By Alice Beecher
When Buddy Wakefield set out to become a poet, he gave up his job with the intention to “Live for a Living,” by letting go of life’s banalities to discover what this ‘being human’ deal is really all about. At the ‘Sco on Wednesday night, Oberlin students got to sample a bit of that quixotic journey.
Anis Mojgani, Buddy Wakefield, and Mike McGee (replacing Derrick Brown for this section of the tour) comprise The Night Kite Revival, a group of spoken word artists performing some of the best slam poetry in the country. Beyond presenting artfully crafted metaphors, this band of romantics aims to entertain its audience in the fullest sense of the word, using both humor and conversation to warm up an often unapproachable art form. Opening up their performance by enthusiastically embracing the kid sitting next to me and threatening to “turn our urine solid” with poetic delight, the three presented a refreshingly down to earth departure from Oberlin’s formal academic poetry scene.
Two student poets welcomed a comfortably crowded venue with poems about relationships and brotherhood, delivered in an emphatic, slam-oriented style well received by the finger snapping audience. In particular, Taylor Johnson’s rhythmic, sensuous piece about the volatility of love used original imagery to enliven an overdone topic. The fact that many of the audience members were from Cleveland or surrounding colleges illustrates the fame and magnetic appeal of The Night Kite Revival, whose members have toured across the country and won international slam competitions.
Sauntering up to the stage wearing hospital robes and cave digging headlights, the three poets made their intent to get us “out of our everyday badness” immediately apparent. Starting off the night with the poem “Come Into Me,” Anis Mojgani demanded our emotional engagement and gave us an open invitation to access both his and our own humanity. Of all the performers, Anis had the best stage presence, delivering poems with transporting imagery and impeccably delicate gestures. At one point, he brought out a ukulele to strum under a poem, entrancing the audience with lines like “Time is supposed to be more than skin,” and “Some women’s legs are built like confessionals.” Yet for all his mystic elegance, Anis is as down to earth as he is cerebral—his poetry moves you in your gut, conjures a force beyond intellectual analysis.
In contrast to Mojgani’s gentle sincerity, Mike McGee’s tragicomic treatises on spurned love provided an amusingly crass element to the night. McGee loves his women like “muppets like fisting” and “lazy-boys like asses,” but he’s honest enough to admit (or loudly rant) that woman never actually fall in love with guys for their sense of humor. His ridiculous, sardonic exterior belies a heart that’s gone through its fair share of harm.
Lightening the mood for a quick interlude, the three poets strutted up on stage for a Short Poem series, during which Buddy Wakefield delivered what was possibly the funniest poem of the night: “When I went to houses as a little kid, the first thing I did was look for the toys. If they said they did not have any toys…(long, grumpy pause)…I’d be like WHAT THE FUCK??”
Of all the performers, Buddy was the most openly eccentric and visually captivating. His body convulsed with the words his mind could barely contain, his presence commanding the reverence and gravitas of a prophet. Walking up on stage in a red military jacket and a distant gleam in his eyes, Buddy delivered poems that revealed a complex attitude toward love and God but cohered around the idea that “life is not a goddamn tragedy,” however often it hurts you. Thick with killer lines and dense imagery, Wakefield’s poems are cold therapy for anyone who’s ever felt “not entirely comfortable being human”.
Although some poems were a bit overdramatized by Timmy Straw’s brooding musical accompaniment, Buddy delivered his pieces with the control and enthusiasm of a master entertainer. Many of his pieces centered around his beliefs about human fulfillment or divinity (“Spare yourself the futility of making fun of God” and “If God created us in his image he smushed fire ants with his finger tips and avoided tough questions”), but he comes across as more of a nervous shmuck than an all knowing preacher. In his last piece of the night, “The Information Man,” Buddy admitted that his poems are “just things he tells himself” late at night, his performance more a presentation of his own vulnerability than any otherworldly wisdom.
The Night Kite Revival is not asking us to believe wholeheartedly in any of the advice they offer, nor do they expect us to cry more than we laugh at any of their performances. But as poets, they do remind us of connections we are all too often blind to, the deeper joys and anxieties we suppress in the dullness of our daily routines. They recognize poetry can be as unapologetically entertaining as it is revelatory and sorrowful, and they leave their audiences feeling like they’ve witnessed something beyond categorization, halfway between an artistic masterpiece and an intimate conversation with old friends. Words on a page are poor approximation of their talent, and I would encourage everyone to check them out on youtube or check them out wherever they wander to next.