Last night, I did the suicidal — I took it upon myself to change my originally scheduled What We’re Reading post in the wee hours of morning to this one. Why? Blame it on one of those sporadic, forceful moments of inspiration after experiencing fan-freaking-tastic literature.
I had just gotten home from yet another slam-dunk Literary Death Match, with lovable host Todd Zuniga. (Kudos also to the spot-on curatorial eye of Sarah Moeding, producer of LDM Twin Cities.) While I thought all the readers were wonderful, the last two, Stephanie Wilbur Ash and Jeffrey Skemp, were some of the best readers I’ve ever seen. And while I absolutely fell in love with LDM Episode 7 Champion Stephanie Wilbur Ash and her Prairie Fire Lady Choir, poet Jeffrey Skemp also deserves a medal for his decidedly unique performance.
I was first introduced to Skemp by stumbling across the Bosso Poetry Company, a collective of poets and musicians of which Skemp is a regular member and reader. Shortly thereafter, he showed up and stole the stage at our Words at WAM open mic. So, naturally, I was delighted beyond belief to see him on the line-up for Literary Death Match. My only question: why isn’t he EVERYWHERE?! Before we go any further, you need to download his debut poetry performance album here NOW.
Through his work with Bosso Poetry Company, he has had years of experience; has had the time to ferment in his own poetic performance voice and curate his incomparable style. Bosso holds a monthly reading/performance series held in a booth at Dusty’s Bar, which, they say, is more of a party than a reading. These are a bunch of folks with more writerly experience and beer-drinking under their belt than I. These poets and artists are breaking down the stuffy walls of the literary community, which is something I will always tip my hat to. They appreciate literature in such a deep and ingrained way that proving it isn’t necessary. They’ll just keep on writing, and performing, regardless of who’s listening.
Skemp’s poetry is haunting, and filled with lonely, desperate characters. Yet he balances this heaviness with quirky moments of hilarity. He means for you to laugh out loud, to break that wall of overly polite, passive silence that usually accompanies readings. His word choices are darkly delectable, and fulfill everything I want from the poems. The album Spent is a soundscape filled with his dark, brooding poetry and smoky background accents of guitars, trumpets, drums, and more. It’s a compelling album to listen to, and one that you can listen to over and over again.
His biggest asset: his delivery. Last night, he had some technical problems with his first poem, “Rain Out” — his friend Ben Durrant (of Roma di Luna) tried, without luck, to get his electric guitar working to accompany Skemp. Yet Skemp’s from-memory delivery in his gravelly, low voice made it so memorable that we forgave the technical difficulties. And when Durrant was finally able to join in with his guitar for Skemp’s second and last poem, “Captain Ocean-Talk” (I’ve heard him perform this live twice now, and love it more each time), I was swept away. The pairing of the subtle, but perfectly timed guitar with Skemp’s unforgettable voice brought the poem to another level of moody perfection.
One final note: What I wouldn’t give to see a Motionpoem made out of his poetry. It’s already got the music, already set up to create images. Am I right?!
What performance poets keep you awake, tapping away through the night in a moment of inspiration? Did any of you Twin Cities folk go to LDM Episode 7? If so, what were your highlights of the evening?