So, I have a confession to make. In my 11 1/2 years in Minneapolis and St. Paul, I’ve never been to the Turf Club. I’ve also known about the Riot Act Readings for at least a year, and haven’t gotten over there. It’s okay though, they’re forgiving.
The Turf Club is a proud Saint Paul drinking institution, music and event venue, located near the intersection of University and Snelling Avenues. It has an enormous wooden bar spanning the right side, the music stage at the back of the room towers to the side of the low stage Riot Act Readings uses on the left side of the room, with the soundboard and the pinball machines. The feel of the event seems to be the sum grit of Ginsberg beats and rollergirl punk.
Aside of a couple at the pinball machine and some smokers at the door, the audience is rapt, and with good reason- the readers have bridged some of that mythical gap between page and stage.
Paul Dickinson opens the evening up with some short pieces, which assert the evening’s tongue-in-cheek, wry humor right out of the gates.
“This one is called ‘Hello Police’,” Dickinson begins, “Hello Police. There is someone in my house, and I think it’s me.”
Dickinson then proves that his talent was not limited to augenblink poetry, but that his wry humor extends into his fiction.
Not limited to superficial flights of fancy, Dickinson tosses out beautiful lines like “I drench alleycats” and vulnerable admissions like “I like the way you tilt your head”, in amongst self-deprecating accounts of a car accident and retrieving scrap metal from the impounded car, and the failures of his romantic life.
Riot Act brings up Jeff Smieding next in their lineup of writers reading. Smieding, who recently finished a novel (but has yet to publish said piece), reads two pieces. The first is the tale of a man who’d missed his chance with a woman who loved cats, who obsessively studied cats in an attempt to win her heart, only to discover that it wasn’t going to be enough when he finally found her again. The second story is a longer, beautiful piece about teens who decide to swim out to an island, and return to shore to find that one of their friends has disappeared without her clothes. The piece is moody and well-written, and Smieding’s reading transported the bar into a desolate-feeling self-realization.
Laura Brandenburg, one of the Riot Act’s co-curators, reads a love poem for winter. “Still baby, I’ve never known a truer joke than yours,” she coos.
One of my favorite poets, Ruth Kohtz, wraps up the evening’s readings with one of my new favorite poems of hers. The evening leaves me satisfied, the writing is beautiful and dense, the bar is chill and relaxed (or else why would we have placidly ignored the couple playing pinball next to the stage?), and a man brings around homemade tamale for a few bucks. It reminds me that one can have a literary event that is less formal than a Loft reading and more calmly playful than a poetry slam. You can bet I’ll be visiting the Turf Club again soon.
The Riot Act Readings happen monthly, usually on the last Sunday of the month, and the readers are co-curated by Laura Brandenburg and Paul Dickinson. For a paltry $3, you can be flooded with prose and poetry, grit and beauty. I’m not sure where they’re keeping a calendar updated, but you can make Laura your friend on facebook, and she’ll be likely to keep you in the know about the next Riot Act Reading.