Pictures from the First Ever Yeah, You Write!

After Tad’s gorgeous summation of our lively event at Tipitina’s on Thursday, here is a gallery of images for you, courtesy of our Friend of Peauxdunque, Kiki Whang.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you missed out of the FIRST EVER Yeah, You Write event, sure you missed the beginning of a legendary reading series. However, there will be other opportunities to participate in the EPIC LITERARY CONCERT SERIES that is Yeah, You Write.

Advertisements

Quick Peauxcrunque recap

There will be a proper debriefing and a full posting of gratitude and wonderment in the next few days, complete with the brilliant pictures taken by our many friends last night, but for now these quick thoughts on Yeah, You Write 

Terri spun golden morphine threads; and Kelly made us all dance uncontrollably and exclaim involuntarily and think unfetteredly; and Bill put us right there on a Staten Island street at four in the morning, where we were angry at the audacity of evil; and Amanda hung us in a tree, afraid of a washing machine, perfectly one with tornado-green clouds; and Gian made us the poets with him, and us of this city with him, and he created this “us” out of this crowd of “I”s; and then Mat “Poison in My Cock” Johnson — well, what more can you say — except there was joy and fear and intensity of a level even higher than any all night when Mat took the stage.

And then there was excellent Mr. Nick Fox, an emcee like no other (who you must employ for your next show, whatever it is, because you simply will not believe how he turns a mere event into a Spectacle)! And, of course, without DJ Seppe spinning the tunes before and during and after the everything, it could have been just another reading in just another room.

But this wasn’t just another room. This was Tipitina’s, the Temple of ‘Fess. We had writers on stage at Tipitina’s, goddamnit, and it felt right and it felt good. Thank you, Tip’s. Thank you, Terri and Kelly and Bill and Amanda and Gian and Mat. Thank you, Faulkner House Books for being there to sell our performers’ books. Thank you, Emilie Staat for making it all happen.

And that was the brief recap.

Yeah, You Write! Get PeauxCrunque with Peauxdunque …

Peauxdunque is one day away from the first Yeah, You Write event, a literary concert and DJ dance party (ya’ heard?) at Tipitina’s on October 13th! Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 7:30. New Orleans poet and Emcee-extraordinaire Nick Fox will be presiding. Tickets are available online and are already starting to go; get yours now! Want to hear more about Yeah, You Write? Listen to this interview of Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat and featured performer Amanda Boyden by WYLD’s Hal Clark.

Our featured performers have been busy in the lead-up to Yeah, You Write, sharing their insights on writing and living in interviews by Peauxdunquians Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Emilie Staat, and Tad Bartlett. Check out the interviews with Mat Johnson, Amanda Boyden, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Bill Loehfelm, Gian Smith, and Terri Stoor, then get ready for some great, one-of-a-kind wordage and a Peaux-Funquey dance party at Tip’s, tomorrow!

PWA and Amanda Boyden on WYLD

Hal Clark of WYLD FM’s Sunday Journal interviewed Amanda Boyden and Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat about our upcoming literary concert Yeah, You Write at Tipitina’s on Thursday, October 13th (2 days from now!) at 7 p.m.

This interview aired on Sunday and Hal was kind enough to share it with us. Thanks to John of PureSYTYCD for enormous technical assistance.

Enjoy!

PWA Interviews Kelly Harris-DeBerry

Poet Kelly Harris-DeBerry will be reading from her work at the Yeah, You Write literary concert at Tipitina’s on October 13th. Kelly and Peauxdunquian Tad Bartlett shared an email exchange over the weekend about the power of poetry and the meaning of “literary activism”:

Tad: Kelly, you are known around New Orleans as not just a poet, but also as a “literary activist.” Assuming you consider that a fair descriptor, what does it mean to you to be a “literary activist”?

Kelly: I don’t know what people mean when they use the phrase literary activist. I hope it means I’m a good trouble-maker. I care about how people are cared for, especially when it comes to literacy and the literary arts. I’m involved in two organizations whose work is about service to both children and women in this city as it relates to literacy and literary equality.

I work in the adult literacy field. Each day I see how illiteracy affects an individual’s ability to fully participate as a citizen in society. After Katrina an alarming number of residents could not get the assistance they needed because they couldn’t read or read well enough to understand the forms. During the BP Oil Spill, The Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans was hired to take BP claim forms and convert them into plain language. Again, people couldn’t get services due to them because of literacy and language barriers.

Two things concern me greatly about literacy in New Orleans: 1) I believe literacy is a justice issue. It’s always been a justice issue. If Black folks didn’t know how to read and interpret U.S. laws, we’d still be in courts fighting Jim Crow. The current language on ballots and in proposed legislation is becoming so purposely complex that many people may not understand how to vote. 2) Each day it becomes clearer that much of adult education is about getting learners to achieve specific benchmarks, but we rarely get an adult learner or, let’s say a GED graduate, to the pleasure of reading. I want to take GED graduates on field trips to local bookstores and libraries to make reading applicable in daily life beyond passing a test or applying for a job.

TB: So it sounds like you have taken way more on your plate than what is commonly perceived to be the typical job description of “poet”?

KH: I am interested in how poetry can function in public places beyond bars and traditional readings. Too often writers are reading to the choir. The other day a woman came up to me in the grocery store and said, “Aren’t you that poetry lady?” There’s a certain gratification in being recognized by a non-writer. There’s a special relationship in New Orleans, it seems, between community and artists. Many of the artists in New Orleans themselves are an extension of the community. I don’t sense that artists here seek to dictate what art is or its function. Go to the French Quarter and people are artists because they say so (for better or worse).

Poems and Pink Ribbons [tb: a workshop and reading series for breast cancer patients, survivors and loved ones, presented by the Literary Lab with a final reading and celebration on October 22 at 2372 St. Claude Avenue] was in my heart for about four years. I just sat on it. The combination of having a mother who survived breast cancer, and a mother-in-law who didn’t, provoke me to want to honor them with service. Everybody wears pins and walks, but I wanted to do something more impactful, hence Poems & Pink Ribbons. Different poets around the city have volunteered their time. The majority of the participants probably wouldn’t have called themselves “poet” prior to the workshop. They’ve become more organized, more serious poets as the weeks have gone by. One lady even has a binder and she organized her binder into class notes, poem hand outs and poems that she’s been writing. Poems & Pink Ribbons has an engine of its own now and I am just along for the ride.

Another event that is drawing interest from beyond the universe of writers is “Daughters of Domestics: Poets & Academics Respond to ‘The Help’.” [tb: a response to “The Help” by poets and academics, on October 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Xaview University Qatar Pharmacy Pavilion at 1 Drexel Drive]. It started from a poem I was writing about my own mother, who at various times in the late 80s and 90s cleaned homes for white owners. My mother turned 60 this year and for some reason it made me go public in my poetry about my mother’s cleaning days. Five months later “The Help” was released in theatres.

TB: What responsibility do you think that writers have beyond the mere expression of an idea or the telling of a story?

KH: I can’t say what other writers should be responsible for. I can only say I feel a responsibility to write well and with care about everything. A janitor approached me after a reading and said, “I don’t like poetry, but I like your stuff,” and I asked him why he didn’t like poetry, and his answer suggested that he didn’t know poetry could include him. I suggested some books and poets for him to read; I hope if I ever run into him again, his views on poetry will have changed.

I’m told my great-grandmother wanted to be a poet. I never met her. Apparently her ability to recite poems to her children in her living room and in church was electric. She was laughed at in her community and scolded about staying in her place. So I do kind of feel this responsibility to be true to the people and things that have impacted my life.

TB: Turning to your poetic work, I find it interesting how you are able to use the lens of uniquely New Orleans culture to create sharp focus on more general cultural phenomena; for example, in your poem “Michael’s Second Line,” which explores the greater cultural tribute to Michael Jackson upon his death through the very specific New Orleans death ritual of the second line. Or maybe it’s the other way around, using Michael Jackson as the lens through which to focus on New Orleans. Which way does it go, and is that a familiar theme in your work? [a clip from the second line that inspired “Michael’s Second Line”]

KH: Like photographers, I think poets should use a wide range of lenses to capture different angles and depth in their work. The poem functions as a New Orleans lens. The MJ second line closed the gap between icon and fan. MJ, this larger than life person, became a marcher, strutter in the line. There was some controversy about having a second line for Michael Jackson because he’s not a N.O. musician and because of the molestation controversy. However, the second line is about burying and blessing the hurt, The people are the judges; they deem who’s worthy of the ritual. It was fascinating that this larger than life person becomes everyday people – everyday New Orleans, if only for a moment.

I’m from the Mid-West—Cleveland, OH.  Many of my poems reflect blue collar ideals. I must admit moving South has sharpened my sense of place and people in my work.

TB: Another of your poems, “A Pissed Off Bird,” gives voice to an avian spokes-bird with a long list of grievances about the ruin the human race has made of birds’ initial deal with God. It swerves from acerbic humor to a lush imagining of a bird’s uninterrupted world, to dead-on social commentary. Is this a hard balance to strike, to keep the pace in a poem, to address serious social issues, and at the same time avoid any semblance of preachiness?

KH: A local music writer once said, a good trumpeter resists playing every note and trick he knows. Many singers ruin the National Anthem because they can’t resist oversinging. Ever felt like you just heard an audition instead of the sacred song? I think poets have to resist making junk drawers out of poems. It’s hard to create balance in life and poetry. And sometimes you just have to resist saying yes to everything both in life and in the poem. I’m learning that less is definitely more. It’s all about discipline.

I wrote that poem during the BP Oil Spill.  I remember being in a certain part of town and feeling as if I had walked into a gas station. You know I never wrote an ecology-themed poem until moving to New Orleans.

TB: So, why poetry?

KH: I wish I had some fascinating story about growing up around books or having parents who were educators or getting a book I couldn’t put down, but neither is the case. The short-story is: I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about poetry. As a child, I recited Easter speeches in church. I wrote my first poem in 6th grade. It was called, “Be a Leader not a Follower”; I guess even then I was grappling with social issues. I showed it to my father.  He said, You know that’s a poem. That’s how I knew I’d written my first poem. Then, I had no concept of being a poet. Poets aren’t invited to Career Day. I wanted to be a pediatrician until high school, until I introduced a poet named Mwatabu Okantah at a school assembly in ninth grade. I was hooked and quickly learned that having notebooks of poems was no fluke. I learned I couldn’t live without making poems. Something kept drawing me to the page, catching my eye, pulling my ear. Next thing I knew, whoa, I’m a poet.

TB: What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received or given?

KH: Wayne Brown, a Jamaican poet, told me,  “Write beyond the epiphany.”

Many thanks to Kelly for this fascinating discussion. We look forward to hearing her work at Yeah, You Write, at Tipitina’s Uptown on October 13th.

PWA Interviews Mat Johnson

Mat Johnson, winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature for his novel Pym, will be reading at the literary concert Yeah, You Write this Thursday at Tipitina’s. Recently, Peauxdunquian Maurice Carlos Ruffin asked Mat some questions.

A Conversation with Mat Johnson

MCR: Where does a story begin for you?

MJ: To me, it’s more about what it ends. I look at story as the ride towards epiphany. Something important is realized, either by the characters or the reader. What comes before that is the facts that lead up to that point.

MCR: What balance do you try to achieve between characterization and plot?

MJ: Characters have to be real enough that you care what happens to them, and there has to be enough plot that we don’t get bored just looking at them. The rest is defined by whatever story you have to tell. If the story demands more action, it will make less time for character development. If the story is an internal journey, that makes less time for demanding plot devices. The key is to figure out what kind of story you are trying to tell and then feed it what it needs.

MCR: Do your characters choose their actions or do you?

MJ: I sit there typing and try not to bore myself. So I write myself into moments even I didn’t expect. Enough of those, and the characters start looking like people I didn’t consciously intend for them to be. From there, I consciously try and build on those traits. So it’s a trade off. The art is knowing when to control the page and when to let it run wild.

MCR: What do you do when you’re having a difficult time with a story?

MJ: I walk away from the page. I talk it out with friends. Usually, it’s going rough on the page because there is something I missed, something I’m not understanding, because now I’m reading it and going, “Naw, something’s off.” When I can come up with a way to rethink what I’m working on, then I come back to it.

MCR: What is the best bit of writing advice you’ve gotten?

MJ: “This reads like I’m stuck next to some guy on a plane and forced to listen to his life story. But I’m not stuck. And I can just put it down and walk away.” Michael Cunningham told me that about a book I was writing. It was great advice, because it got through my thick head that my book was not interesting. It gave me the strength to walk away from it and try to write a book that was actually engaging. That ended up being Drop, my first published novel.

MCR: What has been the most surprising thing about the professional writing life?

MJ: That it doesn’t pay shit. I thought I’d be living on a boat by now.

The last two questions were offered by Evelyn Alfred, who is hosting a Pym discussion group on Twitter.

EA: Is there a specific reason why you didn’t discuss the experience on Tsalal?

MJ: Yes. I don’t like to go into breakdowns of my work, I like it to be digested by the reader without my extra-guide, but the ending mirrors Poe’s original ending. Much of Pym is referenced from moments in the original material, but I have my own meanings for them.

EA: What happened to “White Folks” the dog?

MJ: I refuse to talk about White Folks! That would be racist!

Mat Johnson will read at Yeah, You Write, Thursday at Tipitina’s.

PWA Interviews Gian Smith

Spoken word poet Gian “G Perspective” Smith will perform at Peauxdunque’s Yeah, You Write literary concert this coming Thursday at Tipitina’s and he took some time to talk to Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat.

*NOTE: This is a transcription,edited for readability, of a recorded conversation.

A Conversation with Gian Smith

Emilie Staat: What led you to poetry and spoken word in particular, in the first place?

Gian Smith: Well, pre-Katrina, I had visited a couple of open-mics just here and there. I was motivated to actually start doing performance poetry after I saw Nikki Giovanni give a talk at Xavier, I believe in 2004. The way the very petite Nikki Giovanni kinda’ captured a room with a thousand people in it, including me, was very impressive and something that I thought I’d have the skill set for, so I decided then that I would try my hand at performance poetry. I guess it was mostly experimental in the beginning, but then post-Katrina or, during Katrina, I decided in my displacement that I wanted to come back to the city and be part of its culture and be part of the artistic movement that would come out of our regeneration and I figured poetry, spoken word poetry, was the easiest and the quickest way to really make a name for myself. You know us long prose writers, we don’t always have an audience, because people don’t necessarily wanna’ sit and listen for hours; they want to hear something five minutes long, a nice quick dose. So even though I did and still aspire to do things creatively with longer works like novels, screenplays, stuff like that, I knew I had the capabilities to be a good spoken word poet, so I just kinda’ started there.

ES: Tell me more about the Pass It On spoken word open mic.

GS: Right now we host, by we, I mean it’s me and three friends of mine, we host an open mic. One of the guys who I co-emcee with, his name is Alphonse Smith, he aspires to work in the visual field with movies, and one of the guys, my friend Marc [Lundberg], he’s more business administration for us. The other guy who we started the open mic with, his name is Ayo Scott, he’s a local artist, also a visual artist, but more graphic design and paint. He and I conceived of the open mic in 2008, right around this time actually.

ES: So you’ve got music, you’ve got art and then you’ve got spoken word all coming together in this venue?

GS: Right. So the idea was we wanted to do something that appealed to a) a broad range of artists, but b) a broad range of people because, as a poet, as a begrudging poet, I realized that the reason why people want spoken word poetry in these small doses is because it’s not necessarily something that a lot of people can invest themselves into for a long period and in order to make a show that can be accommodating to people’s attention deficient disorder, we chose to include a lot of different genres of art and also elements of our own personalities that we feel will be able to engage people for an hour or two at a time once a week.

ES: It’s on Saturdays, right?

GS: Yeah. And the spirit of the show is that we wanted to include something for the community, something for anyone who’d like to participate. The name of the show, Pass It On, is an anecdote of Ayo Scott’s late father John Scott, who was a world-renowned artist and MacArthur Fellow and it was basically his mantra. He used to tell people “pass it on” whenever they would try to thank him for something he’d done for them, a pay it forward kind of thing, like, “yeah, I acknowledge that I did something that you like, but instead of giving me your thanks, why don’t you put that into the world and do something nice for the next person.” That’s what the spirit of Pass It On is about, it’s about sharing our gifts with the world instead of confining them to our own devices.

ES: So, how did the Treme trailer and your poem “O, Beautiful Storm,” how did that change your career?

GS: Well honestly, I would say the best thing it’s done for it is just to validate what it is I’m doing. Basically, the work hasn’t changed at all. I still write the same amount, I still write the same things, I still do the same things with the community, schools. The only difference is I get paid for it now. I’ve done a lot of work with Tulane University as a result and a lot of it is similar to what I’ve been doing, community stuff. Similar to what we’ve done on our own with our show Pass It On, similar to what I’ve done on my own workshops for a long time, but now there’s a contract that comes with it.

ES: What’s next for you? I saw a couple of your spoken word videos. I thought that was an innovative, interesting idea. But what else are you working on now?

GS: Right now, I’m in preparation for things I hadn’t necessarily anticipated. The Treme opportunity also opened up opportunities in acting. I have acted before, I have a background with it. But I didn’t really think to pursue it just because I didn’t see the opportunity being open as much as being on the other side of the camera, writing, possibly directing, that kind of thing. Now, I’m actually with an agent and I’ll be acting in a play in Fringe Festival, coming up. I also happen to be working on a piece right now for the Peauxdunque Festival, Yeah, You Write. I’m gonna’ be working on an original piece for that.

ES: Oh, an original piece for us?

GS: That’s what I’m doing right now.

ES: That’s really great. So what’s the name of the play you’re going to be in?

GS: It’s called Hip-Hop Is Alive. It’s written by a friend of mine, DaVida Chanel. You know DaVida?

ES: I do know DaVida.

GS: She’s really active in the arts, especially film and production. And so she’s directing this and she wrote it and it’s a play to show how hip-hop is infused in our life and our everyday and it uses popular lyrics from hip-hop to relay her message and to depict real life at the same time. It’s a pretty cool concept. We did the first read of it last night and it was pretty good.

ES: Who is your character in the play?

GS: I play two characters. One of them is a guy who’s basically in a rut, he’s one of these guys who blames his condition on what’s going on around him instead of taking accountability for what he could be doing to improve. He’s at his moment of catharsis with that. The other character I play is a preacher who’s giving this empowering sermon based on the lyrics of Kanye West.

ES: I can’t wait to see you as a preacher.

GS: I know, I know! I think I can do it.

ES: I think you can, too. So, what is the most surprising thing about the writing life?

GS: Honestly, I would say the most surprising this is how fulfilling it is. Before I really invested in it, I had never tackled a big project; like I never wrote a book or I never wrote a cd or a compilation of work. I had never done a major thing and I kinda’ dreaded what it would take to actually complete something, like a novel. What I found in actually doing it, while there are parts that are tedious, the whole time you’re doing it, just weighing it against other types of work, you get a lot of art in the process. I didn’t really anticipate how much it would mean to me to finish long projects or to be able to say, “I’m a writer” and actually have something to back that up, to validate me.

ES: What’s been the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

GS: See, I don’t know. All of the best tools for my writing have come from my dad and they definitely didn’t come in the form of advice. My dad is a professor at Tulane and so when he talks, it’s not in “come here and listen to what I have to say” terms. It’s “you need to be listening to me and I’m demanding your attention right now.” Any time that I was identifying too much with the character that I’m playing where I’d get in a rut or start feeling overwhelmed by a project or whatever, just basically, you have two choices: you can either do it or don’t do it. But if you don’t do it, don’t whine about it not getting done. If you have a project and you wanna’ see it come to fruition, then do the work. Period.

Catch Gian at Yeah, You Write this coming Thursday evening at Tipitina’s.

Gian’s poem “O, Beautiful Storm” in the Treme Season 2 trailer: