Who: Bryant Mason, Daniel Comiskey, C.E. Putnam, Kreg Hasegawa, and Annalisa Pesek
What: Interrupture, a poetry performance troupe
When: April 20, 2010
Where: The Canoe Social Club


“Open Door” features audio, video, and other online media to document dynamic interactions between poetry and its audience. “Open Door” showcases performance, scholarship, and engagement outside the usual boundaries of slams, workshops, and book publications. This week: Interrupture.


Poet Doug Nufer mounts the stage with a black puppy in his hands. The puppy squirms and yelps.

"This is my personal interrupter," Nufer says.

Nufer (Doug Nufer and puppy at the Canoe Social Club)

He proceeds as master of ceremonies for a performance by Seattle's Interrupture, introducing the poetry troupe only with what he calls incontestable facts.

Interrupture has been together for about two years. They have performed previously around Seattle at Smokefarm, the Subtext reading series, and at the Northwest Film Forum. On this night at the Canoe Social Club in the International District, there are five performers: Bryant Mason, Daniel Comiskey, C.E. Putnam, Kreg Hasegawa, and (in her first appearance with the group) Annalisa Pesek. On this night, they will perform a piece called "Document #6: The conNOuns."

Nufer, puppy returned to owner, leaves. Interrupture takes the stage, and the the performance begins.

Later, when asked to describe what exactly Interrupture is, Mason says simply, "We're a word band." Mason first suggested the idea of a game-based word performance to Comiskey and others. "We get together. We practice. We have rotating members," Mason continues, "People come in, learn the different games."

"We're performers and players both," adds Comiskey. "But one of the main things we try to do is be entertainers. Depending on what type of poetry background you come from, that's something that's either not considered at all, or it's first and foremost."

To the outside observer, an Interrupture performance is not a little like John Zorn's game-based performance piece Cobra. Or John Cage's work. Chance, rules, and competition all come into play. The five members play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to select this game’s first leader, its first “conductor.”

"In the current game, the conductor doesn't speak. He also doesn't have the text in front of him, so it's much more like a jazz improviser reacting to the moment as the people performing react to the moment," says Mason.

Conductor chosen—it's Putnam—the performance at Canoe Social Club begins with the other four performers saying, “I am no Diderot,” a phrase taken from a piece of collaborative writing the group worked out beforehand.  All four say it differently, stress it differently, and even pronounce it differently in the case of Pesek. (The others say "dee-der-oh," but she says "did-er-oh").

(Interrupture in performance)

The conductors—Putnam, in this case—conduct the action with a series of hand signals—each of which was suggested by and tinkered with in the group. A spin of the hand calls for the performer to loop the phrase he is saying. Volume goes up or down on the raise and lowering of a hand. A point means play, a fist means pause. The voices register goes up or down as a forearm is pivoted on a fixed elbow in 180 degrees, straight up for a high, nasally screech, straight down for a basso rumble. Chopping on the palm changes the rhythm. Pointing at a page prompts the player to take a new page of the text either from the music stand in front of them, or out of the hands of another performer. Fingers pinch the nose to ask the performer to, as one would imagine, speak the lines through a pinched nose.

And a fist shake is a “challenge” for conductorship.

The meaning of each gesture is fixed, but the performers still play with what they can—the way they say the lines. Mason is made to repeat the line "...beer, and now he loves lobster..." but being unable to resist the comedy of the line, changes it slightly to "and now he loves beer...and now he loves beer..."

The challenge gesture—the fist shake—leads to some of the most interesting moments of the night because, it turns out, the performers are quite competitive—and the competitive spirit rubs off on the audience.  Comiskey, when losing a challenge, looks more self-critical than one would expect in this situation. When a long period of challenges against Mason are finally broken by Pesek, which lead to her first conductorship, there is rousing applause from the crowd. And after Hasegawa unsuccessfully challenges Mason's final conductorship in the last few minutes of the performance, Mason goes fairly sadistic, turning Hasegawa's register all the way up, looping him, having him pinch his nose and cover his mouth with his elbow for a good four minutes. Hasegawa goes red, reciting through the constraints.

(Daniel Comiskey challenges for conductorship)

For the coda, the performers walk into the audience and select five new Interruptures. The new Interrupture supergroup surrounds those of us left in the chairs in a cacophony of new voices.

"When Annalisa saw us perform at the Northwest Film Forum, her response was that she really wanted to get up and play. And that's the right response," says Mason. And so as an addition to this Canoe Social Club performance, they have added this moment where the audience is invited in.

"At this point, we've taught the audience the rules of the game as they've watched us," says Comiskey. "And they picked it up and were able to follow."

"I'm surprised no one challenged us, though," says Mason, referring to the fact that, to the group's disappointment, no audience member shook a fist to try to take control.

And speaking of challenges, when I met Mason and Comiskey for beers—it turns out that in addition to poetry, the members of Interrupture also share a love of bicycles and IPA—Comiskey offered a challenge. It turns out after a performance, they discovered that a group of Flarf poets had begun playing one of Interrupture's game in performance. "And we would like to openly challenge them or anyone else."

A battle of the word bands, it seems, is in the offing.


(If you would like to pitch an “Open Door” feature concept, please email harriet@poetryfoundation.org with “Open Door” in the subject line.)

Originally Published: May 11th, 2010
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