Tom Blood is an interesting cat. Yes I know no one calls people cats anymore. It’s really the best way I know to describe him though. Last April, Tom travelled to Astoria and Newport with Monica Drake,Susan Fletcher, and Kristian Williams, as part of the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour. The picture on the left is Tom in Astoria at the Cannery Pier Hotel.
Tom is the winner of the 2007 Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for his book, The Sky Position, published by Marriage Records. Tom has spent a lot of time performing at open mikes, and The Sky Position comes with a CD of Tom reading his poems. You can find some of Tom’s poems online at the Marriage site, including hey I’m just a world and the sky sleeps in a hammock of night.
Tom is shown here at the Newport Public Library. During his reading there in April, he took the opportunity to gesture repeatedly at photos on the wall, as if the pictures had been hung there to illustrate his poems. The audience loved it. After the reading that night at the library, Tom and the other writers went to Cafe Mundo in Nye Beach, where Tom performed at the cafe’s open mike. After seeing Tom perform live, I wanted to know if he had any advice for poets performing at open mikes.
Here’s his response:
You’re not reading a poem, you are performing it, making it alive. You gotta feel the emotions you are describing/evoking/conjuring. Lately I’ve been thinking how drama is in a strange host. Being never ending soap thangs and/or broadway circus or a play that no one goes to because they are too expensive and weird. A great majority of humanity lives not a quest through the murky realms of arty questions about sign/signify meanings or dualism vs. monism and that stuff but a day to day drama-sphere centered around one’s emotions with their people. Creators of art objet ought remember this at their candle lit windows.
This one is a long story (see earlier entries in my mind when for instances I glimpsed a figure shaped). So, its easier to see what it is not than to say what it is and has been for everyone. It’s definitely not story telling, not ‘for the strut and trade of charms’, it’s not mean, its something to do with words and our emotions and thoughts, thoughts of emotions about words. Poetry should be respected as a fine and beautiful tradition, a near sacred space. Please refrain from unnecessary vulgarities, shocking tidbits, and drunken indulgences.
This performance is only at this venue here now. I sometimes hate it when someone tapes an open mike, it takes away from the now now finger snapping 50’s happening magic of there are no words for this moment but this poem of emotions I am feeling. There’s a weird mix of things in poets. There is a hubris of creating after the canon and a deep humility, being able to be blown away by a feather of wind or cry. There is a submission to the moment that makes for a good reading. You may have to swear or be funny or dark squelching falcons of emo to be at this open mike, you have to join the people there.
I used to host an open mike on Woodstock in SE Portland. We had a battery powered amp that made sound like a am radio station DJ. At the opening I would give this rant about performing at an poetry open mike. ‘there are three kinds of people who come to poetry open mikes. there’s people who are into poetry, people who are into the openness; the exchange of ideas, the sharing of feelings and then there is mike. mike didn’t get enough attention from his parents when he was a kid, doesn’t listen well and wants to be loud and we are not into mikes here.’ Its good to remember the open window theme in the room, allowing poetry types that are far afield from your personal preference, and allowing yourself to be open to your core when reading.
It’s been 10 years since I hosted that poetry open mike and I have changed my position on the mike element of performing poetry at an open mike. I get a rise out of ‘battling for my positions’, for my principles, for what I think the open mike should be. Its why you go, to get it off your chest, out of your head, because you want someone to feel what you feel and when they try to not listen, the voice raises. But if its something that you are not into but someone else is, let them go there.
Its hard, its ragged and weird, to wear a heart not on the sleeve but the lips. I’ve cried on stage and after, hurled from nerves before and after readings but not yet during. My eyes close and let go of everything then I rumble in my heart pockets and stumble to my chair on shaky pegs, I do start to yell or bear voice ricardo montoban-over emphasize if people ‘chat while’ I am going there. For me the journey now in the open mike is architectural, a cavernous space with candles and smoking, costumes, trained hecklers, for a instance in a world of words and only words. I’ve been trying to think of metaphors for the camp thing where you close your eyes and fall back into each others arms. A vibe I want that I think is something like what people used to do in church before theology got in the way of that form of communion.
That’s Tom, straight from the fridge.
One great resource for finding about upcoming readings, open mikes, grant opportunities, calls for submissions and other Oregon literary events is Soapstone Community Announcements. Anyone is welcome to join the list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and giving your name and zip code. Announcements are sent out weekly.