High Voltage: An open mic veteran tries to breathe new life into poetry readings.
C.A. Leibow: I started the first poetry reading that had ever been in Provo, in 1993.
CW: What was that called?
CAL: It was called the Atomic Mic Night. And it was in a bar, ABG’s, and we did it once a month, and it was really cool because at the time, there really were no poetry readings in Provo. It was a little … out there. We had a schizophrenic guy that would come around and read poetry, and it was great because he would always write poems about Cardinal Richelieu.
CW: Where did Cabaret Voltage come from?
CAL: About four years ago, [co-founder] Mike McLane and I were just talking about the arts scene in Salt Lake [City], and the type of thing that we would like to see and how there was nothing around. At the time I was reading a lot of Dada history and what they were doing, and Michael and I were coming up with some Dada ideas, things we could do during the summer … We went to the Urban Lounge [to stage Cabaret Voltage], and they were really supportive for a couple of years, and then, as the shows went on, people started coming out of the woodwork.
And that is what I like about Cabaret Voltage: You’ll get somebody in who has never been to school, has never published a book, and maybe it is their first time reading. And maybe they will blow you away. Sometimes they are just no good, but at the same time, there is something really beautiful about that. What Michael and I were trying to do was create an environment that was egalitarian, that brought people in at all levels, and that treated them the same.
CW: How did it end?
CAL: Well [sighs], a couple of things. After just doing it for two years, burnout factor. A challenge was finding enough people to really do it. I mean, we were doing it every two weeks.
CW: What brought about Cabaret Voltage this second time?
CAL: There’s really nothing out there like it. I feel that right now the readings in town are kind of in need of life support. And, like that second show, we had Eli, who plays his cello down there at the Broadway … I mean I didn’t have my band, they couldn’t make it, and I’m walking around going what am I going to do? And Eli, he wasn’t in his spot over at the Broadway, but I see him on the street, I know him pretty well, and I go, ‘hey, I need someone to play, do you want to play?’ And then he comes, and it is that electric moment.
CW: Could you speak a bit about the current venue [Nobrow Coffee]?
CAL: [Owner] Joe [Evans] created a little place in the community; it is really centered around art and music. It’s a kind of center for the exchange of artistic ideas, and it tends to be a little more eclectic. You go to some place like Coffee Garden which is a really nice coffee place, but … it has its own kind of socioeconomic feel to it.
And here, being on Broadway, and the kind of Broadway renaissance, this is just the perfect venue. Joe’s always been supportive.
CW: Is anything the same or different this time around? And why or why not?
CAL: It is not at a bar. People are … they listen more. I mean, in a bar, they listen, but it was very in and out. Which is OK; it would challenge the reader to really grab their attention. And you could see it, some could do it. Hector Amato, people’d be loud as shit, and he’d come up, and here’s this old Chilean guy and bam! he just got them. I saw other people who have had books published, and who are respected, and, you know, they lose an audience in a bar automatically.
And that was really fun, in its own way, but when it comes back to reading something more meaningful, the audience here seems more in tune to be willing to give you a chance, to actually listen, instead of just to be entertained.
CW: Tell me about your book that is now out and about.
CAL: I just self-published a book of American haiku, it’s called Small Things. I have a second one out, Written on the Body, which is some more haiku, and some erotic senryu, and that should be coming out shortly.
Nobrow Coffee & Tea
315 E. 300 South
5 Spot |
Local poet and Cabaret Voltage co-founder
Local poet and Cabaret Voltage co-founder Chris Leibow will read at Ken Sanders Rare Books (268 S. 200 East, 521-3819) on Friday, May 30 at 7 p.m. He will be joined by fellow poet and longtime colleague Michael McLane.
It is said you are a poet and a jack of all trades. What was your most bizarre job?
The job didn’t have an actual title. I was a tiny wire dipper. The wires were used in POS machines and the guy I worked for didn’t want to invest in a machine to do the job. So I sat there eight hours a day dipping each end of a tiny wire, about an inch long into this small vat of solder. It seemed so futile, especially after I stopped sleeping with the boss’s daughter.
Which job did you like the least?
Bouncer/driver for escorts. Do you have to ask?
As you are now a poet with a master’s degree, what work are you doing now? or what job are you seeking?
Writing and really trying to figure out life. The real reason for a master’s degree in poetry is to take two years to write and push yourself. Being a poet rarely has anything to do with “working” or gainful employment. When was the last time you saw a job announcement for a poet? I have been looking in the classifieds for years! As Robert Graves has said, “To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession.”
Why should CW readers attend your reading?
Michael McLane and I are different poets than what most attendees are used to. We both write to our own weirdly beautiful ghosts and play off of each other well. And yet, we are very different poets, or should I say, we have different approaches at translating our experiences. After the reading, they will leave having heard some beautiful things.
In 2004, you co-founded the Cabaret Voltage. Why did you start it?
Michael McLane and I were complaining about the arts in Salt Lake City. We were talking about the kind of shows or a type of venue we would love to see, that kind of venue where everyone can come together: writers, painters, musicians, dancers and the like in one spot. We were looking for a communal center. So we decided to create it ourselves. At our one-year anniversary, we had over 200 people show. The thing that Michael and I were most proud of is that CV was always welcoming to artist of all levels of craft. We worked hard at keeping it egalitarian. Unfortunately, we were not able to make a deeper community of artists.
Cabaret Voltage has been on hiatus while you studied outside the state. Do you have plans to revive it?
No. CV gave birth to the Ruckus at Club Orange. Using the same format but less egalitarian and a lot more hip. They have a great draw and it has its own energy. I am now working on Cabaret Voltage Online (CabaretVoltageOnline.wordpress.com) same idea but virtual. We will see where that goes.
When and how did poetry grab hold of you?
I was older, I start everything late. I played a little with poetry when I was younger but it was external to myself. It changed in a used book store, I was 27. In picking up the Duino Elegies off a shelf, I had never heard of Rainer Maria Rilke before. I read the first elegy, then the second, then the third and so on. It was then, at that moment, I realized that poetry was for me and I was for poetry. It has been a troubled but beautiful love affair.
What did getting your master’s degree in poetry impress upon you?
Two things. A writer needs to write, and a writer needs to learn to push the writing to an honest place, to have the courage to face the abyss that is yourself and write about it.