I did it. I was finally able to read some work from Intention Tremor (see one of my missives, below) in front of an actual live, three-dimensional audience.
Slow boat to China?
The trip there smacked of pandemic surreality. First, owing to the fact that I am a ferry commuter to the city, living on the other side of the pond from Seattle, I should have expected that first leg of my journey to be compromised.
Even before the pandemic, the ferries were a bit sketchy in their ability to hold to schedules due to mechanical concerns of an aging fleet and high user demand.
Since the plague, however, staffing issues have been their own kind of plague. Once I parked in my lane of the queue to get on the boat, the announcement was made that the system had dropped my line from two boats to one, and I would be missing the boat that would get me where I needed.
And that meant I would be late.
I generally don’t have ferry anxiety except when I need to be somewhere on time.
I passed the time texting with a friend who knows, first hand, these ferry woes. We trotted out strategies related to the challenges of critiquing others’ works, then the later boat came, and I was on my way, right into the heart of commuter hour (in Seattle, no bueno), and I arrived 45 minutes late to the reading.
But also… I wasn’t just there for the open mic. Let me be clear. I wanted to hear the featured poets: three from Bellingham’s Madrona Writers. I have some poetry connections up B’ham’s way (looking at you Anita and Brenda and James and Nancy and a flurry of others). Thanks to ferry madness, I missed some of their work but enjoyed immensely what I did get the privilege to hear.
I also wanted to support the host and emcee, the poet extraordinaire Michael Dylan Welch, for the SoulFood Poetry Night’s first live reading event since 2020. Michael hosted a virtual reading with myself and Jan Steckel in CA exactly a year ago, and it was one of my favorites in my online-only book tour.
(In the post-show that night, Michael and I talked late into the evening about the ache for us all to get back to face-to-face readings and I’m so thrilled it’s happening.)
(And yes, I’m aware there’s still a pandemic on, and yes, some people were masked, and it was all good.)
Also, it seemed fitting that my first live reading, even if through the aperture of an open mic, should take place where origin stories collide like agonistic atoms, becoming something new and even more receptive.
The SoulFood series has been going on for 17 years, co-curated by the very person behind the publishing house who brought Intention Tremor into the world, Lana Hechtman Ayers of MoonPath Press/Concrete Wolf.
Without any real awareness of my choice, I wore camo pants and the armor of hard jewelry and dark boots that night. Which is a weird thing to write about, because I don’t care that much for cosplay. But the last poem I read from Intention Tremor was “The Year I Came Home From The War,” which, as you can well imagine, is filled with metaphors and similes related to combat squeezed through the perspective of fighting illness (but don’t get me started on what it means to be an illness warrior).
But… I hadn’t even picked my poems to read until I was sitting in my car in the ferry staging area, and it didn’t occur to me until my ride back that maybe this was also part of the whole experience for me… summoning the courage to fight demons:
MS, sure… but also the plague, the idiocracy that is the lingering sequelae of the plague, the need for community to push back against anti-science attitudes, against willful ignorance, against being shut down in what seems to be the never-ending eugenics experiment against the disabled and chronically ill that ‘Merica does not seem to want to acknowledge or (gasp) abandon, even when its collective feet are held to the fire in such a public way.
Let me end my retelling of that night by saying that the open mic was f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!
Not that age of the performer matters at all to me, but at least half the poets and writers were half my age and BADASS. This is not typically my experience, and I loved it! Performers, wordsmiths, activistas. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT.
(PS Devin Falk, I’ve already worked your story about the useless typewriter into two conversations with other writers in just the last four days!)
I rued the fact I didn’t bring a pen and journal to capture some of that juicy good stuff for fueling my own work. But hey, I’m out of practice with this going-to-live-poetry-readings business. The last time I did this was in Tacoma on February 8, 2020 with Alana Saltz at her book launch for The Uncertainty of Light, where I read “Zebrafish Husbandry,” a new flash essay that would end up being the capstone piece for a book I didn’t even know I would be publishing a year later.
Have a look
I leave you with this snapshot of the poem I read to close the show (and yes, I was so late, I was most definitely the last person to sign up for open mic and so-so-so grateful that folks didn’t leave me in an empty space… in fact, almost all the seats were still full and I cannot even express how much good that did my heart).
PS SoulFood Coffeehouse and Fair Trade Emporium is truly a gem of a place (I say this unironically, given they sell crystals). Y’all must go if you can, the coffee is good, the vibe is pure intellectual comfort, and that stage, though…