Get Your Poem On /8 “Skewered Syntax”

Saturday night was a new first for me.  I attended Zev Torres’ Skewered Syntax Poetry & Pub Crawl.  It always was tempting when I’d get the invitations, but there was always some reason I couldn’t go.  I hadn’t even realized until I was there that the reading is done outside the pubs in the street.  Passersby are invited to listen and even participate at the open mic portion. 
Zev has a number of these lined up — August 4th in Harlem, September 15th on Fifth Avenue (Museum Mile), October 27th in Greenwich Village.  On June 21st at 6pm, Zev will host Make Music New York Spoken Word Extravaganza in City Hall Park.
The crawl on May 19th featured Amy Leigh Cutler, Hobo Bob, Obsidian, Todd Anderson, A.I. Firefly (of the band WeAreFireflies), and Zev Torres At each stop on the crawl, each feature read or sang and there was time for open mic-ers as well.  I read at each open portion of the event.  They made me feel so appreciated.
This Skewered Syntax Crawl was subtitled, “Scrambling the A, B, C’s” and began on Avenue A near 1st Street.  I appreciate bars of varying kinds, but the first one of the night was definitely not my kind of place.  When I arrived, I needed the rest room.  It had NO MIRROR!  It was total graffiti and not the kind I appreciate.  There was a good supply of toilet paper and the toilet looked clean, but the room smelled like a men’s room.  I thought it probably was the men’s room, but that was likely the only kind in the place.  There was no sign indicating gender.  There are many ways people can make other people feel unwelcome.  A bathroom with old urine stench and no mirror is one sure way to make women feel unwelcome.  I’m not saying it is deliberate, but at best it is a serious inability to see beyond one’s own needs.  When I came out, Zev warned me with genuine concern that they were playing porn on the televisions above the bar and not to look.  So, of course I looked.  It was the typical disgusting shit — no story, no feelings, just strangers’ body parts getting sucked.  That really doesn’t do it for me.  Plus they didn’t have chardonnay.  Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t go back there. 
As with all groups, the worst members stand out and tend to represent.  For my own head, I am so glad there were intelligent and sensitive males on the crawl to help balance things out.  Otherwise, I could’ve too easily felt like why did I come out of my house to be on this dick planet I inhabit.  Ironically, the brother of a woman I know works or worked for NASA and claims the planet is more pear-shaped than anything. 
Things got better after that.  We headed to our stop on Avenue B.  I enjoyed each feature as they projected their voices over the street noise and turned heads of those walking by.  I was standing next to a man who seemed to be listening attentively.  I thought he was a person who just happened to walk past and stop for a listen.  It turned out to be Hobo Bob, and we both hadn’t recognized each other.  Obsidian hadn’t recognized me either, but I recognized him.  I do look different.  I lost weight and grew my hair.  I get the sleep I need.  I come home to no one’s hostility.  Most people have told me I look younger and with a load off.  I feel better than I did, and that’s what’s important.  From there, all kinds of good things can happen.
Someone in the bar told Zev that there’s a woman who throws water out the window if it is too noisy.  When he shared the news with the group, most laughed.  I wondered how anyone could live above a bar on the Lower East Side of NYC and expect quiet on a Saturday night in May.  I didn’t want to get drenched, and I didn’t think it was funny.  (I sound old.)
I read a poem called Standard Upgrade. Another open mic-er who was shy to read, which I can relate to a lot, read a poem about wanting to be her own best friend but not sure she would choose herself as a friend, not sure she liked herself enough, but hoped someone would.  I loved — absolutely loved — the emotional honesty.  It reminded me of a book title on writing poetry that I believe is called “Open A Vein” or something like that.  Her poem sounded like it came from that place within her.  She turned out to be my favorite open mic-er of the evening. 
I had a glass of wine, and I noticed that one of the people attending but not participating had his sketchbook with him.  I was curious but didn’t ask him anything.  He was there with two other friends who were audience members also and not reading.
Our next stop was on Avenue C.  The features, Todd Anderson and Amy Leigh Cutler, both of whom were new to my ears, continually impressed me.  The other features I have heard before, and I enjoyed them again.  I loved a line of Zev’s that stayed with me, “Her story is better heard in the dark…”  This time I read El Esposo.  Then we all went in the bar.  It had stuffed dead animals and many anatomical drawings all over.  Odd.  Or maybe yet another very male atmosphere with dead animals instead of televised blow jobs.  This was the time for me to order french fries and water.  I was pacing myself as it doesn’t take much alcohol to affect me, and I like remembering the evening.  Obsidian treated me at that stop.  When I first met Obsidian, he was not in a position to be able to do that.  He, Hobo Bob, and I shared some things that have gone on for us since we saw each other last.  In different ways, it seems we each are in better positions.  We also learned we had been through a similar experience with a person we all know from the poetry circles.  That is always comforting to realize something negative wasn’t personal.  I shared my fries, and I told the open mic-er I enjoyed so much why I like her writing.  She seemed very moved by my reason.
Next, we were back at Avenue B.  The audience kept reshaping as some guests of Amy’s were still arriving, and other people were stopping along their walk to somewhere else.  Before we were done with this round, a man came downstairs and asked if we’d be doing this much longer as his wife and child were sleeping above us.  Zev assured him we had just a few more readers to go.  I again couldn’t believe this person expected quiet on a Saturday night above a bar on the Lower East Side of NYC.  Maybe I’d have to spend a night in their shoes/slippers.
I decided to read a poem called Vagina Exhibit 2010 — It Always Seems To Take A Movement To Reclaim What Was Rightfully Ours To Begin With.  The poem was a sharing of the photographic Vagina Exhibit by Alexandra Jacoby  I presented vaginas in my poem the way Alexandra presented them in her exhibit — honestly and matter-of-factly.  With street noise and traffic, I had no accurate sense of how loud or not loud I was.  If I woke the man’s wife, I hope she liked the poem.  Considering I began the evening feeling shy to read in the street but encouraged by everyone else, I am glad I read that poem.  In spite of the subject matter, it really is less personally revealing than most of my other poems.  Having a vagina doesn’t make me different from more than half of the human race.  What I have lived and endured, how I have reacted and what I have learned is way more personal.
The man with the sketchbook approached me after that.  He opened his sketchbook to a portrait of me.  He had been a student in a portrait class where I had posed several months ago to raise money for another dental payment.  He grew up in Texas, lives in California, and is only here for school, and yet here we met.  When things like that happen, I feel it is no accident.  There is some reason for this encounter.  
My favorite open mic-er and some others were leaving before the last round.  I told her that then I was glad I read the vagina poem before they left.  She said she was too.  The rest of us headed for Avenue A to conclude our poetry and pub crawl.  I read Caution: “Marrying Kind” on the Loose.  It is about the kind of man who essentially cages a woman instead of loving her and calls himself the “marrying kind” while never having been faithful to any wife and not at all remorseful.  (If I ever write a sequel to that poem, it will be about a man with a penis that no longer works very well.)
On our way to a different place than originally planned for our last round of drinks, I told Zev that I thought he was very brave hosting in the street and that I would probably feel intimidated.  He seemed to think reading a vagina poem in the street was more remarkable.  I was puzzled as I thought some of my other poems made me more vulnerable and thought that about some other people’s work as well.  I told him that I felt us as an encircled group, and it felt safe.  Then I thought that maybe he considered it a “dirty” poem.  It isn’t.  Not a curse word in it.  It also had no sexual content or even sexy content.  It does, however, disrupt our dick-driven culture by treating our vaginas with acceptance and as matter-of-factly as we would elbows or eyes.  That was part of the purpose of Alexandra Jacoby’s exhibit — to see the vagina as an ordinary body part so women may be approached as people.
I have to remember these things take time.  Real change from the inside doesn’t happen instantly.  Having once been in a production of the Vagina Monologues really forced me to get comfortable with certain language. Alexandra Jacoby and all the women involved in the Vagina Project were brave enough to experience some discomfort; I should muster up the courage to read my poem that attempts to share the experience of being there.  As a matter of fact, after the way the night began, I think a respectful vagina poem was very needed.
At our final stop, Zev bought my drink.  It felt so nice to be treated earlier by Obsidian and later by Zev.  Then the art student Francisco and I got into a long conversation about boys becoming men, and, as a mom of a young man, I appreciated hearing him.  He spoke of his own experience.  Then he also asked if when he returns to NYC again he could hire me to pose for more portrait work.  Absolutely.  Zev walked me to the train which was a nice surprise.  My first poetry crawl ended with a warm hug. 

(c) Mindy Matijasevic 2012

About Mindy Matijasevic

Writer of nonfiction prose and poetry; actress; comic; adult basic education instructor. The name of this blog was inspired by a former student, Camille Williams, who once, in a conversation, used the phrase "get my learn on." I loved it, and it stuck in my head.
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