Compiled by G. Murray Thomas
Next … Magazine covered the Southern California poetry scene on monthly basis from 1994 through 1998. In the process, it provided a ground-level view of a transitional period in poetry, in SoCal and nationally. “From the Files” will reprint articles which capture important but ephemeral moments, events and publications from that period. News Clips and Ego Trips: The Best of Next … Magazine will be published by Write Bloody Publishing this fall. This week, two snapshots of one Southern California’s most influential poetry venues, The People’s Democratic Republic of Iguanaland.
People’s Democratic Republic of Iguanaland
Open Mike: Sundays 6:30 pm
Other Poetry Events Regularly
Atmosphere: Funky, Retro-60’s
Audience: Waiting their turn.
The Iguana, as everyone refers to it, has become such a fixture on the local scene that it is hard to believe it has only been open five years or so. It feels like it has been there forever. (Until last fall’s remodel, it also looked like it had been around forever, or at least since 1969, which is the same thing to many of us. It now feels much less like an overgrown crash pad, while retaining some of that Sixties flavor.)
The Iguana has served as a spawning ground for many local poetic talents, such as Uncle Don Fanning, Ellyn Maybe, and Matthew Niblock, to just scratch the surface. More than any other venue, poets seem connected with the Iguana. To an outsider, this sometimes feels cliquish, but the result is a strong venue for poetry.
Multi-feature shows are the norm here, often built around themes ranging from free speech to poets in drag. Add to the list of regulars such names as Exene Cervenka and Viggo Mortensen, and you can expect some high quality performances.
Unluckily, opportunities for walk-in poets are slim. The Sunday afternoon poetry circle and second Saturday open reading have both folded due to low attendance. That leaves only the Sunday night open mike.
Starting at 6:30 pm, and going on until near midnight, this is a strong open mike. For poets, though, it is a tough read. Most of the audience are musicians (tuning their guitars for their upcoming turn), and they are more likely to cheer their own than the few brave poets and comedians on the stage. This can, however, be good practice, for those of us who don’t want to just perform for our own. It’s a good test of your material and your nerve. Also, if you’re not too busy tuning your own pieces while waiting your turn, you can hear some talented performers in a casual setting.
The time limit is eight minutes, which may sound like heaven to those chafing at three-minutes shackles. Before you get too excited, remember, if you haven’t snared them in one minute, you won’t in eight.
As an added bonus, Iguana now has excellent recording facilities, which are available, for a small charge, during open mike. Just bring your own tape and have your performance recorded direct from the sound board. The facilities are also available for private recording during off hours, and are DAT capable.
There is also an extensive selection of chapbooks and audio tapes available, so you can often purchase the words you just heard. Also, you can talk to Tom about adding your own book or tape.
If you haven’t been to the Iguana yet, you should check it out, experience one of the landmarks of the SoCal poetry scene. — GMT (2/95)
By Ellyn Maybe
A recognizable change in Fahrenheit occurs, breath changes direction, eyes water when something benevolent is lost. The Iguana Cafe, where the ozone layer was intact, where misunderstood species went to survive America’s shiver and dance joy in polka dotted ink and clef notes. Where the last kid picked for field hockey in gym class in Wisconsin could meet all the other kids picked on for being too this or not enough that.
The Iguana, with its self-esteem sandwiches and tie-dyed root beer, was a catalyst of pinch yourself, “Does this… could this place really exist” revelry.
It takes courage to take a dream and turn that dream loose on the streets of these peculiar United States.
In a generic world people get numb, not even able to imagine such a place is possible.
The Iguana was medicine in a society where punishment is often given to those who scratch their nails down the back of expectations like a chalkboard they were never meant to live upon.
Where the neon signs of mediocrity blink 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where junior high never goes into hibernation; the yearbook becomes the newspaper, radio, and TV. Where there are 1000 theaters showing the clone of last years smash, starring someone who is making more money in one hour than all the poets and singer/songwriters will most likely see in their whole lifetime.
The Ianniellos split the door with the performers, and by having vision, they split the window with us too.
This place was historical, celestial, ancient and topical.
I wish an abundance of thanks to the Ianniellos for dreaming aloud in this opera and hootenanny, where pens were way beyond mightier than the sword.
It takes commitment to shelf space for chapbooks and independent tapes, rather than whooshing espresso machines. It takes tolerance for neurotic, left-handed surreal poets and every other combination thereof over designer everything. It takes love.
In just under 6 years the Iguana Cafe, the People’s Democratic Republic of Iguanaland, gave out an infinite number of keys to its magic country.
It’s now up to us to keep our hearts unlocked. (9/95)