Event Report: Monsters of Poetry Jan 28, 2011

One of my goals for the new year is to attend more Madison literary events. When I began this post, I initially typed out a long, sentimental explanation of the reasons behind my goal, but I have decided mercifully to spare you from reading those 300 words, and get to the point: I went to an event, and it was good!

The event, on Friday, was presented by the Monsters of Poetry. I had heard from a friend who knows the Monsters, that these events were excellent and not-to-be-missed. Yet I missed, and missed, and missed. However, I’m so glad I finally made it out to one. The line-up consisted of poetry by Nico Alvarado-Greenwood, fiction by Angela Woodward and Barrett Edward Swanson, and at the end, the music of Chants. It took place at the Project Lodge, a venue likely too hip for me, but I like it nonetheless. I had been there just once before. It’s a small, unassuming place. I think there’s usually art on the walls, but this time they were bare. The event was BYOB with a suggested donation of only $3, which included a raffle ticket for book and music swag. What I wasn’t expecting was how absolutely packed it would be. We showed up just a few minutes after 7:30, the advertised start-time, and it was already standing room only. By the end of the first reader, the back of the room was so full that every time the door opened, everyone would shuffle forward as a group, then drift back, like a little school of fish. Carlos and I moved up along a side wall, which placed us right beside the stage, with a good profile view of the readers. A fine place to stand, except that I almost fainted several times(!), a fact I would keep to myself and out of this report, except that concentrating on not passing out made me unable to focus on the readings as much as I would have liked; I have a feeling they would have been all the more powerful had I not been contemplating my options (following, for those curious:)

a) Continuing to stand, hoping I wouldn’t actually faint. If fainting turned out to be an inevitability of standing, hoping that I wouldn’t hit my head too hard and that I wouldn’t ruin the whole night for the readers with the distraction. And that Carlos would know what to do with my unconscious body.

b) Trying to push my way rudely to the back of the fully-packed room to get some fresh air outside, hoping that I didn’t continue to see stars as I pushed past all the people until the point where I would still end up fainting, this time far away from anyone I knew.

c) Staying where I was, but slouching down against the wall. That way, at least if I fainted, I wouldn’t have far to fall. Plus it was the position that most resembled putting my head between my knees. I hesitated, not wanting to seem like a drunk/crazy/uninterested listener. But this ended up being clearly the best option, and the one I chose, despite the fact that I felt a little embarrassed. Especially because I ended up having to crouch down about 4 separate times to prevent myself from fainting each time. Every time I stood up in between my crouchings, I pictured the audience on the other side of the waist-high barrier watching my head pop up from under the half-wall, wondering what the hell I was doing.

The whole almost-fainting episode was really bizarre. I have no idea why it happened; I don’t faint too often. The last time I almost fainted was when I was trying on my wedding dress in the seamstress’ basement, a year and a half ago. The time before that I actually did faint, about two years ago, but it was after about 12 hours of illness due to food poisoning, and my body had been completely depleted of all nutrients it ever thought it had had.)

Anyway, I mention all of this 1)because I think it’s really bizarre, but 2)because I am disappointed that it took away from my experience of the readings themselves. It was hard to give the readers my full attention while I was fighting hard for consciousness. And the readers were good! They deserved consciousness!

The first reader was Nico Alvarado-Greenwood. He kicked things off by reading funny little collaborative poems with another reader, whose name I regretfully forget, but who I believe is reading at an upcoming Monsters event. Both maintained deadpan looks and voices well, which added to the humor. Nico finished by reading some serious poems on his own, which I thought were well-chosen and well-written.

Angela Woodward followed. She read excerpts from her book End of the Fire Cult. The writing, about a couple and their bordering countries, was imaginative, and Angela read it well. I don’t know much about the book, and I’m not sure what features most in the book – the couple or their countries. Details about the countries reflected real life and also worked well as devices of a story about a relationship – the countries fought over whose resources were whose, and tried to steal each others’ engineers. Spouses are always jealous of each others’ engineers.

The final reader of the evening was Barrett Edward Swanson, who read an excerpt about a terribly geeky boy dealing with life after a family tragedy (I didn’t catch whether it was from a story or novel or…). It was funny and horrifying and tragic and touching. The real joy in listening to this story was the way that Barrett was able to switch from humor to tragedy so quickly and so well; the effect was jarring in the way this kind of “horror” (as he calls the tragedy in the story) should be. I really look forward to reading/hearing more of Barrett in the future.

The final treat of the evening was a live performance by Chants, real name Jordan Cohen. Featuring looped recordings accompanied by Jordan playing a full drum kit, as well pots and pans and other percussive shakers and bangers, the rhythms were surprising, shifting, and all-around feel-good. The final song, Spaghetti Midwestern (which I think Jordan said he played because Barrett Swanson liked it? I could be wrong – I was still a little consciousness-compromised), brought the night to a close with twang and great title.

All around a great night – I walked away with the Chants album for 5 bucks, 3 new readers to pay attention to, and 1 mystery of consciousness. AND a happy entry into the Madison lit scene. Yay!

Byebye for now. Have to go crochet. Hope I don’t faint.

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