What Shawn Randall and Karen Rockower pull off every Sunday with Westside Rhyme is nothing short of inspirational!
I had the privilege of being one of their features at the Bowery Poetry Club last night - my second reading since I've been back - and had the most fun I've had outside of Monday nights in a long time. The snow had already started falling an hour before the show kicked off but they managed to pack the house anyway with an enthusiastic crowd. I'm a firm believer in a venue taking on the personality of the host/s running things and that's what makes Westside Rhyme such a pleasure, the energy that Shawn and Karen put into it. It's obvious they love what they're doing and they do it well. Over time, that translates to a loyal audience that believes in what you're doing.
The lineup included Mara Jebsen, the relative "newcomer" that several of the louder people have been raving about. Finally seeing her do more than one poem was a treat. She's got great stage presence and this husky blues voice that handles poetry and song equally well. If our audience has even half the intelligence we give them credit for, she'll be representing for us at Nationals this summer.
I went on after Karen Rockower - an amazing singer/songwriter and incredibly sweet person - who led off the second half of the show. I've never stopped getting nervous before a feature and last night was no different. I read four pieces, including the first brand new poem I've written in nearly three years! I've always wanted to write something about my time in the Army and, being on the verge of war seemed to be the catalyst for it to finally come out. It felt good to read something new and it seemed to go over well. It's one of the longest pieces I've ever written, easily 4 minutes long, but I like how it flows. Most importantly, I think I avoided the trap of making it TOO timely. I hate topical poems that are so dependent on the moment that inspired it that it loses any relevance a couple of months later. I mean, who do you plug into all those Giuliani poems now?!?!
Maya Azucena followed me and, WOW! Sorry Elana and Sabrina, I have a new favorite singer. One of the most amazing voices I've ever heard in person, she made me ashamed to ever watch American Idol again! Her version of Leonard Cohen via Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah was absolutely inspired. I still have it running through my head a day later. She got a well-deserved standing ovation and an encore for which she pulled Shawn and Hot Bryan (!) onstage and delivered an energetic, audience participation performance that by all rights should have ended the show. I felt terrible for the guy that followed her and told Shawn if it had been me, I'd have just left! Check her out at www.mayaazucena.com
Props to Shawn and Karen for an amazing show and an incredibly vital series. And thanks again for inviting me to be a part of it. Bob, if you're reading this, you need to give them a permanent home on Sundays!
PS: The snow's still falling and we've gone ahead and canceled tonight's show. Disappointed that I won't get to see Derrick Brown as he's been one of my favorites ever since his first feature for us a couple of years ago launched him into my personal Top 10. Guess I'll get to see the last Joe Millionaire after all! ;-)