Performance Poet

Albert Vetere Lannon, 65, is a retired union official and former professor of labor studies. The self-described "elder" of a loose-knit group of performance poets runs Uncapped Press, which recently released a chapbook, Poetry Thugs, featuring the work of more than a dozen local poets. He co-hosts, with Kaitlin Meadows, the Wor(l)ds Without Borders Poetry Circle. Besides writing and promoting poetry, Lannon is secretary of the Barrio Blue Moon Neighborhood Association and on the Arizona board of the Southwest Labor Studies Association. He also volunteers as a wildlife tracker for Sky Island Alliance. Earlier this year, Lannon was arrested at downtown's Federal Building for what he describes as "nonviolent civil disobedience" while protesting the invasion of Iraq. Charges were dismissed.

What's the difference between performance poetry and a poetry reading?

A reading is often just that: words read from paper, usually meant for paper in the first place, which is OK, but often boring or, worse, pompous. Poetry performed is dynamic (and) may use props, visuals, music, songs, movement, even audience involvement. The words may work well on paper, but they were designed to be, first and foremost, heard.

You say Uncapped Press is a new idea, but poets have been giving away copies of their chapbooks for years. What makes Uncapped different?

We ask that if the reader likes the book, they send us a donation, and that they purchase something from the independent bookstore they found it in. We hope to actually recoup costs plus have something for the poets, who deserve a payment of some kind for their work. My own chapbook, the first Uncapped Press try, recouped half its costs, plus got sent a little gift from Oregon. We're trying to be consciously uncapitalist.

In many other countries, people have traditionally valued poetry. Why do you think this has not been the case here, and do you see any changes taking place?

Poetry grows out of peoples' oral traditions, which some other countries hold highly, and which Native Americans still practice. Poetry can also be subversive and challenge the status quo; performance poetry reaches a wider audience and can therefore be more subversive, a la Yevtuchenko in the former U.S.S.R. Somehow, in the United States, poetry got relegated to academia, but there are always major exceptions--a lot of pop music (Dylan, etc.), including rap, cowboy poetry, (which has large festivals) slams, etc.

Do you expect more Uncapped Press chapbooks to be published, and if so, when?

I have a San Francisco noir mystery novel with a union official protagonist that begins and ends in Arizona's Superstition Mountains. I may issue that when the spirit moves me.

There are scores of "closet" poets out there. How can someone who wants to "come out," so to speak, get involved with the local poetry scene?

Tucson is poet-friendly, at least off campus. There are a good number of open mic venues--ITL Café, Epic Café, the Lamplight series, Reader's Oasis, women's open mic at Biblio, Wor(l)ds without Borders monthly poetry circle. On page 46 of Poetry Thugs, you'll find several venues. Bookman's and others also have open mics. Hazy Dayz, now closed, made performers out of some of us and brought forth a lot of new talent.

Since it's so difficult for artists, including poets, to support themselves financially via their art, can you tell me what some of the "thugs" do to put food on the table?

I don't know all. Thomas Brinson is about to go to Sri Lanka as part of an international nonviolent peacekeeping force; Dov Diamond managed Hazy Dayz for years, (and I'm) not sure what he's up to now besides being a new father; Teresa Driver is a stage hand, union official and mother of two; Dr. E (Ken Kisser) is a computer programmer; Ishuab Enjoube is the produce manager at Aquavita; The FunKtional Adix (Andre Govino) is a tennis instructor; Austin Publicover has a sheet metal business; Whitney Weirick works in special education; Merrie Wolfie (Mary Bodine) is also a visual artist.

Where can readers find a copy of Poetry Thugs?

Copies of this limited edition of Poetry Thugs are at Reader's Oasis, Bookman's on Grant, Biblio, Antigone, Green Fire Books and the UA Poetry Center.

Is there anything else you want people to know about poetry in Tucson?

Tucson is an amazing place for poetry. Tucson poetry is talked about all over the country.

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