What an amazing evening! The Lit Kicks Spring Peace Poetry Happening was thrown together at the last minute when Bob Holman suddenly got the go-ahead from NY city officials, in early April, to open his great new Bowery Poetry Club, which is going to be a really major new part of the East Village scene now that Bob has finally got the place off the ground. If you’re in NY City and you haven’t been there, do check it out — it’s right across the street from CBGB’s at the corner of Bowery and Bleecker (already one of the coolest corners in the east village). There’s something fun going on there virtually every night, and you can always find the legendary Bob Holman behind the bar, on stage or in the crowd telling the performers what he thinks of them.
So I only got the go-ahead to do this show in early April, and called in Brian Hassett to help me arrange — the last show he and I did together was the excellent but overwhelming 5th Anniversary show in 1999, and Brian and I both agreed that we wanted this one to be less totally insane then that one. The world-peace theme called for a different mood, and the evening began with a few songs by the Chess Shop Divas (Deb Reul & Amy Coplan on guitar, keyboards and harmonies), followed by Nicole Blackman, who read a beautiful and sad account of her work as a volunteer at Ground Zero last fall.
Next up was Sharon Groth with a poem about love and war and rocketships, followed by Eliot Katz, the rabble-rousing New Jersey poet who had co-edited Allen Ginsberg’s last book of political poetry (“Poems for the Nation”).
Eliot was followed by the one single person from the LitKicks message boards who had bravely volunteered to try her stuff onstage, the always-charming Lucy Torres (aka Gothic-Hippie-Chic). She read a poem by litnrod11 as well as a few of her own.
Next up was Sander Hicks, who talked about George Bush for a little while before giving us a powerful reading from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”, which was appropriate because Holman had just installed the first decoration in the club, a huge Lite-Brite portrait of Walt Whitman (yes, Lite-Brite).
Sander was followed by one of the highlights of the evening, a few minutes of African melodies and singing by the cora master and griot Papa Susso, whose performance totally brought down the house. Bob Holman joined him for a second piece, a West Africa/New York storytelling collaboration, and I followed this with the poem I’d written for the evening, my “ode to aggression” titled “Fight“.
Todd Colby, author of Riot in the Charm Factory followed with a few sardonic and unique pieces, and was followed by Living Theatre veteran/performance artist Pat Russell (“Views of Life from the Seat of a Bike: A New York Story”).
We took a short break, and then Stephan Smith took the stage. If you haven’t heard of Stephan, I hope you will soon. He’s one of the best new folk/protest singers around, and has been performing with folks like Pete Seeger. He’s hoping to do some good stuff of his own at Bob Holman’s club — stay tuned for more on that front later.
Walter Raubicheck followed with an excellent reading from Dylan Thomas, and after then Brian Hassett began the long sequence he’d been planning for the second half of the night, a stream of unstopping poetry and music which he’d been calling “The Wheel” as the idea was to wheel in one performer after another without pausing for introductions or polite clapping or any of that other stuff you always get at one poetry reading after another. Brian’s Wheel included more songs by Deb & Amy and poetry by George Wallace, Angela P., Bob Holman and Brian himself, and music by Will Hodgson, Geoff B. and several others. At one point during this joyful stream, a bassist playing a standup bass even seemed to have materialized out of nowhere (I know we didn’t have a standup bass in our plans) and there were many other magical moments.
I had hoped to join this myself and read some poems that had been posted to LitKicks after Sept 11, but we were way overtime and there was no way to do it. After the “Wheel” we totally changed the mood and closed the night with a killer set by a punk band I really like, White Collar Crime, led by Sander Hicks. This is a very unusual band — they have no guitars (this seems to be part of their political mandate somehow), they play really loud, and I just like them a lot. Check them out if you can.
It was all over around 1:30 a.m. How can I sum up the night? I am still in a daze, and it is dinner time the next day. We were there to make some kind of a point, to the world and to ourselves. I think we made the point.
Here’s the poster if you missed it.
And here are some pics (thanks to Tony & Stacy Leotta):
Deb Reul and Amy Coplan
Bob Holman and Papa Susso
Sander Hicks and White Collar Crime
The Walt Whitman LiteBrite