When you think about a poetry reading, you probably imagine a bunch of sullen, too-cool-to-smile literary types haplessly clapping between each reading. That image is pretty spot on for many poetry events here in Boston, unless you’ve discovered Donald Vincent’s spoken word and poetry event, Mr. Hip Presents. Once a month, Vincent, better known as Mr. Hip, curates an interactive and engaging poetry reading at UFORGE Gallery in Jamaica Plain that bolsters some of the most cutting-edge, emerging and established poets in and around Boston.
Don’t be fooled by the event’s label as a poetry reading though. Mr Hip Presents proves much more than that, equipped with a live jazz/blues band, fresh art from local talents that occupy the gallery’s walls, and tons of libations. After having become weary of attending the same mundane poetry events throughout Massachusetts, Mr. Hip decided to recreate what a poetry reading entailed, and host an event that provided a place where poetry would be more accessible to a wider range of people.
In accordance with National Poetry Month, Mr. Hip Presents will host one of its most notable installments tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. at UFORGE with readings from some of today’s exceedingly prominent and relevant poets like, Jamaal May, LaTasha Diggs, and Gail Mazur. The event will also include a set from Philly hip-hopper Lukey The Bird, who we heard from earlier this week in a live video session. BDCwire spoke with Mr. Hip about making poetry accessible, why he likes James Franco’s poems, and his dream Mr. Hip reading lineup.
Q: How did Mr. Hip Presents come about?
A: Believe it or not, most of the poetry readings I‘ve been to in Massachusetts have been what you would expect of a poetry reading, quiet, not very lively. It defeats the purpose of poetry. It needs to be celebrated. I wanted to create an event that made poetry accessible to people who might not be regularly scanning lines in chap books and reading poetry all the time.
Q: The Mr. Hip events incorporate more than just poetry right?
A: Yeah, each event we have our amazing band, The Jordan Carter Trio, so the fact you get this upbeat, jazzy music it takes you away from that feeling of, ‘oh I’m at a poetry reading.’ You actually just feel like you are somewhere having fun. A lot of people think we start late because we start at 6:30, but I want people to have the opportunity to take in the artwork that is at UFORGE. We’re there for art in general, not just poetry.
Q: You encourage people to use social media to comment, take pictures, and tweet about the event as it’s going on. What do you think that adds?
A: People can’t always make it out to the event or want to be a part of the experience but live in other parts of the country. So I thought if I started a hashtag so that people can not only follow along with the poetry, but see pictures of people dancing to the music, laughing, crying, then they can still feel like they are part of it all.
Q: Do you think there is lively poetry community here in Boston right now that makes it possible for events like Mr. Hip to forge on?
A: Well, the mayor just released that he opened up a committee to find Boston’s next Poet Laureate. Plus, Boston has a really big literary community and I honestly think that it’s a good time for poetry. There are a lot of schools throughout the city that celebrate the arts, and it seems that people in general are becoming more excited about the artistic spirit here in the city.
Q:How do you curate the poets you invite to read?
A: I am always a fan of everyone’s work that reads at this series. But I try an have a nice mix of established and emerging poets, so I’ll have some MFA students read, maybe some undergrads, and then always a few more established poets that have books published.
Q: What do you think of James Franco’s poetry?
A: I was actually just talking to someone about this. I like James Franco because his new book, “Director Herbert White,” is directly inspired by one of my favorite poets’ works, Frank Bidart. Franco’s poetry is well done, they explore the conflict between being a celebrity and an artist at heart. The first poem in his recent collection is a direct commentary on the fact that the only people that give shit about him are fourteen-year-old girls.
Q: What would your dream lineup be for a Mr. Hip Presents event?
A: Matthew Dickman, Robert Pinsky, Roger Reeves, Dorothy Lasky, Dara Wier, Joshua Bennett, James Franco, Major Jackson.
[Photo credit: Chris McIntosh]