Poetry for Southern California


Reviews 10/06


Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!

Our Senior Editor G. Murray Thomas has put together the latest CD's in our craft for your ultimate listening pleasure (once you get the CD that is). We will provide listening selections when available.  And from time to time Murray may review books, or broadsides or god knows what... By G. Murray Thomas


Sekou (the Misfit) and Steve Connell

Performance at The Greenway Court Theater
Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006

One of the greatest challenges facing performance poets today (besides writing great poetry) is how to create a show out of their poetry. The idea that poetry can be entertaining is beginning to form in the general public’s mind; now they need concrete examples to solidify that notion. They need a show—theatrical productions which present an evening of coherent entertainment, which the public will pay to see. Slams were an attempt to do just this, but by now their limitations are obvious. The question on many poets’ lips is, What’s next? How else can we present our art?”

Sekou (the Misfit) and Steve Connell have stepped up to this challenge. Their two-man show demonstrates how it can be done.

The show I saw was pretty much unadorned poetry. They worked on a bare stage (a set obviously designed for some other production) with nothing but their voices and bodies (and an occasional bottle of water to throw). But that is all they needed.

Okay, they needed one more thing—strong poetry. And that they had. Their poetry consistently combined meaning and entertainment; it was poetry which was both funny and moving, sometimes in the same line. They covered a variety of topics, including love, politics, sex, money, hip-hop and the absurdity of life.

The show was primarily individual pieces, the two poets alternating. However, they always worked as a team, their pieces playing off each other, developing the themes in their interaction. They also did a few powerful dual voice pieces, such as their hilarious meditation on “Greed.” And they worked well as, frankly, a comedy team, specifically in a skit about buying a greeting card for one’s girlfriend, but also in much of their interaction between poems.

Sekou and Connell both demonstrated great confidence on stage. They delivered their poems with complete control, yet were able to relax and casually interact with the audience between poems. In fact, they often interacted with the audience in their poetry too, bringing them into the words. Part of this may have been the circumstance of this particular show. It was a recording session for a live CD, which seemed to allow them to break down the “fourth wall” and bring the audience in as participants in the show. It was also a “hometown” audience; both of them are regulars at the Greenway Theater’s Tuesday night Poetry Lounge. Still, I believe (hope) they can carry this level of interaction to other venues.

This was not a perfect show, however. It is difficult to hold an audience for over two hours with just two poets, however talented. My suggestion would be to cut the show into an hour and half without intermission. I think it would be much more powerful that way (although the length of this particular show may have been due to the recording.) Which is not to say I got bored, but I did start wondering how much longer it had to go, always a bad sign. But that’s a minor quibble. For the most part, this was a well produced, well paced show.

One recurring theme was a desire to make to money. Though always presented ironically (the aforementioned “Greed” piece, Steve Connell’s “Prophet for Profit”), I have little doubt that there is a deep element of truth in it. These guys want to make a living off their poetry.

And they deserve to. Not just for their talent, but for accepting the challenge. For crafting their work into an entertaining show. For advancing not just the art of poetry, but the art of its presentation. We may all benefit from what they have done here.

Run On Anything

CD by Buddy Wakefield
Strange Famous Records

This CD rocks! I mean that literally, it is as much rock’n’roll as it is spoken word. About half the tracks have musical backing, and even though much of it is spare, it still has enough rhythm and complexity to be appreciated on its own. There are few spoken word CDs I can listen to as music as well as poetry, and by that I mean, yes, as much in the background of my consciousness as the foreground. This may seem like strange praise for a poetry CD, that it is produced in such a way that I can ignore the poetry on it, but it makes this CD a rarity (and a joy to listen to).

Most poetry CDs place that demand on youthat you really pay attention to them. And that demand limits the ways you can appreciate them. So I’m just saying “Run On Anything” can be enjoyed in a number of different ways, and that is a good thing.

Not that you would want to ignore the poetry on this CD. Buddy Wakefield writes powerfully about the pain of being human in a brutal world, and the struggle to find something to believe in. His primary theme is the need to believe in yourself: “My point forever endlessly/ You still don’t know you’re amazing.” (“My Point Forever Endlessly”) He explores this theme in a number of ways, whether describing his belief system in surreal terms (“Pretend”), or telling the story of a convenience store clerk in North Dakota (“Convenience Stores”) or remembering a coworker (“Flockprinting”). Wakefield believes so deeply in our inherent worth that it comes out whatever he’s writing about.

Not that you could totally ignore the poetry on this CD anyway. Buddy’s words are too powerful to ignore, and he gets off some great lines that are inevitably going to grab you. “Pretend you live for a living.” “It takes a long time to make love to someone who hates themselves.” “We have balls/ the sky does not/ Therefore, we have bigger balls than the sky.” And even “burbling gerbils.”

Which makes this a perfect CD to pass on your non-poet friends. Or better yet, mix in a couple of cuts (like “My Point Forever Endlessly” or “A Little Ditty Called Happiness”) into your next party music, and let someone else get grabbed by the power of his words, when they think they’re just rocking out.

Ebullient Vomit

Book by Misti Rainwater-Lites
Available from Lulu.com

What a perfect title! Misti Rainwater-Lites takes the totality of her life and throws it up on you with an astounding enthusiasm.

wanting to be my mom in her bright red lipstick
all her boyfriends to camouflage the gaping wound
left by Daddy
leaving her and us behind for Barbara in Louisiana
wanting to be Madonna in bridal white in Italy
flaunting her slutty fakery & independence
I am living vicariously through the main character
of my novel
she has a talking toilet
and friends
and a sexy boyfriend who treats her
like shit
I should
  (“A Bottle of Twin Fin Pinot Noir”)

Rainwater-Lites writes with brutal honesty about depressing subjects—lost loves, poverty, the current political situation. Yet she does it with such energy that the poems are not depressing. Instead, by that very energy, they show how much she really loves life.

me with my facial hair and small tits and beer belly
and pimples and fractured mind/ snapped synapses
I am alive & aware
flawed & fully
and forging on
hoping for better
truly believing like my boys Def Leppard
The Best Is Yet To Come
(“Me With My”)

This is the energy of the Beats, the energy of “get it down while it’s still there.” Yet for all her rush of words, Rainwater-Lites only gives us the details necessary to her purpose. This is, in fact, controlled vomit.

december 8th is the day, will always be the day.
the day i gave birth on a Sunday in 1996 at 6:51 p.m.
to a beautiful bawling baby girl.
a miracle I could cherish but could not keep.
only a few people know the details.
how i got knocked up at 23 by a con artist sociopath named Jay.
how i got on Medicaid and food stamps.
how i read my King James Bible and underlined countless verses
and prayed without ceasing and attended church three times a week.
i do not think of my daughter often.
but i thought of her yesterday
i opened the recent photos of my daughter in my e-mail.
she is tall and skinny and blond with a gap-toothed smile.
in one picture she is in a boat on a mountain lake
wearing a life jacket, holding up a fish
all i can think is, Good. She has a daddy who loves her
enough to take her fishing.
(“I Have a Daughter, Yesterday She Turned Nine”)

And it doesn’t hurt that she can be quite funny, especially when she’s on a political rant.

I’m moving back to a stupid state
the President Bush is God state
the nosy bitches from bible study knockin’ on your door when you’re
tryin’ to get off or get high because they want to invite you to church state
the goddamn it I don’t have any Mary Kay cosmetics or dresses from
Dillard’s or high heels from Foley’s or bling bling from James Avery
or hair from Tony & Guy or fingernails from one of those salons
where Chinese chicks wear surgical masks to make you pretty so I
can’t go to church state
the everyone should be married by nineteen and parents by twenty state
the No Sex Ed in Our Schools state
the No Contraceptives or Abortion Just Get Married and Learn to
Like it, Goddammit state
(“I’m Moving Back to a Stupid State”)

These poems say as much through their style as their subject matter. They say, “this is important, because life is important.” So let Misti Rainwater-Lites vomit on you; you’ll like it.

For the latest news about me visit www.myspace.com/gmurraythomas. Now available: Paper Shredders, an anthology of surf writing. Order it from you favorite bookseller.

G. Murray Thomas