Beth Lisick and Justin Chin In Person
"I've been doing a series at this local trendy retro supper club," Lisick said last week from her San Francisco home. "The musicians (Iggy Pop's drummer Larry Mullens and Vudi from American Music Club) do this electronic noise drone thing and I read really, really slowly. Mostly poem-type things. It's extremely dark and arty which is so far from who I am. I almost feel like I'm in some sort of sketch comedy bit. Last week, my boyfriend saw a girl in the audience pantomiming slitting her wrists. That was pretty good. I also read in a senior center while they were eating lunch. A man told me I reminded him of Carol Burnett!"
Lisick's stop in Austin on Saturday, along with fellow San Francisco poet Justin Chin, is part of a seven-week, 32-city tour to promote her debut book Monkey Girl, released by Manic D Press last spring. She and Chin, who also released a Manic D book last spring, Bite Hard, have branched out into myriad performance arenas, but work from a base in the National Poetry Slam circuit, having participated in both the '95 and '96 competitions. Monkey Girl is a coherent, fast-moving collection of poems and short fiction pieces detailing her adventures across both sterile suburban and chaotic urban landscapes, but Lisick admits the conversion from mike-based work to work for the page presented her with more of a challenge than she initially anticipated.
"It was a rather difficult process for me," she explained. "The book came about because I was active in the spoken word scene, so nearly every piece in the book was written to be read out loud. When [Manic D publisher] Jennifer [Joseph] asked me to do a book, I was mildly horrified. I wondered if maybe some things were not meant to ever appear on a page anywhere. Then I came to my senses and said, `Screw it! I want a darn book.' If people go nuts for Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, why not print a few copies of my dopey stories?"
Because Lisick's strengths lie in expositional narrative and capturing not only her own glib, off-the-cuff voice, but the voices of ready-made characters who enter into her life, the conversion from stage to page is actually more natural than Lisick might let on. Chin's work, although propelled by his gruff Malaysian-tinged accent and comically flat affect, is more visually driven than Lisick's work, often relying on ampersands and abbreviated words to whip his often-challenging, often-sexual, often-raw pieces into a more frenetic clip.
Says Chin of converting his work to book form, "I'm not just a performance poet. I do a lot of performance art and a lot of plain ol' writing. I realize that some folks know me just by one facet of my artistic endeavors or another. A lot of the work in the book is not performance poetry per se. They're in the book because I think they are damn good pieces and that they say something. I like my work to exist in different forms.They can do different things and reveal different things."
Lisick and Chin will read on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 3:30pm at BookPeople and at 8:30pm with members of the 1997 Austin Poetry Slam Team and the Austin Poetry Ensemble at the Electric Lounge. -- Phil West