Last night, I went to hear former Poet Laureate Donald Hall read at Benaroya Hall as part of Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Poetry Series. I thoroughly enjoyed the reading and especially found his poems about grief to be honest and important. I’m super excited about the Poetry Series this year and I think the curator Rebecca Hoogs has done an amazing job. Upcoming readings unclude: Jane Hirshfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Simon Armitage, Naomi Shihab Nye and Gary Snyder.
I will note that at one point during the evening I wondered if I am the only person in Seattle who will go to both Donald Hall and the Youth Slam in one week. (YouthSpeaks next slam is this Friday at Rainier Valley Cultural Center.)
While I was doing that, my good friend, blog inspiration and this weeks GUEST BLOGGER… GREG Bee was off seeing a show called Salon of Shame. Greg is the blogging genius behind Bitter Single Guy. I hope you enjoy his review!
Greg Bee reviews Salon of Shame:
First it seems important to say that this is NOT a spoken word poetry show. In fact the organizers are pretty clear about weeding “performers” out of their show. Given my love of, and immersion in, the world of spoken word poetry, I believe I may have looked slightly down my nose at this show. (I can admit my mistakes…just wait.)
After all, I thought, the premise is somewhat limiting (stay with me here). Readers (clearly…STRICTLY…not performers) are invited to share their diary and journal entries from their younger years. That’s it. The whole show hinges on the embedded drama, angst and overwrought writing of people’s teenage years. Surely clever, but again…I see brilliant performers on stage all the time so was ready to let this go.
Then the 160 seat auditorium sold out in 4 minutes.
I kid you not, I was online at 12:05, having been assured that I should see this show and I thought for 10 bucks…what the heck. And I didn’t get tickets. Petulant, like all I had ever wanted was to attend this show, I emailed one of the organizers who had originally give me the heads up. “Dude, the site indicated that it was sold out. Did you tell me the wrong day? Did these tickets go on sale last month?” Nope. It actually sold out in 4 minutes.
OK, cut to present day, or at least to yesterday. Friend of a friend has extra tickets, thinks he can score me two. We’re in. The show was at the Theater Off Jackson, which is an awesome space I don’t find myself in often enough. If you’re already tired of reading, the short version is: this show was AWESOME. I cannot wait to get to the next one, I will NOT wait until 5 minutes after when tickets go on sale, because I suspect they will sell out again in mere seconds.
OK, poetry slam and spoken word poetry aficionados, here’s where the lesson begins. There was very little fanfare, no music while waiting, no open mic, no announcements or effort to connect to the larger community of writers. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing on the part of the Salon folks, but it resulted in a pared down experience that was, as they say on their site, just about the reading.
People – not poets – got on stage and read journal entries and poetry from their teen years… and it was hysterical. Poets, here’s the lesson: the readers on stage last night who embodied the character of their early selves and added nuance to their words were good. The readers who simply read the words were brilliant. Moments spent polishing the performance robbed the reading of the emotion. The audience (including me) mostly loved the readers who sometimes had to stop and shake their heads at their tragic teenage selves. This says everything you think it says about letting your work connect with the audience rather than trying to shimmy, shake and shout enough to get the audience’s attention. I was humbled.
There were 8 readers with an intermission in the middle. The organizers obviously knew their audience and at least some of their readers because the woman saved for the end was so funny I swear I peed a little. But again…she wasn’t a funny performer, she was a brilliant conduit for her words of teen angst. When I Google Cienna Madrid (the last performer) I get links from the Stranger and YouTube in addition to the Salon, so apparently Ms. Madrid has been on a mic before. Whether this is because she’s a seasoned performer who has achieved the zen-like paradox of enough practice to keep her time on the mic fresh, or because she’s in the midst of her 15 minutes I don’t know. Short answer is that ending the show with her ensured that Dan and I both vowed to do whatever it took to get tickets next time.
Salon of Shame. Where we were energetically encouraged to laugh at other people’s pain. And did we ever laugh.