In-Depth Look: Billy Tuggle – “Marvin’s Last Verses”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
I’m struck by the structure of this piece– it feels like it all takes place in a single moment, the “life flashing before your eyes” experience. Because of that, every line becomes vital– every memory, or regret, or passing thought has to both stand on its own as a human experience and be a metaphor for something that experience alone maybe doesn’t quite capture.
For example, connecting a mother’s scream, to screaming fans, to lovers– these are three moments, but they also highlight that balance between pleasure and pain that drives so much art. From talking about Berry Gordy’s Motown “assembly line,” to Gaye’s father’s jealousy, to Gaye’s own fears and struggles– this poem unearths the tragedy behind the art that is so life-giving to so many. And that tragedy isn’t held up as a good or generative thing (which is a trap I think a lot of artists fall into); it’s simply held up as something we all need to face.
Find more from Billy Tuggle (who, incidentally, was always one of the kindest, most supportive members of the larger spoken word community when I was coming up, and to whom I am very grateful) here.
Finally, this poem is dedicated to David Blair, one of those poets I wish every up-and-coming or aspiring spoken word artist knew about. Blair’s work was transcendent– a word I think a lot of us use for a lot of poetry, but one that truly fits in this case. If that’s a new name for you, a few links: – Video: “Detroit (While I Was Away)” by David Blair – Video: “My Time at Chrysler” by David Blair – Video: “Freedom Calling” by Blair and The Boyfriends – Blair’s obituary in Solidarity – An interview in the Detroit Metro Times, featuring this quote: “The authentic self is a way more subversive creature than we care to put out there most of the time, and that’s fine. But you really got to face yourself and not be afraid to tell your story, ’cause somebody may need to hear it.”