I remember a Bohemian Concern I had back in September 2011. I was doing my first feature at the brand new Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Café and needed to blow the audience away. So I turned to my trusty poetry allies for help, like Marcus If.
“I need you to be The Beast again,” I told him, “and fuck with me when I’m on stage.”
“Aw, ya know I would, Jonny,” he said, “but I plan to be in trouble with The Law that day.”
“Well shit… I can’t just get up there and simply read poetry. It needs to be much weirder than that.”
“Ya know who’s good with these types of Bohemian Concerns? Roseanna Frechette.”
Marcus had introduced me to Roseanna not too long before that at the old NoName reading one night. Word had it she’d been in the Denver scene for some time and had been known to drop in on Boulder’s old Penny Lane readings back in the day. I immediately noticed her mystic smile and how she carried her body free-spirit loose. You could tell she was the type who got a kick outta meeting the newest creative people on the scene, not just sticking with her own and complaining about how nobody else does it the right way anymore. She came up and put her arm around me, smiled and said, “Ooh, I see you have a giant angel puppet with you.”
“It’s my Guardian Angel who loves me no matter what,” I said.
“I completely get it,” she said and then we danced.
So it was arranged to meet up with Roseanna again at Marcus’s place (which during that strange brief era wasn’t Love Shovel but an apartment in Boulder) to cook up a scheme.
“Alright, here’s what I got so far,” I said. “I’m gonna dress up like a bearded diaper-baby and play Bob Seger songs while you yell mean shit at me from the audience.”
“Say no more,” she said, “I know exactly what to do. I’ll become The Madwoman, and while I heckle you with all my might at first, in the end I will help transform you into your most fully-integrated self.”
The night of the show I was setting up, and in walked The Madwoman, dressed in a hideous pink dress with a wide brimmed hat, too-bright red lipstick and big weirdo glasses. She immediately started going up to strangers to make them uncomfortable.
“Jennifer Aniston!” she yelled at a terrified college guy, “…is MY daughter and she’s getting married… but she shouldn’t be wearing white.”
Then she tried to force him to read old celebrity magazines until he agreed. After he ran for safety out the door, she went on to the next unsuspecting customer.
A concerned barista came up to me and asked if I knew who the Madwoman was, and of course I shrugged and went, “nuh uh.”
Even the poet Mark Curci, who knew Roseanna pretty well, had no idea and tried to distance himself from her.
The show was all success from there. During the performance she started shouting things at me like “You’re a baby, baby, and you don’t have the mental or physical capacity to fit in as an adult in this world.” The crowd even stood up for me, saying things like “Hey crazy lady, let the man perform his art in peace!” Soon after it was clear she was a ringer and the audience hadta say “Wow, ya got me! I didn’t know a poetry reading could have so much extra weird shit going on.”
“Thanks Roseanna,” I high-5’d her afterward, “you have proven yourself to be quite masterful at assisting with Bohemian Concerns.”
“But of course,” she bowed, and then we went dancing.
No One Here Can Afford Their Rent Anymore
Who knew back then that just a few short years later our Bohemian Concerns would become much greater than just winning over a small poetry bookstore audience? Today it feels like there are Concerns coming from every direction, each one more concerning than the last. And every day it’s something new and unexpected. Like the cutting of arts endowments. The insistence of a single notion of spirituality, gender, sexuality and culture. Or the battle for the right to drill oil inside your own brain if they find any there. Some days it seems like those entrusted with the highest authority over us might suddenly try to outlaw Bohemianism altogether. It’s hard to know which Concern to focus your energy on the most. But perhaps the most concerning of all is how much more you hafta pay for rent here than you used to.
If you’re a weird artist who’s been in the Boulder/Denver area for a few years then you know what I’m talking about. The New People are pouring in here, and economic development and the real estate market are soaring. While I assume it’s good for some people, it’s not usually our kind who benefit from these kinda things.
Personally, I was doing alright with a cheap room in The Shitty Trailer in Boulder, until the ceiling collapsed in The Flood of 2013. After that I realized I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else in town and hadta spend the last few years in strange and confusing outer communities like Broomfield and Westminster where housing was slightly more reasonable. Yet even there the rent began to increase at a rate considerably higher than my income. Now I’m in some kind of housing no-man’s land with my personal belongings scattered between multiple zipcodes, while I couchcrash and roomshare, and the U.S. Postal Service begs me for some kind of clarity. I find myself looking thru Craigslist, property management websites, and Facebook’s Boulder Creative Housing group for some kind of hope, but all I’ve learned is that my first studio apartment from 2003 is now 199% more expensive and there may be some hippie-strangers in a 6 bedroom house who will put me up if I don’t mind living in their closet and never using the bathroom. Oh, it’s just so concerning! What is a Bohemian to do?
But just like back in 2011 for my Innisfree feature there is still one person you can turn to assist with all your Bohemian Concerns – Roseanna Frechette. In the middle of last year, after witnessing so many longtime friends and neighbors struggling to pay their rent or getting their leases flat-out cancelled, and having no other option but to move away from the area, she created Denver Artists for Rent Control or DARCO. While some of us wanna blame our landlords or all the New People or perhaps even ourselves for not being conventionally minded enough to become a well payed corporate hack, Roseanna and an inside committee of fellow artists are focusing much of their efforts on our state government, who passed a law years ago forbidding municipalities from making their own rules about rent control. Roseanna knows this is no small Bohemian Concern, and it will be an uphill battle to change things. While it would seem to make sense to limit the amount you can raise rent to match local income growth, some say it wouldn’t give landlords any incentive to improve their properties, while property owners themselves believe strongly in their right to charge whatever the market will bear.
If anyone can take this on it’s Roseanna. Her persistence and commitment to poetry, dance, theatre, journalism, yoga, teaching, and general self-expression are well known. And now she’s making an art out of activism. She’s reading up on the laws, speaking to city and state legislators, and holding info sharing sessions and rallies like the one coming up on April 29th at Mutiny Information Café In Denver. She’s also dreamt up a creative sort of letter writing campaign to let those in power know just how important our Bohemian Concerns are and what we mean to our communities.
I was talking with Roseanna about all this last Friday at Boulder Writers Warehouse (which needs your help to keep up with its rent! support us here), and it was hard not to get fired up to join in the efforts. While we discussed some of the accidental positives emerging from the situation, like being forced to live more simply and less materialistically, (Roseanna herself has had to share her space with a non-romantic roommate for the first time in years and says it’s good for her) we can also imagine (although we’d rather not) a city without any artists. Cuz at this rate who is going to be able to afford to live here?
I like to think of myself as MeToo poet, neutrally trying to see all sides of things, but when faced with a Concern such as total elimination or only being able to afford to live in Wyoming, it makes me wanna find one of the greedheads responsible, grab them by the suit, and yell to their face, “don’t you realize your prosperity is making life harder for so many people?!” We kicked around the idea of having a demonstration right outside one of the new luxury apartments popping up everywhere, or maybe the developers’ offices, just so they can’t believe their actions are 100% harmless. For now tho we plan to have a letter writing session Saturday May 6th at 1pm at BWW. Cuz if you’re like me it’s hard to do that kinda stuff alone and I’ll have trouble finding the time, so it would be a lot easier to solve our Bohemian Concerns in solidarity. And if you can’t make it, the dropbox, which has Kerouac and Cassady on it and asks “where would Jack and Neal live today?”, will be there from now until the end of July.
If you want to know more about how you can get involved with DARCO, go to their website at DenverArtistsforRentControl.org or their Facebook group Denver Artists for Rent Control. There is also a great article about it in Westword, http://www.westword.com/arts/denver-artists-for-rent-control-takes-a-stand-against-the-rising-cost-of-living-7922498 and here’s Brice Maiurro’s interview with Roseanna for ALOC Media https://alocmedia.com/denver-artists-rent-control-darco-interview-roseanna-frechette/
The 29th Annual Poetry Rodeo!
But look… even tho there are so many political and social and pure survival Bohemian Concerns going on right now, we can’t forget our most core Concerns such as making art and weirdness. And we happen to be coming up on one of the most important poetry events of the year, the Poetry Rodeo, or ‘Podeo’ this Friday the 21st at the Mercury Café in Denver. The annual event’s been going on since 1989 when radio station KUVO featured 42 poets for April’s National Poetry Month, including Roseanna Frechette, who continues to be involved as one of the organizers and co-host for the event.
It starts at 6pm with ensemble Art Compost & the Word Mechanics in a musical-poetry jam paying Tribute to Poets Past of Denver.
From 8-10:30pm, features include performance poetry from Roseanna, me, Wayne Gilbert, Mila Popovich, M.D. Friedman, SETH, Marilyn Megenity; flash fiction readings by Nancy Stohlman, Hillary Leftwich, David Atkinson, Stina French; words of Stories Stories host Ed Ward; as well as sets by noted poets Les Reed, Carolyn Reed, Sean McAllister, Jimi Bernath, Ted Vaca, Emily Wiechec. As Denver’s slam community prepares to host this summer’s National Poetry Slam 2017, Mercury Cafe Slam Poets and Slam Nuba will share the stage with members of Denver’s youth slam team Minor Disturbance.
The evening ends with a free open mic.
With more poetry tribes in the area than ever before it’s really a great opportunity for uniting. And as Roseanna says, “Colorado Poetry Rodeo is one of those long standing events our bohemian literary community can count on for reunion. Poetic roots run deep in this town, and it’s good to feel that connection… current and alive… until the tipped cows come home.”
And then who knows what kind of mad, weird Bohemianism will ensue!
For more on the event check out its Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/events/132137143987689/
Jonathan Montgomery is editor-in-chief of Boulder Poetry Tribe. An MFA graduate from Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School in 2005, he’s the author of Pizzas and Mermaid and Taxis & Shit. He currently works as an English professor at Front Range Community College. Check out his personal site at jonathan-montgomery.com.