A few weeks ago I turned to a trusted buddy and said, "I want to score poems to banjo."
She said: "That is a terrible idea."
I said: "I want to read them live, with the banjo."
She said: "That is a terrible idea."
I said: "In front of a bunch of people."
She said: "That. Is. A. TERRIBLE. Idea."
I began scribbling notes.
A few days later I mentioned to a trusted mentor that I had a feature slot reading at Bowery Poetry and wanted to perform a suite of poems scored to live banjo twanging.
He said, "That sounds like absolute agony."
I decided then to do it.
I fortunately have a dear friend who can twang banjo. He has toured with Pete Townshend of The Who and pop-punk demigod Bob Mould. He has recorded with members of Teenage Fanclub. And Sleater-Kinney. And The Posies. And Ash. He has his own indie album of aching, perfectly strummed alt-rock tunes. (Aside: I highly recommend that record--great break-up album. Doubly sweet on vinyl.) Oh, and a Tony Award and a bunch of big Broadway credits and a list of off-Broadway mega-roles, like rock diva Hedwig from Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Sometimes you see him on TV. His name is Michael Cerveris and he was, and still is, clearly overqualified for my plot.
I told him I wanted to score some poems about New Orleans to banjo. And read them. In front of people. I explained he was essential because he is the only one I know who can play banjo.
He said, "Okay, let's do it."
Thus the inside joke of "banjoetry" went public. Both the friend and mentor who said it was a terrible idea attended the performance. I have video proof (embedded below) that they cheered like loons for us in spite of themselves. A bunch of other people did too. They may even have enjoyed it. Or banjoyed it. (Either works.)
Fantastic photographer Jenny Anderson was there to get it on film (scroll down for pics). There's video of the whole set. I'm also pasting in the text from my "set" opener, "Don't You Just Hate Poetry Readings?" below. I love reading but somehow always get nervous and start shaking like a crack-baby for the first 5 minutes of all performances, which occasionally leads to tripping over the words of whatever is read first. I wrote the poem a few hours before hitting Bowery, so it was especially unfamiliar and raw...the text is here to fill in the gaps where my crackbabyness failed the piece.
Don't You Just Hate Poetry Readings?
shoe-horned into community centers or the nearest jail,
spawning on student coffee shop stages,
dressed up and made up and paraded for sale
at your nearest megabookshop franchise, there it is folks! (and this is no joke),
we got right here for you fine folk the fruit fly of the literary world,
slip of public word breeding known to us as The Poetry Reading,
Where everyone’s less than secretly competing for rattiest scarf,
most crumpled transcripts of items that could’ve been committed to mind if we’d taken the time
Best disapproving sigh,
best judgmental eye,
least best chance of separating spectators short on patience from Thorazine patients when you prop them all up in one straight line;
Most likely to jack from Kerouac
to buy off Bly
or rip off poor Miss Smith by dragging up some poorer stiff
with a guitar with them to riff on riffs while the whole ship goes down and watchers go stiff
before they make it to the awards portion of the night!
where blue ribbons are given for angriest word rant,
droniest tone poem,
most unnerving piece of childhood nostalgia,
most unremarkable slab of melancholia,
and don’t forget the coveted award of most maligning backhanded complimented handed out as you walk out the door, and that’s before
we event mention honorable mentions for artful statings of the obvious,
heartfelt ramblings by the oblivious,
whored out metaphors
ALL absorbed while keeping an ear out for a cell phone ringing or Death finally bringing
some carefully delivered blessed delivery from asking why we’re here again, especially when
every time we leave one of these creaking old creative heaves we always seethe
WHY. DO. I. KEEP. GOING. TO. THESE. THINGS?
Because we know if we don’t go
we’ll not have heard that line or word
that makes it clear while we’re all here
and still coming to poetry readings.
|Michael Cerveris rockin' the MANjo for the love of banjoetry.|
|Seriously? This photo? What the hell am I doing? It does look intense though, maaaaaan. **Poetic beat finger snaps.**|
The "banjoetry" starts around the 6:57 mark. (At one point some affable lout steps in front of the camera, which was resting on the bar next to a whiskey and ginger. He quickly realizes his folly and steps back outta the shot.)
This set includes the above detailing of why poetry readings are agony, delivers missives for my inarticulateness in romantic situations, paces out a suite of poems about the alchemy of New Orleans while Cerveris twangs the strings, then brings the hyperbolic silliness of Mick Jagger's Shirts back to its original home at Bowery Poetry.
Hannah's set is sex, mangled love and why you should think twice before letting her play librarian, with a spotlight thrown on the accidental poetic rhythms hiding in GMail threads.
Banjoy, and thank you to everyone who packed the house. Special thanks to Michael for lending his talent and insight during the collaboration process, George Wallace and Russ Green of Bowery Poetry Club for having for allowing me to read poetry in public.
Kimberly Kaye at Bowery Poetry Club 2/20/11 from Hannah Miet on Vimeo.
Hannah Miet at Bowery Poetry Club 2/20/11 from Hannah Miet on Vimeo.