Tag Archives: performance

Rodrigo Toscano and two poetry students stand intent, reading from sheafs of paper during a poetry performance skit.

Rodrigo Toscano performs with MFA students

Last semester, on Tuesday, November 6, acclaimed poet (and labor organizer by trade) Rodrigo Toscano, along with five Miami Creative Writing MFA students, performed for a full house in the Bachelor Hall reading room. (Pictures here.) Toscano has lived a double life, splitting his time between working in the labor movement and weaving his poetry. A writer who has authored multiple books of poetry, recordings, and essays, he most recently released a collection based off a single sentence, one that also gave him the title for the book: Explosion Rocks Springfield. With Miami graduate students, he performed a string of poem-skits that combined to create an astute reflection on the modern human experience.

Standing side-by-side with Katarina Morris, Savannah Trent, and Kinsey Cantrell, all holding stacks of stapled papers, the poets began speaking one by one in rapid succession. Between chorus-like repetitions of “Scrolling! Pointing! Clicking! Selecting!” the poets bombarded the audience with observations, statements, and rhetorical questions. Each new line spoken by Toscano and company seemed borrowed from something we might hear any day or every day—the lines were rooted in contemporary experience we share.

The majority of the reading was taken up in this manner; however, as the performers shed each packet, the tone of the poem shifted. The first shift came in the form of simulating a discourse between the four writers. At first, this section felt like a dark satirical comedy piece, but it soon began to seem more like a manifesto of the working class. Throughout the larger piece, Toscano attempted to raise serious questions in the minds of the audience while keeping things humorous. Battered by comments about the financial markets and society rich in dark satire mixed with material from the exploits of Esmerelda, the audience had no choice but to laugh. Of the performers, along with Toscano, Katarina Morris stood out for her good use of the space of the room. Her deliberate movements mixed with her body language delivered some of the last and most powerful lines to bring the audience to applause.

For another piece, Toscano was joined by MFA students Paul Vogel and Kyle Flemings. The poem-skit comprised a discussion between Paul, who stood in as a representation of toxic corporate management, with Toscano taking the role of mediator between the public and the wants of corporate America. The back-and-forth between the two highlighted how disconnected the corporate world can be to the needs and wants of the common people. The ludicrous demands and questions by Vogel—for instance, “Tell them if they get help to get the big blue ball over the flaming wall there will be a prize in it for them…they want to know what the prize is? Tell them ‘life.’ What do they say?”—gained many laughs. However, this did not take away from the poem’s focus on just how disenfranchised most people truly are in comparison to corporate power.

Toscano and company did more than just entertain their audience. Through their craft, they found a light way to raise some much-needed social awareness in our time. During the hour, we were able to see the power the written word can have and the light it can shine on the paradoxes we find ourselves living. Perhaps we, the audience, will take some time away from our “scrolling, pointing, clicking, selecting” to take a closer look at what is going on around us.

John D. Meade
English Department Ambassador

Visiting writer Peter Manson, in a pale linen jacket, stands at the microphone and gestures. Miami University faculty poet cris cheek, in a hand-painted shirt, kilt, and glasses, watches Manson intently.

Peter Manson and cris cheek: a night of poetry

On October 30th, the seats of Irvin 40 filled quickly with poetry enthusiasts, there to see the reading of cris cheek and Peter Manson, two writers hailing from across the pond. Manson is from Glasgow and is the author of a variety of works including a book-length translation titled Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse (Miami University Press). cheek, originally from England, now teaches here at Miami. He has done it all—music, publishing, dancing, and e-poetry. It made for an interesting scene, Scottish and English poets who cut their teeth performing and writing abroad and in online spaces now reading together for a US crowd. The reading was a melting pot of European Anglophone styles, countries, cultures, and languages as each author brought his own flavor to the mix.

cris cheek performed first, prefacing his reading with the assertion that he’s never done a live reading like this one before. He said that he would be firing off twenty-nine poems in roughly twenty-one minutes, warning the audience that verses are going to be coming at them “thick and fast.” cheek has a masterful delivery, presence, and command of the audience. He describes his own work as “all about water and harm.” His poems critique social media, environmental practices, government, and industry, and generally bounce around so much that it can be hard to keep track. The phrases jumped out at us, including:

“Without regulation there is no air.”

“I write for profit.”

“I cannot speak for myself—I cannot tweet!”

“Facebook bears witness to my alcoholic abuse of my children.” (This line, which, like most of the poems, was collaged from found text, was met with much laughter.)

Half of the time, his reading was sold more by the performance than the actual words. In one memorable poem, he repeated the phrase “How to photograph ___”, inserting various words at the end of the sentence and punctuating it with a click and snap of the hands. Another time, he broke out into song, and perhaps most memorably, at one point he signed words at the crowd. It was interesting to consider whether these actions were improvised by him for a live reading, or were part of the paper and ink.

Peter Manson went straight into his poetry without introduction or preamble. Impish and darkly humorous, his work was easier to pin down. He begins with “My Funeral,” a story in the form of a set of instructions on what to do when he is dead: “remove any teeth and their fillings, and dispose them in a hazardous waste facility”; “Light the pyre, run away.” The instructions range from practical to strangely specific (the exact thickness of his coffin’s walls), to humorous (a specific amount of sugar to be poured into the coffin). He finishes the piece with the words “Don’t actually do this.” The audience, transfixed and silent as the grave, burst into laughter. Manson was also somber and introspective, as in the piece “Time Comes For You,” which he opens with “In the ovary of the fetal grandmother is half of the mother, and in the ovary of the mother is half of the unborn son… but enough about me.” He mused about death and what comes afterwards. It was a sharp turn from the previous piece in overall tone, but in subject matter they did overlap. Death seems to be a recurring theme in his work. Manson closed by readings from his aforementioned book of translations, Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse, published by Miami University Press.

These two poets together displayed the breadth of form and style that writing can take, and how live readings breathe new life and meaning into them. From the eclectic, wild performance of cris cheek to the even, measured tone of Peter Manson, the difference in style and delivery could not have been more different, but the two were united in their love and appreciation for the possibilities of poetry.

Jack Renfree
English Department Ambassador