I scooped up my friend Aleece from the house she lovingly refers to as “Magic House,” in Saint Roch, and we zoomed down Saint Claude to BJs in the Bywater. The last time I had been to BJ’s was as an early twenty something, and I could not remember much of the night except for the extremely long line for the lady’s bathroom.
Since returning to New Orleans, I have been keeping an eye on the Blood Jet Poetry series. I had wanted to attend the week before but found myself entangled with AT&T customer service for hours.
I wasn’t certain what to expect. This was the first New Orleans reading that I was attending in two years. The readings I attended in Dublin were always very formal with light clapping after each piece and vicious stares at the most minute utterance.
The reading was nestled in the little cubby at the right of the bar. Aleece bought me a beer and herself a cider. We found a table against the left wall. I scribbled some notes.
It was as if BJ’s was reminding me that I had left the formality of the Dublin writing scene behind me, as, above the readers, stretched an eight-foot silver and blue swordfish—not taxidermy, but made from some sort of plastic material—of what variety, I could not tell you. Accompanying the enormous creature was one sign saying “No Implement Throwing,” and another huge sign, round, and painted orange that read “Custom”–all glinting in the glow of spinning colored lights.
It felt more like I was in someone’s kitsch living room rather than at a reading. Right in front of us sat the parents of one of the hosts, Tom Andes, only enhancing the domicile vibes.
Aleece and I chatted for a while, waiting for the first author to begin.
The host, Megan Burns came forward and said they would begin around eight thirty, on “New Orleans time,” she laughed.
She then asked if either of us wished to sign up for the open mic. An elongated “No” came from my mouth before I could take it back, and I immediately felt foolish. I should read, I should have read; I just didn’t have anything prepared.
Chin-Sun Lee was the first author to read. Originally from Los Angeles, she found her way to what she called the “soulful, gritty city” of New Orleans, and is working on her novel The Eternals which she read from. She gave a lively performance, moving her body as she read, looking up to make eye contact with various audience members, and drawing us in. The tone of her voice moving up and down as she spoke of one character and then the next, the effect of this was to imbue her writing with a lyrical quality.
Her style was drastically juxtaposed to that of Michael Jeffery Lee, the second featured writer of the night. He stood stiff; his body turned at a slight angle to the microphone, and read slowly, monotone, deadpan. The story was meandering, bizarre at moments and entertaining. It was something new, he told us.
In the background of each reading the air conditioning unit on the right side of the room hummed.
The featured readers were followed by the brave few who had signed up for the open mic. One of the hosts read first, followed by a young woman in her twenties. She read an excerpt from a short story she had been working on. I could not stop thinking how brave she was. Her voice was steady, she spoke with confidence; I was transfixed. Later that evening, Aleece commented on how incredible it was, that those people sat in their homes, creating something and then brought it to share, among strangers. I had never thought of readings in that way, examining the creation and no doubt, toiling, before each reading.
The real treat for me was Jimmy Ross, a regular at the Blood Jet readings. It was the night of his 74th birthday. He had a growing stack of dollar bills pinned to the collar of his white button down shirt. He told the story of the first poem he ever wrote; the poem that changed his life, and the second poem he ever wrote; the poem that changed someone else’s life for the worst. I won’t tell the story because I won’t do it justice, but stories like his and other can be found at the weekly Blood Jet readings. In fact, while you’re there, you can ask Jimmy about his poems and be just as entranced as I was.
Blood Jet Poetry Series is a weekly poetry and music series co-curated by Megan Burns and JS Makkos. It combines features of poetry and music and encourages collaborations. Each featured set is followed by a limited open mic set. It is held onWednesdays at 8:00 PM, and for full details of where and when, check out their Facebook page.