On Tuesday April 10, 2012, Paper Darts hosted “Super Super Tuesday,” a multi-genre reading with a five-writer lineup featuring Dessa, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Dylan Hicks, and John Jodzio. Co-sponsored by 89.3 the Current and Nomad World Pub, which supplied the venue, this event was as strongly attended a reading I’ve ever been to. A couple things might have contributed to that: 1) it was free, which doesn’t really set it apart from most readings, 2) it was at a bar (which meant a) you could drink and b) it was intentionally more intentionally social than most other readings), and 3) Paper Dart’s isn’t your grandpa’s literary magazine.
Say what you will about Paper Darts (what will you say about Paper Darts? That they’re young, and still gaining experience? They fly by the seat of their pants? That it’s too bad they don’t put out material with any kind of regularity?), they apparently know how to put on a show. From the get-go, this reading had the feel of a rock show. The Nomad was packed when I arrived at 7:00 (billed as the start-time). Standing-room only, a constant and steady din drowning out the house music. The audience ranged from college-age kids to older middle-aged, but everyone seemed to be wearing stylish glasses and/or sport an extreme haircut. The atmosphere was thick with anticipation, the bar-din increasing as the audience swirled throughout the room, chatting, socializing, meeting and greeting. Staffers at the Nomad eventually cut the music, the stage lights went up, and the evening’s MC (sorry, I do not know who this individual was) climbed up onto the stage like a troubadour, announcing, at 7:35, that it was time to begin with the first reader of the night.
Lindsay Hunter is the author of Daddy’s (Featherproof Books, 2010), and hails from Chicago. She is also the perfect choice to fill a reading’s opening slot: the single poem she read (entitled “Like,” which she claimed to have just written a couple of days before) was powerful, energetic, and fascinating. Delivered with a slam-like intensity, “Like” traced the inner monologue of a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality and the demands of her changing body, as well as the new demands the world put on her as a result of her body changing.
The crowd was attentive through the reading, ceasing all conversation and submitting fully to Hunter’s delivery and craft. This, I couldn’t help but conclude, would never happen at a rock show. Audience members actually paying attention to a performer? Rather that chatting with each other at close-range, triple-digit decibel levels? A refreshing kind of hybrid was emerging…
As the MC introduced the next writer, she plugged Paper Darts’s Writing Contest, for which this reading was a promotional affair. Lest we forget. The plug was good timing, though, as the next writer she introduced was…
Jodzio is the author of If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press 2010) and Get In if You Want to Live (Paper Darts, 2011), the latter of which obviously holds some hometown clout. As the single representative of Paper Darts’s publishing campaign, Jodzio didn’t disappoint. The story he read, called “Knockout,” belied Paper Darts’s penchant for the short-short story, ringing in at about 20 minutes of reading. Given Jodzio’s spirited, uptempo reading, I’d guess this was about a thirteen-pager. Again, the audience was rapt as Jodzio spun his yarn—a tale of two recovering addicts forging an unlikely friendship, based somewhat on violence and somewhat on mischief—except for one hilarious moment when an audience member, in reaction to Jodzio’s reading of the dialogue line, “When you bring me a live tiger, you get your meth,” exclaimed “Oh my God!” Two rounds of bemused laughter ensued, a warm, convivial sharing of the moment. Whoever uttered that reaction perfectly expressed what the entire room was feeling: that we were invested in this story, we had a stake in the outcome, and we wanted it to end well both for the characters and for Jodzio. The conclusion didn’t let down, either. I’m not sure if or where “Knockout” is published, but as it’s a story I aim to seek out, I won’t spoil it for you, either.
The reading here took a brief refill intermission, and at just the right time. The din perked immediately back up to typical bar levels. People ordered beers and cocktails, people chatted and mingled, people sought out old friends they’d seen from across the room but hadn’t yet greeted. That the audience waited to do this through two performances, remaining quiet and attentive until permitted to make their own noise, both baffles and reassures me. So many aspects like a rock show, so many like a reading. The intermission ended just when it ought to have, fresh pints in most hands, and the MC introduced the next reader, arguably the star attraction.
Dessa is best known for her involvement in the Twin-Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree, which also served as the publisher for her 2009 book of poetry, Spiral Bound. As a persona, Dessa has the brightest spotlight of the evening’s readers. Her musical accomplishments certainly contributed to the reading’s “rock show” feel, as this was a chance to see a performance by a lauded musical performer. Tonight, however, Dessa sidestepped the singer/rapper persona and read a piece of creative nonfiction, detailing a trip she took with her mother to witness a cow being slaughtered. ”I’d never seen something die,” Dessa read, “because death usually isn’t something you can pencil into your schedule.” The piece was at turns tender and humorous, navigating between a heavy, authorial style (I misquote, “will he submit to the summoner’s bell?”) and a conversational, hip levity (again, a misquote: “I know it’s childish, but I just really don’t like it when people don’t like me”). But the piece overall was a winner, and it was a great glimpse at a complex artist bringing a lesser-known side of her art to the fore, if only for an evening.
My hypothesis that Dessa was the main draw of the evening gained its first bit of evidence when, as soon as she finished reading, the din increased. The MC balked while introducing the next reader, surprised that for the first time that evening, she had to speak over people. There was only a minor exodus after Dessa, though and as soon as the next reader took the stage, people resumed their quiet attention.
With a novel (Boarded Windows (Coffee House Press, 2012)) and an accompanying album coming out in April, Hicks also bridged the rock show/literary reading themes of the night. You’d think a frontman for a band would fill the stage with pomp and bravado, but Hicks was the least demanding of the performers on the night. His reading of a chapter from the forthcoming book, entitled “From Now On, the Poetry is In the Streets,” was subdued at best. The prose was serviceable, and gave a sense that Boarded Windows will be a book to take seriously, which is something the whole book-plus-an-album thing always causes me concern about. If it needs an accompanying soundtrack, does that mean it won’t stand on its own? In this, case, the early verdict is no. I haven’t heard Dylan Hicks’s music, though, so now I’m worried that if I don’t like it, it will bring the book down.
Amelia Gray, author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books, 2009), Museum of the Wierd (Fiction Collective, 2010), and Threats (FSG Originals, 2012), is also the guest judge for Paper Darts’s fiction contest. She read two stories, informing the audience that she’d go with “a narrative story and then something a little weird, if you’re into that.” The first story she read, called “Loop” had me instantly wondering if this was the weird one. Told from a second-person point of view, I had a hard time tracing the narrative. All night, the sound man had done a great job of leveling out each reader’s voice, finding that balance between audible and loud. Gray, though, brought such intensity to her reading that the speakers bristled with her higher register. Her delivery was frantic, almost anxious, to the point that the unsettling effect outweighed the words. Part of this might have been the sudden dynamic shift after Dylan Hick’s slow, sonorous prose… Gray’s second piece, I’ll give her credit, was weirder. Called “Chapter 76,” this prose-poem left me little to cling to.
As I exited the Nomad at around 9:00 (amazing that all five readers plus an intermission only took an hour and a half) I felt pretty confident that, given Paper Darts’s love of the short form and Amelia Gray’s peculiarly intense pieces, the fiction contest all of this promoted would likely produce a winning story that shares some of these traits. Linguistically inventive, 2500 words or less, situationally absurd. This is a prediction, though, I want to be clear, and not a set of guidelines. For that, go check out Paper Darts’s Fiction Contest Submission Manager.
In all, to borrow a term from John Jodzio, the reading was a “knockout.” A fun, lively atmosphere, a devoted an attentive audience, a strong and varied lineup. As an experiment in hybridizing rock shows and readings, I think everyone in attendance learned that there are some serious benefits to this format, as opposed to the sit-down-in-a-hard-plastic-chair-and-don’t-talk-for-an-hour style of reading. I look forward to the next Paper Darts event.
Were you there? Have a different take on any of the readers, or on the reading as a whole? Or did you miss it and now regret spending your Tuesday evening at home? Chime in on the comments below. Also, check the schedule to the right and be sure you don’t miss the next amazing literary event going on in the Twin Cities! See you around.