MARLON ESQUERRA AT WORDS ON TAP
BY C.J. LAITY
Monday, October 16, Woodlawn Tap, 1172 E. 55th, Hyde Park, Chicago
I ventured to Hyde Park recently and discovered the Woodlawn Tap, and what a discovery it is. Outside, it looks like a storefront with an ominous black door. I opened the door and I was immediately seized by the sound of loud, obnoxious college laughter: ha ha ha! I entered and stood there and listened to one individual conversation, what I could hear over the baseball and football games on the television; within a few minutes I heard the conversation swing from parliamentary procedure to modern drama to ancient literature to Yogi Barra. My neck still hurts from the whiplash. I must say, however, that the bathroom was super clean, which is what I had to use at the thought of sitting in that room with that horde of alumni chattering blah blah blah.
Ah. But I found out soon enough that if you want to hear poetry at Woodlawn Tap, you must head west young man--head west. There is another bar at the other side of the establishment, and it's like entering an entirely different planet. Hip hop music is piped in. Poets sit writing poetry or pace around going over what they plan to read. There are "no smoking" signs on the tables. And they have Guinness! Hurrah! There are fifteen or so stools at a bar and then a bunch of chairs lined up like an airplane compartment, no, more like a classroom. There is a big, wonderful stage with a microphone dead center on it, below the window where the tops of trucks pass by and where a Speed Limit 20 MPH sign fails to slow down the poetry.
The bar food is a bit pricey, though. I got a grilled Ruben, which cost five bucks (with no fries, but a crisp pickle was included). And a pint of my favorite nectar was four-fifty. But, hey, you can always drink Miller Lite.
The open mic. readers were asked to keep their presentation to two poems or five minutes. I guess the host's name is Ra Amen (he really didn't introduce himself either), but he's a cool, laid back guy who pretty much gets to the point. I did wish he would have made the poets names clearer during his introductions. This was especially important because most of the poets there were new to me, unfamiliar names which he pulled out of a bright yellow hand bag.
Though there were a few regulars in attendance, such as Lucy Anderton. Every time I hear Lucy's poem about Morocco, I discover a new line that I didn't notice before. This time it was how the people there "never see a white face or the obscenity of a diet." She also did an extension to the piece, I believe, because I don't seem to recall ever hearing it transgress into a lesbian sex piece before, but the material would make a good submission for a Chicago Cherry Vol. 2 if ever there is one. Greg Gillam also read. Greg's truly a talented poetry performer. He is very relaxed on stage and he articulates his words professionally. He read a piece with a snake-theme in which he accentuated the ssssssss's. I think it's time the other venues paid more attention to Greg Gillam. He has become a veteran within our scene and I'd like to see him featured more often. His stuff is really good. And Maria McCray, this time sporting "braids down to here" remarked about how our new Miss America is Filipino, then read a poem about how she will teach her sons to "love softly, sew, and sweat--in the kitchen."
A poet who recently moved to Chicago from DC, Rob Child, did his signature poem called "Time Paradine"--"there is no difference between one minute and an octillion years." The poem could have been about time, or about God. Virdajean Collins peformed a poem about police brutality called "And The Beat Goes On," in which "the flag of our nation won't fly at half staff" for those killed by the police. She also did a poem which villafied (for good reasons) a young homie who seduces a young girl. Ron Yokley recited the poem, "I'm a black man, pretty and bold," during which he expresses the desire to have "wings" to escape the "drug dealers, gangs, and cocaine. . .black on black crime." John Collins announced to the audience, "I am of age," then promised us some "raunchy pieces." He expressed how nice it was to be "reading in the shadow of academia." Sandra G. Freeman joined us straight from the local Neighborhood Writing Alliance: conceived, born, raised and still living in Chicago. Her poem, "I'm just a whore off Rampaw Street" proved that some of the best stuff can come not from the seasoned professionals, but from the new name open mic.ers. "Whatever you are, be the best at it, and let the Lord take care of the rest," she recited, stating, "If you're a drunk, be the best drunk you can be." She also created an extended metaphor of a prostitute being like Alice in Wonderland.
Mad Peace, sporting a red white and blue skull cap, used up his five minutes doing humorous spoken word about forgiveness, about being "tainted but not bitter," and about memories of the old venue LitX. Then he went overtime and did some poetry anyway. "We were doing this shit before Love Jones was a script," he said, referring to the movie in which Regie Gibson is featured. There were a few open mic. readers that I unfortunately didn't catch their full names. One was Al, who read a poem about waiting for the Jeffrey bus. I think the other one was named Ben-Ammi, who performed a flow free from the microphone, but who unfortunately closed his eyes through the entire thing and failed to make contact with the audience due to it.
We were given a fifteen minute break before the feature, which allowed me to get another drink. The Ruben was not settling well in my stomach. There were about thirty people in the room by that time, making it pretty full. Literature regarding upcoming poetry events at other places was offered on the stage during the intermission. I thought that was pretty cool. Woodlawn Tap is definitely a networking venue. If you would like to be in their network and receive the Words on Tap virtual update, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe" in the subject heading.
Ohh, but don't order the Ruben sandwhich.
At 8:20 PM the feature hit the stage, Marlon Esquerra. Marlon started his set with no page, very comfortable in that space, at one point even leaving the stage and performing his poem in the middle of the audience. Tension rose as his tone heightened like a pressure cooker ready to explode: "I dialed 911 and got the wrong number." His hands gestured wildly as he hit the peak of the tension: "You can't help the dead." Marlon read a new poem next, so new the ink wasn't even dry. He actually wrote it there, in the audience during the open mic. set, having been inspired inspired by Maria McCray's mention of a Filipino Miss America. In the new poem, Scully and Moulder from X-Files investigate why "brown is in." What a demonstation of shear talent, to be able to come up with such a great poem for us at the spur of the moment. Marlon informed us he was born in Wicker Park, and he did a very short poem for Wicker Park, Ukie Village, Pilsen and other gentrified communities. I won't give it away; you'll just have to hear it sometime. He also did a poem "My Skyscraper Thrift Store" which was handwritten on paper, and which he manged to perform expertly despite a nasty cough and growing beads of sweat on his forehead. Marlon is proud to wear his Filipino history on his sleeve, and he gave a powerful, moving performance of his signature piece, "Morning Papers." The piece deals with his father and why he does crossword puzzles, and touches upon the issues of racism and stereotyping. He also read about how there are one million internal refugees in the Filipines: "I am my mother's son / her mother was a hymm / a lullaby." You can see Marlon perform with I Was Born With 2 Tongues, but this was a rare opportunity to see him go solo, and it was well worth the trip to Hyde Park.
I didn't stick around for the Slam afterward, which was billed as the main event. I personally couldn't imagine anything topping Marlon's performance, and I wanted to leave on a high note, because I had a feeling the Ruben in my stomach was going to get really nasty. And it did. When you go check out Woodlawn Tap, which I encourage everyone to do, I would seriously advise staying away from the Ruben sandwhich.
OUT OF ALL FAIRNESS, IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT THERE SEEMS TO BE A 24 HOUR STOMACH FLU VIRUS GOING AROUND IN CHICAGO, WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE CAUSE OF MY AILMENT, AND THAT IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN DIRECTLY CAUSED BY THE RUBEN SANDWHICH.
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Note: Before there was a Tuesday poetry show at Woodlawn Tap hosted by Maria McCray, there was a Monday night show hosted by a bizarre person. Laity looks at one of the better nights.