Wednesday, January 30, 2013
start on coffee, end with donut (a day in erie)
On the 26th of January I headed to Erie, Pa with three other poets. We were taking part in an event called Snoetry--fitting since there was a good dose of the white stuff on the ground when we left and arrived.
The drive there was everything I wanted it to be: great music, good conversation and plenty of crude humor. Jerome, Dan and Jason are three of my favorite writers in this city(or anywhere, really). They even picked up a coffee for me. I call 'em my brothers happily. We listened to Charles Mingus and an expert-level mix cd made my Greg(Jason was swept up by his love of Baby Huey's "A Change is Going to Come" when it started to trickle through the speakers). Originally I had hoped to interview all three of my travel mates in depth, perhaps flesh out an article of sorts. I forfeited that plan rather quickly and instead tangled myself up in the moments and conversation. Conversation which included talk of hash browns driving Tim Horton trucks. I also learned about a mouse under the eye. See? Precious, precious discussions.
We hit Erie just in time for a quick bite before heading to the location, Poets Hall. Jerome did a quick search of local eateries on his phone and it was unanimously decided that we absolutely had to eat at Three Chances, located on Payne Avenue. That's all we knew about the place. The question was posed: I mean how many chances does one get on Payne Avenue? Luckily we had the answer. This was the only review left via foodio: Don't call a man a bitch or he will punch u in the face!!
We bumped along the unshoveled side streets in search of Three Chances, but never found it(or I think we did--it was hard to tell). We ended up at Ricardo's to fill our bellies. Ricardos had two large sitting areas and a small corridor of tables stuck in between. Both of the larger rooms were filled with people, balloons, presents--we walked into dueling baby showers. We scored a table in between both parties and contemplated the potential "what ifs" of popping all the balloons at the tables or approaching the mother to be and calling her out as a fraud.
Every picture/piece of artwork in the restaurant boasted some version of the silly chef with the prominent moustache. I never realized how many wall hangings like this existed in the world. Who knew the chef with 'stache was such a cornerstone in genre décor?
The menu listed food items without any descriptions. I had a feeling their point of pride was their fried zucchini, as it showed up in quite a few places on the menu. We ate our food(pasta, salad, the precious zucchini) and headed to Poets Hall.
I smacked myself in the forehead when I noticed a large table set up in the room that was covered in food. This included cupcakes(with a surprise custard in the middle), dips, salsa, cookies, pasta salad, chili still smoldering in the crock pot, quinoa(which I singlehandedly destroyed), veggies and more. The event lasted all day so people were constantly shuffling back there to add to the spread.
I think we had the best seats in the house. We were perched on a giant couch stationed behind the massive table of food. The constant arrival of new food items made me feel like some gluttonous king being served course after course while others entertained me on stage.
[Side note: special shout out to the box beneath the table that nearly everyone treated as a trash can(cupcake wrappers, stained chili bowls, chip shards and whatnot went here). At one point a lady muttered that "this isn't a trash can people" while tucking her shawl into it as a place for safekeeping. I really hope she avoided the icing remnants and renegade chili beans because that thing was the trash can, no question.]
Poets Hall was a remarkable space. Nonprofit, with a focus on poetry readings and a safe place for writers to congregate and share. Perks also included an awesome man in a utili-kilt, painted-black walls and tiny origami birds lining the strands of Christmas lights around the room. I swooned over their space, the stage, the atmosphere of a place much-loved and comfortable. The bathroom didn't have a sink but no matter. There were piles of poets on the set list--we arrived just before 3pm and were able to listen to poetry almost straight through to after 8 that evening. I could comment on each person that stepped to the microphone but that would take a while. Instead, I'll focus on our little car full of Pittsburghers.
I've only heard Dan read once or twice, so I was excited to see him get behind the microphone. I have no idea how he comes up with some of his subject matter, and I love that. This is one of my favorite things about self-expression, especially with writing--how what is in our head comes out on the page. How we take those things and share it with others--how we speak it, believe it. Dan has a real knack for setting up surreal situations. And don't me started on Archibald.
I had Jason come up with me for my first piece. I wanted percussion, so I handed him my binder and asked him to hit it, open-handed, in any rhythm he wanted to. It was the perfect way to start my set. I really started to feel it half-way through that first poem--I could feel my feet craning on their tiptoes, could feel my back stiffen and twist the way it does when I'm behind the microphone and I am lost somewhere in the words and that moment--the feeling that trumps it all. I owe Jason for helping me get to that point--his hand hitting the binder was exactly what I needed.
Jason almost managed to pull tears from my eyes during his set. There is something about the poems from Whiskey Rebellion that remind me of details I let slip long ago. Like rain on the bricks in the Oregon District when I used to work at a bar in Dayton, or my old neighbor Jo, high as hell as she danced on her balcony to the paint-flecked boom box next to her. He's a great storyteller--he can pull something out of his listeners when he reads. I feel like he gets stronger every time I witness him telling it.
And Jerome surprised the hell out of me. Sets were running behind by almost an hour and he had been asked to cut his set from 15 minutes to 10. Before Jason introduced him, he was frustrated with the new terms. I expected him to go aggressive once he went up there, but he didn't. It may have been the most calm I've ever seen that man read. He paced himself, and I think the way he delivered the work helped in regards to impact. He read with a new kind of patience, and that patience somehow magnified the chaos of his words/images created. At least that's how I felt about it. Maybe it was nothing but a laid back Jerome. I definitely felt the difference. I wish I knew a finer way to describe it.
Shortly after Jerome finished, we were ready to hit the road. I tucked away another bowl of quinoa while the woman who made it tried to convince us to stay for after the intermission. We had to politely decline. As we pulled away, Jerome said, "She stuck her tongue in my ear."
We made him repeat the scandal for all of us and then I tried to get more secrets out of the boys. Halfway home, we hit up a Tim Hortons. Every adventure should end with a donut.