Taking Over L.A. Excerpt, Part 4
da poetry lounge (http://dalounge.performancepoetry.com)
is like falling down a faerie well.
I had always wondered what it would feel like. Always hoped it
This is how it looks like: young people with a fireplace in each
eye, and the cockiness of prizefighters whose backs have never felt
This is what it sounds like: a preacher's fervent song to the
beat of a 1963 Impala bouncing high on its hydraulics. Call and response
and whips cracking.
I found Ground Zero for Taking Over Los Angeles. It's da poetry
lounge. I also fell madly in love with about 150 people.
I'll know I got game when I come here and send ‘em. I am so coming
back with game.
These are the name poets at da poetry lounge, taken off the internet:
poetri, shihan, gimel, dante, damon, dingo, gaknew, tiffany, nafeesa,
bridget, in-q, sekou, omari, jada, snow plow, slim, raymond, frank,
macho, chia, gina, delight, rachel kann, bess kepp, mark gonzalez, el
rivera, rafi, keith meyers, big al, opposed thumb, bowerbird and mark
I want to prayerfully thank them, and all I saw perform. I drove
home last night (3/26/02) knowing how it's done. Filled with the Holy
Up first is a 14-year-old who says she's going to sing an Alicia
Keys song. I think, man, the girl's got guts. She opened her mouth,
and the sound of a church organ tuned to midnight sex came out. She
drove the audience nuts.
Then, there was a rap for gun control by a guy who looked 21,
baseball cap on backwards, pacing in the single spot like a jaguar.
Faux rap to rap is the same relationship as faux poetry to poetry: like
getting your teeth drilled. This was the real thing. Smart stuff.
A real poem about madness, as funny as it was scary, acted out
by a skinny kid who shouted in explosions of spit, and acted it out
in antic, grinning, sure energy. Early 20s.
A poem that somehow stabbed me with light with two words at just
the right time, just the right place, just the right way, “celestial
bodies.” It looks corny, but you had to be there. The crowd moaned its
approval, as a poet prophet with an athlete's build announced the way.
A poem about fighting off the white media to keep your identityswordfighting
the ocean wavesbut you'd be foolish to bet against this poet.
She was in her early 20s.
Anger. Intelligence. Ferocity. Craftsmanship. Purpose. Fearlessness.
Joy. Faith. Purity of heart. The thing they call poetry.
The Greenway Court Theatre, on Fairfax, a block south of Melrose,
seats maybe 80. Every seat is filled. I'm instructed to get out of the
aisle and sit on the stage. No charge to get in (I didn't sign up for
the Open Reading because da poetry lounge is so popular, it's suggested
you call ahead. I thought it better to first check it out). Two sound
guys work a perfect sound system from a booth above the seats, which
rise like a real theater. Shihan's on the turntables, playing music
between sets. He's apparently one of the best poets herebecame
a father three days agobut I didn't get to hear him this night.
From my bearings, I'd say the Greenway Court Theatre was in the
geographical center of L.A. It's in an old Jewish neighborhood, which
is still very visible in places like Canter's deli. But, there's also
Bang and Cat Walk, for clubbing apparel, and Goo, which I have no idea
what that is. Next trip, I'm stopping at Tom Bergin's for Irish Coffee,
and, hopefully, good craic.
I can't quite get the name of the MC. But, he should have his
own HBO special. He's wickedly fast, funny and charming.
These poets come ready. There appears to be an understanding
that stepping into the spotlight is like walking onto the court of an
NCAA basketball game. If you came to learn, they're not here to teach.
I can't stay long. After 40 minutes or so, the MC announced tow
trucks had arrived. About 30 of us, who had invented our own parking
spaces on the campus of Fairfax High School, had to bolt. It was a pretty
I open the door to exit, and there's over 30 people waiting to
get in once some of us leave. I get a cute smile from one young woman,
nicely surprised at my presence. I'm an old dude here. There was only
one other guy anywhere near my age in the house. I figure I'll end up
back in this line, so I decide to head home. I saw what I wanted to
see. I found Ground Zero. I learned in some gorgeous, intimate way,
how it's done. I get to dream each night of returning.
This is what the quest does. It takes you to places of myth.
I need to slam. I need to slam bad (which I probably will). It's
the time before sex.
Taking Over L.A. Part 7
Rachel Kann: I'm calming down after the Big Damn Poetry Slam
disaster, and I'm thinking I've seen Rachel Kann before. She's one of
L.A.'s most famous, most high-profile poets. As I mentioned in the previous
chapter, she has a definite star presence. She walks into the room like
she's Shaq, about nine feet tall and 750 pounds. That's how I remembered
her. She came to a Two Idiots Peddling Poetry night for a slam they
had organized a while back. Her presence is such that I remembered her
in the audience, even though I left before she read. She's a bull. She's
a Poet Mama. She has swagger. I think she'd feel at home on a pirate
ship. She makes it immediately obvious she has opinions; she's going
to share them; and you should listen, whoever the hell you are, it doesn't
matter. I didn't stay for the slam at Two Idiots, because there was
some bad poetry torture that night, plus I was getting tired. I've never
heard Rachel Kann read her stuff. But, I like the fact that she seems
to be a poet 24-7. And I hear she can mix it up with the best at da
poetry lounge. Most people allow the poet to emerge from the shoe clerk.
I don't think Rachel's employable. And I mean that in the coolest way.
Not Breathing: Ever since I decided to self-publish my book,
six or seven months ago, I think I ‘stopped breathing.' It's just too
big a personal event for me. It took me 10 years before I wrote a single
line of poetry. It took me another 18 years to write and edit this 252-page
book of poems. I don't know how to explain it, but I'm freezing up.
All of me is collapsing to one dimension. I don't want to move until
the thing is done. I allowed the public readings to be a distraction
because there was no point in publishing a book if you couldn't go out
and sell it. But, it's time, and I can't breathe. God, you have the
finest sense of humor, but please don't deal me a fatal on Highway 133
just now. Give me 10 more days.
Festival of Books: The L.A. Times big Festival of Books features
only one L.A. poet (Wanda Coleman) that I recognize in two days of readings,
with a new poet every half hour. In the list of exhibitors, and what
they're exhibiting, the word “poetry” comes up three times in a list
of over 340 exhibitors. But that's the state of poetry for you.There's
a Poetry Stage for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, featuring a new
poet every 30 minutes for two full days. I only recognize Wanda Coleman
as a representative of L.A. I can only guess this is because it's a
Chicago newspaper now, long destroyed. There are plenty of big poet
names, but the poetsand writershave no “where” as far as
Los Angeles is concerned. This could be anywhere. I don't think the
L.A. Times even knows who Rachel Kann is, or what magic happens at da
Wayman Writes: Wayman Barnes, the master storyteller and great
actor who organized Litrave.com with Frankie Drayus, discovered my online
notes about Taking Over LA in Avatar Review/Burning Chrome. He loves
it. He's going to promote it on the Litrave.com website. He said it's
like a novel in which he knows everybody, and has been to all the places.
Wayman also is very direct in telling me it's going to take a long time
to Take Over L.A. “Trust me, it takes longer than you are giving it
to make inroads into the LA poetry world. I have done nearly 130 performances
since I've started and have just recently begun doing features. If you
are not a name, some venues will want you to show some loyalty to their
venue before they will even consider you. It's not a judgement on your
work, just the way it works,” said Wayman.
The Moment of Will: Whenever I've taken over anything, there's
always the purposeful beginning, followed by defeat, followed soon after
by total confusion and an absolute determination to give up. Instead
of trying to avoid these feelings, I always feel these emotions fully
and absolutely. I feel it until there's nothing left. No desire. No
strategy. No possibilities. What's left is only one thing, weightless
and invisible, and the strongest force in the universe: will.
After the clusterfuck at the Big Damn Poetry Slam, I was in the
process of taking a break from poetry readings. Then, Frankie Drayus
sent me a note that she would be slamming in my home town, at the Two
Idiots reading (4/24/02). The Five Penny Poets were competing against
the Valley Contemporary Poets (http://poetrysuperhighway.com/vcp)
I was immediately conflicted. I wanted to see her perform, and show
my support. At the same time, I was still angry at what happenedor
didn't happenat the Big Damn Poetry Slam. At the last minute,
I went. And I felt about 25 things at once in the 90 minutes I was there:
Time is falling in boulders in slow motion. There goes another
one, and I'm much older, with much less time to get the job done. I
hate the role of making people appreciate what has innate value. They
should just see it. I hate the cheap bohemian ploy of using retro shock
instead of craft to make a poem. Why do bohemians lack muscle in their
poetry? Where did they get the license to complain incessantly? Some
of the poetry makes me want to elevate hard and immediate through the
ceiling of the Ugly Mug to escape. Why are they torturing us? Frankie
kills, though. She's really turning from a very writerly writer into
an actress. She made poetic history with one word, “olive.” I won't
tell you how, because that moment belongs to Frankie. Steve Ramirez
kills. He's a real writer, I think. I hope he gets his due some day.
A very quiet, professor-like guy (the worst personna for slamming) kills
me with a poem about an ancient sex scroll. He gets the lowest slam
marks. There's no reason to Take Over L.A. It doesn't lead anywhere.
There's no reason to think I could sell even 1,000 copies of my book.
It's clearly impossible. I don't have time to wait around. Why aren't
people more demanding? Why aren't they more appreciative of real craft,
real vision? Steve Ramirez worked his butt off, I guess, to organize
the Orange County Poetry Festival, financed by the group, Tebot Bach,
and I marvel again at poetry people attempting difficult things for
little reward. In my own mountain-climbing, pyramid-conquering way of
doing things, poetry drives me nuts. There's no ladder. No getting anywhere.
No system. I need to calm down, and not get pissed off at how Poetry
World doesn't work. I can't figure out how to join a slam team, other
than the great L.A. poets at da poetry lounge. Where is another one?
I realize I'm not going to the nationals this year, and I'm sorely disappointed.
I realize I've got to give everything another year, and I'm depressed.
My energy is coiled ambition, and there's no use for it. I want to go
up on stage and be great, but I know I can't. It's awful being awful
at something, and then not quitting. I'm going to be 800 years old before
everybody knows I'm a poet. I have zero self-identity as a performer.
To me, I'm a cipher up there. I have a ringside seat on how poetry remains
outside of mainstream culture, and I sure can't see how to change that.
I can't wait to be just a writer againan environment completely
under my control.
And here's more crazy zen weirdness of this whole trip: I'm trying
to find Charlotte O'Brien, and her poetry reading, and Wayman is her
boyfriend! He introduces me to her at Two Idiots, and I think that is
so cool to meet her in this zen/connected way. He and Frankie are heading
to Seattle next week for a poetry festival there (http://www.poetryfestival.com).
They're signed on as featured readers, and Wayman is hosting a panel.
He doesn't quite know exactly what the subject is. It has to do with
alternative avenues available to poets, such as the Internet and slamming.
I hope Wayman and Frankie become rich and famous. (Note: Wayman said
there were a couple of other L.A. poets at the Los Angeles Times Festival
Still Taking Over L.A.: In my time so far Taking Over L.A., I
really value having met Steve Ramirez, Frankie Drayus and Wayman Barnes.
And I'm grateful to have found da poetry lounge, and what Wayman said
is its spin-off, Green, at Tanner's in Culver City. When I'm ready,
I'll make a run at Green and at Mia's (Charlotte's reading at Tanner's
in Santa Monica). I'll give up on the goal of slamming for a while,
and just try to get better at reading. Basically, I'll start all over
again. Set myself adrift in the zen ocean.
Word From Redondo: Larry Colker, who organizes the Redondo Beach
Poets readings at the Coffee Cartel, also found these notes on the Internet,
and sent me an e-mail. The Coffee Cartel was a terrible experience for
me, as I failed miserably to generate any notice, for which I have only
myself to blame. Larry never said a word to me. I could tell he was
a true believer in poetry, and I thought it would be great to be validated
by him. That would be a nice step in Taking Over L.A. I thought Larry
had heard Bukowski read, but he said in his note that he hadn't. He
invited me back to the Coffee Cartel, saying he had wondered where I
went. That was very nice of him, to go out of his way to invite me back.
“I, too, find that the work that sometimes gets the noisiest or most
positive response is not particularly...shall we say impressive, poetically.
Our audience is diverse, as are our readers, and there are some nights
when few readers seem to elicit more than polite acknowledgement,” wrote
Larry. Like all of the people I've seen so far in the L.A. Poetry World,
Larry is 10 times nicer than me. Less-than-great poetry drives me insane.
But, the L.A. Poetry World appears to be about total accepting. Everybody's
welcome. I'm focused on being effective, but that's not the game. Ambition
seems so out of place. It's all very murky to me right now. Anger doesn't
work here. It only gets you confused, and on the wrong road.
My Book Is In My Hands: And it sure sounds nuclear (May 8, 2002).