Tuesday, April 22, 2008

REV: Weird story

Thanks to my good friends Thom the World Poet and Dr. Kathleen Hudson, i got hooked up with the EXSE Spoken Word Showcase at channelAustin last week to do a TV show. About 15 other Austin area poets were showcased with a reading of their poetry. I went down Wednesday for the show, where i was interviewed and then read. The show then goes into rotation on the channel and i was told it would be shown many times over the course of 2008-2009. So i was honored and excited to be selected.

So then something very weird happened.

Here's some backstory. In the summer of 2001 i was contacted by Russell Simmons to be on his show HBO's DefPoetryJam. To this day i don't know how he came to choose me, except that i had been at the National Poetry Slam a couple years prior and had some national exposure through some documentary pieces on MTV, NBC, and the Texas Country Reporter franchise, and was at least a fringe part of the national slam scene of the day.

Well, 9/11 hit shortly after the invite and everything got shelved. I'm not a TV watcher so i don't know much about it, but as i recall the show was off for months. In any case i was never rebooked, and 9/11 changed what i was doing at the time so i didn't pursue it. They, and i, had enough post-attack issues to deal with.

Nevertheless it was an honor to be considered, and so i use that on my resume/press bio, where i state that i have appeared on a series of shows and "was invited to perform on HBO's DefPoetryJam."

So fast forward to Wednesday night. I walk in the door at the studios and am soon met by the producer Karla, who leads me to a conference room, where i am introduced to Selah, the show's host. She says they are excited to see me, says they have a special interview planned in addition to my reading and she would like to talk about a few things so that she doesn't go into the interview blind. We talk about my poetry -- which i have selected somewhat around the theme of how lies and truth are inextricably intertwined in our lives, how there should probably be some other word for the fictions we create for ourselves and to save others' feelings, that the harshness of the word "lie" should be reserved for things said in spite, greed, or other nefarious scenarios. She gets it.

And i have to say she was wonderfully nice, very intelligent, very confident, sure of herself, and also attuned to trying to be on top of things. I was impressed.

She was also intrigued by the slam process -- which is a kind of literature meets WWF meets olympic ice dancing kind of competition. Without getting too involved here, i explained that it began in the late 1980s when a Chicago bar owner named Marc Smith wanted to liven up poetry readings at his place and set a few rules, gave scorecards to volunteer judges, and allowed audience participation (as in booing, cheering, goading judges, etc.). The result was an explosion in spoken word poetry that encompassed the best of hip-hop, academic poetry, and standup comedy, and tossed it out in three-minute snippets to appreciative crowds. There are city competitions, which crown city winners and teams and send them off to the annual National Slam. And from which came, as a brilliant offshoot, the Holy Grail of DefPoetryJam.

And so we headed there. She asked me how it was that i got invited, and i explained that i didn't really know, simply got a phone call from Simmons, and then i laid out the whole sordid story to her, in quite some detail, about 9/11 and how it stole my chance to be on the show etc. She asked more questions about the process, but it ended when the producer came in and said it was time.

So off we went to the studio where they were placing stools for us. We got a countdown and lights. And then she says they wanted to welcome me to EXSE and were especially honored to have with them today someone who had performed on the big stage at HBO's DefPoetryJam.


I am certain that whatever camera was on me got the biggest deer in the headlights look i've ever allowed to cross my face. I was dumbstruck.

She then turned to me and said something like "So what was it like?"

And, on the fly, i just played along: got swept up in the confusion, the misunderstanding, the LIE, and said something along the lines of "it was great".

We were on live TV and i wasn't about to embarrass her in front of that audience. I still don't want to. Am loathe to. That was the whole point of my performance.

I immediately started trying to shift attention away from that, saying things like "Oh it wasn't as tough as doing a reading at a university with an audience full of academics." But she didn't bite, kept coming back to it. Until finally we got off onto my poetry, and i went heavy with the focus on lying. And got so heavy into the lying aspect of it that she glazed over and soon we cut to set up for the rest of the show.

Then i read.

It was over finally, and i was abundantly cordial and thankful, and then i walked out into the east Austin air and started finding people i knew to tell the story -- coverage i suppose, an alibi. So i told a Ph.D. from UCLA, in town to see me about bug work, told a retired Austin cop friend, and a friend who's a state criminal appeals judge. They all told me not to worry about it, to let it lie (ha!), that no one watches poetry on TV anyway.

And granted the live show was over, but i kept thinking about that thing being in rotation over and over for the next year. I got back home and told another dozen people, none of whom seemed to think i ought to call up and come clean. So i didn't, haven't, not yet at least. I'm still mulling it over. And i thought by writing this i might cover myself for those people who might have seen the show and come looking for more info on the blog.

And so i'm apologizing here, and also trying to escape embarrassing that wonderful lady at channelAustin. And realizing that there will probably be some intersection here, and i don't want to deal with it. And i just hope someone understands.

Final Note: i also will be getting a dvd copy of the show, which is nice since i don't have a tv and live a couple hours out of Austin anyway. I suspect i'll post at least some of it on my YouTube channel, and perhaps even the big lie with the explanation attached.

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