Plur·al·ity Press sits down with Lissa Roads and Liam Clarke on how Word on the Rocks is the kind of reading series that features work "from the underbelly of poetry". It is a space where what is shared is not exempt from challenge. Join the conversation below.
Shayna: Ok, so we’re live. Lissa Roads and Liam Clarke, with an “e,” [are] here interviewing with Plurality Press at the newly renovated, newly launched, opened 414 Tavern, yes?
Lissa Roads: Tavern 414, yes.
S: Yes, yes, yes. What was it? This past Thursday was...?
LR: Yes, was our grand opening.
S: Grand opening. It was packed.
S: I couldn’t find the bar. The bar is pretty huge, so, that tells you a lot. We are interviewing them because Lissa Roads is the host of a new poetry…
S: Showcase called “Word on the Rocks,” and Liam is one of the two features. The other feature is…?
LR: D.J. Actually, it is Duke Donaldson.
S: Duke Donaldson. Ok, great. So, we were talking earlier—and it is hard to talk right now over the chocolate chip cookies--
S: But, I was saying, “Well, there’s a bunch of poetry events happening in venues and running shows. Why another?” And then you replied…? [nodding to Lissa]
LR: Well there’s—I think there is a lot of different kinds of performance spaces, but for the most part poetry is made to be family-friendly and [made to be] events where everybody can show up, and it doesn’t matter who shows up. Everyone can enjoy poetry—which is totally true because poetry has so many facets. But, then there are those people who don’t want to be politically correct, and they don’t want to be—want to have to be careful about their words. And they want to just be able to express themselves from the first thing that they wrote down. If that is a swear word, if it’s something that people are going to find offensive, then come up to the poet later and say, “Hey, I found that offensive. Can we talk about it?” But don’t be afraid to hear it.
LR: And, so, now this can be a space where people can say that, and it can be okay. It’s at night. It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere. It is because we are in sports-bar-like, tavern atmosphere. We’re going to have whiskey specials. We’re going to have $4 appetizers for people to enjoy, and kind of be able to share something outside of, “Look at my blue ribbon project.” This is more of the underbelly of poetry, if anything.
Lissa: This is more of the underbelly of poetry, if anything.
S: So, then it brings me to a question for you, Liam. Why were you looking for another venue? What about your poetry was not fitting with the already available poetry events?
LC: Well, it goes back to what Lissa just mentioned. I found that a lot of poetry open mics, poetry events in Buffalo were very Kumbayah-esque. I’ve never been one for that. I mean my idols, as far as poets and writers go, [are] Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg. And they all wrote very politically incorrect things at the time where they were around. So, I kind of wanted a space where if there was something that we didn’t like, it was not going to be met with blind acceptance. You know? I wanted more of a—kind of like what is reminiscent of what goes on in our heads when we write. It’s very tumultuous, very chaotic. You know it’s just that I wanted to find something real as opposed to nice.
S: The way that I am hearing it in my mind is that the difference between this event and another event is, let’s say, “We're going to have a discussion. Everything that someone says is going to be valuable, valid and okay,” versus, “we are going to say what is on our mind. We may not like what each other has to say, but we are committed to being in a space and disagreeing, if we disagree. [Pause.] Agreeing when we agree. Or having whatever reaction we are having to what is being shared.”
LC: I might sound repetitive when I say this, or whatever; it’s—I wanted something real as opposed to produced. I wanted real reactions. I—whether it is a good reaction or a bad reaction, whatever it is. I think in today’s culture. People get upset over the smallest things, and I kind of wanted to confront that. I wanted something real. I wanted how you talk to your friends at a bar. Somebody might say something you don’t like, so you say something about it. In poetry events that I have experienced—and that’s not—I am not trying to say, talk down to those events. Those are just—specific people can go to those. I just wanted something more realistic as opposed to just being candy-coated like, “Oh yeah, you did a good job. You did a good job. It was great. It was great." No, I wanted something—I wanted real. I wanted real.
S: Lissa, you have done a lot of events in the Buffalo poetry community. Can you share with us what is going to be really distinctive about Word on the Rocks, and then how does that fit into where you are in your conceptual development of your own poetry?
LR: Being able to spend the last year—it’s actually just been over a year that I have been involved in the live poetry scene in Buffalo. I’ve written--
S: Only a year?!
Liam: I wanted something real as opposed to produced
LR: Poetry—yeah! I’ve written poetry for a long time, but I was never performing poetry out at open mics and finding different people who wanted to perform poetry or who were interested in poetry until last year this time. [Last] March was actually the first Wordism event I went to. And that is what got me attracted to the, “Oh, people do this? They get together in rooms and are allowed to perform in front of each other, together, and people will come and listen and compliment you at the end, and tell you, ‘(A) That could have been better.’” I did not know that existed. And, so, it has been awesome getting into those spaces and finding different people who host in order to see how they host, what kinds of crowds they bring in. I think that we have very strong and active academic people who are studying poetry and are a part of school programs. And then we have a very strong slam poetry scene, which is all performance-based. What I have been working for is—in the last 6-8 months of still being in Buffalo and trying to figure things out, new things out, is—there’s got to be a bridge built between, where we’re no longer students. We’re no longer writers or poets. We’re just human beings who, maybe, can speak in lyric or prose. Or short—you know, I don’t want to use the word poetry—but to be able to actually speak in rhyme. Or just free thought, journal entry type, diary-istic stuff. Because those are the kinds of things—the kinds of conversations we like to have with each other that students [of poetry may not]—we maybe sisters or brothers or family in the poetry scene—but our poetry does not always sound like that [with regards to students of poetry].
S: Are you talking about an unedited space?
LR: To—to a point, but that is
S: Whatever that means?
LR: Yeah, yeah, whatever that means to the artists featured. Because that is the other thing; this is not going to be, "You have to be that kind of poet." I am not only going to feature beat poets. I am not only going to feature literary poets. I’m not only going to—what I would actually love to do after all this—[interrupting thought]. For this first one—because it was inspired by Duke and Liam—the whole Bukowski, beat poet thing is something that I know I can do. It’s something I enjoy doing. It is an era I respect as far as the writers and some of the ideas that came out of it; I want to participate in that and be true to it. But in future ones, I want to do themes—and have; there was [a point] actually, really at the last Ground & Sky I was at—where we started talking about doing (because Liam’s friend read one of his poems [that was] very gender specific to a poem being written by a man, [from a] male standpoint), I’d love to do a show where a female poet would read the male poets stuff and a male poet would read all the female poets stuff. Because, how strong would that be to get a message across that gender is a construct
Shayna: Do you feel...that we are running the same poetry format? Somebody’s on a lectern.
S: Do you feel that what you are doing is trying to create a more dynamic space? That things are too stifled? That we are running the same poetry format? Somebody’s on a lectern; they’re reading for five minutes; and they sit down and another person rises…
LR: It’s formulaic.
LR. It’s formulaic. And when you find something that works—the Screening Room does it all the time because they know they could get a crowd. They know they could get [people] to come and see these feature performers and have these connections between professors and teachers, and poets and writers and different groups of people who are writing, and that is great. I don’t think that there is nothing wrong with those events. Again, this is not taking anything away from them. It is adding something new into the pot. And saying, “[There is] this option for this as well as that;" [one] might [want to] expand things a little bit and go out on a branch a little bit more because there isn’t a formula to be held to.
LC: Well, I respect that a lot because, last year I lived in L.A. I was living in Santa Monica. As a writer, I wanted to try to find a place to do a reading, to expand what I was already just doing in a dark room with a bottle of whisky by myself in front of the computer screen. I wanted to actually interact with other people. What I found in L.A. is that it was very segmented. It was—there was only poetry for slam poetry. There was only poetry for specific things, and there really wasn’t something that combined everything. There was either if you didn’t fit into that mold then you weren’t going to fit in. You’re not going to be—it’s not that you are not going to be welcome, but it wouldn’t work. So, what I respect about Lissa trying to do this is that she is trying to bring it all together as opposed to segment it even more, which I find is happening in Buffalo way too much.
S: There is segmentation—that happens. I want to mention something, and then I want to ask you two about how you met and why did you signed on to do something as crazy as this? But, so I was looking up grants for artists, and there are specific grantors, funders who don’t want you to be associated with a university or a full-time student at this moment; this grant is particular to artists outside of academia. I think that those funders’ intention is to bring the gap between access. There’s an access issue here. Sometimes [at] the older events that are more established, some of those folks are former teachers, former professionals; there is a certain access that they have. So, what I hear is that this [Word of the Rocks] is a space of challenging—for open access. Now…I would ask, how did you guys meet?
Tune in the first week in May to find out Lissa and Liam's answer to the last question and hear Part 2 of their interview. For the second part of all Part I interviews, return the first week in May—as the blog finishes out National Poetry Month with added content on the intersection of poetry and visual arts.
Shayna S. Israel
Blog Mission: In the spirit of becoming , to provide iterative thoughts toward a deepened understanding of and experience with the intersection of literary and visual arts.