Cu­ra­tion as Cre­ation

From Po­ets & Writ­ers, Inc.

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I am an ed­u­ca­tor, a poet who per­forms, and a literary cu­ra­tor. This is not a job de­scrip­tion I thought about while grow­ing up in Clin­ton, Mary­land, a child of Filipino im­mi­grants. But in the early nineties, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from New York Univer­sity, I dis­cov­ered that slam po­etry would al­low me to write my own role and daz­zle a bar full of lis­ten­ers, lean­ing at the edge of their seats, sa­vor­ing my lan­guage.

Cre­at­ing plat­forms and am­pli­fy­ing the voices of oth­ers was part of my ge­n­e­sis as a writer. A year or two af­ter I grad­u­ated, fund­ing from Po­ets & Writ­ers’ Read­ings & Workshop pro­gram helped me start Writ­ers on the Ledge, a se­ries in the now de­funct Papi Luis on East Sec­ond Street in New York City, where writ­ers stood on a tiny ledge be­cause there was no space in the café. This fed my own writ­ing, and when I came out as a gay poet on the stage of the Nuy­or­i­can Po­ets Cafe, I was in­spired by gay poet and ac­tivist Es­sex Hemphill. But my strength came from the po­ets at the read­ings I’d cu­rated.

By 2006, I’d moved to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and was a reg­u­lar fea­tured per­former at Bus­boys and Po­ets, where I bore wit­ness to the ram­pant trans­pho­bia and misog­yny that in­vaded open-mic spa­ces around U Street as a re­sult of the District’s gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Dur­ing my nights as a host at the well-known venue, I saw au­di­ence mem­bers run­ning out of the Coun­tee Cullen Room as if the non­bi­nary rain­bow air would turn even the straight­est into same-gen­der-lov­ing zom­bies.

To com­bat the queer­pho­bia I started Sparkle: A Queer Se­ries, co­hosted with Danielle Even­nou, as a safe space for au­di­ences and writ­ers of all gen­ders and sex­ual iden­ti­ties. This led, in 2010, to the cre­ation of an in­ter­na­tional slam for queer po­ets, for which fund­ing from the Read­ings & Work­shops pro­gram was again crit­i­cal. Na­tional Po­etry Slam icons An­drea Gibson, Sonya Re­nee Tay­lor, and Chris Au­gust as well as emerg­ing po­ets Baruch Por­ras-Her­nan­dez and Adele Hamp­ton par­tic­i­pated in an event that served as an an­ti­dote to the highly com­pet­i­tive, com­mer­cial­ized, and cut­throat world of Na­tional Po­etry Slams. When com­pet­ing on the slam cir­cuit, queer po­ets were forced to ques­tion whether we should pull our gen­der/queer/erotic po­ems. By con­trast, Cap­tur­ing Fire, a three-day fes­ti­val, was a fo­rum for queer writ­ers to per­form what we wanted with­out feel­ing like a trope or an “other,” with­out ex­pla­na­tion. Po­ets took work­shops and ate pizza and drank wine into the wee hours of the night, some­times freestyling verses on U Street. It was a huge suc­cess. Cap­tur­ing Fire led to the cre­ation of the Belt­way Po­etry Slam team, which, led by Sarah D. Law­son and coach Pages Matam, took first place in the 2014 Na­tional Po­etry Slam; as well as the youth team, led by Jonathan B. Tucker, that took first place in the 2014 Youth Po­etry Slam.

In the years since, Sparkle and Cap­tur­ing Fire have pre­sented and nur­tured writ­ers who have gone on to start other se­ries and plat­forms, help­ing to de­velop the voices of yet more po­ets, in a web that stretches far from U Street. In 2019, Cap­tur­ing Fire will fea­ture Shan­non Cain of Paris in an event that will cel­e­brate the spirit of James Bald­win. We will of­fer work­shops fo­cused on xeno­pho­bia and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the alt-right in the United States and France.

From a tiny stage no big­ger than a ledge to an in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val, I’ve cre­ated plat­forms for po­ets whose iden­ti­ties were not only in­vis­i­ble twenty years ago, but not even named. While on­go­ing ef­forts to erase sex­ual and gen­der iden­tity are real and dan­ger­ous, we also see in D.C. an over­whelm­ing level of par­tic­i­pa­tion from gen­der-non­con­form­ing po­ets and SGL (samegen­der-lov­ing) po­ets in a move­ment now led by Char­lie C Petch, J Mase III, and oth­ers. Read­ings & Work­shops funds have al­lowed me the joy of nur­tur­ing young voices on an in­ter­na­tional plat­form with­out fear of cen­sor­ship. Po­ets & Writ­ers val­ues the mul­ti­plic­ity of voice, re­gard­less of style, from aca­demic to per­for­ma­tive, po­lit­i­cal to rib­ald and li­ba­tious. For that I am humbly grate­ful. May the rain­bow flow of po­etry carry us for­ward to the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of Stonewall and be­yond.

Regie Cabico won the Nuy­or­i­can Po­ets Cafe Grand Slam and took top prizes in three Na­tional Po­etry Slams. His tele­vi­sion and ra­dio cred­its in­clude two sea­sons ofHBO’s Def Po­etry Jam, NPR’s Snap Judg­ment, and MTV’s Free Your Mind.The Kenyon Re­view named Cabico the “Lady Gaga of Po­etry,” and he has been listed in Bust mag­a­zine’s 100 Men We Love. Cabico is the re­cip­i­ent of a 2006 Barnes & No­ble Writ­ers for Writ­ers Award for his work teach­ing po­etry to young adults at Belle­vue Hospi­tal in New York City. He is the editor of Super Stoked: An An­thol­ogy of Trans and Queer Po­etry (Cap­tur­ing Fire Press, 2018).

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