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WAYWARD POET: Veteran slam figure bids red dirt farewell

Sean Carr / Red Dirt Report
Slam poet Jack Tapestry leaving OKC for Albuquerque.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time in his life, poet Jack Tapestry is writing his own destiny.

After 20 years of dedication to Oklahoma City's underground spoken word community, he is moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a locale with its own thriving slam poetry scene. It's a move that's as much for his well-being as for his own career.

The loud, fiery host of the Red Dirt Home for Wayward Poets Open Mic has spent decades married to a defiant artform that has saved his life time and again, but has yet to provide a living.

The personal traumas that he has experienced, that he copes with through his no-holds-barred poetry, have left his physical and mental health waning. Because of this, his demanding day job is proving unsustainable.

When Tapestry talks about Albuquerque, though, he is noticeably calm.

"You know? I like that place," he said. "I want to live there."

Since having a life-changing visit at a national slam competition there years ago, he has always felt a slight tug in that direction. He has lived in Oklahoma and a few other places only by circumstance, choosing to make the most of the hands he has been dealt. With New Mexico, though, he is having a say in the deal.

The bittersweet part is that he's leaving behind a passionate community of countercultural misfits in Oklahoma City. Local slam chapter Red Dirt Poetry does not refer to its weekly Wednesday open mics as a Home for Wayward Poets just because it has a nice ring to it. It is a welcoming environment for those of troubled hearts and rebellious minds to air out their concerns with an invested circle of listeners, as it has done for possibly half a century.

Jack Tapestry at Sauced on Paseo's barroom. (Sean Carr / Red Dirt Report)

Tapestry traces back the history of the mic to a time before it was officially a name in the Paseo Arts District, before it graced Sauced on Paseo or even the space formerly known as Galileo's.

When there was no venue to be had, poets met in living rooms and on porches, which Tapestry theorizes goes farther back than many realize. The persistence of spoken word as an art form in Oklahoma City has him confident that the platform will remain strong without him.

"This show will not die," he said. "How do you not fall in love with this? I did."

When he first started performing 20 years ago, he was far less confident than he is today. He exhibited the first-timer shakes and wore baggy pants to hide them. Even as a self-described "punker kid," he had insecurities, but the more he dove into the situation at hand, the more comfortable he became with it. This is not unlike the catharsis of his own writings.

Tapestry is a veteran in more ways than one. Perhaps his most defining material comes from his time spent in the Army during the 1990-91 Gulf War at 19 years of age.

In addition to the known scars of war, he returned with what is characterized as Gulf War Syndrome, an unexplained phenomena of physical and mental symptoms had by veterans. When he started to open up on stage about his experiences as a soldier, he was at first met with hesitance. He made listeners uncomfortable. He challenged them, and that's what he's been doing ever since.

"I stopped writing like a poet," he said, expressing disinterest in what he calls "coffeehouse poetry."

In front of a mic, Tapestry is a raw force of nature. He metaphorically bleeds though his performances, capturing heart-wrenching struggles and infuriating injustices through his wildly emotive delivery. He is the sort of poet that can't be restrained to a page. His prepared material can gut punch anyone with a soul, but he also experiments with improvisation, which can make the Jack Tapestry experience even more personal and unpredictable.

Tapestry finds poetry in the drunken bar story. He can recount instances where he has seen a poet perform, then hang out at the bar and ramble about close-guarded feelings. Oftentimes, the latter hits closer to the truth, and when viewed with a poetic lens, it can be the more important work.

"This is real and art and fucking true," he said, refering to such conversations.

Tapestry sometimes brings this to the stage, ranting like a crazy uncle and making an artform of speaking his mind. In the context of his deteriorating mental state, these performances carry even more gravitas.

"I'm literally losing my mind. That's entertainment to me," he said.

Jack Tapestry on stage. (Sean Carr / Red Dirt Report)

His world perspective and method of handling life's rigor are similar to his hero, Bill Hicks, and that has led to some crossover success in OKC's tight-knit comedy circuit. At comedy open mics, he rails against the state of politics and religion, focusing less on his personal experiences and more at the universal absurdities of the world. Many of his boiling points are topical, relating current events to the nature of chaos. It's fitting, then, that his sets tend to be as chaotic.

In New Mexico, Tapestry is poised to become the resident tornado from Oklahoma, a burst of energy that can wreck feelings and throw debris at power structures. Perhaps, though, he may find some peace there, and maybe the chaos can quiet just a little.

In the meantime, he will always have a home back in Oklahoma City, one that he helped create.

To quote the mantra that closes each session of the Red Dirt Home for Wayward Poets Open Mic, "In the immortal words of Spontaneous Bob, 'That's it. Hang out. Hug a poet. I love you, and good night.'"

Jack Tapestry's final poetry open mic happens tonight at Sauced on Paseo and coincides with a special Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme. Signup is at 7:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m. More information can be found at the Red Dirt Poetry Facebook page. 

Tapestry's comedy friends are also throwing him a comedy roast this Thursday at JJ's Alley in Bricktown.

The free 21+ event, called "Jack Gets Tapped", coincides with the venue's comedy open mic night hosted by Justin Keithley and starts at 8 p.m.

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Evan Jarvicks

Evan Jarvicks was born in 1873 in the territory later to become Oklahoma. Since accidentally...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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