Creating Art to Avoid the Future

Wed Nov 3 10, Vetted Word, Viracocha

(C Kruger)

Some months ago, I attended the Queer Open Mic at Modern Times Bookstore, hosted by Baruch Porras-Hernandez and Sarah Dopp. I performed a sung poem. Afterwards, Mr. Porras-Hernandez, who hosts Vetted Word with Olga Rosales, asked if I would come and perform the poem there “someday.” I agreed. A couple of months later, I received a call from Mr. Hernandez: would I perform at Vetted Word, along with feature Reggie Cabico, at Viracocha on Nov 3 10? Of course I would.

Vetted Word (distinctively) has a Mission Statement:

“Our Mission: Vetting that inspires an ambition to answer life’s big questions can only be worthwhile when done in community. Our simple goal is to be that motivation.”

Not just a reading series, Vetted Word seeks to be a community of support for people asking the “big questions.” Thus, an evening with Vetted Word might well include a great deal of discussion and reflection along with the texts. It can feel as much like a political meeting or a self help group or a graduate seminar as it does a public performance. Don’t go expecting the usual, but understand that Vetted Word is providing something unique that may not be for everybody and is highly valued by those involved.

This is not to say that the performers were not up to the mark. Take a look:

First up was co-host Olga Rosales, reading a poem about her schizophrenic sister. Anybody who has faced a loved one’s mental illness will surely be moved by these lines: “This world needs you linear/present/ yet we haven’t talked in parallel in years/you find it unnecessary.”

Tatyana Brown presents a poem with the wonderful title, How to Become as Great and Powerful as the Sea.

Matt Blesse presents a “persona” poem in the voice of a landfill speaking to a city. “What is a landfill,” he asks, “but a planet’s deepest bowel?”

Charles Kruger (yours truly) sings a poem about himself and his father.

Bob Siedel-Khan’s lengthy reflection on the subject of personal finances is a puzzle. By turns confessional and boring, charming and almost aggressively dull (aren’t your finances like that?), he gives us a dry and oddly intriguing performance that is almost an anti-performance. What is he about? He isn’t really reading anything. He is making a kind of confession. He breaks down his personal finances with charts. He throws money on the floor. He presents a letter from BOA that states it will take him 31 years to clear his debt with minimum monthly payments, provided he makes no new purchases. He tells us that the life expectancy for a man his age is 23 years. He states: “I have painted myself in a corner, and it will take 31 years for the paint to dry. … That’s how low I’ve sunk. My financial advisor is a sex-worker. I’m a failure.”

This is intense! He goes on to tell us about his work with refugees and the adventures he has had and the charities he’s worked for and the art he has made: and here he is in a basement lamenting his decisions.

And here we sit, we artists and poets, witnessing his pain. And it is our pain. At what price are we artists? Is this our inevitable future: to die amidst debt and regret?

My editor Evan Karp had this to say about the tape of Mr. Siedel-Khan’s “performance”: “… this is painful to watch. Because this is clearly a good man, and I’m not sure exactly what sort of mental state he is in but clearly he uses himself as a demonstration, as a wake-up call, and that’s pretty noble even if it is unusual…”

This sort of demanding experience which compels the audience to careful consideration, reflection and debate is the essence of Vetted Word, where it seems the ideas, the people and the community may be more important than the performance. I can’t recall that I have ever before heard someone describe a spoken word performance as an action that was “noble.”

And that’s something to think about.

Featured performer Reggie Cabico, often referred to as “legendary,” has been winning awards for Spoken Word performance since the 1990s. He is also been widely anthologized in over 30 collections including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Spoken Word Revolution and Slam and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. And here he is, live at Viracocha: