“We know that if we want the cool thing, we have to make it,” Erin Adair-Hodges explained from across the table where we settled in at Zendo with our tea and lattes. Rebecca Aronson echoed the sentiment as we continued talking about the two local writers’ new project, a multi-genre reading series called Bad Mouth. The event—the inaugural reading of which is on Friday, June 24—blends tonally aligned music, poetry, memoir and other media in a curated hour-or-so experience meant to elucidate each work through both contrast and facsimile. After a year of thinking and talking about it, “it was now or not,” Aronson said and the two plunged into preparations for Friday's reading, which will be held at the ever-loved and cherished Tannex in Barelas.
In this first round of the dynamic series, Mike Smith will read from his full length memoir-in-progress. Smith's piece is a chapter centered around the millisecond of a camera's shutter click. Smith has been published widely in the likes of Tin House and The Florida Review, and one of his pieces was recently selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays of 2015. A taste of Smith's presage in words from “Origins,” which was published in Booth: “I am not waiting to come together, but I will come together. I am not waiting to have an origin, or to go out from it, but I will have an origin, and I will go out.” Making footnotes to time and space, Smith enunciates the cosmic power of each of our origins, and does it so very tenderly. When I read Smith's work I feel both exultant as a human being and so damn envious of his talent.
Smith's work will be mingled over the course of the evening with Adair-Hodges' funny and trenchant verse, which explores topics that are also prevalent in Smith's prose, “[We] both write a lot about family [and] apostasy through a similar intellectually curious and humorous lens,” Adair-Hodges said of the similarities across their work. In Adair-Hodges’ poem “Regeneration” she writes: “After he was born/ I did not want to die but nor did I exactly want to not-die so I imagined escape/ to Prague … to arrive over the city's storied skin bulging with violins/ and sadness, kavarnas exhaling smoke, drunks/ spitting crude come-ons because it is late/ and I am beautiful and I am alone.” The wit and meditative, often cutting focus Adair-Hodges trains on her subjects has earned her the 2015 Sara Patton Poetry Award, the 2014 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize and the role as this year's Rona Jaffe Foundation Scholar in Poetry.
Bad Mouth diverges from a traditional literature reading in its incorporation of other artistic mediums and the way it will be structured. This time around Marty Crandall, of Sad Baby Wolf, The Shins and the more recent project High Desert, will perform. The music of Crandall and the words of Smith and Adair-Hodges will be interspersed with one another. “We like the idea … of having things weave together a bit … [that's why] we try to pick artists that have some similarities, so their work might speak to each other,” Aronson explained. As such, Bad Mouth seeks to create an illuminated whole. “We really just wanted to build a thing that we ourselves would want to go to,” Aronson laughed. Adair-Hodges interjects that, more honestly, “We're just tricking people who like music into listening to poetry.” Either way, attendees can expect a singular marriage of words and melodies.
Yet, Bad Mouth is more than just a fun and layered evening of art, it is a platform to highlight emerging writers and to encourage the vibrancy of Albuquerque's literary community as a whole. “Writing is incredibly solitary, and yet we rely so much on our community to support us,” Adair-Hodges posited. “Coming back to poetry after almost a decade-long break … it was very much because I found a community who said 'It matters that you write.' It gave me the courage to take myself seriously.” Without the support of established writers like Aronson, who isn't reading this time around, but is notably the author of the soon-to-be-released Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom, which won the Orison Books Poetry Award in 2016, Adair-Hodges explained that she wouldn't have committed herself to writing poetry again. And so, “[Bad Mouth] is our little contribution” to building a mutually supportive literary community, Adair-Hodges said. Through Bad Mouth, others might find that same foundation from which to build their literary careers.
As we delved into heady topics of community, creation and the visceral impact of sharing creative work, we still returned to the simple joy of all of these things. “One of the reasons that people are interested in performance poetry [and the like] is because it is geared to be exciting and engaging and interactive,” Aronson said. After a pause, Adair-Hodges whispered across the table quietly, one word nerd to another, “But I like a good quiet poetry reading with lots of corduroy and flannel, too.” Whether your penchant is for the emotive tunes of Marty Crandall, the expansive work of Mike Smith, or the humor and enigmatic lines of Erin Adair-Hodges, there's something waiting for you at Bad Mouth.