The venue is a Cultural Center/Tea Room called Vibrations—there is a check-in table in the front which forms a symbolic fusion between community rec hall, albeit vastly more atmospheric, and tea/coffee haus. Divergent from either such aforementioned establishments, a line of wonderful all natural skin creams and fragrances resides on shelves to the table’s rear. After having paid the $5 cover, and once past the non-existent un-velvet rope, consigned painting after painting adorns the walls topped off by a makeshift counter which serves as a refreshment stand wherein beverages are served via donation, most notably, specially brewed teas one could never possess any fortune to find at Ralphs or Costco. Nearly every three weeks a local eatery arrives and caters. Tonight’s selection, an all vegan buffet the likes of which you would hardly even recognize as such. This evening’s menu will include the sweetest of sweet yams, a most decadent and flavorful variety of mashed potatoes, a vegetable tortellini dish, stir fried vegetables, Caesar/raspberry salad resting under a decidedly delicious light vinaigrette and a berry cobbler with vexingly decadent vegan whipped cream. (Yes apparently they manufacture such a confection the likes of which would not leave you any less the wiser after enjoying said delicacy–should anyone care to engage in such bovine remembrances of an erstwhile eating habit that could just be current again in all its evolving forms and fashions.) Said buffet: All for a mere donation of $5.00!!! But the piece de resistance, the attraction we have so readily all come to behold on this somewhat hazy enchanted night in Inglewood are all the passionate poets for Vibrations’ umpteenth Poetry Night!
My host for the evening: One of Los Angeles’ most passionate long time poets: Kiason.
“About 1999/2000 I was working for the LA Times and I thought I wanted to be a journalist [but was bored] with the assignments I was getting in college [in preparation for the LA Times post college journalist] program. I didn’t get into the program so I took a job in circulation. In the meantime…during the job I would write little poems…little Limericks on napkins and stuff like that. Then I took a vacation and decided to just, do the typical thing of buying a composition book and start writing stuff that either was good/not good, whatever I felt. And it went from there… Then I stopped. I just didn’t feel it for about six years—about six years I didn’t write anything and one night I went to [this tea room my friend Angel works out of] called ‘Vibrations’. She [has a skin product/fragrance line, sells it at the entrance]. ’Cause it’s kind of a co-op as far as who does what, and Oshae who runs the performance side of it…books the acts.”
Owned by Oshea Luja and his wife, I will be greeted warmly by the both Oshea and Angel as Angel’s singular fragrances under the brand name “Black Beauty Brilliance” waft out and past me on to the less than sweet smelling street. A rather large and imposing, yet teddy bearish gentleman, sits at the long fold-out table to her left. “Hi I’m Akolpiece!” he will intone warmly extending his hand, the nametag on his T-shirt bordering a most singular tie and wooden necklace in order to prevent my having to ask for a spoken-word repeat. It is he who will be emceeing tonight’s event and one can tell he possesses many-a-skill, as is additionally writ on said name tag. “Yes I am a life coach,” he will echo as it is remarked upon. “Just don’t make me do any jogging,” I beseech him. “I’ll be mad at you if you make me do any jogging. I don’t like jogging!” Akolpiece will echo my sentiment while I can hardly dismiss the idea that he is my kind of life coach/personal trainer. As to his aforementioned teddy bearish stature, he will inevitably let us all know during the course of the evening: “I got a deep chest.., I’m not fat at all. My six pack is under ice. I’m melting it slow.”
Once inside, his gregarious and ticklish presence dominates as ol’ Akolpiece lets it be known that when he is onstage, it is a free for all and anybody can interrupt him in medias res. “Anybody have a topic you would like to throw out and discuss?” He will say. Some nights are more lively than others and it is evident that tonight’s vibe is all about the poetry.
As with any free-for-alls, there are always rules however, Akolpiece will continue as he informs, “1.) No profanity. Be creative with your words. And 2.) When an artist is onstage, be respectful to the artist. ‘Cause it takes a lot to get up onstage.” He will conclude by admonishing, “I don’t like to put time limits [on poets] but after five minutes I stop listening. My ADD is on the clock.”
The night’s prime motto all chanted in unison after everyone’s gotten the hang of it, “We got your front, we got your back,” A total and utter living scene of support.
For Kiason, this evening’s momentous occasion combined with said platitude is more than fitting:
“[I stopped in writing poetry in 2003. But during that time] I was booking a lot of acting. [I only reconnected with Angel a few months ago.] She’s like ‘Are you going up?’ Then as if it was an afterthought…‘I know you are!’ And I was like, ‘No!’ I was like, ‘I’ve gotta tell you something. I stopped doing all that.’ I went to high school with her and the program that we were in was called The Humanities Program. It was a specialized program where our English teachers were linked up with our history teachers. So whatever we were reading in English: History was able to match it! So if we were reading about the Roaring Twenties, we were reading The Great Gatsby and then the Harlem Renaissance and then…WWII… And then we’d do our own projects…where we were responsible for the Christmas Production—the Humanities Department was responsible for that [and would sync up with] the kids that were in dance, the kids that were in drama–and then us. [So we’ve always been co-creative].”
And hence the co-creation continues…so many years later. While all of the evening’s poetry is distinct and different, not much of it rhymes conversationally enough, and Kiason’s is no exception:
“I’m more of a conversationalist poet. I approach it with a comedian’s approach but I use the cadence of a poet ‘cause that’s how I feel comfortable [expressing it]. My first poem was a poem I wrote years ago called ‘The Process’. And it [explored the] process of most poets trying to find their voice…and if you really listen to it with a lazy ear you think I’m making fun of all poetry styles or all people who begin to become poets: The Beatnik poet, the rapper poet, the rhyming poet…the poet who gets so lost in existentialism it just doesn’t sound like a poem anymore… Oh and you have the IPhone poet, the ones who have all their poems on the IPhone or IPad and they’re going up and they’re scrolling, they’re reading off of ‘em. You have the composition poet. You have the one who doesn’t look up and all-they-do-is-read poet…and I began to do my variation or my interpretation of these types of poets as I’m trying to find my voice.”
“So I went through all that [with the poem] and then I ended it…but the true part about [the poem’s ending]…is: I went on vacation. I went to visit my cousin up North ‘cause she’d just had her baby. She was in San Jose and her mother bought a house in Modesto… So we went up there and [during the course of the weekend]…one of my aunt’s boyfriends brought this kid over. This kid was in a car accident and his right arm was limp. He had lost all feeling in his right arm. So what they were doing was…taking the veins out of the back of his legs and implanting them into his arm so that he could gain feeling. So I’m watching these kids play, and these kids are not cutting this kid any slack. They’re treating him as if he doesn’t have an arm that’s just flapping in the wind; meanwhile I’m trying to figure out–‘cause I had just written a few pieces up there and I was trying to figure out what my voice was and how angry I was that I wasn’t in the [LA Times] program [along with] all of [my other] goofy problems–and I’m looking at this kid and I’m like, ‘Really, how do I feel as a poet?’”
“As a poet what you want to do is kinda dig and be dug. You wanna dig some shit and you want people to dig it too because you want them to feel how you feel, even if it’s a story that doesn’t really apply to them… You just wanna dig and be dug and that’s all that kid wanted to do and I was like ‘Fuck. This is what poetry is about! It’s to dig and be dug,” and this kid taught me that and that’s how I ended that piece. That was the first one.”
“The second one, I wanted to do like kind of a TED Talk where it was Valentine’s Day and [it was inspired by] Louise Gluck she’s one of my favorite poets. I read her poem in college and basically it was a poem about ‘what if Hansel and Gretel grew up and what would their conversation be like’? Gretel finds out that Hansel is getting married and I don’t know if you know the true story of Hansel and Gretel, but Gretel is the gangsta of that story. She kills for her brothers. She kills the witch for her brother. Then to add insult to injury, her stepmother’s the one who convinced their father to take them out into the forest to get lost and…be enamored by the candy house the witch lived in [only to] say, ‘Oh yeah, yeah just leave those kids there. They’ll find their way back.’ So she’s mistrustful of women and then she finds that her brother is getting married… Gretel in Darkness is the name of it and it’s just her professing her loyalties and her love to her brother; so it’s about a brother and sister love. Then I did the second poem I wasn’t supposed to do–I broke the rules that night—called, This is the Last Poem I’m Gonna Write About Us. It was me combining three ex-girlfriends mixed into one… It’s a very smooth, shocking, psychic poem reminiscing the love that I had, the love that I have and the love that I want.”
“And the poem you’re doing tonight? Your newest poem,” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s called Sabotage. Honestly, it’s me fighting me. It’s self sabotage. But if I called it ‘Self Sabotage’ it would be way too evident…but if I call it Sabotage you’re like ‘Sabotage of what?’ … It’s kind of a schizophrenic poem because I’m having two conversations, but really I’m talking to myself… So I’m gonna start it off with this Cherokee story that I like a lot [about] an old Cherokee grandfather telling his grandson about the beast within really: There are two different wolves inside us. [One is evil. One is good.] And which one wins is the one you feed, and I go straight on into my poem which is going to be a scream so it’s gonna be where I pretty much say, “Despite all my rage I am still a beast in a cage”—and I’m screaming this out to you guys.”
In the dimly lit poetry lair of Vibrations, a painting suspiciously resembling Angela Davis looks stage-ward as if she approves… Echoes of Lauryn Hill’s Lost Ones and Nas’ One Mic hauntingly and inspiringly echo and mirror each performer’s entrance and exit.
Poets alight the platform and discuss, lament, and educate the audience in rhythmic, tempered, sometimes rhymed intonations relative to any and all topics including life, love and pain. While it is unmistakably a platform primarily for poets, comedians alike will address topics such as…
Fathers and Car Vandalism: “Next time son leave a note. Tell them to break the window or take the whole car. ‘Cause I can claim that on my insurance!”
Future ‘Boos’: “I breathe you into future dreams and present scenes.”
Social Justice: “We messed up the system so it’s up to us to fix it.”
Heretofore unrequited love: “Flip through these pages and fall in love with this beautiful disaster.”
Insecurity: “But it’s self doubt that’s telling me in to stay, like 4-year-olds begging me to play.”
Foster Parentage: “I was a seed of an unplanned parenthood planted in foster soil.”
And one of my favorites, The ubiquitous conspiracy of Wall Street Corruption—sadly yet wonderfully read much to quickly and passionately for any quotation…
…along with Poet Extraordinaire Kiason who will dramatically appeal in reference to Sabotage—but just whose exactly? “Despite all my rage, I am still just a beast in a cage!!!”
All poets are strong and intriguing and the rhythms of each of their pieces becomes as satisfying as listening to a musical piece rather than something involving the spoken word in tempos reminiscent of a most rich and robust soul song and we will only crave more once the evening is through.
All poems are interspersed by anyone onstage who just happens to have announcements pertaining to other similar gatherings all across the city. All cheered on of course by good ol’ Akolpiece whilst making us all laugh thoughout, “Tell your story. Can’t nobody else tell it but you!”
“I am an eternal poet,” he imparts as the nights festivities wind down, going on to disclose just how frequently he puts pen to paper. And you’ve all heard of emotional eating, but emotional writing….especially when “I get mad. Someone [will] hit me, flip me off. ‘Did he just say…?’ ‘Did he just say…?’” Mimes picking up notepad. [I’m gonna go write that down!]
Rounding out the night are the earthy reggae jams of Seven Fireside Rasta Elder, to speak nothing of the vegan feast laid out for all on buffet tables in the very back room—yes, there is one more room behind the poetry lair!!!
During the poetry readings, Vibrations’ own special iced tea is brewed and one can procure a quite sizeable cup for a $3 donation. Other beverages are available as well for a mere 3 Washingtons.
Vibrations is located at 2435 Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, 90305 and is well worth the trip. Doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8:15. The cover is $5.00.
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