The Righteous Babe herself, singer-songwriter Ani Difranco, made a last-minute appearance at Minneapolis’s Parkway Theater at 48th and Chicago on Thursday night, previewing her concert tonight at the State Theater in Minneapolis.
In lieu of her usual music set of folksy alterna-rock, Difranco came to read her poetry. She recently published her first book in collaboration with her record label, Righteous Babe Records and Seven Stories Press.
Difranco, a native of Buffalo, NY, chose Amazon Bookstore, neighbor to the Parkway Theater, as her host because of its feminist quality. In her search for venues during her brief Midwest tour, Difranco targeted women’s bookstores and music distributors. Amazon couldn’t have been happier to be chosen. “[Ani Difranco] is certainly a part of our history as the oldest feminist bookstore in the country,” said Megan Kocher, the principle organizer of the event from Amazon Bookstore, “we just found out she was coming a few days ago so this all came together very quickly.” Because of the small size of the bookstore, the event took place across the street at the Parkway Theater. Juliet Patterson, a finalist for the 2007 Lambda Literary Award and a creative writing teacher in the Twin Cities, joined Difranco on stage as the moderator.
Without her guitar, Difranco was surprisingly candid, down-to-earth and self-deprecatingly humorous. Listening to her read her poems and talk about her baby, feminism and politics was a bit like having coffee with an old friend. Before taking audience questions, Difranco first read three pieces from her book, Verses, in which she has mingled older songs such as “The Slant”, with newer songs and poems. In her signature quirky onstage style, she interrupted herself during the reading of “Grand Canyon,” to exclaim, “Why don’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists?!”
What started as an innocent visit to a poetry reading in New York as an 18 year old has turned into a career choice. Still, writing poetry in all of its obscurity, she said, is like “trying to take photographs of clouds.” Difranco, who has consistently put out albums since 1990—nearly one every year including her 2007 album, Canon—has found her segue into writing poetry to be a new challenge. Like any artist, Difranco discussed her struggle with self-doubt in her work.
“My fear is that [my poems] are all suited for the stage. The stage is my perceived context for the poems. I worried how they would read.” One of her mentors, Sekou Sundiata, a poet, performer and teacher at New York City’s New School who passed away earlier this year, helped guide her poetry over the past few years and subsequently, her music. “In interviews, I am always asked, ‘what does this or that poem mean?’ It’s never about that or that. It’s how things are connected or oppose each other…I learned a lot from Sekou about using those connections in my poetry.”
Where Difranco’s work moves from here is infinite. Concerning her music, she hopes to one day put together an acoustic-only album. But for now, she is busy touring and taking care of her eight-month-old baby, Petah. “I have a strange little fat boss who says, ‘don’t work, talk to me.’” As a mom, she has learned the art of stepping back, doing nothing once in a while and making a few changes to her creative process. The once beloved writing corner in her house (complete with music playing and a candle burning, she joked) has turned into a cramped seat on a crowded tour bus.
Even if Ani Difranco is plugging her ears with her hands in order to put words on the page, her writing continues to evolve, as a poet and as a musician. Her work reflects her global perspective, her insistence on gender equality and inevitably, the path of motherhood.
“[Having Petah] on tour, it’s new now. But it keeps me from being a baby…because she’s the baby.”