Many music fans in the Mid-Atlantic States know to have a bit of respect when the Empty Glass is mentioned. Even those who haven’t been to the bar or heard music played there know it to be a coveted place to see a show, even if it’s a show performed by someone that nobody has ever heard of. There may have been a time when bad music was played there, but with owner Chris Chaber managing the place since early in the 2000s and Jason “Roadblock” Robinson booking the acts for the last 15 years, such like that don’t happen these days.
I haven’t been to the Glass in almost six years, but I have no doubt that I’m right on this. You can hear excellent, interesting, and eclectic live music at the Glass every night.
Those who have performed at the Glass include Joss Stone, Gov’t Mule, All Mighty Senators, NRBQ, and Buckwheat Zydeco. There’s a long list of other notable acts on the bar’s site.
And I’ve performed the Glass. In fact, I’ve done so in the neighborhood of 20 times, and I have six spoken word pieces that were written for such occasion. I’ll present the first two here and then the other four in the second and and third parts.
Crystal Goode and Gypsy Productions first brought spoken word to the Glass stage in November of 1999, the year I was a sophomore at West Virginia State and the first year of my spoken word life–My first spoken word performance was New Years Eve ’98.
That first foray at the Glass came in the form of a poetry slam, an actual competition.
Shawn Beckner was so instrumental to my introduction to spoken word stages. Then a fellow student in the English Department at State and fellow bartender at Chili’s, my first spoken word performances were as an opening act for Shawn’s band, The Pharmacy.
Then, when the announcement of the slam came down, Shawn and I were both looking forward to it. Perhaps about three days before the event, he looked over the bar and said, “Write anything new for Tuesday night?” I told him that I hadn’t, that I was just going to go with the old stand-by pieces–the ’95 poems, which were the subject of an earlier post on here. He gave me a confidently pleased look and said, “I did.”
So, it was on; the gauntlet had been thrown down. The next day I wrote the first of these six poems/slams, which is fittingly titled “Keeping up with the Beckners.” In writing this piece, I took the writer’s perspective that I would maintain for the first five of the Empty Glass poems, which was founded in literally asking myself what I would want to say when I got up there on the stage. The thought was basically this: So, you’re going to be given a stage, and people are going to collectively stop and listen to you: what are you gonna do with that? Like I mentioned, this thought was the impetus for the first five of these poems.
“Keeping Up With the Beckners”
What to say when it’s time to face the keyboard?
What to say when the time comes to write?
What words will be needed
to feed the demons
and assure peaceful sleep this night?
What words will be strong enough
to share with my friends
and affix with my name upon completion?
What words will be true enough
to make me say
I wrote these words, and I mean them.
Because I woke up one morning,
got myself rolling,
and found that I give a damn
about how things transpire
and those so affected
in the collection of the common woman and man.
Because I figured I couldn’t sit idly by
and allow things to happen just as they may,
that I must find an action from the soul within
and add my voice to that ongoing play,
that I must share, through passion,
those portions of myself
that I just might think might help another get through
on their trek through this life,
sometimes rocky it gets
on the way to the breathtaking views.
What I found was words.
This brings us back to the original questions:
What words to select?
What juxtapositions to use?
What to share?
What to convey?
How can I hold fast those demons
with just a pen?
I don’t always have the answers, but I keep looking,
because I woke up one morning
and found that I give a damn.
7 November 1999
I was so pleased with myself. I really dug the piece, and I was eager to see how it could stand up to competition. I wasn’t done, however, and the next day I wrote what I think was the better of the two pieces. That poem, “Slamming at the Empty Glass,” was also fittingly titled, and I felt it strong enough to open with it in the competition.
“Slamming at the Empty Glass”
Of all the ways I could’ve chosen
to spend this day,
I’m very pleased with the way that I chose:
a day spent on learning and a night set to yearning,
good friends, and a pissed off cabernet
clinging hard to the glass,
chock full of ass,
something to chew on along with these thoughts
in this world of the now
where we note what we have
and waste no thought on what we ain’t got.
Because we have friends who will come together
in a live music bar on the town’s east side.
We have friends who will speak the condition
and allow us a look inside
at some of what’s there
that just might apply
to this business of life in the first person, set.
We have friends who took time to string words
for our conditions, the better, to get.
And doesn’t it feel so nice?
And that’s where it all started. We were young and misguided a lot of times, but we were passionate and somewhat diligent, and we made things that are still here and touching people nearly two decades later. That has to count for something.
And, as for the outcome of the slam? (It was a competition, after all.) The slam didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. In my opinion, Shawn’s poem was the best thing spoken all evening, but it was too smart and advanced for the audience. They didn’t get it, so they didn’t like it, and, sadly, Shawn didn’t get out of the first round. I don’t find this sad because it meant that Shawn didn’t win the competition; rather, it saddened me because I really wanted to hear what he was going to come with next, but I never got the chance.
I got to do all three pieces–the two new ones and “Ziggle Zaggle”–and I finished second to the lady who is the subject of my poem “She never made it as a teacher,” a woman who squandered a lot of amazing talent. That poem can be found on my website, paulelmo.com.
One more thing before I go. Shawn Beckner has long since taking his talents to Charleston, South Carolina. A high school English teacher, Shawn’s primary artistic endeavor is the funk/blues band iLLAZiLLA. You can check them out here.
Thanks for reading, friends. I should have the next of these on here in a couple of days. Hope it all does some good for you.
Paul Elmo Keenan