Alan Mudd on Bouldering Poets

The popular reading series, Bouldering Poets, returns this month to Trident Booksellers and Café (940 Pearl Street). Three features and an open mic, beginning at 8pm on September 20th. Perhaps this is all we need to hear about it. A valued and valuable avenue for performers and performance space continues to reach out to/within Boulder. Amen. The End. Come to the show!

The lineup: Lisa Flowers, Tootles Methuselah (music), Hannah Kezema, and an open mic with a real reputation for legit performances … this evening promises variety and energy. Amen. Amen. Amen. Come to the show!


          here’s a little story about what’s been happening with the series. Elyse Brownell—who arrived in Boulder in the spring semester of 2012, whose experiments with poetic spaces began here in living rooms, in pavement-pounding the array of available venues, who continues to seek out those who are active in the Front Range and in Boulder, who has sought successfully against no small amount of adversity to connect this local conversation to other local conversations in an array of geographies—is taking her instincts into new spheres. Chris Shugrue is also moving on from his role as documenter/host of the open mic/co-organizer/midpoint howler. These two missionaries of the good work of poetry will be reaching out to community with a new and exciting and as-yet unannounced performative endeavor, acting to expand the already expansive conversation of this local series. But they will no longer be curating the event, which leaves some mythic space to fill.

 And as it happens, they’ve handed the reigns over to Ellie Swensson and Mike Malpiedi, both MFA candidates at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, with Forrest (Asalott) Lotterhos—BP’s once and future king of melodic, percussive arrangements—now heading up the sonic ambassadorship of Bouldering Poets: All in all, an ambitious turn of events certain to yield an expansive variety of sonic explorations, lullabies, taunts, rhythms, experimental and straightforward rows of poetical and musical force.


          there was a meeting at Back Country to transfer operations of BP from its founder to its new stewards, Elyse swayed and shifted opinions on the name the whole conversation long. She was handing something over. What was it if not a name? Nothing to give you but a name. Name after name. Bouldering Poets is just some words to put on a flyer. Bouldering Poets is something people rally behind. The name is so hard to let go of, it’s meaningless. I want it. You have it. Go ahead. Keep it. I miss it. Do what you want. You should keep the music. I’m sad.

 It’s easy to see how much Elyse has given in service to a performing community that reaches out the borders of the crowded village of Boulder. As she waffles on the name, I think how much this name has named her to herself in a defining moment of her artfully engaged life. Jonathan and I pepper the talk with little here and there questions. No one remembers it was Jonathan who got everyone started on venues, explain it away as a strange digression.

 A sentimental gravity came over the table. Forrest must be invited back. Elyse insists. (No one argues, but she continues insisting). Bouldering Poets is just as much his.


          Ellie, Mike, and I, on Ellie’s porch on a Sunday morning to talk event spaces. I want to know how these poets plan to play with others:

 Ellie:  Elyse made a beautiful thing that was larger than herself. Bouldering Poets is not me and Mike, it IS NOT. We’re going to switch off hosting all the time, manage the venues. Asa’s doing the music. I want to decentralize the crap out of this. I want to use our presence as a way to open spaces for others. I want to make that super clear.

 Mike:  I used to curate readings at Bridgewater State in Massachusetts, a poetry group that I founded with a few other folk. We did somewhat slam poetry, other people did whatever they wanted, a space where everyone kind of came together. We had Mongolian throat chanting one night. I don’t know. We did a lot with that. It was very odd to start from the ground up again. This for me is trying to get back into that. I want to be into building that kind of space that’s [highly] inviting.  

 Ellie: And now I’m thinking about sightlines.

:I’m thinking about it pedagogically, where you look at your classroom and think about the best way to house the information that’s going to be happening and flowing around in the room. There are the Naropa PAC readings: dark rooms, spotlights, plants, it’s really elegant. The full moon in the alley has the underlying philosophy of chaos and it can be beautiful because it’s a space that the moon inhabits. I’ve seen Elyse craft a space, not of elevated high honor, but eye to eye honor, making a weekend event where people don’t think twice, for instance, about paying a cover to see poetry because it’s a really good time. People really enjoy themselves.

 Ellie: Sightlines—at Naropa the sightlines are like this. [Her hands are going diagonally] At the moon the sightlines are kind of… {I can think of no way to properly describe the erratic gesture}. And at BP I want the sightlines to be direct and equal. A mutual engagement. I loved the reading at No Ropes where there was no microphone. I want to read among the books sometimes, in the winter months. Something cozy sometimes maybe. I want to bring in storytellers.


Mike: (he describes a number of venues and what works well and doesn’t work as well, what compels people, what encourages people to converse) a quiet space.

:What sort of quiet.

 Mike: If you really enjoy a piece, engage, but I want to find a way to eliminate the thing where people are just there in the audience but just talking to their friends.

 :How do you do that?

 Mike: Pacing. More or less. Keeping the flow going and the energy up. That’s what I want to do as an MC.

 : I watched Elyse’s relationship to the name of Bouldering Poets go in a million different directions at that meeting with you guys. Why the name?

 Mike: why add to the noise of everyone starting from scratch. We’re interested in all these (poetic) communities [there are many in Boulder, Tribe, you know this] having places to come together.

 Ellie: For me, this is a reading series this community needs. Elyse did a great job of building that structure and I don’t know why I’d need to burn that down. It’s occupied such a successful part of our community. She has two years of contacts, we can use those as a community. It’s not about me having something with my name on it. We can use the tools available to us to make sure that this part of the community stays working.


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