What is a quest if the players ain’t willing?

Litcrawl at New College
Originally uploaded by Steve Rhodes

I am trying to figure out why my nervousness has been progressively increasing in my last three readings. This last reading had my voice so shook that it was pretty apparent to the audience that I was not comfortable up there.

Not that I don’t get nervous before and during a reading but I can usually transform that energy into something positive and feel real good about presenting the work in a style that befits it. Lately though, my voice is shaking and I am tripping over my tongue which means the work is not getting out there properly. And that’s a shame since I think I am writing some real strong poems right now.

Ok, nuff of the negativity. The positives are that the poems are pretty strong and while they may not be getting 100% stage love, they are getting some good publication love as first three poems of the set will be coming out soon in OCHO. Askin is over at spindle and I am on a mission to make sure the lone orphan poems gets to find a home.

Since I was short on time – five minutes was the alloted time – I went with a quote instead of a cover poem and also went through this with no banter whatsoever and this reading may also signal the end of the No-Banter experiment as I have proved that I can do it but have also found that I might be willing to cut short a poem in favor of some dialogue with the audience.

Despite my nervousness, the set went well. Got to the Mission on time, found the venue, settled in and then got to see the place get packed quick. I went up first and here is that breakdown.


“This is the city, and I am one of the citizens/Whatever interests the rest interests me” — Walt Whitman

• Psalm for Anywhere Avenue

• Sepia

• Sonnet for the Lexington Avenue Express—Mt Eden Ave Stop

• Political Theory

• I’m Jus Askin

Quick side note: Political Theory is the new title for my We poem and I think the title might just stick.

Also on the plus side, the crowd was very attentive and invested in listening to the writing which was a pleasant surprise since this is advertised as a literary bar crawl and the threat of someone walking out in the middle of a piece or randomly sticking their head in and declare “Where’s the beer?” is a real possibility. Luckily, this didn’t happen.

Afterwards, we went and hit the Mission Laundromat to support Tea Party, Craig Perez and Claire Light. I will say that I was very much looking forward to hearing lit inside a laundromat. I’m not quite sure why, but I was. What I was not ready for was pumping techno blaring over the laundromat loudspeakers and no sound system set up to compensate for that. Which meant hearing some pretty good to real damn good fiction to the sounds of Blondie and The Gorillaz. Yeah, ain’t we lucky.

Despite the less than optimal conditions Craig and Claire were awesome and so Lit Crawl ends with a bang plus some good post-reading food and the sounds of Hall & Oates’ “I Cant Go For That” blaring on the corner of 19th & Mission.

Do The Evolution

KSW Press Reading @ APAture
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

In an effort to break out of a comfort zone, I decided that I was going into my reading on Tuesday for Kearny Street Workshops’ APAture Festival with a different game plan in mind: No banter.

Yep, that’s right. Try to go through a whole set with out trying to affect or change the mood of the audience and let the poems speak entirely for themselves. Considering that I only had 5-7 minutes of time on the mic I figured it would be a good time to try this experiment out but at the last minute the game plan changed and I had 10-12 minute set to work with.

So how did it go? Well, I pretty much pulled it off. I started off the set thanking the KSW folks for letting me read then threw a shout out to Truong Tran and all the folks in my workshop and then went right into it:


– How much for the building (tenants optional)?

– God Loves A Liar

– Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness

– This Wednesday

[Riding the subway is an adventure] by Frances Chung

– The War on TV

– Who we be

– Restoration #6

– I’m Jus Askin

The only commentary I mixed in was making sure folks knew where the cover poem came from but other than that it was all poems, all the time.

While I did like the set and how the audience received it, I will also say that I didn’t enjoy just going from poem to poem. Not because I feel the need to explain every poem but I do like acknowledging the audience and the energy they are bringing to the reading. This is particularly important to me since I feel more people should not only attend more literary events but they should also feel empowered to react and respond to the work they hear at those events which doesn’t mean I am going to be running a poll while I am reading but it does mean I will try my best to let the audience know they are appreciated.

And since I didn’t get to talk about the poems during the set, I’ll give ya some quick background:
– All the poems come from Truong Tran’s Poetry & Politics workshop which is where I got all those nifty writing assignments I have been posting the last few weeks.
– Chung’s subway poem was a serious hit and reading Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple during this workshop time helped me a lot with both my language and my view of City.
– I was surprised as to how animated I was in reading some of the poems.
Jeff McDaniel’s arsonist poem was the inspiration for Restoration #6.

To sum up, it was a nice experiment (and one I may revisit in the future) but I think it was just that: an experiment.

Photos from the night can be found over at mochamonkey.com

On A Mission

Poetry Mission @ Dalva
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

Mad fun yesterday. Arrived to find quite the “intimate” setting (any one who has ever read for a room knows exactly what I’m talking bout here). Yeah, it was 7:20 and looking a bit bleak but twenty minutes later we actually had some folks in the house and it was on.

This was a pretty easy set list to put together: combine poems from the 12 Ways and La Peña readings with some covers, some poems from the chapbook, two new poems from Truong’s class and make it all fit into twenty minutes. Ima take a second and defend the word easy because while the set list is easy actually shaping the poems and editing them into a cohesive narrative unit is hella hard. Finding new forms and inspirations while keeping a sense of voice but not relying of techniques that “work” is hella hard. And working towards a manuscript length series of poems is hella hard. But being able to share some of this work and see the results, that we can file under easy.

Happy to say it all worked out right and was even able to add a defense to the culinary credibility of da Boogie Down and a proper defense to NYC Pizza while still telling mah story with a minimum of exposition. Palabra.

– Psalm for Anywhere Avenue

– Intersections

– Section Four

– Revelation & Anywhere Avenue

– Villanelle written around the lyrics of Afrikka Bambaattaa and the Soul Sonic Force

– Psalm: The Heaven I Want by Jack Agüeros

– On The Subway (That’s Never On Time)

– How much for the building? (Tenants optional)

– I’m Jus Askin

– Oaktown, CA by Reginald Lockett

– Sepia

– The Blackout

– My Father, A Cabdriver, Chimes In With A Few Words of His Own on the Myth of Racism as He Drives by Times Square

– Sonnet for the Lexington Avenue Express—Mt Eden Ave Stop

– Ode To A Stitched Mouth

12 Ways

If your best poetry reading comes when you are nervous, then I may have had my greatest reading ever because I can not remember ever being so shook.

I can’t say why exactly. I got to the reading in plenty of time, I knew when I was going to read in the lineup and I felt as confident as I could with new work. But it wasn;t brand new off the page work, it was stuff I was going through on second and third rewrites which may be the toughest work to read. You know you got some more places to reach in the poem (or maybe you’ve reached in too much) and you’re feeling close to another breakthrough in the poem. Hell, you may even get to the finish line with it!

But, not yet. You still need for one more thing to happen. Me, I try to find some of those breaks in my voice, try to listen when the poem says ‘soft’ or when it just wants to runaway into a freight train.

Of course, this would be much easier if the audience could actually tell me if the turns are happening the same way I see them happening on the page but all I can do is go by some kind of radar sense that lets me know when it does (and more often than I would like to admit- doesn’t) fall into place.

-Buildings Leaning On Each Other
-Section Four
-Villanelle written around the lyrics of Afrikka Bambaattaa and the Soul Sonic Force
-Anywhere Avenue Haiku
-Ode To A Stitched Mouth

All form, all the time!

Buildings is the latest incarnation of the myth poem I read at VONA. This is shaping up to be quite the lyric poem thanks to Barb’s suggestion of using a popular 60s song as a backdrop.

Section Four is a collage poem about Orchard Beach.

Villanelle written around the lyrics of Afrikka Bambaattaa and the Soul Sonic Force. Lyrics used: Looking for the Perfect Beat

Anywhere Avenue Haiku. I tend to shy away from haiku since nature doesn’t make its way into most of work. Yes, I am that kind of purist who wants to see nature in every haiku. With that said, I flipped the script and used some urban nature; in this case, the inner city babbling brook: the open fire hydrant.

Ode To A Stitched Mouth details a semi-autobiographical run-in with a whiteboy who makes fun of my English. I really wasn’t sure how this would come out and if folks would get it. Would they take this as the poetic retelling of a specific incident or mistake it as a blanket accusation where I am the voice of marginalized? I didn’t get to poll anyone afterwards but I can tell ya it came out in my natural voice and it got some great response from the room. Poem stills need more work, though. ;-)

Now, not only was my voice trembling during the first four poems, bantered way too much and could feel my leg shaking really hard but I was still nervous after the last poem! I was so out of it that I walked right past my seat, and then (for fear that I would make a jackass of mahself) I kept going all the way to the back of the room where I asked for some water and then took two minutes to finally calm down.

Luckily, no one else seemed to notice and I got some good feedback from folks so it’s all good in da hood.

My fellow IWL writers were all on and had me twisting in all kinds of directions with their work. Big props to Debbie Yee, who also came with all new poems and kept her reading 99% intro free ;-) ; Carlo Sciammas, whose language and storytelling is best described in Spanish: sencillo (unadorned, sincere, without pretense, direct, child-like but never childish); the moving soon to SoCal Maile Arvin, whose writing is always a welcome invite; the rockabilly all star known as Nicole Bohn; writing partner, world traveler & future lawyer Lata Nott and all my IWL mates.

A big shout out as well to Octavio Solis (who read with us and is included in the anthology) and all the rest of the workshop facilitators.

Photos Courtesy of Jay Jao
12 Ways Highlights
12 Ways Photo Gallery

The New Danger

Music Notes, Minneapolis
Originally uploaded by Kables

The final IWL reading is in a few hours and I am still trying to fix up some new-ish poems for the feature. I always try to push myself to put out some new stuff but since we only have a few poems in the chapbook and about six minutes to read, we have to try to draw material from outside the chap.

Still on the let’s push it a lil further tip, here is the set I read at Raphael Cohen’s book launch at La Peña:

– Psalm for Anywhere Avenue
– On The Subway (That’s Never On Time)*
– Revelation & Anywhere Avenue*
– The Amen Break*
– After Working The Late Shift Again, A Young Boricua On Times Square Composes a Response To a White Co-Worker Concerning The Myth of Racism
– Dedication
– Sonnet for the Lexington Avenue Express—Mt Eden Ave Stop
– About B-Boys in the Boogie Down

First off, I had a lot of fun reading this set. No mic, in a small space which let me be a little loud but I still tried to reign some back for the softer parts of the poems. In restrospect, I should have quit with the Sonnet but I was on a bit of a roll so I just followed my gut. Oh yeah, this reading was around the tale end of VONA making it a nice contrast from almost a solid week of analyzing poems to just sharing some. (Which in my case equals a spot on analysis but a nice contrast none the less.)

* New-ish poems that either got edited or birthed at VONA.

Speaking of VONA, you can see some pics of folks here at there more dynamic website. For all of y’all thinking of applying next year, I recommend checking out the more practical website. For the fellows reading I read these two pieces:

– The Remixed Encyclopedia of Myths: Uptown Edition
– Poem written to the Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun” (Part 1)

The Myth poem was a spot on first draft that let me put some elements of sound and music into more direct play. I had a lot of Quincy Troupe’s Architecture of Language in my head when I wrote it but its gonna take a lot more work (and music) to get it in shape.

Off to go read, see ya on the flip side!