Chapter 3: An Interview with Madison Mae Parker
This series of interviews with writer/organizers aims to explore why and how to have a literary reading—a good literary reading—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience while also creating a supportive environment for readers.
Last week we heard from Mark Cugini who was unafraid to say how special a good reading can make all involved feel. He’s echoed this week by Madison Mae Parker, as they both point out the importance of synergy between the reader and the audience.
(Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted. When this series is all said and done, maybe we’ll have developed the simple formula for the perfect reading. Or maybe we’ll learn enough to make more questions to answer!)
Name: Madison Mae Parker
Location: Bryan/College Station, TX
Tell me about the reading series you organize.
MMP: [It’s] a scene called Mic Check Poetry. We meet every Sunday for free at an awesome venue called Revolution. Mic Check is a nonprofit that was established in 2010, but has been around much longer than that. I started attending Mic Check as audience member in 2012 and stepped onto the mic shortly after. After being on the officer board in 2013, I became President of Mic Check in spring of 2014.
How are Mic Check events structured? In other words, could you give me a quick run-down of how the event(s) is formatted?
MMP: So Mic Check primarily operates as an open mic with monthly slams. They are open to anyone to read; sign-ups occur at the venue and anyone is welcome to touch stage. We meet every Sunday, rain or shine. We often have features as well. On nights with features, we start with first round or open mic, let the feature do their thing, then continue on into the second round [of the competition]. Our events usually run roughly 8:30-11pm.
We host two national-level festivals each year as well.
Wow, that’s a lot.
MMP: It definitely keeps us busy!
Who is the audience for these events? Is it all Young people and teens, or older adults too? Is the audience diverse?
MMP: Bryan/College Station is a small, college town. We are located in the same town as Texas A&M University, making a large portion of our audiences college students. Due to this, our scene is ever-changing in faces, which is great as far as keeping us from becoming stagnant in poetry and growth, but also has its challenges too, as people come and go and move away quite often. Our venue is located right in the heart of Downtown Bryan, which is a family in-and-of-itself. We get many locals who are active in the local art scene at large and have been for some time. As far as POC and our diversity, we have a wide mix of races and genders who come out and participate at our open mics, although I will say the majority of our audience members are white. Last I checked, in 2013, TAMU had sadly less than 2% of African American students, for example. This is something we are actively trying to grow and develop by reaching out to other communities and actively partner with people of color and other organizations.
What makes a reading a success in your eyes?
MMP: I don’t want this to sound too floaty… but there is just a certain vibe that has to cultivated in a reading. It needs to feel comfortable, safe. Some of my favorite readings may have not had the best poetry, but the people there meant what they had to say. They were honest. They understood the power of their words. And [they were] welcoming. I’ve been to some poetry scenes where, yea, sure [I’m hearing] probably some of the best poetry I’ve heard in a while, but they don’t care about the people on stage. So I guess for me, it’s the people more than else. The heart of the community.
What have you learned to differently from attending other readings?
MMP: I don’t know if it’s as much what I would do differently, but how I could grow from other [observing] scenes. When I first started hosting…I must have been such an awful host. I have terrible stage fright (even still!), which did not aid my awkward tendencies.
My friend Chibbi Orduna—the original host of Laredo Border Slam, but now located at Write About Now in Houston, TX—told me once that half of hosting is just taking your personality and pushing it to 150% on stage. Taking the parts of you that are already unique and letting them shine through. Chibbi is hilarious and sarcastic, and he invites the audience in with that. It is all about making the audience feel as if they are just as part of the show, even if they do not touch stage themselves. I think one thing I work actively to avoid are feelings of being unapproachable as a whole and competition. Some competition is healthy, sure. But I don’t think competition always lends itself to new people stepping into the scene.
I guess I would add on that as far as competition within poetry goes, I still love attending festivals, competing myself, coaching teams, and hosting poetry festivals, but I think it’s important to not lose sight of why we write, amidst the competitions. Your truth is more important than taking home a prize, although they can go hand-in-hand, very easily.
My last question is what is the strangest/weirdest thing that has ever happened at a reading or slam.
MMP: Hmm, well I don’t believe I was hosting yet, but it was a couple years back. Mic Check has an Erotic Slam every summer, and I remember one particular reading [when] a woman got on stage and read a poem where she baahhhhh‘d like a sheep for the entire 3 minutes she was on the mic. She had a couple of lines in her piece, but overall, it was just her making that sheep noise. Haha, I’ve never laughed so awkwardly in my life.
Writers are fucking weirdos.
RIGHT? She got off stage with the attitude like, “Yea. I just did that. What are you going to do about it?” And I had so much respect for her in that moment. Haha.
Madison Mae Parker has been a member of Mic Check Poetry 2013, 2014, and 2015 teams, coached the 2015 team, and competed in Texas Grand Slam ’13 and Women of the World ’14. She has been Director for Texas Grand Slam ’14, ’15 and Speak Up! Speak Out! Youth Poetry Slam (formerly Texas Youth Poetry Slam) She co-founded Texas A&M University’s literary magazine, The Eckleburg Project. Her first chapbook, “The Second Birth,” was released spring of 2015 and is available for purchase online (madisonmaeparker.com/publications). She is currently serving as Media Director of Write Bloody Publishing and president of Mic Check Poetry in Bryan, TX, where she questions daily how she is so eternally blessed.