San Francisco Chronicle Building (exterior) / Intersection for the Arts (interior) photos by Del Ray Cross
I’m not sure if it’s the assignment I gave myself or what, but the last few weeks I’ve found myself in San Francisco way more often than usual. Often enough that I keep buying and misplacing BART tickets, finding them in the laundry later. The train thing is no small deal: I was unable to ride BART for several years after my father’s death, caught in the grip of phobias perfectly expressed by the vulnerability of the transbay tube, phobias which in turn helped crystallize my hatred of BART, for reasons too many to list here but including the lack of public oversight re: BART cops, the way the train is so clearly designed to move money around—commuters to the financial district, bodies to airlines—rather than serve the neighborhoods it moves through. The communities it destroyed when it was built. OK. Stopping myself. Getting it together. Suffice to say: I’ve been riding the train. And going to more readings in San Francisco.
beneath the Highway 24 overpass, on MacArthur Blvd. between Telegraph and MLK
I’ve been thinking about the recent and hopefully temporary closure of 21 Grand, an interdisciplinary arts spaced forced to vacate its most current location at 416 25th St. after a battle with the city of Oakland over a cabaret permit, a permit it operated without for 10 years. (Here is a decent re-cap of the whole nightmare.)
It’s still feels weird that 21 Grand is gone for-the-time-being-fingers-crossed, given how important a space it’s been for so many Bay Area arts communities. And I’m thinking of the hundreds? could it be hundreds? of poetry readings I've attended there, how poetry was part of its interdisciplinary focus from the beginning, in 2000, with David Horton’s first series at the original location on 21 Grand Ave., followed by New Brutalism at the 449B 23rd St. spot, and finally New Yipes and the New Reading Series at the last address on 25th St.
So as part of my assignment to myself, to check out readings somewhat outside my usual scene and report on them here, I went to the Kaleidoscope Reading Series on Thursday, March 24, at the Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone. The readers that night were Karen Llagas, Benjamin Bac Sierra, and Brian Teare.
Here's where I admit to being shy. I'm not an especially brave person in social situations, especially not new ones. I always talk about how I sat in the back of the room at Small Press Traffic for like 3 years before I started talking to people instead of running out the back door when the reader announced their last 2 poems. And so here's where I also admit that Brian Teare was one reason I chose Kaleidoscope for my first assignment. At least I would know one person there! Plus I hadn't yet heard him read from his new book. I invited my friend Barbara Joan Tiger Bass to go with, as we've been talking for a few months about some forms of cross-pollination, like maybe I would go with her to some readings I might not otherwise, and she would go with me to some readings she might not otherwise. Kaleidoscope seemed like a good first choice since neither of us had ever been.
I'm hopelessly devoted to the downtown Oakland YMCA, with its spin classes spinning next to morning tai chi, basketball games in the gym followed by African dance class. I love the late afternoon afterschool program sounds, double dutch in the mind-body studio. There’s free childcare, coffee in the lobby, wheelchairs, a mentoring program, book exchange, elevators, and financial aid. It’s basically sliding scale, a utopia. Its members are multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, like the city it is part of. Bodies at the Oakland Y tend not to be all that beefcake, nor all that svelte. Or, there are as many bodies as there are genders and generations. In a culture that is so persistently fucked up around bodies, being in the locker room at the downtown Oakland YMCA feels like some kind of psychic survival tactic, being with so many other naked sweaty bodies, not images, blemished and muscular and round, people icing their knees, rubbing oils into the skin, blow drying their hair, not blow drying their hair, having conversations. It’s not a space where anyone can be only with others who are like themselves. I want to say it’s one of the only spaces like this in the city where I live, but that’s just an idea, anecdotal, probably my blind spots talking.