It’s Wednesday as I finish this post, and while I try to process my long weekend out of town and my return from work afterwards (a topic for a forthcoming post, I promise), let’s devote this post to the big weekend I had exactly one weekend previous — Saturday the 23rd of September, to be exact. As you can tell from this post’s title, I did indeed perform poetry as Allison once again. But was it my second performance or my third? Well, I guess some clarification is in order: The first time I performed in front of a mic was during a poetry event at Mother Fool’s back in early July. A few weeks after that, on the last Saturday night of July to be exact, I was actually back at Mother Fool’s, though not to read poetry. Instead, since it wasn’t exclusively a night of poetry, I did a little bit of freeform spoken word storytelling about how I first found that sack of women’s clothing.
Saturday the 23rd, however, was all about the poetry. And instead of Mother Fool’s, we did our thing at another coffee house in town. (I’ll get to the significance of the “we” later.) The business in question is Cargo Coffee, a locally- and family-owned coffee shop that has two locations here in Madison, one on the south side and the one we performed at on East Washington Avenue, a few blocks northeast of the State Capitol. Cargo Coffee’s East Wash location is part of a major redevelopment that’s been occurring on the avenue the past several years (well, it’s happening throughout Madison but it definitely applies to East Wash): Older, smaller, and generally decrepit buildings, ones that housed businesses ranging from repair shops to an automobile dealership, have been replaced by more modern buildings and shops (including restaurants, a swank hotel, and a supermarket) and condominiums and luxury apartments that cost a pretty penny. And the redevelopment isn’t done yet: A new music venue is under construction just kitty corner from Cargo Coffee; further up the avenue, a separate redevelopment is turning a long-empty and neglected plot of land into a mix of apartments, shops, and a UW Health clinic.
Back to Cargo Coffee: The location, which is about three or four years old, or so I want to think, has a spread-out interior and an ground-level and elevated seating areas (the latter is accessible by stairs). While it’s definitely bigger in area than and not as intimate as Mother Fool’s, Cargo Coffee creates its own unique atmosphere through its liberal use of airplane/travel connotations (its logo is of a cargo plane) and vintage or retro-inspired maps, the most prominent of which is this painted map of the USSR, its long-since-independent republics, and neighboring Asian countries that takes up the entire wall next to the performance area.
But you’re wanting to wonder about the performance and what I wore, right? Okay, okay, I hear you. Let’s start with the outfit:
This is a Nicole by Nicole Miller dress I found earlier this year in the markdown rack at JCPenney. It’s a size 8, which fits me a little bit more comfortably (i.e. it doesn’t feel so tight) since I’ve slimmed down in weight (a subject for another post). A friend on Saturday night noted that since I’ve slimmed down a bit, perhaps I should’ve lowered my dress size from Size 8 to Size 6. Though I’m kind of hesitant to go that low, perhaps she had a point, and maybe I should try on a Size 6 the next time I’m at the store. Whatever the size, the belt goes well with this dress; it’s a belt that’s been in my possession for some time (I don’t recall where I bought it), and it does indeed keep the dress secure.
You also notice my ravishing red hair. Well, it’s steadily become my favorite, especially with its waves and length. I didn’t realize this until I went to a support meeting in a different wig with a similar red color. A fellow attendee complimented me on the hair, and he mentioned that I look better as a redhead than as a blonde. I’m starting to think he had a point: Perhaps darker, more vibrant hair color is more flattering on me than having blonde or even sandy colored hair.
Now that you know about my outfit, let’s discuss my performance. As with my nights at Mother Fool’s, every performer had a 5-minute limit to present their works. Yeah, that limit wasn’t adhered too closely; one or two presenters went a little bit over the limit. But this was my first time presenting as Allison at Cargo Coffee, which had a (mostly) new audience to impress. And I still had the fear that if I went over 5 minutes, the host or someone else would use the hook and leave a bad impression.
Truth be told, however, I wound up leaving a good impression. It helped, of course, that I did choose three poems that were short enough to fit within a 5-minute time frame (this one, this one, and this one, if you’re wondering). The poems seemed to have a receptive audience (including a couple of people I’ll talk about in a second). What also helped, I think, was the use of a music stand. Sure, Cargo Coffee had a microphone and speakers just like Mother Fools. However, they also had a music stand where the readers could rest their copy and use their hands. Like, say, this:
Yeah, that’s me during my performance using both of my free hands. Just the right amount of gestures (no, not the rude kind of gestures) helped emphasize the key words in my performance, I think, and hopefully a poetry audience can appreciate that.
I think what also helped was the fact that And it helped that there was a small yet receptive audience that included a couple of familiar faces. And not just any two faces, but a couple of people who I’m acquainted with through a trans support group. One of them, who I’ll call J. (I’ll just use first initials to assure anonymity, though I’ll spell them out later if the say I should), took the above picture during my performance as well as the one below. About the below photo: When J. sent it to me, I was really struck by the mood it created, with shadows and a single light directly over the performance spot creating a… no, not an eerie, noir atmosphere, but more of a feeling that every audience member had their eyes directly on me, standing all alone under the spotlight. (Oh, before you scoff, there was an audience that night; it’s just that they didn’t occupy the foreground tables and chairs you may see here.)
Also joining J. and myself was another part of our trans support, C. (again, just first initials for now), who performed one or two spots after I did, if I recall correctly. C. is a pretty good poet in their own right. Heck, I think they’re a better poet than I am, as they performed some well-written pieces, including a pretty powerful encore about the need to support your children for the precious lives they are, however they may identify. (Note to self: I should ask if C. has that poem posted in a public forum somewhere; it’s definitely worth sharing.)
All in all, it was another pretty awesome night: I got to perform as Allison; I got to share my work with another captive and supportive audience; and I got to share it with two pretty awesome and truly supportive people. I’m not sure when or where that next performance will arrive (I’ll have to check my schedule first), but I can say for certain that I truly look forward to performing again.