Sunday, August 06, 2006


In light of Friday night

...upon which occasion the waeguk crowd in Gangneung were treated to something of a departure from the usual Friday night fare, i.e., a poetry reading at Bumpin' Bar, I've been asked to make the text of "In Praise of Disorganized Minds" available, I'm linking to the original draft. This has undergone some modifications in the course of three performances, but it's there in substance. Thanks to everyone who expressed appreciation for the live version.

Some notes on the performance: the bulk of the time was given over to the four men whose pictures "grace" the show's flyer: James Dylan Butler, who deserves all props for getting the show to actually happen, Michael Hutley, who, if he maintains a web presence, I haven't yet encountered it, myself, and Dave Marshall, in that order. Once festivities were underway, two other performers joined in--Melvin, with a haiku, and Bryce, truly the king of Gangneung Waeguk open mic, as he maintains a weekly show at Uncle 29, another bar in the downtown area, where he plays a regular set of the kind of indy rock it's rare to encounter in any Korean pub. I've been given to understand that there was one more person who, at least at the onset, wished to perform, but did not, whether because she felt unwelcome or just timid I don't know, though I very much hope it was the latter, and not the former, and hope, should there be another such performance (and there's been some expression of interest in that happening), will consider herself very much welcomed to join in on shaping the stage.

Breakdown of the show: Dylan kicked us off and acted as compere, graciously taking the traditional dive that the first slot almost always represents. It's a truism in open mic circles that the first slot is always the worst (though the last slot can be equally as daunting), because the poet who takes that slot is basically in charge of getting the audience ready for the coming show. Dylan did indeed find himself filling precisely that function, and he did so with a grace that is very much to be commended. His act included reading a promotional sticker from the side of a wastebasket--surprisingly poetic copy written, no doubt, by a bored office worker somewhere in the bowels of the home furnishings industry, and--as with all copy--without a name to attribute the piece to. This was followed by Dylan's tribute to Ian Hamilton Finley (who passed away in March). Dylan set Finley's poetry to music, and spent the necessary time to memorize the poem and to synch it to the music, which did much to pull a highly image-driven piece into a form suitable to live performance, but it was in this piece that Dylan took the dive for the team--not for any fault in his delivery, but for the fact that there were two middle-aged Korean men who took exception to the sudden encroachment (well enough advertised, but not surprisingly offensive to some) of the waeguk community on the space they'd chosen for a traditional night of heavy drinking (and probably, business chatter). Bumpin' Bar is a "cosy" pub--cosy enough that microphones, while they would have helped, were not necessary for a poetry reading--and there's really not a stage area in the place, so, to simplify matters, Gyeong Sup (Mr. Lee, the proprietor of the bar (in accompanying pirate-y picture along with yours truly)) had the front door locked--to provide us with a makeshift stage--knowing that those who were interested in the show would know to come through the back door. Well, after some pretty vocal objections (nothing aggressive, just unappreciative), the two men in question made the decision to move their business elsewhere, but upon attempting to exit, found the door locked, and were too drunk to unlock it. Thus, not only was Dylan working against their complaints, and their moving past him as he performed the piece, but the backdrop of a good portion of his piece were these two men, joined by the barstaff, struggling to get the front door open. They finally got out, and after that, the show was pretty much smooth sailing. Dylan rounded his set off with a pair of his own poems, including a well appreciated piece on soju, a vicious (not viscous) liquid that is very nearly impossible for the visitor to avoid entirely, as it is the traditional drink with most meat dishes--and especially Sam Gyeop Sal, a staple amongst cash-strapped folks such as myself. I don't know how much planning Dylan put into the sequencing of work, but he couldn't have planned better: the tribute, with its distractions, was well balanced by the musical background, and once those distractions were dealt with, he was given a clear stage (and the appreciation of the rest of the audience) upon which to perform his own work.

Dylan was followed by Michael Hutley, an Australian and like Dylan and Dave, one of the old hands locally (I think Dylan, with 4+ years here, may be the 'youngest' hand among them, with me being--literally--the baby of the crowd). Michael's father was a performance poet in Australia, though, as with Michael, I can't find any resources concerning his work online. Michael, though he's done considerable work in poetry, left much of his work in Australia, and when he was invited to participate in this show, found himself without material, so has spent the last couple of weeks drafting new work--and enjoying the excuse to produce new work. We sat down together shortly before the show, and, after expressing his surprise on learning that I'd been working with poetry for so long, spent some time talking about how much he appreciated the nudge to get back to work. To my mind, this is the real function of open mics: it gets people thinking in terms of what they can do on the stage, and it gives them a reason to put something new together, and that's really always been a good enough reason, to my mind, to promote such shows. Michael performed admirably, and to the great delight of the crowd, who were especially appreciative of his description of a sub-human romantic encounter with a Social Science type.

That took us to the break, and I was slated to open up the second half of the show. I'd shown Dylan the piece, just to clue him in, as host, on what to expect. The piece I performed is specifically tailored to performance, doesn't really translate in its entirety to paper, as it relies upon stage conventions to get the whole effect of the piece. What's interesting about the piece is that pre-show jitters (which are not entirely feigned: I do get quite nervous before such a show, no matter how well I think I have the material down) actually help the piece along. Well, ten minutes before performance time, I'm generally engaged in a quiet process of working up said jitters to a peak, again, half of this in deference to the piece, half very real. But the piece came off without a hitch, and afterwards, I received many comments to the effect that those in the audience wanted more. That's always a good sign, I think. One note: generally, after performing a piece, I have a real tendency to flee the stage, and to get as far away from it as I can to recover. I attempted this fleeing act but, due to space (the bar was pretty packed--it's a small place, and had there been half as many people in attendance as there were, it would have looked crowded) and Taylor having parked himself smack in the middle of the only escape route to get pictures (I'm sure those pics will go up sometime in the next 5 years, as he's yet to get his pictures from his extended Korean vacation--taken more than a few months ago--up on his blog--nudge, nudge), I was totally unable to get away from the stage for, I dunno, 30 seconds or so--but it felt like much longer. I did eventually manage to get clear of Dylan, who introduced Melvin, a total sun-worshipper who delivered a haiku in praise of summer. By the time he'd presented his piece, I was safely ensconced in the back of the room, and spent the better portion of the remainder of the show shaking. As I will.

Dave anchored the show, and delivered his work from behind the bar. This was partially in deference to the lack of microphones, which made hearing in the rear of the bar somewhat difficult (though audience noise was minimal), but also, I suspect, partially due to the fact that the reading light, which was in place for Michael's slot, had burned out. I have to admit, I'm usually not wholly attentive after my own work, mostly due to nerves, but I did recognize one offering that's up on his blog: Entitlement. I'm sure a hunt through his archives will yield others (BIG hint: go to Dave's complete profile if you've a mind to read more). To my distress, I haven't spoken to Dave since I was on the stage, and I would have liked to have had an idea of how he felt about the show as a whole. The anchoring slot is always tough, and if the dancing and celebrations that followed the show--as well as the many suggestions, from many quarters, that another such show be performed--are any gauge of the show's success, we all acquitted ourselves well.

After the poetry, Bryce rounded the whole out with a set of songs from his ever-expanding repertoire: I get the sense, of late, that his weekly gig, and the regularity with which he is called upon to play guitar at other social gatherings, are starting to do their magic, and that his guitar work is smoothing out, and his repertoire of lyrics are starting to solidify. One of his favorites, and a good indicator of the kind of music he graces us with, is Neutral Milk Hotel's Two-Headed Boy, a catchy tune that I suspect I will always associate with Gangneung in general and Bryce specifically. He's also been known to bust out with some Elliot Smith, and that's always welcome musical fare in my book.

It was a good night. I treasure such nights, really, I do, and it was made all the more memorable for my sitting up on Gyeong-po beach, watching the sun rise over the East Sea, with two of my closest friends in this city, Taylor and Tania. May others continue to blaze the trail Dylan and Bryce are carving out in the local waeguk scene.

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