Information about the Desert City Poetry Series, contemporary poetry & poetics, and poetry readings & events in central North Carolina.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

First Desert City Reading

So September 18th, 2002, (I believe) Lee Ann Brown opened the Desert City. She showed up with her sister Beth and Beth's husband, Raed, both accomplished bluegrass musicians. I knew in advance that Lee Ann and Beth would perform together, but having Raed there was a pleasant surprise. He showed up with an instrument he'd just bought called an oud. For the next hour, various combinations of the three sang, read, and recited poems; performed string tricks, including one that created a bunch of bananas that when one was picked became "Tarzan's underpants" (just the string in a loop); and danced (I think?) Needless to say, it was a great performance. The crowd of twenty or so was pleasantly surprised to find all of this at a "poetry reading", but that, of course, was the point of starting with Lee Ann. I was -- as silently as possible -- cackling with glee listening to the buzz of surprise and pleasure afterwards. Winston-Salem, where the DC started, is sort of a conservative town with a lot of money held in the hands of not too many. There's also, though, a vibrant, energetic arts scene there -- it's small and can feel closed to the new in town at times, but they work hard to make that town a good place to be. So the DC fit in pretty well.

There's a funny (but not exactly haha funny) story about Winston that may not be true. Back in the eighties, SECCA, a good little contemporary art museum in Winston, hosted an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorp's photographs. The story goes that one of the gallery's big money donors -- apparently some variation of the archetypical/stereotypical old woman -- went to see the new show. She promptly returned home and called her favorite US senator, Jesse Helms. The rest, as they say, is history.

The name of the reading series, the Desert City, is a play on one of Winston-Salem's nicknames: Camel City. The home of the RJ Reynolds Company, you can still smell the acrid raisin scent of fresh tobacco in some places in town. Part of the point of the series is to present these poets in a local, community oriented space that is unconnected with the usual venues that support this sort of poetry: universities. I picked the name because I liked the explicit (for folks in Winston at least) connection it connoted to the town. I kept the name when I moved from Winston to Pittsboro because, attempting modesty, I think it's a great name.

Okay, time to go -- still working on that grant. Thanks to all of you that have helped me with it by the way: KS, VV, ES, AS, DM, and anyone I'm inadvertently forgetting.

To come: first and second years of the series; upcoming 2004 - 2005 season......


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