Mighty Mike McGee brings National Poetry Month to Bellingham

by Jake Werrion

courtesy photo

April is a busy month for poets. It’s National Poetry Month, which means lots of extra events happening all over the country. People will be writing words, sharing words, feeling words, you know, pretty standard stuff for any poetry scene. What’s extra great about this month is that it brings the Mighty Mike McGee to Bellingham to perform in three events (mark your calendars for April 7-9), making a long stop here as he moves up and down I-5 from San Jose to Vancouver this month.

McGee is no stranger to busy, rather, he is a man who has made his living with his art. He has toured over 600,000 miles between Europe and North America in his career as a spoken word poet, reading anywhere people will listen to him speak, be it in friends’ kitchens or at Canadian music festivals, competing in slam poetry or promoting a chapbook. In 2003 he won the National Poetry Slam Individual Grand Championship and then won again three years later in the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship. On his most recent audio book, Harmony, we can catch a glimpse of what to expect should you see him perform this April. It shows him as a story teller; of love stories, creation myths, tales of fragrant interactions with celebrities and of apocalypses. He writes with a weighted whimsy, mixing humor and heart-breaking longing together in a very honest way, almost conversational and at times comic, moving in and out of these intense pockets of rhythm and delightful word play. The effect is beautiful.

As accomplished as this world champion is, McGee never loses sight of the fact that poetry (as with most art) is best shared in a community, or more specifically, a small living room with food and friends. In 2013, he started Kitchen Sessions in his home here in Bellingham. Kitchen Sessions is a poetry potluck that asks participants to bring homemade food and new words, a safe place to debut something that’s maybe not fully polished quite yet, and to try out a new recipe. It’s become a keystone of the Bellingham poetry scene, and is often the place where first time readers find their courage to perform. The Bellingham Kitchen Sessions was not the first, but one of many he has created in many of the cities he has lived; Worcester MA, Vancouver BC, Portland OR, San Jose CA have all been home to this wonderful invention, and all (except Portland’s) still exist in one form or another, a testament to McGee’s semi-nomadic life style and his talent to facilitate community.

Even though McGee is no longer a Bellinghamster proper (he’s currently living in San Jose), it will be hard to not think of him as a neighbor when you see him on stage this month, with his influence still reverberating in our tiny corner.

LIVE SHOWS: See Mike McGee at the Green Frog on April 7 (headlining); reading at the fundraiser “Every Frame Tells a Story” (poetry about movies) for Film is Truth on April 8; and hosting the 2nd Annual Jack McCarthy Evergreen Invitational Slam on April 9 in Marysville. For more information about Mike McGee, check out www.mikemcgee.net.