This is an excerpt from Movement Matters, an interview series from the arts publication Sixty Inches From Center, by writer Michael Workman; it investigates art at the intersection of dance, performance, politics, policy and issues related to the body as the locus of these and related socio-cultural dialogues on race, gender, and ability.
This installment touches on the topics of being a genderqueer parent and early days of bringing poetry to the stage with Andy Karol, a writer whose work has been featured at Green Mill's Uptown Poetry Slam, Salonathon, LitMash, Center on Halsted, CAKE, Homolatte, Spilled Milk Open Mic, Women & Children First Bookstore and so many others.
Michael Workman: How did you first get involved in performance poetry?
Andy Karol: Well, about six years ago, I was dating someone who was really into performance poetry. I didn't know much about it at the time. They shared some books and videos with me, and I was like, "Okay, this is good stuff." They also mentioned how "we" need to check out the poetry slam at the Green Mill some day. Then, they brought me to a show where Andrea Gibson was performing at Northwestern, and I just felt so damn much. I mean, I was overwhelmed with feelings. And I saw how everyone else was so effected in that audience. While walking to the car I kept joking around and talking in non-stop metaphors and trying to be all lyrical, but there was a very serious part of me that knew I needed to write. And thank God I was driving because I was probably so annoying that I'd have been left there in that parking lot alone with my eureka moment had I not been the one with the keys.
So, anyway, that was a pretty passionate relationship ( read: we broke up and got back together way too much! ), and after I was dumped pretty hard this one time, I took my broken pieces to the Green Mill to see what this slam poetry thing was all about. That was in September of 2012, but I remember exactly where I was sitting. That night, there was a joke onstage going between the MC's because supposedly, one of them, J.W. Basilo, hadn't written a love poem ever to his then-girlfriend. So, he and Marc Smith, the founder of slam poetry, came up with a contest and said they'd award three bucks to whoever could write the best love poem during the break, and then the winning poem, voted by the audience, would be said to the girlfriend over the phone during the show. Well, I wrote my poem on a cocktail napkin, included a bunch of kinky carnival metaphors, and won by audience vote. I was shaking so badly on that stage, but it felt so damn good being there. I still have that napkin somewhere in a box, by the way.
Anyway, that was how I first got into this world of performance poetry.
MW: You have an 8-year old son. How has it been being a parent through all of this? What lessons would you like him to learn from you about finding and being yourself?
AK: It has been an adventure. My son, Noah, is amazing. All parents think that about their own kids, right? I think of him every step of the way. That's something that makes me different than other poets without kids. For instance, I had a great show last night and came home feeling ecstatic and just grateful, you know? But then I thought about Noah and how I haven't seen him in two days because of co-parenting and rehearsals and me needing time to work on things like memorization, and I felt this deep sadness and missed him immensely. And these two days will extend to four days due to holidays and more rehearsals I have.
I love what I do, but there is sacrifice involved. It's tough because I also know that if I don't let this creative self out and be my best, hardworking self, then I'm also not as good of a parent as I could be to him. I've had weeks away from him at a time because of tours or slam commitments, but I know I'm showing him that life doesn't stop when you're an adult. I know I'm showing Noah that following dreams is the only way to live. Noah, like most kids, is pretty observant and sees how his mom is not like most, or any, other moms he knows. I think he's still proud of me though. Once I had him at an open mic, and he was helping run the bake sale. I think he was six at the time. When I went onstage to perform, he wrote on his iPad that the bake sale was closed. He wanted no sales during my performance!
I know I'm lucky to have him in my life. I hope one day he can look back and know I did my best. I hope he's never afraid to be himself, to feel emotions, and to live the best life he can, even in a world that tries to tell you who you are before you can show them everything you're not. I hope every day he's thinking, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"
Read the full interview and more coverage of Chicago art + culture at SixtyInchesFromCenter.org .