Spoken Word & Sister Spit

88 Lines About 44 Womyn

Bucky Sinister: Tim Yohannan hated poetry. Mike LaVella tried to write a review of one of my little chapbooks for Maximum and Tim refused to run it.

Wendy O-Matik: In the early days, I tried to submit poetry to MRR and they refused it. It wasn’t considered punk rock.

Bucky Sinister: The Jello fans hated poetry, and the Rollins fans hated everything. On an individual basis, the punks were very supportive of my endeavors, but as a mob rule, it wasn’t that welcome. Tim Yohannan. Every time he’d see me, he’d just grunt and look away.

Wendy O-Matik: Gilman was the first place to be that supportive. They said, “If you show up and you wanna read, you always have an open mic here.”

Jerme Spew: I always loved doing spoken word. I did spoken word all over the place and my best shows were always at Gilman. I mean, my worst show was at Gilman, too.

Bucky Sinister: People would tear down the drum kit while you were reading your stuff. Most of them wanted to hear the political stuff. It didn’t even have to be good, it just had to be, “Fuck you, Ronald Reagan!” “Down with capitalists!” “Down with America!” That went over really well. I always did personal stuff, like reading my teenage suicide poems. I was 20 years old and I was the writer.

Wendy O-Matik: It’s different to get up there with no band, no one behind you to support you. And it’s a lot more challenging to do an art form that not everybody recognizes as “cool.” Sometimes, people yelled “Show us your tits!” or “Shut up, I wanna see the band!”

Bucky Sinister: The AK Press crowd would stand there solemnly and try to engage you in these weird Poli-Sci discussions.

Jerme Spew: I did a straightedge show, and man. A lot of people at Gilman didn’t really want to see a spoken word show, but they usually just stared and left. The straightedge kids were yelling at me. I was getting heckled from all directions.

Bucky Sinister: What I liked about Jerme was that he was the real deal. A lot of these kids came from pretty nice homes and they had nothing to complain about. Jerme was a kid who was, honestly, trying to find his place in the world. That’s why I liked him. He didn’t operate within that hive mind.

Jerme Spew: I was a scrawny kid with a big, big chip on my shoulder. Half Puerto Rican, half white, growing up in all-white communities. I didn’t quite fit in, even before I was punk rock. I could always find a fight.

Wendy O-Matik: He was into that Henry Rollins kind of machismo — tough macho poet, wearing all black. He told stories, not just poetry, but cool spoken word. I always felt he was very underground, not out for fame and fortune. And he was always really respectful. There was no ego, he was just really a sweet person.

Bucky Sinister: Noah Landis and I went to SF State together in 1989. This was post-Christ on Parade, just as Blister was starting, before he was a member of Neurosis. He and I spent hours some days playing pinball. He mentioned that his girlfriend wrote poetry and that I should meet her. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Every time I’d heard something like this, the poetry was horrible.

Wendy blew me away the first moment I saw her read at the Klub Kommotion. She and I were in the same place aesthetically: start with a scream, and sculpt a poem out of it. We became instant friends.

Wendy O-Matik: In the early days, bands like Spitboy, Submission Hold, and Econochrist were really supportive.

Bucky Sinister: Wendy and I hit the bars to break into the poetry scene. I was still underage when I was reading at the Café Babar. People were shooting dope in the bathroom, strippers would come and read from journals when they were off shift. Most of the crowd thought Wendy and I were ridiculous to want to be punk poets. They heckled us, and worse, ignored us.

Wendy O-Matik: This toothless guy with a 40-ouncer in his hand, got right up in my face and actually said, “What the fuck are you doing here?” I was holding my paper, practically shaking, but I read, just like, fuck it! If this guy gives me any shit, I’m gonna fucking yell in his face.

Bucky Sinister: Noah booked one show for us, reading between bands at the Studio 4 space, where Sabot lived.

Hilary Binder: Chris Rankin and I formed Sabot in 1988. We’re still doing it 20 years later. Studio 4 lasted about eight years, in a couple locations. It was part of that whole live-work performance space scene in the Mission. We did exhibition theater, spoken word, workshops, conferences, concerts.

Bucky Sinister: That was where I first saw Steel Pole Bathtub. Sabot and Steel Pole Bathtub. It was really intimidating to read between two awesome bands.

Michelle Tea: Wendy O-Matik was the first poet I ever saw in San Francisco. I walked into the Chameleon and she was on the stage being totally tough and bad-ass and foxy. I thought, I want to do that. I want to be a girl like that, up there, saying shit to people.

Bucky Sinister: I ran the Chameleon [mic] from 1991 to 1997. Originally I wanted it to be a performance-art space, with Gong Show-style weirdness. But only the poets showed up. So that’s what it was. I told them all, there’s one rule in here: don’t suck. You have five minutes to tell the world anything you want, now start talking. I wanted it loud, fast, and for fuck’s sake, no rhyming.

Michelle Tea: I really liked that he was this redneck from Arkansas, with his cascading beard, his growly accent, and baseball hat. He was fully down with girls and queers and everyone. There were a lot of culture clashes and he was always on the right side.

Bucky Sinister: I found all the people that no one wanted and brought them in. I had a crowd of homeless guys that came every week. There were trannies that had raised so much hell they weren’t allowed in the gay bars anymore. There were runaways buying their first balloons of heroin on 16th Street. Bikers with highway verse. Ex-cons with penitentiary musings. Junkies, crackheads, tweakers. Everyone fancies themselves a poet. As primarily a drinker, I was the softie of the bunch.

We had plenty of fistfights over poems. But there was one really bad one. We had a red light bulb in there. One time I was dragging a guy out of the club, I was all wet, thought it was sweat or beer, but when I threw him on the sidewalk, I realized I was covered in blood. I couldn’t see it because of the red lights. Right then the cops showed up, and they were like, what’s going on here? I said, “You see officer, we were having this poetry reading…” His face went blank.

A lot of San Francisco writers, before they had books, read there from manuscripts. Michelle Tea. Beth Lisick. Daphne Gottlieb. Justin Chin. Jason Flores-Williams. Jon Longhi. Nancy Depper. Tarin Towers. Thea Hillman. Lynn Breedlove. The best night in there was when Eli Coppola featured. Her health was so bad she couldn’t make it up on the stage, so we sat her at a table in the front with a candle, her beer, and her poems. The whole place was dead quiet except for her whispering voice coming over the P.A. She was so damn good. When you hear pure truth like that, the only thing you can do is shut the fuck up and listen.

Dave McCord was one of the big ones here. He stole some Kinko’s keys — those big black keys that were like odometers for Kinko’s to see how many copies you ran — and gave ‘em out to everybody so we could run off our zines. He committed suicide Christmas Day 1994. That really tore the punk spoken word scene apart. He was a heroin addict and he couldn’t kick dope, so he shot dope and laid down on the train tracks.

Anna Joy Springer: Around the early to mid-‘90s, when the punk dyke thing slammed into San Francisco, all of a sudden there was this amazing, vibrant scene. One of the things that was happening was Sister Spit, a weekly open mic show started by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson, who were both punk girls.

Michelle Tea: We were responding to and rebelling against a lot of dominant cultures during that era. The male-dominated open mics, with dudes indulging in really bad Bukowski and Rollins imitations. The second-wave lesbian feminist politics that I perceived as anti-trans, anti-sex worker. Cheesy-bad mainstream gay bullshit with its awful rainbow dreamcatcher aesthetic. A place that allowed any female-identified person to take the stage and speak their minds and work out some piece of bat-shit crazy performance art? That to me was totally punk.

Sister Spit ran as an open mic for two years, every week. I stopped because the place got overrun with fucking acoustic musicians. Sister Spit came into existence as an alternative to this bad lesbian musical bullshit, but these girls would show up lugging their guitar cases, and do Beatles and Ani DiFranco covers. Folk music killed the Sister Spit open mic.

Anna Joy Springer: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was a gathering of young punk or anarchist dykes. They turned Sister Spit down. So they said, we’re just gonna set up a tour just like punk bands do.

Michelle Tea: I was in a shitty little instrumental punk band called Dirt Bike Gang. We did this lousy little tour up the west coast. It was kind of a bust. But I figured if that band could pull off a tour, then surely Sister Spit could tour.

Anna Joy Springer: Michelle got names to call from friends in bands. So they were playing places that bands would play — especially dyke or feminist bands. Punks were setting up the shows.

Michelle Tea: We crashed with people on their floors. We played weird places in small towns, like the basement of a sushi restaurant in Virginia, or the amazing Fort Thunder warehouse in Providence, Rhode Island, which had stacks of mattresses because they taught wrestling. We slept on the skanky wrestling mattresses.

Anna Joy Springer: I was on the third tour.

Michelle Tea: Touring with Anna Joy was so great. She had a shopping problem. Maybe she still does. When she read, she rocked back and forth in her high heels, murmuring her work into the mic, a total superstar. She embodies hot female monstrous anger, dirty sexy perverse intellect, everything powerful about being the girl you’re not supposed to be in this culture. Making people fucking scared of you and making them want you and want to be you, all at the same time.

Anna Joy Springer: There were 12 of us, two vans full of women, mostly dykes. No one had been on tour before. They didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t understand that on the third week, they were gonna lose all sense of time, the way it happens on tour.

Michelle Tea: Driving overnight into Las Vegas, with the sun coming up, talking manically with Laurie Weeks. I was sort of bummed that no one but me wanted to take the LSD these hippie dudes gave us outside a porn store in Reno. I wanted a Hunter Thompson experience. In Vegas, we took Ecstasy and went to a giant strip club. The dancers were like magical Barbie fairy princesses.

Anna Joy Springer: By the time I got on the road with them, there were these giant shows with five or six hundred people. Beth Lisick was with us. She had been on the first one, too. We did the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. No equipment, no sound checks. It was so great.

Michelle Tea: Getting tour tattoos on the road with India ink and thread and needles. Playing the point game, wherein you get points for how many people you make out and hook up with across the U.S.A. Just being in the van with everyone, in the heat, in the middle of the country, feeling so engaged in the world, in life, and so free. It was an intense, gorgeous experience.

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