Last Friday, after some wandering around looking for winter boots and a wizard's wand, Kimmy and I ended up at the Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti where my coworker had previously informed me we would find a poetry reading. Having majored in creative writing at university, I have been to a very small amount of readings, the majority of which were during class and the presenters were myself and my fellow classmates. I am not sure how I feel about poetry readings as I am somewhat biased against poetry, despite being a closet poet myself. I guess there is just too much crap out there for my dim view of poetry to brighten, but I am trying to think more positively about the subject as of late. Thus, we arrived at the Ugly Mug for the Madhouse Poetry Series, which included some live art done by Eric Steiger and my aforementioned coworker Ray Swaney.
The Ugly Mug is exactly the kind of place I picture modern-day beatniks congregating. Kitschy decorations with concrete walls painted blue and fresh-made fancy coffee drinks served by girls in black plastic glasses and knit caps. So basically, my kind of place. It was a little crowded due to the reading and painting, but not uncomfortable, and I didn't mind waiting for what turned out to be the best hot caramel apple cider I've ever had, which I was persuaded into ordering by Queen Grimhilde in hag form.
While waiting in line, I listened a little bit to Kat Steih read, and I remember thinking this sounded like a good start to the evening. I was quite distracted, however, but the two painters. I've never heard of live art in a coffee house before, and I've always enjoyed watching artists on the street work during festivals and such.
I was quite drawn to Eric Steiger's tortured faces in red and black on white paper. The contrast of the two paint colors was stark, startling, and delightful. I'm a huge fan of faces and expressions, and love to draw them myself, so this seemed a natural attraction to me. If I saw one of his pieces up for sale, I would probably buy it.
Ray was doing something very interesting that has me wanting to try my own hand at it: painting on a door. Ray's work is the kind of modern art I can appreciate. A little red square in the corner of a giant white canvas is stupid to me, but a shape on a vivid, evocative background reminiscent of a fish or a spinal cord I can get behind! Other work of his that I have seen brings to mind cubism, a movement that I rather enjoy because breaking things down into their basic components is one of my favorite things.
As for the poets, I didn't really hear too many of them. One in particular seemed to exemplify everything I hate about poetry readings. I will call him Bird Man because his work contained a lot of aviary imagery, either directly or implied. His ideas weren't particularly new, but when has that stopped any writer? What should have stopped him was phrases like "I looked up at something; it caught my eye." Well, duh, it caught your eye. If it hadn't, you wouldn't be telling us about it, now would you? He was exactly the kind of person I had in my college workshops whose work we spent the better part of class going over.
Leo Jarret, the organizer, was the most powerful speaker. He was aggressive in his reading and his words were blunt. It was difficult not to pay attention to him. I sincerely hope that the Madhouse Poetry Series continues and draws in more assertive writers like him. Kimmy mentioned wanting to read her poetry one night, which I highly encourage. If I weren't so skittish about being spotlighted in body, I'd consider reading my own work. It's too bad I can't have someone else just read it for me. (Maybe if it were a performance piece...)
Check out the next performance on October 28th, 7pm to 9pm at the Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti.