Monday, 24 February 2014 11:20

The Art of Living

Written by  Kyle Austin
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Buddy Wakefield
Rocky's Bar and Grille
March 26, 7 p.m.
$7-$15
buddywakefield.com, (616) 356-2346

Buddy Wakefield is, admittedly, far from enlightened. But 13 years after shucking a steady corporate gig and all of his worldly possessions for a Honda Civic and a new life as a traveling performance poet, he's working harder than ever to stay in the moment.

The raw candor of his frenetic performances (see: YouTube) leaves audiences emotionally stirred and hanging on every syllable. When he's finished, there's a feeling of something momentous in the air. It's an effect Wakefield says can't be practiced.

"My job is to be in the moment, so there's no preparation for it," he said. "There's no set list, there's no vocal training. I don't do the sock in my pants or anything like that. I just go for it, which can be for better or worse."

Even for a guy who's won two Individual World Poetry Slam Championships, published three poetry collections, toured with Ani DiFranco and performed everywhere from Scotland to San Quentin State Penitentiary, Wakefield still feels like he has his work cut out for him.

That's because in addition to poetry, Wakefield practices Vipassana, an ancient Indian meditation technique that's taught him to see clearly, break habit patterns and blind reactions and be a more effective person and poet.

"Whether we were stoned in college or by a more natural way, at some point, we all recognize the moment is the eternal answer, no matter how fast we try to move into the future or how much we identify with the past," he said.

Balancing his meditative pursuits with his hectic touring schedule and the constant spotlight of performing can be a struggle for Wakefield. At times, he has what he calls "mini meltdowns" on stage. But he's not looking for sympathy. He knows that this kind of vulnerability comes with the life he's chosen.

"I'm also aware that renunciation is not a frigid concept," he said. "At some point I may just pack it all in and go monk status and do nothing but work on breath and presence."

Until that moment comes though, there's nothing outside of his own free will that can deter Wakefield from sharing his art and his message with as many people as possible. He's currently on the first leg of yet another marathon tour, dubbed "Riled Up and Wasted on Light," which will last about a year. In the end, he says, the work is worth it.

"What I'm finding is that I'm leaving clear writing on the walls for other people who are walking from the bottom of the barrel out, people who are moving from a dark place to a light place.," he said. "I'm doing it as much as I'm able to in a way that's as fun as possible with plenty of sucker punches to keep them looking alive."

With Mitch "PoetLikePoe" Burns of local poetry collective, The Diatribe, opening the show, this night is not only a treat for spoken word fans, but a breath of fresh air for those people whose previous experiences with poetry have left them feeling cold and disconnected. For Wakefield, it will be another moment of infinite possibility.

"I'm respectful of the journey so much now, "he said. "I've been writing my ideal self all these years, and now I'm living closer to it."


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hope.edu, (616) 395-7000

Brenda Hillman and Rowan Ricardo Philips are both decorated wordsmiths, but Hillman's upbringing in a deeply religious Baptist family coupled with Phillips' roots in NYC provide an interesting juxtaposition for this joint reading. Both poets are sure to stimulate the mind with arresting examples of their award-winning work.

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kdl.org, (616) 784-2007

When Hungarian musician Laszlo Slomovits first read the poems in former Grand Rapids Poet Laureate Linda Nemec Foster's short poetry collection, Ten Songs from Bulgaria, he could hear them come alive in song. Soon after, the two artists collaborated on an uncommonly fluid interplay between poetry, music and photography. At this special program, Foster and Slomovits will honor the dignity of common people everywhere by converging their disciplines together in a dynamic live performance.

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