War of the poets

Who’s Reno’s best poet? Could it be Jayme Terrigno? Or Rory Dowd? Or how about neither?

Jayme Terrigno and Rory Dowd lobbied their friends to get themselves voted Best Poet in Northern Nevada; neither won.

Jayme Terrigno and Rory Dowd lobbied their friends to get themselves voted Best Poet in Northern Nevada; neither won.

Photo By David Robert

One of the secrets of the Biggest Little City is its poets. There’s a pretty active poetry scene in Reno—hell, I can actually call what’s going on “a scene.” When I moved here in 1996, the only lyric activity I saw was high-school kids in black reading tortured poems about curfews. There was also some really sterile stuff they call cowboy poetry and a few college instructors with book deals. These days, it’s hard to swing a dead bard without knocking into someone scribbling in a corner somewhere. Now there’s even a category in the RN&R’s “Best of Northern Nevada” issue for Best Poet.

A popular strategy for winning or getting an honorable mention in a “Best of Northern Nevada” slot has been to gather a bunch of ballots and invite everyone you know over for a little party but not let them have any refreshments until they fill in your name. Sure, you could actually be good at what you do, but where’s the fun in that? Another way has been campaigning: simply asking people to vote for you if they think of it and leaving it up to the infallible democracy of “the people’s choice.”

Jayme Terrigno, 26, has decided to do just that and has been campaigning for the past month and a half to get everyone she reaches with her poetry to vote for her. She’s got a Web site, book and a CD. She reads poetry about once a week, in front of people, exhorting them that she must be crowned the Best Poet in Northern Nevada.

“Actually, it’s not really so much a campaign, as I’m hoping that when people hear my poetry, they’ll want to vote for me,” Terrigno said, green eyes smiling over coffee at Denny’s. “I write my poetry for me, and when I’ve shared it with my friends, they all really like it. I think it would be fun if I got voted in.”

You might not know it, but I’m a bit of a poet myself. There. The truth is out—I’m not really a journalist. I’m an art-fag of the worst kind: a poet at heart. I’ve written some rhymes and gotten on stage from time to time, and when I spied, with both my eyes—oh, sorry—when I saw the Best Poet category, my toes curled, my stomach did a little monkey dance, and I thought, “Now I can really prove to everyone from high school that I’m somebody!”

So, when my editor assigned me a story on an upstart female poet who also wanted to win the title of Best, I was shocked. But, I saw it as a chance to do something. Something like write an article to talk trash about her poetry … and, perhaps, my own.

OK, so pretend that Rob G., Ryan Stark, Gailmarie Pahmeier, Jordan, Tim Dufrisne, Larry James and that old guy in the cowboy hat don’t exist. Jayme Terrigno and Rory Dowd are the only two poets in Reno. Who you gonna pick? Well, like any other competition or campaign, you need the stats:

Age: Terrigno is 26. Dowd is 29.

Height: Terrigno is 5 feet 10 inches. Dowd is 6 feet 2 inches.

Hometown: Terrigno is a native of Reno; I’m a transplant from St. Louis.

Publications: Terrigno has been nationally published and has a small 4-by-3-inch vanity press of 28 of her best poems, Poetry by Jayme Terrigno, dedicated to her husband. I have had poems published in the University of Nevada Reno’s Brushfire and Truckee Meadows Community College’s Meadows. I also have a 5-by-8-inch home computer press of 40 poems from since I started writing, Confessions: Some Assembly Required, dedicated to the punk rock band I never had.

Web site: Hers is www.terrigno.net—nice site, easy to look at and navigate, updated often, lots of poems, pics and info. Mine is www.geocities.com/owneutah —well, I’ve got some pictures of me in drag and drunk and about eight poems. It takes forever to load the cheesy floating graphics.

CD: Hers is also titled Poetry by Jayme Terrigno—20 tracks of a sultry voice talking in semi-intentional entendre. Me, well, I’m working on that, but I’ve got this book …

Experience: Terrigno has been writing since she was 11 and reading poetry at open mics since March 2003. I’ve been writing since I was 10, reading poetry at open mics since 1993, hosting a weekly “Poetry Only” open mic for three years, am a spoken word opener for bands and occasionally get paid for it.

Poetic style: Terrigno’s poems are often about the subjective experiences of pleasure, joy, heartbreak and depression, with unrhymed, vaguely concrete words and imagery, fine to be read aloud or silently. My poems are mainly introspective commentaries about pop culture and metaphysical questions, in the prose poetry format of longwinded, ranting monologues, using internal rhyme, with lots of angst, meant to be performed. Love, self-deprecation and homeless people are recurring themes in both our works.

Poetic hero: Terrigno has a stalker-like fascination with Jewel. I prefer Charles Bukowski but don’t want to end up like him.

Poetic attitude: Terrigno is a mother of one who says, “Do I want the world to recognize my name? Sure, but what I want more than anything is for the world to recognize my thoughts.” I’m an almost 30-year-old college student who says, “Yeah, I want to be famous … after I’m dead.”

I’ve never heard Terrigno read live, but she gave me a copy of her CD. It takes more than a sexy voice, sibilance and softly spoken “ess” sounds to make it as the Best Poet in Northern Nevada. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got to wear costumes and yell and prance around like an epileptic clown if you want any of the drunks in this town to pay attention. You can’t call yourself a “pretty girl/light-skinned girl” and get away with it. You have to cut yourself and bleed on the page. You have to scare yourself, with verses like “the only pony in this cursed verse is the one trick phony that thought he could write right.”

Well, there’s my case. I think it’s a strong one, but I’m not sure for which side. It’s the “Best of Northern Nevada” issue, and few of you reading this story will really care about who wins Best Poet. Pick her. Pick me. It doesn’t really matter, because neither one of us is the Best Poet in the area. If poetry is really nothing more than self-expression disguised as art, or vice versa, I’d have to say that the Best Poet in Northern Nevada, heck, the best poet ever, is the one who doesn’t try to share. Right?