Read Penelope Starr’s musings about Monsoon Voices and other local spoken word happenings on her Tucson Citizen blog. Her series is called “Telling Stories” where she “explores all things spoken word”. For the past five years, Penelope has been the delightful director and host of Tucson’s successful event called Odyssey Storytelling.

Esteemed poet and Monsoon Voices performer Karen Legg has kindly painted her observations about the Monsoon Voices experience in her blog, Beachglass Blues. Abridged versions of her reviews follow, and extended posts are available on Karen’s blog:

On her Web site, writer Diane Owens also shares her thoughts after attending the June 12th Monsoon Voices. Click here to read the article or visit Diane’s website for information about her books, workshops and writing groups:

Another Cool Monsoon Voices
  by Karen Legg    (written June 14th, 2009) 

The evening of June 12th fell in the middle of a cold snap—a Phoenix cold snap, with the temperature not topping 100 degrees for two weeks running. So a little group of us gathered at Unlimited Coffee to share some warmth, heart to heart, and make the best of the chilly evening. A fine Friday for some voices just before the monsoon.

For once I get to the room early, get a spot at the great table, and watch the room fill in around me. Seven laptops are flipped open and three ‘analog’ writers scrawl around the room. The setting sun slants across the whatever writing surface gets in its way. Luckily, a tall laptop-user is shading me from the rays.

I spot Traci and Patrick ducking out the east door as I come in from the west. They’d set up the table with the sign-in-for news list and the love donation vase. They’re so soft-sell.

So far the mood is totally mellow. Will it build? We’ve had a mellow night or two, but we’ve had plenty where the crowd and the ice-cruncher battled for dominance.

During my noting, the room has filled in. Maryann McCullough greets me and introduces me to “Betsy”. With my usual grace I tell Betsy how great it is to finally meet her, and how much I enjoyed taking her online course last year. The look on her face is one I’ve seen so often: once again, I have enthusiastically made a fool of myself. This is not the Betsy Andrews I knew from the digital world; this is an analog Betsy McPhee who terms herself a new writer but later shows herself to be an old soul. But she’s gracious and the awkward moment passes quickly.

I take a moment to order an iced mocha, and a man comes in and stands near me at the counter. “Wow, what’s going on in here?” he breathes out, stunned by the fullness of the room. He’s young and sandy haired, disheveled and windblown, and he might even be half my age. I smile at him.

“We’re going to read some crazy poetry and short essay, fun stuff. It’s a cheery group.”
“Cool. I can get into that.” He smiles back.

The Moores welcome everyone and call on Catania Larson, our first reader.  Catania offers up five poems and they are lovely, well-formed, diverse observations of life. The first, ‘Voice’ (how appropriate to the reading) discusses the sound of life running through life. ‘Merry’ (a Christmas poem) visits with past holiday Catanias. ‘The Spider’, which Catania shyly announced as a sonnet, certainly is a good one, in which a busy spider gets a meal she almost couldn’t handle, but does. ‘Happiness is…’ exults in the moments of pleasure, day to day. ‘The Moroccan Box’ holds a precious mundane treasure, because the extraordinary treasures can’t be fit in boxes. Catania celebrates the treasures of her life in every words she writes.

Then Patrick introduces me. I read an essay called ‘Mosquitoes,’ which is in its seventh incarnation since last fall. That poor essay! It’s been long and short and funny and bitter and sweet. This group gets the short version, which they seem to like. They laugh at the right places. As a humor writer, you come to love the laughs that come in the right places. The ones that come in the wrong places, you learn to work with.

Candice Aragon sings two songs as I resume breathing at my seat. Candice is 23 and lovely and so talented. Her first song, ‘Pitter patter,’ is a sad song to wrap around your shoulders, rain against the window. She helps us move on with ‘Your old Heart,’ a cheery love song full of wild rhymes and exultant repeated “I love you”s that sweep us into the break.

During the break, I visit with the restroom. At Unlimited Coffee, the restroom is very personable. It’s an old friend. In fact, once you go in and sit down, you get a message: “I am sensitive. Please hold down my handle for at least 5 seconds, and be sparing in your use of paper. Thank you.” It’s signed “The Unlimited Toilets” and has a self-portrait off to one side. It always makes me feel like family. There’s a chance that reflects badly on my concept of family. If it does, blame it on my brothers.

We start again with Maryann McCullough at the mic. Maryann is a veteran writer and the essay she reads is recently published in A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II. I am steeled up, determined not to cry in front of all these folks, but Maryann saves me: the essay is funny and she delivers it wonderfully, and pulls out after saying that she and her companion are aging gracefully.

Susan Vespoli, who claims to have ‘moved to a shack in the forest to attend poetry school,’ makes me wish I could go find that shack. It must have poetry magic in it. Susan tells us that this is only ‘my second time reading in public, and my first without tequilia.’ She belied her words with the ease of her reading. Where are all these graceful women from, anyway? She reads ‘Another Nice Thing about Dogs’ and ‘Daylilies.’ You can read ‘Another Nice Thing’ at the Monsoon Voices blog, but if you do, be sure to imagine a beautiful woman with easy humor reading it. ‘Daylilies’ is about the aftermath of an argument, and after she reads it she gets a big hug from the other argument participant, which makes us all clap even harder.

Candice finishes up the evening with three more songs. On the last of them she instructs us all to clap, because it’s a clapping song. We clap, and we are enthusiastic clappers, but we are not good at it. A roomful of writers! Bright cheery, good writers.

If you’ve never treated yourself to Monsoon Voices, talk to your therapist. You deserve this kind of easy happiness. We all do.

Friday the 13th Blueschaser
  by Karen Legg      (written February 16th, 2009)

On Friday the Thirteenth of February, the Monsoon Voices gathered again at Unlimited Coffee on Glendale Avenue to fight off any sinister omens and take joy in spoken and sung stories. What a fine night it was!

Gary Bowers presented a surprisingly un-acrostic set of poems that nonetheless amazed the assembly. Elizabeth Early, a “recent transplant from Chicago” read a fictional memoir of deafness, stunningly vivid, colorful, heartrending. Bakeem Lloyd’s powerful poetry did not disappoint us.

Lighter moments were offered by Paula Ashley’s nature poetry, although even she reminded us somehow of the sorry state we’ve fallen into. Heather Hanssard’s quite optimistic views cheered us, and Kevin Hall, who calls himself a ‘blue-collar poet,’ made us laugh, and then nearly cry. Blue collar, perhaps, but top-notch.

Two women that I’m lucky enough to be in a class with this semester read memoir. Maryann McCullough told us about growing up very Irish and very Catholic in inner-city Chicago. Sandra Yee read “Chinglish as a Second Language,” leading us through her adventures growing up with multiple linguistic influences that led to multiple confusions. We should all be so challenged!

Iain Walinck, a gifted guitarist, sang us a range of folk songs about the working man’s struggles in tough economic times. It served to remind us that for some there are always tough economic times, and the best you can do sometimes is laugh.

The evening flashed past. Monsoon Voices hosts Traci and Patrick Moore are masters at choosing and presenting lively readings, and the casual setting at Unlimited makes it easy for everyone to lighten up, even while sharing excellent writing on some tough topics. It all happens again in April — hope to see you there.


Voices for the Solstice  by Karen Legg      (written December 29th, 2008)

Monsoon Voices finished a terrific year of literary sharing and celebration on December 19th at Unlimited Coffee. If you haven’t gone by Unlimited, either for a reading, a drink, or a gelato, you should know that the building began life as a Pizza Hut. Red brick walls and large windows surround the once-dining room. Down the center of the room, a table worthy of a CEO’s boardroom runs north to south; performers stand at the north end, with Glendale Avenue and neon window signs behind them. At the south end of the room the coffee/gelato magic happens.

On Friday night the returning readers all seemed to pull up chairs at the big table. There were at least five of us, not counting our reader-hosts, Traci and Patrick. The room was surprisingly filled for the last Friday before Christmas. I sort of thought we’d be reading only to each other. Maybe people found it more satisfying to be in a full reading than an empty department store. Maybe word has gotten out that Monsoon Voices is a great time.

I was lucky enough to be invited to read and it was a great way to spend part of the winter solstice. I intended to riff on the solstice before reading, but on Friday I ran through the piece one more time before the show and realized that it was written off an assignment in a class this fall. I decided to mention how beneficial I find being in class: the motivation, the inspiration. The deadlines. So I talked about that, then read “Red Silk iPod,” which made people laugh in many of the right places. I finished with “Dieting at Christmas,” one of those ditzy poems that people (with the exception of magazine editors) always seem to like. But I was the last reader, and before me, there were treasures:

Steven Lufkin – guitars and vocals – This 15 year old marvel pleased the crowd with several well-crafted songs of his own creation. We got the feeling that his talent would develop beautifully in the fullness of time. Then he played “Hey Joe” from Jimi Hendrix. He mastered “Hey Joe.” The guitar that had only supported his words earlier now blasted us, slaughtered us, enthralled us. I can’t wait to see this kid smack the world in the eye.

Rosemarie Dombrowski – Editor of ‘merge’ magazine – this terrific poet treated us to two short personal essays: “Flour, sugar, stir, repeat,” and “Converse.” Both were polished, funny, memorable. I hope poetry can hang on to her, but fear that prose might win.

bakeem lloyd – poetry – this is the first time I’ve met bakeem but I know it won’t be the last – he read two long poems: ‘Jigsaw Puzzle in Reverse,’ and ‘The Mating Habits of Binary Stars.’ bakeem seemed shy, quiet; his poetry is powerful and deep. He reads beautifully. I think we’ll all hear more about him.

Pascal Marco – longtime newspaper man and new essayist – read us ‘Heliotrope,’ the story of meeting his wife of thirty years at the age of seventeen. Pascal brings us the humor and joy of his life. We’re lucky.

Jessica Standifird – introduced as ‘a poet heavily into the local scene’ which she promptly told us might be true, but she feels “not nearly as accomplished as that might seem to imply.” All of us who strive to read in public can empathize, but she’s wrong in her own case: this poet has got it on. She read us several excellent pieces, and I hope the print outlets are picking up on them.

Sarah Moore – young happy college student – this bright light has a lot to share. Like so many good writers, she took a small moment–losing her keys in a forest—and spun it into a story that threw light on the kindness and wonder of the world; and did it all while making us laugh.

Shawnte Orion – another regular on the local scene, this one with a loyal fan base, several of whom were there to cheer him on. If they hadn’t come, well, no worries; the rest of us made enough noise to cover it. He gave us a sermon on the creation of Phoenix by the god L.A. Shawnte has a good time with his writing, and happily, so do the rest of us.

Anyway, if you weren’t there in 2008, I hope you’ll be inspired to come listen in 2009. Monsoon Voices is a great time. Treat yourself to it.

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