Poetry at Molly’s Bookstore

This Sunday I took a bus from Chinatown to Philly to see my friend Luis Valadez read at Molly’s Bookstore on 9th Street.

Luis’ poetry reading has always been an intense experience, but he has really polished his style in Chicago the last couple of years. I heard him read his poems from What I’m On many times when we were at Naropa Boulder, but Sunday I heard them as if for the first time. Luis has honed each poem, revealing the energy that motivates the word. His breath work during the chanting of “My Matrix” showed his musical influence and his maturation. I was just so impressed. What a poet!

The evening was organized by New Philadelphia Poets and featured Luis along with Joe Roarty. They made a dynamic combination; both poets filled the room with language twisted and stretched to its limit, at times beyond its limits. Joe beat a drum. Luis had everyone stomping their feet.

After the features, there was an open mic, and I was able to hear a nice set of local Philly poets. I wouldn’t say it was the usual mix, although they did range from a first time reader to a wizened sage. The crowd was supportive, if somewhat loud. I’m not trying to gas Philly too much, but they did seem a cut above most open mics. Every poet that took the stage seemed to be genuinely interested in language, which is all I really want from an open mic.

I had a chance on stage, also. I read Walk Like A Man, because the character of Vasso is, in fact, inspired by none other than Luis Valadez. Yes, he did have a coat hanger on his car, and he did try to keep my change.

This was my first visit to Philadelphia. I didn’t get a cheesesteak (sort of disappointed about that), but I had a wonderful time and came back to NYC infused with language. I took a midnight train back and couldn’t sleep for all the inspirational ideas bubbling up inside. This week I will get some stories sent out, along with an application to some artist residencies for the summer. Hooray for poetry!

4 comments to Poetry at Molly’s Bookstore

  • wizened sage ? Soun like sumthin you rub on a pork roast…

  • D.A. Minton

    Mr. McDaniel,

    I was present at the New Philadelphia Poets event at Molly’s Bookstore on March 28th and I must take exception to your interpretation of the night’s events or, to be more specific, your interpretation of Luis Humberto Valadez’s “reading.”

    Since 2008, New Philadelphia Poets has worked to develop and expand the community around poetry in Philadelphia. In this effort they have hosted a variety of readings and performances from young local writers like Debrah Morkun, Sarah Heady, and Jaime Townsend to more established writers like Bob Holman and CA Conrad in a respectable yet diverse set of venues like the aforementioned Molly’s Bookstore, Big Blue Marble Bookstore, and Wooden Shoe Books, which is a personal favorite of mine and other Philly residents who enjoy radical and anarchist literature. There is no question that their work and presence in this city is well received. This note is not to question the validity of the group.

    I most assuredly enjoyed the rhythmic punishment of Joe Roarty’s work, who’s been a favorite performer of mine since we both resided in Chicago in the earlier part of the decade. He seamlessly fluctuates from the beauty of singular images rescued from the clutches of urban debris to relentless tirades against the very circumstances that would envelop such beauty. Certainly Mr. Valadez could learn a thing or two from Mr. Roarty, as well as from the variety of engagements with language that followed his performance in the open reading.

    It seems like a bit of a misstep, to me, on NPP’s part to feature Mr. Valadez above Mr. Roarty or even above the open reading in which poets like Jacob Russell and Carlos Soto Roman–who I am sure Valadez couldn’t carry a decent conversation with to save his own life–humbly offered the “interest” in language you write about. I too have seen Mr. Valadez read in Boulder (as well as in Chicago) and while I will admit that his performance style has refined some since he wrote many of the poems in “what i’m on,” I certainly do not feel any great enthusiasm for his work. Mr. Valadez seems to have made “friends,” or perhaps the more appropriate term would be well-wishers, in more established and respected writers–Tim Z. Hernandez, Arielle Greenberg, and Elizabeth Robinson to name a few–and these supporters have garnered him readings in prestigious venues like Myopic Bookstore in Chicago and Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee, but none of this exposure seems to have promoted any kind of growth in his work from what I’ve seen.

    Aside from the fact that he continually reads, or “performs,” work that he composed five years ago, the only improvement I can detect in his performance style is that he’s slowed the pace of his laborious emoting. I wouldn’t consider the fact that he is now louder, more overweight, and willing to sing in horribly stilted tones to be a great sign of maturation. His musical influences are now more apparent, I agree, but, ironically, I do not see how that contributes to the quality of his verse. Truly, if I wanted to see a short, fat guy who can’t sing, perform work in poorly contemplated forms that only somewhat mask that he’s obsessed with the fact that he isn’t sexually desirable, I’d find out when Frank Black was coming to town. Though, I must admit that Mr. Black is capable of turning a clever phrase and hits the right notes at least three times as much as Mr. Valadez.

    The feet pounding schtick really would have seemed more appropriate at a low-rung Border’s open-mic or strip mall coffee shop. That kind of thing is generally bought into more when generic tea, bad scones, and teenagers feelings are all that’s available. I think it should be noted that only a few in Molly’s Bookstore actually participated in the feet pounding and even then with very little gumption. I have wondered if the people who book Mr. Valadez for readings–of which there are many, unfortunately–have actually read his book or listened to his CD, the not too cleverly titled release “wat ahm on (ep).” Certainly, the University of Arizona Press seal on his book is enough to get him into most of the venues he’s performed in and the previously mentioned well-wishers likely account for the rest. It is telling that he hasn’t been invited to read at any major colleges or universities and isn’t currently teaching on the collegiate level, whereas many of his contemporaries, like Santee Frazier, Orlando White, Paul Martinez Pompa, and Megan Volpert are continuously sought out for readings and lectures.

    I do believe it is only a matter of time before “what i’m on” is seen for the fluke it is. I’ve heard rumblings from friends at U of A Press that the book was shipped back to them from vendors in numbers excessive even for poetry. It can be deduced that Valadez engages in as many bookings as he does to try to liquidate this abundance of surplus stock. Readers, however, respond the same way his live audience does: unamused by the show of words “deconstructed” meaninglessly in illogical patterns screamed to them by a man-child who doesn’t appear to believe them himself. Almost no one at Molly’s, save for the poet’s friends, actually bought the book or CD at the inflated price he offered it for. Mr. Roarty did purchase the CD, but I am sure he was just being nice. I don’t blame Mr. Valadez for getting the most out of his good (if unwarranted) fortune, but I won’t be surprised when his second book (appropriate titled “what i ain’t?”) is available only from Lulu and his meandering pitches at open mics.

    I did enjoy your reading of “Walk Like A Man,” which I first read in Retort Magazine online. Perhaps, Mr. Valadez serves as a better inspiration for comic relief in serious writing rather than as an artist himself, wouldn’t you agree Mr. McDaniel?


    D. A. Minton

  • Jason

    @jacob – good spices are the secret to good cooking. I don’t dig on swine, but I do appreciate the variety of experiences age brings.

    @judy – ty. I’m glad you like them

    @daniel – I could not disagree with you more. Respectfully, much of your “criticism” seems motivated by personal vindictiveness unrelated to the actual work of the poet. Did he take your ball or something? Thank you for the kind words about my story, but if you thought the character of Vasso provided “comic relief” then you didn’t get it at all.

  • D.A. Minton

    Perhaps, we’ll ultimately have to agree to disagree, Mr. McDaniel, but I beg to differ with your summation of my comments. While, I have no affinity towards Mr. Valadez’s “art,” I am rather indifferent to him as a person.

    I do admit that it can be construed by the unabashed veracity of my remarks that I harbor some sort of ill will towards Mr. Valadez. My issue is only with the undue warm reception that his sub-par work has received in the poetry communities we have been a part of. I have no qualms in admitting that I take the work of poetry seriously and it offends me to no end when someone whose work is as contrived and lazy as that in “what i’m on” is even mentioned in the same breath as Mary Burger, Travis MacDonald, or even Luis Alberto Urrea.

    I’d, honestly, rather not waste a synapse contemplating how Mr. Valadez’s work made it through the corridors of University of Arizona Press instead of being relegated straight to their intern’s recycling bin, but I’d guess it had something to do the well-wishers he’s made out of established writers by performing his noble savage schtick for their guilty amusement. You can’t possibly find anything of substance in the book about back acne and uninformed use of AP English vocabulary, can you Mr. McDaniel?

    What else did Vasso offer “Walk Like A Man” besides a contemptuous laugh and some distance between the set up and climax of the story, exactly? Perhaps I’ve underestimated Mr. Valadez’s abilities. It seems he is quite adept as an artist when it comes to spinning a yarn of marginalized-urban-voice wool over the eyes of people who should know better.

    D. A. Minton