She was my first love, and she slipped away. I know exactly when it was. You know those moments when everything is coming together; you see your life shaping up, creating that foundation where all that comes from here will be built upon from here. Then something happened, a downward spiral of sequential events. We went our separate ways; I went down to Durango and figured I’d never create with her again. It would be okay; poetry and I had a good run.
When I lived in Gunnison, before I was anything I was a poet. It was the first kind of writing I enjoyed. It wrote itself. It was always for love, never for money. The open mic nights and poetry slams in Gunny were some of the best, most pure nights of expression in my life. Why is it I could say anything to anyone in poetry, even if I kept an armor around my heart the rest of the time. It was her freedom, her accepting, open nature that led me back time and time again. She helped me find myself.
It was always a quirky love affair, one I was almost ashamed of, how much I liked her. She was weird, and never really cool. But who wants to be cool anyways? The cool kids from my high school seemed to peak right at 18 anyways, too soon to peak for sure. The “too soon” poetry always got me into trouble. At 21 I was the over eager poet, just dying to have a crush so I could write her poetry or make her a mixtape. It didn’t always go as planned, but when I found a girl who did like the poetry, well, yeah, that was the right one.
When I moved down here to Durango I was surprised, even overwhelmed by how many writers there are here. I find connecting with writers to be an art of sorts. Many of us write because we express ourselves better in writing than we do in conversation. I mean I say stupid things all the time, but when I write something stupid I at least have the chance to go back and edit it. So connecting with other writers is an art in itself. We are a weird bunch.
With all the writers around I figured it would only be a matter of time before I saw a flyer for a spoken word storytelling event or a poetry slam. When a couple years went by and I never heard about anything, I figured I’d just start something of my own. Then I realized how difficult that actually is. I teamed up with a couple people and had some false starts, and then got busy writing and publishing books. But the hunger was still there, and the void of not creating poetry was very much there.
In the last couple months in Durango it all came together. First, with the “Raven Narratives”, the powerful and moving storytelling event that Tom Yoder and Sarah Syverson created, and then with last weekend’s “Be Heard” poetry slam that Ashley Merchant and the local United Way chapter put on. All that was missing from Durango for me, a place I’ve very much been falling in love with over the last five years, was coming alive.
I also feel like spoken word poetry is coming of age again, even in the mainstream. The famous rapper, Kendrick Lamar, has a flair of spoken word that the hip-hop world has not seen in a long time, with a political activism that makes it even more poignant. Same goes for Beyoncé’s recent “Lemonade” film she made to accompany to her album of the same name. There’s so much spoken word poetry in there. And damn if Beyoncé isn’t becoming more and more of a true artist, revealing the depths of her soul in such an honest, raw way.
Oh man, the week leading up to last Saturday’s poetry slam at the Durango Arts Center I had the butterflies one can only have with the matters of the heart. It had been many years since I’d performed something I’d memorized. That feeling, the process, what a trip. I’m always afraid I’m going to be on stage in the middle of the poem and my mind will go blank.
So I practiced my poem every free moment I had to myself. It started to become a part of me. Even when I rode my bike over that evening I practiced it three times. At that point when you’re so wired into the words its just time to breathe, relax, try to enjoy the night.
The night kicked off on a somber note when the emcee for the evening, Ben Fisher, asked for a moment of silence for Orlando. That was followed by a poem that local high school student Amy Leonard performed, with her thoughts on the tragedy and what it means to be a gay American. I feel like I’ve become so numb to all the shootings in America; Amy made it all so real, and I thank her for that. That girl’s got some serious passion and talent.
Being a first time event the poetry slam had a raw feeling that was so enjoyable. Many of the poets simply read their word in an open mic style, ranging from high school students to the charming older man who read a little vignette about Jackie Robinson.
There were many missteps made by the emcee, and he graciously and hilariously all of them, charmingly. When he pulled my name out of the hat, Ben, said well that’s an interesting one, “Is there a Lube in the audience?”
It was the perfect introduction. I felt my nervousness melt away as he said it again, “Lube, are you out there?”
After telling Ben my name was actually Luke, I performed my poem without pause or panic, it was ingrained into my brain and nothing would stop me now. It’s a weird feeling though, the closest I’ve ever felt to an out of body experience. You practice something alone, over and over again, and now you’re anything but alone, there’s an audience and energy out there, and they are finally interacting with your words. Then in an instant you’re done. They clapped. They liked it.
I was glad I went early in the round so I could just stop and enjoy everyone else’s poetry. There were so many moving poems; it’s even now a little mind bending to contemplate. It was such a fun night, and it made me feel more at home in Durango than ever before.
Amy Leonard was the champion, and did she deserve it. Gretchen Groenke of Mancos was the runner up and she deserved it too. Both of these women motivated me to step up my game as a performer; they were so polished, poetic, and passionate.
The night was capped off by some impromptu beat boxing from Ben, followed by a very moving dance performance from Natalie Benally from Dancing Earth, an interpretive piece aimed at creating awareness for the alarming high rates of sexual abuse that Native American women face.
Afterwards, still riding the high I was over at Steamworks for a beer and a bite. As I was walking across the bar to go to the bathroom, a couple of women stopped me, and said, “Good job tonight, Lube!”
So yeah, I guess now all my new poetry friends will be calling me Lube. Thanks a lot Ben!
This piece is published in this week's Durango Telegraph.