March 5, 2019 Artist to Watch: Chancelier Xero Skidmore



from upBEAT DOWNbeat

Our marriage was a beached whale in the living room

We walked around it in silence as it gasped for ocean

We even denied it our tears

I’d overhear her discussing our not so quick-sand with friends

Guess she thought I had code-switched to the language of some

unreachable shore

I attended my job and poetry readings

and tended to drive around a few extra blocks before walking

into the dying in our living room

Stevie's "Don't Wonder Why" on repeat

Tape deck was the temporary deck of an inflatable yacht

but I'd eventually run aground, into the gag reflex of our hello’s

To kill a relationship, all you have to do is starve it of words

Death wafted into the air conditioning system

By the time she slammed the door, I was bed-ridden with the flu

Jeapordy answer: In sickness and in health

Question: At which times would the tide carry my wife out?

That door slammed like five oceans of unhinged tsunami

My throat became a pin cushion of fish bones

My pen was placed in a cloudy bottle

and flushed with the outgoing tide

Weeks later, I was asked to host a new reading

They wanted a live band to accompany the poets

Sean Griffin agreed to play guitar

I met an upright bass player named Mike Foster

But I was as good at finding a percussionist as I was at saving the whales

So I purchased a cheap set of fiberglass congas

Taught myself to navigate between the two hollow, but reachable islands

Spent hours sitting atop a couch of bleached bones

Tapping along with classic soul cassette tapes

It was years before I noticed that this was a couple in my hands,

two lacquered lovers who only spoke in rhythms of call and response

Had not answered to musician since quitting trombone as a teen

Had almost made it to 30 without tuning up anything more

than a rough draft, but I had berthed something

And now, some 15 years later, I look back at the foggy beach from whence

I made my escape and tap out an apology in Morse code,

hoping the water's ripples will eventually carry it there

All that swims, floats belly up in the end

The sea deserves to be enriched, as scavengers deserve to be fed

but who can refuse to morn a legless dream, crushed under its own weight,

even if its demise taught a new language that took you to new places

to speak it

Chancelier Xero Skidmore

On Communication and Influence

Chancelier Xero Skidmore, or just Xero as we all know him, has been teaching and sharing his own poetry and writing in the region for a number of years now. He will be working with the Arts Council for this year’s Ebb and Flow Festival to present the Poets Pier! Today we sat down and talked a bit about his history and where he draws influence.

Where you always interested in poetry and writing?

No. I was always fascinated with language, communication, and music. Poetry became a conduit for that fascination. It probably could been some other type of literature, but I have an insanely divergent attention span. Poetry allowed me to get a piece written and move on to some other interest in a short amount of time.

Did you seek out formal training?

In music, but not really for poetry. I never had much interest in writing for an audience of masters degrees. I grew up in a rural, impoverished community. I've never wanted to write anything that would be over the heads of my people. I'm a college dropout, so year two of college is the zenith of my complexity. I've also used my work in middle and high school classrooms. I like having poems that teens can appreciate. I feel like adult poets don't consider that audience enough. 

Who were your influences when you were young, and who do you look to for inspiration now?

I love that question/s. We all start out being influenced, right? Later, as we figure out our individuality, we seek to be inspired more than influenced. Initially, I was influenced by poets like Stevie Wonder, Prince, George Clinton, and Chuck D. I'd memorize their lyrics and marvel at the creativity.

I was later intrigued with the work of Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, Patricia Smith, Martin Espada, Billy Collins, Saul Williams, Sunni Patterson, Anna West, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mona Webb, Donney Rose, Joaquin Zihuatinejo, Desiree Dallagiacomo, and Donney Rose. Some of these poets are friends of mine, so that's super cool.

These days, I find inspiration in my family and experiences. I've been looking to other sources besides poetry for inspiration. I don't want to write like anyone else. I love other poets' work, but I try really hard to distance myself from it when I'm writing. I want my voice to be the only one in my head when I communicate my thoughts.

Do you have any events coming up that you're excited about?

Yes. I'll be reading some of my work at this year's Ebb & Flow Festival. Last year, my youngest son was born during the festival, so I missed it. One might say I was busy collaborating with my wife on a new work of art, but as a percussionist I REALLY wanted to see Sheila E. She'll never know what it took to keep me away from her show.

Where can people go to see your work in person and online?

People can go to the Arts Council building and attend the Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam and Open Mic. Now that the baby is about to make one year old, I will be able to go out there pretty often. They can also check me out at Poet's Pier during Ebb & Flow. It's gonna be quite a bit of fun. I also have a few poems on Youtube and a book for sale on Amazon.