Poetry as Performance

Literary theatre troupe Man Poems helps Beyond Baroque celebrate Beat Poets Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and Curso

By Justin Chapman, The Argonaut, 3/13/2014

Poets may die, but their work lives on forever.

The Venice literary arts center Beyond Baroque continues a tradition of honoring poets’ birthdays on Saturday with a tribute to poets born in March — specifically Beat poets Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Curso, as well as former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Lowell.

Titled “A Poets’ Birthday Celebration: Beats Meet Lowell at the Five and Dime,” the event features the theatre-based performance group Man Poems, who will sculpt those writers’ works of poetry and prose into live performance.

Man Poems formed a little over a year ago as a poetry reading group that soon morphed into a performance troupe of up to six actors at a time.

“We started it as sort of a girl’s book club but we were reading poems,” said co-founder William Burns, who has a master’s degree in theatre and works as a sound editor. “Then we decided to record them in my friend’s basement studio. This live performance stuff just came up. We didn’t really have any intention of doing that, but here we are.”

Recordings of their poetry performances are posted at soundcloud.com/man-poems.

Four months ago, Man Poems did a performance for Susan Hayden at the Ruskin Theatre Group called “Library Girl.”

Beyond Baroque Director Richard Modiano and Special Events Director Carlye Archibeque were in the audience.

“We thought they would be really good to do all of the Beats, because they’re basically a performance ensemble. They memorize all of their work and they actually prepare in advance, so what we’re going to be seeing is a pretty sophisticated performance,” Modiano said.

“Carlye came up with the birthday celebration idea, and it’s a great idea because she pairs poets who don’t necessarily have anything in common except they were born in the same month. So it’s a great contrast to hear these different kinds of poetry crashing up against each other,” Modiano said.

Now about that title …

“There’s a famous play called ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.’ A Five and Dime was the ‘60s/’70s version of the 99-cent store. Given the poor nature of the Beats — they were the beaten generation — I thought the idea flowed nicely,” Archibeque said.

Beyond Baroque also traces its roots back to an attempt to connect with the Beats, Modiano said.

Originally founded as a magazine in 1968 by George Drury Smith, Beyond Baroque expanded into a Wednesday night poetry workshop that continues to this day.

“In Venice there was an entire Beat scene that had existed in the ‘50s, but it had died out as a movement, unfortunately, by the time George arrived,” Modiano said. “The reason that George originally started the Beyond Baroque magazine was because he wanted to revive the connection with the Beats.”

“A Poets’ Birthday Celebration: Beats Meet Lowell at the Five and Dime” begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. $10. Call (310) 822-3006 or visit beyondbaroque.org.