Beatnik turns ringmaster

Oral poetry guru Mark Kozub launches Tuesday night "Word Circus"

Mark “Alberta Beatnik” Kozub’s seen the scene. He’s been the scene. He’s the word wizard who’s toiled in the darkness for years, convening Tuesday night conjurings of velvet verse in a cave of lyric wonders called the Backroom Vodka Bar. Kozub, the man with the retro goatee and the hipster shirt, is a pioneer of our city’s performance poetry scene. Former president of the mild, sweater vest of poetry called the Stroll of Poets Society, Kozub’s now the don of the Raving Poets (, an edgier gang who for four years have been stoking the Backroom furnace with music and voice, and turning out an alloy of delight.

To celebrate National Poetry Month in April, the Raving Poets are presenting Mumbo Jumbo: A Word Circus every Tuesday at the Backroom. In fact this last Tuesday, city councillor Michael Phair was scheduled to perform the first poem at the Mumbo Jumbo kickoff. You’ll find everyone of every type and stripe here—not just during April, but at all Kozub’s gigs, especially young people, with the genders “representing” at about even numbers. But there are some differences, he says, in how men and women step up to the microphone… and what happens after they do.

“There are big time differences,” he says. “Sheri-D Wilson, based out of Calgary—she’s got an album out called Sweet Taste of Lightning, a really cool CD. When you see her perform, she puts her entire body into it. And her stuff is very… kind of urban and sort of Beat Generation… vaguely feminist and empowering to the female spirit with a sexual liberation component to it. She’s one of the ones who’s really, really amazing, particularly at a local level…. The difference, though, between men and women that I’ve noticed… and over the last year we’ve had a lot more female readers, there’s some nights where I just can’t believe just how deep some of the things are that are being shared. And it’s been a fascinating look into the female psyche, some of it definitely being about jilted relationships… very dark, depressing thoughts about men, to angry thoughts about men.”

Kozub searches carefully for his next words. “And often when I hear that, I reverse the gender and I think, ‘Wow, if a man got up and said that, every female poet in the crowd would form a small lynch mob to get this guy.” He laughs. “And we’ve actually had moments like that—not lynch mob moments, but certainly where you really notice there’s been a real sharing of men getting up there and discussing how hurt they are, and women doing the same. I’d like to believe that when people do that, especially if there’s an eloquence to it and a rawness and a realness, that both sexes walk away from the night that the sometimes Grand Canyon gap between the sexes suddenly doesn’t seem as big any more. And [women] say, ‘Wow, I think I understand guys,’ and guys say, ‘I think I understand women.’ Poetry is a really intimate way of getting to those essential truths.”

Kozub releases CDs of his poetry, printing a few dozen at a time and selling them at gigs. He’s currently assembling a “best of” CD from a solo series he did during March. He’s calling it I Love Alberta Beat. His own style is a strong concoction of standup, jazz alto-saxman, satirist and eulogist. “Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins,” says Kozub, “are definitely North American [poetic] voices, without a doubt, that speak with the social consciousness of North Americans. I love them and people like William S. Burroughs, and yet I’m not similar to Burroughs in that I’m not a guy in New York shooting up junk. And yet I find stuff like that entertaining.”

Some of his relatives don’t grok his fascination and work: “‘These poetry things—do you make money out of it? Why do you do these things?’” A documentary on his work has aired on Bravo! and Book TV, causing relatives to call him, saying, “‘Hey, I just saw you on TV! Wow! It looks like things are going well for you!’… What, the work is more valid because it’s been seen by people? And beyond that, I don’t see [my TV appearances] adding up to intense sales.” V

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