Lauded local artist performs his quirky works around the world
THE SANTA CLARA
April 14, 2016
Before Mike McGee picked up performance poetry, he wanted to be a priest, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right stage for him—he wanted better lighting and a crowd more receptive to foul language.
“I wanted to be a Catholic priest until I realized that what I really wanted was an audience,” McGee said. “Since childhood I wanted to affect people and manipulate them in creative ways…to remind people of their feelings at every turn of phrase.”
He turned to stand-up comedy, but grew tired of its limitations and protocols. His career aspirations aren’t the only things that have changed during his lifetime. From Kindergarten through twelfth grade, McGee attended fourteen different schools. In high school, he picked up theater, dabbling with drama for a spell. Then a friend “lured” him to an open mic.
“This form of spoken word art felt like putting on a new coat that had been made for me specifically. I could be dramatic, hilarious, critical, insightful and compassionate at once,” McGee said.
He had written poetry before. Actually, he’d been writing poems, raps, screenplays, skits and one acts since he was five. A lot of the inspiration for his poems comes from music, stories and other things that “wake people up on the inside.”
While competing on the San Jose slam team in 2003, McGee won the American National Poetry Slam (NPS) Individual Grand Championship. Just three years later, he won at a world level, as well. McGee said the competitions, hosting hundreds of poets in various cities every summer, were hard fought—as hard as it can be to read a poem on stage.
“(Winning) changed my perspective and my horizon. It made the world a lot smaller for me,” he said, reflecting on just how quickly people started booking him at slams as a featured guest. “For me, winning was a wonderful confirmation that what I was doing artistically was the best thing I could have been doing at the time.”
In the decade or so since his celebrity status was born, McGee has recorded albums of his work and performs occasionally on NPR’s Snap Judgment podcast, amidst his annual tour schedule that takes him around America and Europe.
Every third Saturday of the month, McGee hosts a poetry show called The Burning Tale just eight blocks up Bellomy Street at Studio Bongiorno; additionally, he hosts a number of other poetry shows in the Silicon Valley. Ultimately, McGee believes there is no wrong way to do art.
“Share it far and wide,” he said. “You may never fully capture the image of something with your words, but that’s not your job. What you should desire is to hold a moment of it just long enough, so that those who weren’t there for it the first time, won’t miss it a second time.”
Contact Riley O’Connell at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.