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Welcome to couscous
In the following interview,Associate
Professor of Poetry + Poetics Mairéad
Byrne speaks with Providence-based
writer, editor and poet Amy Pickworth about
the popular couscous poetry, music and performance series she
has been running since 2008 in various locations, but most recently at AS220 in downtown Providence.
series takes its name from a French variation on an Arabic word for a North
African dish. Are you trying to invite people to something delicious, with many
different influences – something you want people to consume and enjoy?
time, I sold a newspaper called Libération
on the streets of Paris. I had very little money, but one of the colleges in
Paris served as much couscous and bread as you wanted to eat for four francs. It
was substantial, delicious. It kept me fed. In Providence, couscous is free. It’s a movable feast, a mixture.
Anyone who has attended a couscous reading probably was struck by the very democratic vibe
and wide range of participants, from students to professors. There’s a full range
of approaches, from machine-gun rapid-fire deliveries that cross into
performance art to more traditional readings to experimental music. So what do
you think makes a good program? What do you want your audience—as well as your
readers—to get out of couscous?
it’s billed as “a
movable feast of poetry, music + performance by and for participants from the colleges, community and out-of-town.” So
it’s all about the mix – between
the readers and audience, the diversity in ages, in cultures, language groups,
poetic traditions. The cross-fertilization that happens between poetry and
music and performance, the collaboration between art forms.
Studies Professor] Mark Milloffwas the originator of the
event: he invited me to do it, and he produced the show for years, finding
venues and facilitating everything. He’s a blues musician, and his band Sit
Down Baby had a standing Tuesday-night gig at Tazza. Mark asked if I wanted to present
poetry the last Tuesday of each month, and I was delighted. That was the birth
last four years, we’ve held couscous
at Tazza, Local 121 and the Hi-Hat in Providence; I also instituted the series
in Cork, Ireland, producing a mega-show for three years at the SoundEye Festival, where couscous now thrives without me. Here
in Providence, we now have a fantastic venue at AS220. Mark continues to be a
supporter, but Christopher Johnson
and Matt Everett have also swooped
in to help me with the music and open mike; they also contribute to the program
both solo and as The Entropy Project.
What types of people do you invite to
know, this series really is a demonstration of generosity. It exemplifies the
generosity and the economy of poetry. Performers – at a very high level – do
this for no money, only for each other, the audience and the spirit of the
thing. In four years of scheduling hundreds of people, I’ve only been stood up
two or three times. Only a few people have gone over time. Everyone puts on a
good show, and it’s for each other.
And sometimes it’s stunning, and magical.
You’re a poet and a teacher. Is this series a
natural extension of your own writing, or of your teaching of writing to art
practice at RISD is separate. I put events together for my classes, and for the
school sometimes, but I keep them separate from couscous because I don’t want any hint of requirement to this. A
lot of my RISD students do really enrich couscous,
but they’re free agents, and my own work with couscous has less to do with teaching at RISD and more to do with
the fact that I live in Providence.
Doyou foresee anything new as
the series continues?
we haven’t had as much electronic poetry – we haven’t used the projector much –
and I would like to see more of that.
I also recently
did a book project called Jennifer’s
Family with Louisa Marie Summer MFA 10 PH and a
family living in South Providence. I’d like to have some of the people in that
project involved in couscous. I’d
like to bring in more people who’ve never stood in front of a mike, because there
are people around us who are thinking and speaking in poetry. They’re artists
and craftspeople of language, and what they’re doing is good. I want the people who’ve already joined us to keep going, of
course. I want to be there to see it happen –
and to know when to leave.
Couscous readings are held the last Tuesday of
the month at AS220, 115 Empire Street in Providence. The program is free and
open to the public, and runs from 9:30 to 10:30 pm, followed by an open mike.
, public engagement
, Literary Arts + Studies