"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."
"Poet Laureate" Michael Klam fuses poetry with anarchy-a formula for chaos sure to create cracks in any conventional system. But sometimes something has to break in order for the light to shine through. Only then can society begin to see things clearly and examine itself objectively. Klam, a teacher at Marshall School in City Heights by day and performance poet by night, says, "A lot of folks are walking around in this sort of porcelain shell-protected and sheltered, yet also fragile. You can break down their perspectives if you can just get in there, or if they would allow themselves to think a little bit beyond their own microcosms.
"Poetry is communal," Klam believes, and is therefore involved in various forums relating to poetry and spoken word. Poetix.net, a website created by a group in Los Angeles, connects poets from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. Each town has its own editor, and Klam edits the San Diego chapter, providing poetry and performance news for the area. He attends various events around town to see what's going on, then reports back in a forum where other spoken-word artists can read about it. "I try to highlight at least one open event where they incorporate spoken word in some sort of way," Klam says.
Having won at various poetry slams, Klam now acts as moderator and host of several spoken-word events, including the Museum of the Living Artist, Voz Alta and the Anarchist Think Tank, a group of San Diego poets bent on shaking things up and sharing ideas.
"We're trying to do something different than your typical poetry meetings or readings where you sit quietly in the "house of poetry,' Klam says. "In a sense, we're trying to wake people up. Of course we're interested in chaos to see what happens, and kind of turn something on, and see how far people will go. We would fail as a group if our audience was tame and not getting involved in some way."
San Diego Art Institute houses the Museum of the Living Artist, whose mission is to support local and regional artists. "Balboa Park-and museums, in general-tend to support dead folks," Klam says, "so we want to bring people who are creating art now, mostly folks who are on the cutting edge and have developed their craft in a way that makes it sort of feature-ready or exhibition-ready. We're almost like a clearinghouse for folks to come and show their stuff."
Klam's pseudo title, "Poet Laureate of Ocean Beach" has gotten a bit out of hand, though not entirely surprising for someone who uses low-grade explosives during poetry readings. "We started doing the anarchist shows, and when promoting the shows-by miracle of the Internet-I became the Poet Laureate of Ocean Beach," he explains. "And then I became the Poet Laureate of the Pacific Ocean, and then Poet Laureate of the Seven Seas, and Poet Laureate of the Cosmos." The shows became so wild that word started getting around, more people began coming, and this sort of myth surrounded the shows, so whatever they said sort of got perpetuated by the intensity of the shows.
Poetry can be dangerous when hanging around Klam and the Anarchist Think Tank. This creative chemist combines spoken word with whatever elements he can get his hands on, simply to see what will happen. With no real formula in mind, his poetic experiments have blown people away.
Take Junk Boy-a plant in the audience with a charge attached to his chest, under his shirt. "When it exploded, it knocked him back so far," Klam recalls. "In the video, you see this flash of lighting and his feet fly up in the air, and you hear people screaming and the smoke detector went off. I was holding this sign that said "Ha-Ha' on one side and "Applause' on the other, so while I waved the smoke I could hear the audience saying, "Ha-Ha, Ha-Ha.'"
Inspired by the late poet Angela Boyce, Klam will be the first to tell you that "it isn't just jackassery that we're doing. We also have the poetry part of the show where we're reading or performing our pieces, which are often about what Angela Boyce calls healing-about doing what's good, and healing the earth, and getting stuff out. We don't just blow shit up and get crazy for the sake of shock value. Chaos is definitely a part of it, but it's the chaos that sucks people in and makes people want to come and find out what happens next. We get them interested and excited, and then say something poignant and educational. We share the words or ideas of one of the minds that the mass media is not going to pick up and put out there, like [Noam] Chomsky or [Howard] Zinn."
Klam wants his audience to take home the ideas and messages woven among the bedlam, so he sometimes uses these gimmicks to help the audience-turned-rumpus-room remember and at least begin thinking differntly. But when the smoke clears and the chaos settles to a manageable ruckus, Klam ultimately has one overall message: "Change your paradigms. Change your thinking. Change your life."
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m., Michael Klam will host Poetry and Art, featuring L.A. Poet Larry Jaffe, filmmaker Giovanna Chesler, and Xdrop dancer Lily Cattaneo at the Museum of the Living Artist, 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park. 619-236-0011. Also, Klam co-hosts the San Diego Poetry Slam every second and fourth Monday of each month at Voz Alta, 1544 Broadway, Downtown. For more information about the San Diego poetry scene, visit www.poetix.net
Poetry by Michael Klam
They shaved his head
maybe his mother did it
almost to the scalp
and his coco is imperfect
dented like handled clay
like a battered meteor
in somebody else's universe
and he is ugly and pretty
a fine piece of glass
on a bony neck
his seven-year-old skull
receives my hands
I rub it like Buddha's belly
José smiles up at me
as if I were sunshine
so I rub it again
and wish happiness on his flawless head
The light was revealed to him
first thing in the morning
so He pulled the covers over his head
and slept until two
regardless of his salvation.