Well poetry month comes to the ‘ville April 22 at 7:30 PM at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre when celebrated local poet Michael Brown brings his ‘Poetry Extravaganza’ to this Davis Square venue. Ten poets will make a return visit to the theatre as part of “Dr. Brown’s Traveling Poetry Show.” Such well- know slam and performance poets like: Doug Bishop, Jonathan Chin, Melissa Guillet, Valerie Lawson, Ryk McIntyre ,Tom Daley and Maia Radhakrishnan will relive their childhood memories, reinvent an eclectic collection of characters, rage against the machine, throw barbs at the nattering nabobs of negativism, etc… in this unique showcase. This performance piece is directed by Brown. Brown is the author of four books of poetry, a national slam finalist, a PhD, and is known for bringing the poetry slam to Boston from his native Chicago through his venue at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. that he had hosted for 13 years.
Part two of the program will be hosted by SlamMaster Simone Beaubien. Beaubien took over the Cantab Slam venue for Brown, and the general consensus is that she reinvigorated this celebrated series. Beaubien will direct the “Boston Poetry Slam” part of the “Extravaganza” in which six all-star local poets, selected from Boston’s slam community will compete for the attention of a hopefully animated audience, and the discerning judges. I spoke with Brown recently about his latest project.
Doug Holder: First off "Dr. Brown's Traveling Poetry Show" is a performance poetry show. Isn't all spoken word performance to some extent?
MB: Each show is different. We may do themed shows, such as political, comic, love stories, or Disney-connected poems, for example. But most of our shows are themed based on what the poets want to do at the time. A few days before each show I have the participants e-mail me the titles of the poems (including last lines) they would like to do. I arrange those in a set list. At its simplest, the set list progresses by association, so that one poem follows another. I don’t necessarily try to blend their styles. Each voice is unique and contrast has more value than closeness. Since we perform throughout the room, we try to have poets start at a distance from the previous poem. That facilitates contrast.
DH: Can you talk about some of the featured poets?
MB: I can talk about many of the poets, but not for print. Bada bing!
Mala Radhakrishnan is probably the best example of what this group can do. A Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at MIT, she plays piano and does half a dozen other interesting things. When we first met, she thought her poetry had a limited shelf life because, while witty, it was all about chemistry. She has found that audiences like that. At the same time, she has expanded what she writes about.
At his best, Ryk McIntyre is a great audience favorite. At his worst he can scare whole rooms full of people. Other than myself, he has probably been doing this longer than anyone in our group. Ryk’s wife, Melissa Guillet brings an ethereal and musical grace to what we do.
Douglas Bishop is also a seasoned performer and producer of many group shows. The lyrical quality of his work is unsurpassed.
Tom Daley, like his famous sister Katie, has a great facility with characters and voices, pastoral wit, and keen imagery.
Valerie Lawson is a mainstay, one of those solid mid-group poets with a great range of material—Duchamp, women’s hockey, love and peace. If we were a relay team, she would be the anchor.
Jeff Taylor is the wackiest one in our group. If it has to do with weird people (a guy afraid of cheese), a strange take on politics (Bush’s motivational switches), or late night, drug-induced comedy, it’s Jeff’s.
Jonathan Chin is our newest, a BU student seriously dedicated to poetry whose voice grows with each show.
Melissa Bates is probably has the greatest difficulty performing. We all find memorization difficult, and she finds it agony to stand in front of an audience and deliver. But she pitches women’s softball, so she knows how to stay in there.
Michael Mack is the opposite. He probably has least difficulty with memorization and is the most comfortable with performance. That does not mean he is the best performer. As I always say in workshops, “If you are not nervous about this, you don’t know what you are doing.” Michael knows, but he does this so much, he can get blasé.
DH: Is performance and slam poetry well-represented around the country for poetry month?
MB: Yes, but…. I first heard from Marge Piercy that poetry month was an invention of publishers and booksellers to profit from the resurgence of interest in poetry. The problem is that, while much of that interest has been fueled by performance poetry, publishers are not looking to put out books by performance poets. Peter Davison, longtime poetry editor for The Atlantic pointed out that performance poetry was having a positive effect on poetry readings. Audiences no longer tolerated being held captive by very bad readers. Those who make a distinction between performance poetry and page poetry now book performance poets to enliven otherwise dull readings by name page poets, especially during poetry month. I defer to Goethe: “Comparisons are odious.” If you don’t think performance poetry is real poetry, I’ll bet you $15. Come to our show. At the end of the evening, if you want your money back, see me.
For tickets go to http://www.jtoffbroadway.com/