And the winner is …
Be careful what you share with a poet. Your personal stories could wind up onstage at Luna’s Café, dramatically interpreted for the open-mic crowd. B.L. Kennedy, an eccentric fixture of the local spoken-word scene, kicked off the weekly Poetry Unplugged parade last Thursday night with three selections from his new chapbook, Been Born Bronx, recently released by Rattlesnake Press.
“Steve Vanoni tells me about his first fuck,” Kennedy recited. It was the first line in “Warpaint,” a tribute to the Stucco Factory. A once-thriving art space where Vanoni, Gary Dinnen, Glen Takai and other prominent artists had studios in the 1980s, the Stucco Factory since has burned down. By poem’s end, the listeners were awash in the amalgam of free jazz, cigarette smoke and wet paint that fueled that scene, but they also heard more than they probably wanted to about Vanoni’s deflowering. (And possibly more than the absent Vanoni would have liked shared?)
After his set, Kennedy received the 2005 Luna’s Café Lunnie Award for Best Poem/Poet Ever. Coincidentally, so did everyone else who read that night, along with many in the audience who never approached the stage. As Poetry Unplugged co-host Frank Andrick explained, “Tonight we’re having the Best Poet Ever award ceremony, which is no ceremony at all.” Anyone who wanted an award simply had to fill in a name on the blank certificates, which Andrick then signed. “When you leave here tonight, you can be a much-awarded poet,” Andrick told the audience. “Put that on your bio. Your life will change.”
The evening’s feature, Alan N. Satow, handed out his own awards, as well as chapbooks, canned salmon, mysterious sealed envelopes, and color portraits of himself holding both a gun and a knife. A handful of lucky audience members received T-shirts printed with a portrait of Satow and the words “Poetry Unplugged Award Night. All I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
Best known to Poetry Unplugged regulars as the guy in the top hat who rings a cowbell to signal applause, Satow delivered an idiosyncratic performance that obliterated the lines between poet, performance artist, asylum fugitive and prop comic. There were no fewer than three costume changes—from necktie and top hat to faux hawk, rope chain and “Fuck Christmas” T-shirt to barefoot, wrapped in a yellow sheet like a Buddhist monk. Satow waved a huge “Don’t tread on me” flag before unpacking canned food from a wicker box he termed “the ugly picnic basket of suburbia.” He shouted original verse about Courtney Love and a strange, scatological bedroom scene, both punctuated by horribly jarring blasts from an air horn that caused audience members to cry out, “Stop that!” (Although one man countered their demands by yelling, “More! More!”)
Twenty minutes later, the audience staggered outside. No one was really sure what had transpired, but it had just won an award for Best Poem/Poet Ever.