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Twin Cities, Ep. 9

May 8, 2013 — To kick off our planet-hopping May tour, Literary Death Match returned to magical Minneapolis (and more specifically Nomad World Pub) for a humdinger of a night that finished with Allegra Lingo outdueling Christy Marie Kent 3-1 in a raucous game of Literary Pictionary that won Lingo the LDM Twin Cities, Ep. 9 crown. 

Writeup by Mill City Bibliophile's Patrick Nathan 

“It’s been weeks,” says Literary Death Match frontman Adrian Todd Zuniga. “Months? Days, anyway. Hours.” Minneapolis-Saint Paul is one of his favorite stops, he says, but Twin Cities Episode 8 was last September. We’ve missed him, but this absence is an easy one to forgive – winter ended last week. “This is our 269th show,” he tells the audience, as though it’s no big deal, and dives right in, firing darts into the crowd with readers’ names – “You, ma’am, with the shirt!” – and introducing the night’s celebrity judges. What sets Literary Death Match apart from all other bookish events is its status as a happening. You feel that you’re part of something, and it’s the judges who give this impression its flavor.

Last night, Literary Death Match set a new standard for a disparate but brilliant trio of personalities. Judging literary merit was Ed Bok Lee, poet and author of the 2012 American Book Award winning Whorled. Lee is a keystone of the MSP poetry community, and while his work is both kinetic and demanding, his persona onstage is far more reticent. He’s not afraid to think, and in doing so ask the audience to think along with him. 

The night’s biggest surprise for many, however, came from celebrity judge Robyne Robinson, judging performance. “Do you think that’s her real name?” someone in the audience asked. “It’s gotta be a stage name. I wonder if she has a Wikipedia.” Robinson, it turns out, is her real name – at least according to her Wikipedia page – and despite the timid, Midwestern persona she wore for years as a news-anchor on KMSP-TV, she’s searingly intelligent and opinionated. On Madmen, for example: “It’s about a glorified era that I saw the other side of. I hate that show. Absolute crap.”

Judging the most beloved category of them all – Zuniga’s “intangibles” – was local author and comedian Lorna Landvik (author of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons), who, having recently taken up with the “Pad Your Résumé for Fun and Profit” movement, “humbly acknowledges that out of her nine published novels, seven have won Pulitzer Prizes and the other two have outsold the Bible.” Enough said. 

First to read was Loft teaching artist Sally Franson, whose “confessional essay” took a strong stance, in character, against the works of Virginia Woolf. The whole naming women after US States thing? It doesn’t seem to be working: “When was the last time you met a Georgia who wasn’t a little slutty?” Franson’s protagonist grows up according to what she thinks is the Golden Rule: Be nice to everyone up front, and then trash-talk them behind their back. This includes Virginia Woolf, whose status as an outsider – a girl in black shunned by the entire school. “Most people don’t know this,” said Landvik, after Franson had left the stage, “but Woolf’s lover was actually my great-grandmother.” Some of us, in the audience, fell for it. “It’s a bit of Proust mixed with [Sex and the City author] Candace Bushnell,” said Lee. “In the very best way.” Robinson took it personally, she said – “It was like she captured the lovechild of Janis Ian and Woody Allen.”

Franson’s opponent – essayist and Rockstar Storyteller Allegra Lingo – took a different approach. “Sometimes I write what I call tone poems,” she said, and pushed a few buttons on the sound system, on the side of the stage. As the saying goes, all hell then broke loose. Underscoring – both literary and figuratively – Lingo’s poem, “Bedtime Stories,” was an overwhelming thunderstorm of Strauss, and at one point she switched to German, shouting what could’ve been expletives or a taxonomy of animals as loud as she could. “I’m not dead I’m thinking,” her poem’s speaker declares to herself, lost in a delirium between nightmare and consciousness, “and therefore I’m alive.” There’s only one way out, she told the audience, and produced a glass of whiskey, which she swallowed in one gulp. “This is Shel Silverstein meets Mein Kampf,” Lee declared. Robinson too thought of a hybrid:”Very Strauss like, mixed with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Very pythonian in its delivery. I also felt like she was in my bed, and that’s good.” It brought Landvik back to her days in a medically-induced coma, she said, where she lay for ten years and can only remember a string of German words – which she then proceeded to release upon the audience. After a short huddle, the judges advanced Lingo to the final round.

During the break, the audience was privy to the TV trailer for Literary Death Match, which recently filmed its pilot episode. Zuniga hopes to take LDM to a much larger audience.

“Holy shit!” Zuniga said into the mic. “Round Two!” Right away he introduced Jay Gabler to the stage, co-founder of the creative writing blog The Tangential and creator of the “hyperfiction project” Unreality House. Gabler brought another nightmare on the audience with veteran protagonists of classic fairytales – “after they’ve had a few.” Goldilocks can’t hold her liquor, it turns out: “Oh my god, you want to know about bears?” Jack, of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” regrets trading the cow for those beans – nevermore did he go over to ball the milkman’s daughter. Rapunzel is alive and well, in New Jersey: “Oh my gawd, sweetie, your hair is gorgeous! Never cut it!” Gabler followed this act with an imagined letter from Dippin’ Dots to Kemp’s (lesser) IttiBitz: “Go fuck yourselves… Parents buy your product because you’re cheaper, those stupid fucks… You should be ashamed of yourselves.” “It has a rambling, Larry David kind of anger,” Robinson said after Gabler had left the stage. “I really kind of dig it.” Landvik: “Most people don’t know this, but the Brothers Grimm actually stole all their material from the Danish Sisters Morose. It’s a shame, really.”

The night’s last reader was Christy Marie Kent (author of Pecan Pie, Cigars, and the One and Only Secret to Happiness), whose essay on voice found wings through Greek mythology. How was she supposed to change her voice? Kent, who is transgendered, asked herself. The Nomad World Pub – home of the last several Literary Death Match events in the Twin Cities – is a loud, crowded bar; never had it been this quiet. Kent’s voice was, miraculously, the only voice, and the judges had no qualms in advancing her forward, to the final round.

Zuniga’s finales are notoriously elaborate, sometimes involving half the audience as “volunteers,” so it was a change of pace, last night, when he went for a classic: literary Pictionary. While simple, however, it was anything but low-key. While a volunteer drew his or her visual interpretation of a book title, the audience screamed their own interpretations. A bird waiting under a raised arm, holding a butcher knife: To Kill a Mockingbird. Two short stick figures under a night sky: Midnight’s Children. Ultimately, Kent wasn’t fast enough in her delivery, and Lingo took the title. “What does this mean for you,” Zuniga asked her, and, once more, we got an earful of German. One should really get around to learning it.

Follow LDM on Twitter and/or Facebook now! 

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