Tag Archives: prose

Marilyn Coffey

May 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in The Encounter May/June 2015 edition.

Somewhere along the continuum of every poem and scrap of prose that ever was and ever will be, Marilyn Coffey’s canon hovers quietly like a fleck of dust swept from the spine of a leather-bound classic.

She was never in it for the fame anyway.

“It’s going to be a very tiny part,” Coffey, 77, says of her contribution to the whole of literary history while holding her thumb and index finger an atom’s width apart, “even if it’s a huge part to me at the end of my life.”

But for those loyal readers of the national prize-winning and internationally published author known for her brazenness and ability to reconcile casual, everyday language with contextually strange words, Coffey will be remembered as a revolutionary. She’ll be remembered as a second-wave feminist who fought for sexual freedom, one lover at a time.

“Any woman who loves/one man and only one man/is mad (or sane),” wrote Coffey in her 1960s poem, “Credo”. “I see it this way: why love one when you can love two/or three or more.”

Coffey was probably damned to put up a fight from the beginning, she says. It’s easy to see why. The author says she was raised in the middle; the middle of nowhere in the middle of the United States in the middle of last century, with an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder and a lot of sexual feelings that she didn’t know what to do with.

“I masturbated a lot and then I found out I wasn’t supposed to,” Coffey admits while laughing off a slight embarrassment for her puritan generation. “I got involved with this Christian youth leader…and that didn’t go well. I actually did try to kill myself at that point in time.”

After religion failed to exorcise her lust, she says, Coffey denounced her faith and eventually left the comforts of her home state. She found inspiration in a brand new novel called On the Road by a then relatively unknown Jack Kerouac.

“And then I left and I went on the road,” she says, pausing as if she still doesn’t believe it to this day. “I went on the road…I went on the road and it was definitely an experience, not like his [Kerouac’s], but it was like mine—it was an experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise if I hadn’t read On the Road.”

Her trip lasted about a year before she landed in New York for roughly the next 30 years. It was in Greenwich Village where Coffey started her discourse on female masturbation through her adolescent heroine, Marcella, and where she won the Pushcart Prize for “Pricksong,” a poem described by the Los Angeles Times as “a wry poem about an obscene houseplant.”

“I was so delighted that it was that poem that was recognized,” Coffey says, weighing the award’s fatalistic importance, “because had it been one of my more conventional poems, I would’ve felt the push to behave like you’re supposed to.”


Verbal Gumbo

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Felicia Webster’s voice produces chills up the spine. “And then he kiiiiissssssed me, and I melted. Like buttah.”

Her friend, Michelle Troxclair, nods and waves a hand. “Mhm, girl, we know what that’s like.”

This is spoken-word entertainment. It’s theatrical, it’s heartfelt, it’s ethereal, and it happens every third Thursday of the month at House of Loom on 10th and Pacific streets. This is not your safe-bet night out. The words you’ll hear could be dark, could be sexy, could be hilarious. It could be anything really, which is why Webster and Troxclair, the open-mic evening’s organizers, call this night Verbal Gumbo.

Troxclair arranges the club’s random chaise lounges, velvet chairs, and embroidered hassocks on the dance floor. Webster picks out the candles and incense. If guests outnumber the usual crowd of around 70, there might be a few people standing. A $5 cover charge gets you a simple meal, like Troxclair’s white chicken chili or her brother’s highly requested mac-and-cheese.

The evening begins around 7 p.m., giving guests enough time to sign up to speak if they wish, get their bowl, and settle into a seat. Troxclair is strict about minimizing distraction during the spoken word sets that begin about 8-ish. Of course, feel free to get up from your seat to wait for the massage therapist set up in the corner or the body painter off to the side as someone else speaks at the mic.

“For those who haven’t come here before,” Webster explains, “they’ll find out that it doesn’t matter what order you sign up in.”20130321_bs_8812

Troxclair laughs and says, “It’s whoever I’m feeling like hearing at the time.” The two women make sure speakers alternate male and female, but other than that, there are few rules. People offer poetry about anything from relationships to violence to the triumph of breaking cycles. “Sometimes it’s comedic,” Troxclair says, “but there’s always a message.”

The only requirement is that “you respect the mic,” as Webster puts it. Verbal Gumbo creates a flow between audience and speaker, almost a conversation. The speaker shares his work, and the audience participates in the performance by responding verbally when something resonates.

“Say yes, say amen, say all right, honey!” Troxclair suggests. “You’re validating what they’re saying.”

About 15 people speak per night for about three to five minutes apiece. If time’s not running tight, each person should feel free to offer two pieces. A short intermission makes room for a few public service announcements and to refill a drink.

Felicia Webster

Felicia Webster

If the easily stage-frightened start to come out of their shells as the evening progresses, all bets are not off. Walk back to the sign-up sheet, add your name, and you’ll probably be called on. Deliver your offering with confidence that whatever you bring will be accepted. “This is not The Apollo,” Webster says. “You don’t get the hook.”

Let’s be clear. Verbal Gumbo is not another poetry slam. A poetry slam is an entertaining competition. “Spoken word incorporates storytelling,” Troxclair says, separating spoken word from slam. “It can be prose or poetry.” Historically, it’s an artistic—and sometimes secret—way to spread information. It’s an oral tradition shared by Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and many other cultures.

“You are disseminating information to get people to think, to move, to change, to progress, to become empowered,” Webster says. That recipe ensures that Verbal Gumbo, like its culinary counterpart, is savory, spicy, and never the same twice.

Sample the next Verbal Gumbo on Thursday, May 16, or Thursday, June 20.