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HOT MIKE
The Poetry Performance Review



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Lehman Weichselbaum



KGB Bar, on the East Village's Theater Row of East 4th Street, has emerged as a haute official venue for new spoken literature, second in downtown gravitas only to the St. Mark's Poetry Project. On an average night you'll walk into either of its two upper floors expecting to hear a recitation by authors from their recent poetry, fiction or memoirs with a capability and freshness matching their prowess on the printed page, and you'll almost certainly get it.

For funkier, more theatrically expressive work you'll opt for shows at, say, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe or the Parkside Lounge. At KGB you'll get more of a composite of the tweedy prof (male or female) who, at the right time and under the right roof, can still cut a rug without shedding a strand of wool.

For a case in point, this past season we visited an evening in the house series "Drunken Careening Writers." The title is a transparently donnish, self-deprecating ha-ha bespeaking the collegiate air (in a good way) of KGB. If any of the trio on the bill were drunken, she or he held it well. None careened. Keeping it real and keeping up your good manners are not mutually exclusive. We get it, KGB.

East (and West) Village mainstay poet and story writer Thad Rutkowski joined two other authors to read from his latest book, "Guess and Check" out of Gival Press. The work is an episodic memoir hopscotching from earliest-memory, mixed-heritage, more-bizarre-than-unhappy childhood in rural Pennsylvania to the author's fitfully responsible adulthood in New York City, with plenteous dream accounts thrown into the mix.

The memories are extraordinarily detailed and surgically etched, making the dream chapters seem superfluous by comparison. The dominant voice is that of a wide-eyed, blundering naif who somehow harbors a wry sensory palette that misses nothing. In Rutkowski's hands, it's a singular life that at the same time could be anybody's. This is what we collectively regard as a high mark of successful writing.





Rutkowski composes the kind of structurally simple prose that invites the speaking voice to easily bend itself around. This he did at KGB, carrying his tale on forceful units of exhalation, with light touches of appropriate stress marks. His heaving stage delivery counterpointed fittingly with his deadpan page style. He won ready laughs from the crowd—always a boon at readings—recounting his schoolboy by-the-numbers mastering of homework odium and the time lightning blockbusted the family TV.

Rutkowski's co-readers held up the standard for the evening. Andrea Alton, actress and playwright ("A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. Coli"), enacted a litany of comic disasters. She invoked hot bad boys, gold necklaces turning green, a loss of virginity, Oregon, car wrecks, Motley Crue, cotton bras and Heather Locklear. You know, girl stuff. Her reading style began on the perfunctory side but eventually kicked into an affable arc, with a kind of prolonged wink in her voice, particularly when she ventured into one-woman scripted dialogue.


Guillermo Filice Castro, photographer and poet ("Agua, Fuego," from Finishing Line Press), held a relaxed spot, with a cleanly enunciated, swaying rhythm. Subjects covered ran from David Bowie to undocumented migration to anal sex, with a fond lingering around everyday nightmares ("Exit through the weird door..."). Like Rutkowski and Alton, he was not afraid to go dark ("You wake up...as a butterfly in Walt Whitman's freshly fingered beard...to the gun your father used to kill himself.").

Other readings are organized. KGB's are curated. This reading was a satisfying illustration of why.

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