By Justin Baker
Benson, Neb.– Every first Monday of the month, a posse of performance poets meets at the Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. It’s time for PROVOKE, and to provoke.
“It’s the poetic equivalent to that sharp pointy stick your mom always warned you about (Prissy poems of plump puppies passionately prancing with pink pom-poms will be highly frowned upon and dealt with severely),” writes Jack Hubbell in the event description.
The event has passed through different hands and has changed venues several times over the years, but Hubbell said it has settled in the PS Collective at the request of owner Amy Ryan. After going over a bit of the backstory of PROVOKE, he went over the rules. He said that there are usually three to four rounds so that one person isn’t speaking for too long, and a different theme is chosen every month.
“Everytime we get together, we’ll have a theme to make it a bit more difficult, to challenge us. It’s easy to write inside the box. To step outside the box quite often, we’ll have somebody come up with a particular theme, which forces you to write on it. I’ve always been impressed with it, because it makes me write out of the box.”
The theme for February was funerals, which was chosen by Heidi Hermanson, a frequent player at PROVOKE. Hermanson is a prominent poetic figure in Omaha, and recites across the city for her “Naked Words” open mic series. She said she has even once read her poetry aloud in the middle of the Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. If you would like more info about Hermanson, visit her webpage at prairiesongs.com
The first speaker of the night was Dave Hufford, aka “The Professor.” Hufford is a retired professor of poetry from Iowa Western Community College, and is a regional star in the scene. He said he has won slam poetry competitions from the Meadowlark Café in Lincoln, Neb. to the Green Mill Lounge in Chicago, a frequent hangout for Al Capone during the Prohibition.
Then Frank O’Neal took to the stage. O’Neal is an Omaha native, who has returned home after spending some time in Southern California. His poetry was as powerful as his look, and he made effective use of gesticulation and enunciation. Poetry is his passion, and his business. Be sure to visit his website at frankoneal.com
After O’Neal, crowd favorite Todd Baker came on up. Sitting among the audience, he had a quiet and shy demeanor, but Baker laid down a shockwave when he got on stage. For example, with the poem he wrote titled “The Sixth Sense.”
“I see white people, filling my TV, the howling Shawnee warriors on that one show; they’re all Italians! The Egyptians and the Hebrews in the Ten Commandments all are white folks, too.
Mayberry, North Carolina is populated exclusively by whites! Strom Thurmond must’ve been pleased. The NHL and Nascar are also filled with white men. Perhaps because colored people are forbidden to either skate or drive, I’m not quite sure. It seems unfair though.”
Near the end of the night, two PROVOKE virgins tried their hands at on-stage soul-spilling. Known only as “Rock” and Joe, they got up from their tables to read some heartfelt poetry. Rock’s poem was obviously inspired by those ahead of him because it was written on a PS Collective napkin.
All in all, PROVOKE was a wonderfully awful experience. The poems were disturbing and troubling, but the atmosphere was lively, as it was easy to tell almost everyone in the group knew each other well.
The next PROVOKE night is March 4, and the theme is door-to-door salesmen. This is a perfect topic for those that have a “no solicitors” sign hanging on their door. For those that do, join the group at the PS Collective, and bring along some poetic endeavors.
6056 Maple St. in Benson, Neb.