Cabaret Voltage | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Cabaret Voltage 

High Voltage: An open mic veteran tries to breathe new life into poetry readings.

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The Cabaret Voltage is an event of literature, music, and art recently revived by C.A. Leibow, and hosted monthly at Nobrow Coffee. For his efforts with Cabaret Voltage, Leibow received the Writers at Work Writer’s Advocate Award in 2008. City Weekly spoke with Leibow in May.

City Weekly: How long have you been a poetry aficianado?

C.A. Leibow: I started the first poetry reading that had ever been in Provo, in 1993.

CW: What was that called?

CAL: It was called the Atomic Mic Night. And it was in a bar, ABG’s, and we did it once a month, and it was really cool because at the time, there really were no poetry readings in Provo. It was a little … out there. We had a schizophrenic guy that would come around and read poetry, and it was great because he would always write poems about Cardinal Richelieu.

CW: Where did Cabaret Voltage come from?

CAL: About four years ago, [co-founder] Mike McLane and I were just talking about the arts scene in Salt Lake [City], and the type of thing that we would like to see and how there was nothing around. At the time I was reading a lot of Dada history and what they were doing, and Michael and I were coming up with some Dada ideas, things we could do during the summer ... We went to the Urban Lounge [to stage Cabaret Voltage], and they were really supportive for a couple of years, and then, as the shows went on, people started coming out of the woodwork.

And that is what I like about Cabaret Voltage: You’ll get somebody in who has never been to school, has never published a book, and maybe it is their first time reading. And maybe they will blow you away. Sometimes they are just no good, but at the same time, there is something really beautiful about that. What Michael and I were trying to do was create an environment that was egalitarian, that brought people in at all levels, and that treated them the same.

CW: How did it end?

CAL: Well [sighs], a couple of things. After just doing it for two years, burnout factor. A challenge was finding enough people to really do it. I mean, we were doing it every two weeks.

CW: What brought about Cabaret Voltage this second time?

CAL: There’s really nothing out there like it. I feel that right now the readings in town are kind of in need of life support. And, like that second show, we had Eli, who plays his cello down there at the Broadway … I mean I didn’t have my band, they couldn’t make it, and I’m walking around going what am I going to do? And Eli, he wasn’t in his spot over at the Broadway, but I see him on the street, I know him pretty well, and I go, ‘hey, I need someone to play, do you want to play?’ And then he comes, and it is that electric moment.

CW: Could you speak a bit about the current venue [Nobrow Coffee]?

CAL: [Owner] Joe [Evans] created a little place in the community; it is really centered around art and music. It’s a kind of center for the exchange of artistic ideas, and it tends to be a little more eclectic. You go to some place like Coffee Garden which is a really nice coffee place, but … it has its own kind of socioeconomic feel to it.

And here, being on Broadway, and the kind of Broadway renaissance, this is just the perfect venue. Joe’s always been supportive.

CW: Is anything the same or different this time around? And why or why not?

CAL: It is not at a bar. People are … they listen more. I mean, in a bar, they listen, but it was very in and out. Which is OK; it would challenge the reader to really grab their attention. And you could see it, some could do it. Hector Amato, people’d be loud as shit, and he’d come up, and here’s this old Chilean guy and bam! he just got them. I saw other people who have had books published, and who are respected, and, you know, they lose an audience in a bar automatically.

And that was really fun, in its own way, but when it comes back to reading something more meaningful, the audience here seems more in tune to be willing to give you a chance, to actually listen, instead of just to be entertained.

CW: Tell me about your book that is now out and about.

CAL: I just self-published a book of American haiku, it’s called Small Things. I have a second one out, Written on the Body, which is some more haiku, and some erotic senryu, and that should be coming out shortly.

Nobrow Coffee & Tea
315 E. 300 South
Tuesday, Oct. 13
7 p.m.
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