It’s no epiphany that the Twin Cities are a rich and diverse literary environment. For decades readers, writers, and behind-the-scenesers have celebrated a broad array of influences and created a wild spectrum of output. The new MCAD reading series WORDLAB seems intent to place this literary diversity on exhibit.

wordlabTaking place in the main gallery of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design on Wednesday, February 20 2013, the inaugural edition of WORDLAB enticed its audience  with performances by AT Grant, Maria Damon, and Sarah Fox, each appearing after an open mic that featured first-time readers as well as seasoned veteran poets. Minnesota Book Award-winner Lightsey Darst curated and hosted the event, and so credit goes to Darst for creating a series so suited to MCAD’s gallery space. The room’s idiosyncratic architecture, multimedia capabilities, and walls adorned with youthful art perfectly complemented the tone of the reading: irreverent, yet accomplished.

While the readers didn’t vary in terms of genre (all five of the open-mic readers were poets, too) the similarities ended there. AT Grant, whose book Collected Alex will see publication by Caketrain, began his reading not by stepping up to the mic and holding a sheet of paper, but with an audience member standing up and targeting the poet with a mimed video camera. Another volunteer (Sarah Fox this time) emerged with a set of cue cards from which Grant read his work. Grant himself, dressed in a suit, played the role of Nixon-esque politician, while decrying the metapoetical merits of his poem’s speaker. The poetry itself was strong—fascinating language that would have captivated sans the schtick. Yet the performative aspects of Grant’s reading added a something too often left out of poetry: surprise.  The showbiz props and political themes electrified his language: it would have been good on its own, but this was something different.  This was art that could only occur live, in person, in the instant in which it was happening, in the company of others.

AT Grant reads from Collected Alex.

AT Grant reads from Collected Alex.

After the cozy crowd of twenty-five or so recovered and applauded, Lightsey Darst introduced “our next over-sharer,” Maria Damon. Damon, a poetry professor at UMN, tossed bags of dried fruit and nuts into the audience, cranked up some psychedelic classic rock, and set in motion a slideshow of her needlepoint work. As we nibbled and shared the food, the slides cycled through a few times. At the song’s conclusion (it seemed to be a long song. Long enough for me to think, “How long is this song?”) Damon shared some physical examples of her needlepoint work, even passing a piece around the audience like show and tell. Finis.

When Sarah Fox stood up to read, she said, “I feel so weird. I’m actually going to read poems.” Which she did. At least a couple of these came from her new book The First Flag. To commemorate the recent resignation of the pope, Fox declared a papal theme to her reading, and somehow poems that touched upon tarot archetypes, astrological phenomena, and global systems of patriarchal oppression did wind up coming back around.

An open mic and three wildly different poetry performances held in a collegiate space devoted to visual arts; or, just another day in the Twin Cities lit scene. WORDLAB (named after MC Hyland’s bygone “Pocketlab” series) will return in a couple of months, and hopefully it will remain an accurate portrait of how strange a concoction of writers we are.


Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar to be at the next LitSeen.org attended event. See you around!


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