
  • Marilyn Chin started off her set with some off-page work which, I gotta say, surprised and delighted me before moving onto some newer prose work. Good stuff.
  • I really wish that Arthur Sze had some more reading time because his work was so multi-layered that I’m not sure I got all his nuance and references.  I did appreciate his command of language and how he weaved so much nature into his poetry.
  • Robert Hass not only closed out the reading with a wonderful reading but also led all the reader through a group reading of Brenda Hillman’s “Berkeley Water,” a poem celebrating the neighboring Berkeley Farmer’s Market.

If there was one thing that had me scratching my head, it would be when Poetry Flash host Richard Silberg was promoting the upcoming Individual World Poetry Slam and then presented performance poet Chris Olander, a poet whose work embodied all the techniques and tools of a typical slam poet.  It’s not Olander’s performance I’m questioning but the fact that Berkeley has an abundance of poets who not only self-identify as slam or performance poets but have also excelled in local, regional and national competition.  Why not choose one of those poets to help promote the IWPS?  It just felt odd that the person who was being presented as an example of slam poetry isn’t a part of the upcoming national slam competition.  Makes me feel that if you present yourself as a page poet, you have to have a set degree of credentials before you can be taken seriously but if you present yourself as a performance poet, then set standards go out the window.

Other than this one ciritique, Silberg and the rest of the organizers did a great job of bringing poetry out into the open field of MLK Park.  This was my first Watershed but I’m sure I’ll be back for the next one.

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 ;-)

• 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.

Scenes from the North Beach Poetry Crawl

The last installment of the highly ambitious San Francisco International Poetry Festival was the North Beach Poetry Crawl, a combination of small gallery and open-air readings blanketed out over one of SF’s most densely populated residential, business and tourist areas.

The attendance for the events we managed to hit seemed pretty high with a mix of die-hard Beat poetry fans (the faces Barb and I seem to see at most City Lights events), supporters of the readers (I could see new faces encouraging on different poets) and some random folks. In short, I think the event was successful in bringing together different poetry lovers and having them hear new voices. The one event with the lowest visible attendance was the closing party at Washington Square Park but if you factor in that came at the end of almost 6 hours of poetry and the 15 degree dop in temperature as the fog came down hard, then you can see why only the hardest of hard-cores stayed for that one. (Disclaimer: With no jacket and seriously tired out from all the readings, I couldn’t stay for all of the closing festivities.)

Personal non-poetry highlights: My first pilgrimage to the Goorin Bros Shoppe, one of the finest haberdasheries anywhere. My fedora collection grows and I will not be back until I hit the lottery so I can indulge myself to the fullest.

Other indulgences: Giordano Brother’s all-in-one sandwich is da bomb diggity; treat yourselves if ya can. I don’t remember the name of the pastry shop on Broadway with the yummers chocolate mousse cake but thanks for the sugah fix. And finally, Mo’s Grill in North Beach cuz sometimes it really is all about a classic burger with a Pepsi.

Poetry highlights: Georges Castera/Joj Kastra work hitting an even higher note than the night before with a whole new set of work that was nuanced, immediate and full of contemplation.

Ámbar Past and Alejandro Murguía duet at the Beat Museum was relaxed and inviting while still lyrically dense.

Al Young followed with a set that also encouraged audience participation but with an emphasis on personal, poetic and geographic histories.

Taslima Nasrin reading in Kerouac Alley was masterful in how she combines the elements of the mythic woman with the realties of the modern woman in her poetry with a style that embeds the politics in the verse.

Props again to Carla Badillo Coronado for setting off the Kerouac Alley reading with a repeat of her set from the night before but still managed to maintain the energy and closed the festival with a and her dance performance at the final event.

Our only disappointment was not being able to hear Sasha Pimentel Chacón at Live Worms Gallery because of a typo on the program but we were able to catch up with her and Daniel at the previously mentioned Mo’s for down-home food, meeting new peeps and some good face time.

Seem like much? It was. And it was all very much worth it to hear voices from around the world, some with harrowing political tribulations that remind us what a luxury poetry in the US can be. All to say, I’ll be clearing out space on my calender for the next installment of the International Poetry Festival.

YouTube video of the North Beach Poetry Crawl can be found here.

Flickr photos of the North Beach Poetry Crawl can be found here.

Scenes from the San Francisco International Poetry Festival

Intense reading last night for the second Main Stage reading of the San Francisco International Poetry Festival with almost three hours of poetry from around the world. Literally.

You can feel festival curator Jack Hirschman’s aesthetic echo through all the readers with a clear emphasis on pointed political poetry with an urgency embedded in its verse and its recitation.

Some personal highlights: Georges Castera/Joj Kastra poetry was alive with the sounds of Haiti and seriously inspired me to include the unique rhythms and sounds of the Bronx in more of my poems. Sasha Pimentel Chacón was intense and lyrical in both her multi-part poem and multi-voice duet with Janice Mirakatani. And I was real glad to hear the work of fellow Ecuadorian, Carla Badillo Coronado, whose poems were great.

Off to more Festival events but here are some pics from last night.