Poetry hits the fan
Ice cream man Kyle Bowen lets it fly at weekly open mic
The way Kyle Bowen tells it is that fellow Chico poet Lew Gardner declared one night: “I am the best bullshitter in town!”
“I decided then that it would be fun to have Bullshit Night,” Bowen says, explaining the special event I walked in on at Has Beans a recent Monday night. “We didn’t publicize it—the name was too controversial. [We] just kind of off-the-cuff did it.”
“Bullshit Night” is just one of many Monday nights in the long-running Spoken Word series (”Not Poetry Night. It’s Spoken Word Night,” Bowen stresses. ) hosted by Bowen at the cozy downtown café.
Known to many Chicoans by day as “the ice cream man” (he really does drive around in that musical truck delivering frozen goodies all over town), the eclectic Bowen was a radio news director in Merced and an embalmer in Japan before coming to Chico about a year-and-a-half ago from the Bay Area.
Bowen has been a slam poet since “1999-ish, 2000, around there” who has performed competitively up and down the West Coast, including a stint as a member of San Jose’s 2001 National Slam Team.
Though this night was all B.S., participants were still welcome, as usual, to get up in front of the audience and deliver—either from memory or by reading from a printed page—any sort of spoken word piece they desired, poetry or non-poetry, an original or something written by another. The usual Monday night rules of “no microphones” and “NO GUITARS!” applied, but on Bullshit Night, those involved had the additional, challenging option of picking a number from one to four and then bullshitting for three minutes on whatever topic popped up.
“Three!” called out John, a young, almost pretty, man who described himself in an earlier piece as “a musician” going through a “quarter-life crisis.”
“Coffee,” responded the perennially red-suspendered Bowen.
“Uh, coffee … I’ve never had a cup of coffee; nor have I had weed or a cigarette,” John B.S.'ed. “Coffee is the one thing that ties everyone together. Everybody drinks coffee. If they took coffee away, it would collapse the American economy!” He searches his mind for more words. The small audience hangs on his every word. John triumphantly completes his three-minute stand-up improv assignment with a wacky non sequitur: “People like Wal-Mart have said, ‘Give us coffee—or get the hell out!'” Cheers from the audience. John smiles.
Maximus, a young man from Holland, gets the word “terrorism.” After equating love with wisdom and freedom with movement, Maximus then equates terrorism with depression, and goes on to speculate about terrorists: “Perhaps people are feeling terribly depressed. If you feel good, you’ll do good!”
Another bullshitter, Martin, thunders into his topic—"the heat"—like a Shakespearean actor, declaring loudly in his British accent, “Some like it hot! Some like it fucking hot!!” before segueing on to the now-defunct Chico Heat baseball team and winding up an intense, comedic three minutes calling for the legalization of prostitution.
Bowen is always ready to take his turn in the spotlight. ("I always have 15 minutes ready,” he tells me over coffee at Has Beans a few days later.) Tonight, he was ready to bullshit, at the encouragement of the audience.
“Lemons!” someone yelled out.
Bowen gets up to expound: “Lemons don’t have a lot of purpose, in my view. Lemonade sucks! Lemons are the trailer trash of citrus … but a lime is awesome.” Bowen goes-off authoritatively and humorously on an unexpected tangent: “There’s an entire nation named after limes. They’re called Limeys!” And so on, winding his way back to lemons and ending his allotted time decrying kids’ lemonade stands as the teachers of “bad capitalism.”
Poet Gardner frequents Bowen’s Monday Spoken Word Nights and praises Bowen as “the ideal poet,” professing his love for what he calls Bowen’s “funky open mic,” a term which Bowen likes.
Bowen also likes what he calls “first-timers…com[ing] up and do[ing] things. I love them. You know, it’s surprising—there’s as much talent here [in Chico] as there is in Tokyo, and Tokyo is a city of 30 million people!”