Ever so often, an event rolls around that crosses so many boundaries -- and pools together so much talent -- that it'd be criminal to miss, because it makes hash of all the obvious categories.
For three years, that's been true of the Artpost Gallery's Poetry Marathon -- where all comers read in 15-minute slots around the clock, Friday through Saturday, for 24 hours. Overseen by Kay Westhues and Jake Webster, the event is intended to honor National Poetry Month.
In reality, however, all categories go out the window, depending on who's performing. For myself, I covered all the bases -- which is why I open with "Satisfied" (The Dogs), whose lyrics are excerpted on this website. It's my tip of the punk rock brick --so to speak -- to those who blazed the trail, and the sentiments ("Let me do what I please/Let me what do I like") resonate strongly with me.
Next up, another non-original from my wife, "America Can't Keep The Lights On Anymore," which does what its title says ("Wake up, it's morning: The living room is trashed/The dream is over/America is out of cash"), and -- once I get rolling -- inspires me to add an improv ending ("like Lou Reed's Sally, drenched in methedrine,she can't get herself up off the floor anymore...she doesn't know what to do, because there's no way out, to get out beyond that particular door")that draws a suitably strong response.
Alas, the same can't be said for my politically-charged haikus: a couple of lines draw some laughs -- particularly ones that touch on age discrimination -- but not a massive reaction. That's OK, though...you have to do the difficult stuff, I believe...instead of just recycling old favorites, night after night, to earn a passing grade from your audience.
Fair enough: I move on to "Sister Ray Reflects," which I hadn't done since last summer. This one draws its inspiration from the Velvet Underground, which were part of my high school soundtrack...and reflects on how Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame," plus the culture that it inspired, would play out nowadays ("First drag queen sent home signs their name & likeness away for 25 bucks a pop, just like they did in '68!").
My other inspiration came from "Sister Ray" itself, that sprawling, 17-and-a-half-minute epic: "What if Sister Ray were a real person, and had survived the madness of being associated with Warhol's camp? What would he say now?" Between lines, I periodically hum that famous pounding riff, built off the holy trinity of G-F-C, while Lori Caskey-Sigety pounds out a rhythm to match on her tambourine("bum-BA-bum-bum, bah-BUM, BAH-BAH-bum")...
...which helps us to build a truly churning groove over five minutes into a suitably frenetic ending, just like on the original! The whole business leaves my mouth feeling completely cotton dry, but: I've got just enough time for one or two songs on the Yamaha acoustic, a tradition that I've upheld at every Artpost marathon.
This year, it's "What's In A Name (From Santiago, With Love)." The song's inspiration came from an NPR story on Chile's Ministry of Education, which ordered the deletion of references to Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in its textbooks...and refer to him as a military leader ("What's in a name, what's the difference anyway?/'Airbrush or whitewash,' that's our critics may say/In a generation or two, it won't even matter").
I couldn't pass up the chance to comment on this phenomenon of Chile not dealing with its dark, post-1973 coup past...so I wrote the song at home, in a frantic 90-minute burst, with a chorus that deliberately recalls some of George Orwell's feelings along those lines ("Who controls the past, controls the future/Who controls the future, controls the present").
I ended up with a Latin punk number that travels a similar road to the Clash's "Washington Bullets"...only one that's more succinct, clocking in around two-and-a-half minutes. Since it's the first performance, a few flubs naturally pop up...but I manage to pull it off, and the resulting appreciation puts a big exclamation point on what's been an eclectic set from yours truly (to say the least!).
That proves equally true of the folks that I see during my three-hour visit -- considering how often the "P"-word (as in, poet) is mocked and left for dead in our culture, I'm amazed at how many people seem driven to express themselves that way, trends be damned...from Matthew Heckaman's rapid-fire delivery ("Wonder what happened to the peace dove? It was devoured by a war hawk, and all we heard was 'squawk, squawk, squawk!'...we ask questions, and are told not to talk")), to Zorina Jerome's declamatory retorts to detractors far and wide, to Pam Blair's a capella interludes when she's not actually reading ("...'cause you are the colors in my rainbow?")...there's no the end to the diversity and talent on display.
And, better yet, this event leapfrogs every genre, from spoken word, to rap, original music and back again -- whether it's done purely with vocals, or accompanied by backing tracks and musical instruments, as I chose to do -- making it one of the best area talent showcases around. Long may it run, and here's to next year!
Well, next year didn't happen, as it turned out. The 2012 Poetry Marathon wound up being the last one at Artpost, for reasons that weren't clear at the time, though it's not like I expected anyone to tell me. Maybe the logistics of hosting a round the clock, 24-hour event got too hairy or complicated; as I recall, our host, Dave Casper, had to do double duty during the graveyard shift.
Not surprisingly, getting people to sign up for a 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. time slot, if only for 15 minutes, proved a bit challenging. Or perhaps the organizers felt that they'd made their statement by holding three such events, from 2010-12, and wanted to move on to other things, which is understandable.
Artpost is still around, still displaying local work, which is the most important thing, regardless of what types of events happen there. Still, I have fond memories of all three Marathons that I did.
Then and now, I thought it was a cool idea, a great way to showcase all types of local talent, without anybody having to go through the usual endless vetting that often stifles the best ideas. But don't just take my word for it! Check out the previous blasts from the pasts below, and see them for yourself. As the saying goes, a good time was had by all. And that's the main thing, isn't it?
MUSICAL BLASTS FROM THE PAST:
<CHAIRMAN RALPH: ARTPOST POETRY MARATHON, 4/15/11>
"For 39 Bucks":
Filmed by Don Hargraves.
<CHAIRMAN RALPH: ARTPOST POETRY MARATHON, 4/9/10>
"I Fired The Dog":
Filmed by Artpost Gallery.
SPOKEN BLASTS FROM THE PAST:
<ARTPOST POETRY MARATHON, 4/15/11>
A Thousand Cuts:
I Was A Teenage Subversive:
The Drudgery Of Love:
All clips filmed by Don Hargarves.