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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Memories of Vertigo

Vertigo Xi'an Xavier (Chris Draime): photo by Jen Pezzo
A number of local poets have been writing goodbyes to Vertigo Xi'an Xavier and sharing memories.  I'm reblogging some of them here:

 Theresa Göttl Brightman:
This is a true story.
Once upon a time, when I was still a baby-bird poet, I followed a flyer at Muggswigz in Canton to a poetry open mic. I was one of two poets who read that night for something called "Saturday Night with the Poet's Haven". The emcee with the funny stage name who also introduced himself as "Chris" spent a ton of time after the show telling me all about his online press and how this was the first of what he hoped would be a series of podcasted live events. Mere months later, he was hosting standing-room-only shows all over northeast Ohio.
This is a true story.
When I pitched the idea of a Thanksgiving food drive poetry reading, Vertigo said, "Let's make a book to benefit the food bank!" and the Vending Machine: Poetry for Change anthologies were born.
This is a true story.
When Canton First Friday hosted a Chalk Walk night in the middle of summer, Vertigo organized a group of poets to scribble poems across downtown Canton. That night, while we wrote chalk poems on concrete, I had the first real conversation I ever had with Steve.
This is a true story.
Vertigo decided to take a slam team to nationals, and put together a team of four talented goofballs who had never slammed outside of Ohio. Five rookies (four teammates, one slamministrator--Vertigo loathed the "slammaster" moniker) spent a week in Charlotte with two goals: have fun, and don't come in last. We won on both counts.
This is a true story.
In a world where everyone is trying to find their angle, get a leg up on someone else, work the hustle, Vertigo was the guy who was hustling for everyone else. He did so much work to put so much art out into the world. He had so many creative ideas about what he would do when he bought his own venue, how he wanted to host a unique regional slam, how he'd support other poets and projects.
This is a true story.
A few years ago, I pitched him a book idea that I knew was perfect for him. He accepted on the spot. He was just as excited about the idea as I was.
I never finished that damn manuscript.
This is a true story.
Sometimes people drift apart because life happens. I miss those times spent editing anthologies, the occasional post-poetry reading debriefings at Denny's, the long conversations about big ideas.
This is a true story.
We hear that cliche about how you shouldn't die with your music still inside. Vertigo did everything possible to put as much music out into the world in the time he had. Losing him leaves a tangible hole in the fabric of poetry. So many good poetry things that have happened in my life happened because of Vertigo.
You are already missed. Peace to you, friend.


 Jen Pezzo:
For those of you who did not know Vertigo Xi'an Xavier thank you for your patience as I dealt through my shock and grief. For those of you who did know him, you know my pain like no one else could. 
Rewind to the year 1997 or 1998. Not everyone had internet yet. Darren and I had recently moved in with a friend in North Canton. I was completely new to the area. All my friends were his friends from college. Not a bad thing, as I loved them, but I hadn't yet made my own friends. I was awkward, self conscious, tortured by my past, and working lots of hours at the Borders, Books, and Music on the strip. 
Vertigo (photo by Jen Pezzo)
It was a pretty quiet evening when I hear this smokey voice behind me, I smiled because it reminded me a bit of Christian Slater. I turned around to this face I had no idea would become such a stable presence in my life. His face was a bit red, he was him-hawing around a bit and then he decided he wasn't embarrassed at all to ask me if we had the Satanic Bible. I couldn't help but bust out a laugh and began to tease him mercilessly. He said, "I SWEAR this is for a paper I'm writing for a class!" After I locked up the case and handed him the book, I might have said something smart ass like, "Good luck with killing that virgin or whatever you Satanists do." More likely I just smiled at him like... oh yeah - I know you...LOL He was so embarrassed. 
I can't remember if it was the same night or the day after or maybe even a month to six months later, I found a little flyer pinned to the cork board near the restrooms for The Poets Haven. I had recently had my first poem published on an e-zine called Tamaphyr Mountain. I decided I would submit some poems to this Vertigo person, and I would use my pen name Kerowyn Rose. He immediately accepted them even though they were HORRIBLE! Well I thought they were... he did NOT. We got to talking via email when he suddenly realized who I was. He said wait a minute... we MET! I said, no, how? And he said remember that guy who asked you about the Satanic Bible? I was like... no.... you know how many people ask me that? LOL But then I DID remember and we laughed and laughed! 
I had been writing poetry since I was nine years old. It was my own personal therapy for a rough childhood, however no one I knew most of my life was a poet, or even understood poetry. I felt kind of like a freak. LOL "That's not a poem, it doesn't rhyme." "I don't understand that, what does it even mean." Vertigo opened up a whole new world to me, he got me around people who understood poetry and therefore understood me! I was amazed I even found one person who got me at that point.
He asked me for help on many projects and encouraged me, he brought me out of my shell. He DJ'd my wedding reception. He introduced me to poetry readings. He encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to read in public the first time, to compete in and judge poetry slams. He mentored me and helped me learn to MC my own open mic, Akron Night Murmurs. He was part of every thing poetry I did from the moment I met him. He is the reason for many kindred relationships I cherish. He was opinionated, protective, funny, nurturing, sarcastic, creative, unique, artistic, hardworking, passionate, adorably weird, self-destructive, and he had an instinct for connecting with real, honest to God, poetry genius before it was apparent to anyone else a person had the gift. He gave every poet at heart a chance to be heard, a chance to find their voice, to connect with each other. 
I already know what poetry will be like for me moving forward. It will be like any reading I've been to where he was late or couldn't make it. It just won't feel right to me for a long time. I will always remember the feeling of familiar relief whenever he would show up late to something... like I can release this anxiety, the sage is here. 
I am so honored to have watched Poet's Haven evolve from almost the very beginning. There were many times I went back and forth between pride and also selfishness about the new poets he was working with. Many times I thought, no that's my friend... who the eff are you? LOL Many times I thought, wow, look how awesome he is and he is MY friend! I will miss his ironic Christian Slater voice, his laugh, his smile, his annoyance, his angst, his passion, his love of poets and all things poetry and of course our mutual love of cats. I will miss his Vertigoisms like "I'm a meatatarian." and "Poetry is a much better drug." How he and Darren would laugh and joke around. I hope he knew just how much I loved him and how he changed my life. 
I'm going to do my best to keep writing for you, V, to honor our friendship, to honor all the hard work you put into the poetry community of North East Ohio and the whole of the internet. I hope to be able to do Night Murmurs again in your honor. You have always been a great gift to me, and I don't know how I got to be part of your great mission, but I will forever be grateful for that special spot in your heart. 

I had to get this out of my chest... if you read all the way through I'm impressed! LOL If not - there's only love here anyway.
Vertigo (photo by Jen Pezzo)
I just realized that every poetry reading that I've been welcome to in the past two years was because of Vertigo. I'm going to miss his partisanship. He didn't care who you were aligned with, what clique you were part of, who wanted you there or who didn't. If you wrote poetry, you were welcome at his table. He did more than anyone else in the world to promote my poetry, in spite of all the adversity, and for that I will be forever grateful.

 Dianne Borsenik:

Vertigo at the North East Ohio Press
Panel & Book Fair
(photo by Dianne Borsenik)
VX, as I always called him, was a treasured friend and colleague. He gave me my first featured reading about twelve years ago, and published a book for me five years ago. We appeared together at numerous publishing/small press panels over the years. He was at my house in December, and we ate dinner together with a group of poet friends in April. We shared the joke that I was the only person who ever blew out his speakers with my reading voice...from then on, if he was in attendance, he always warned venues to turn down their speakers when I read. He was an excellent businessman, and his display of books for sale was impressive and outstanding. He was kind, funny, supportive, trustworthy, and smart. 

This is one of the last photos I took of him, at the Cuyahoga County Public Library-South Euclid Branch, on April 13, 2019. It was at the North East Ohio Press Panel and Book Fair--he was a participant in both the Press Panel and the Book Fair. In the photo, he's reading from a Poet's Haven book that he published for Herb Kauderer, and of course, in them, he's wearing his Poet's Haven cat shirt. 
The poetry scene and community won't be the same without him. My life won't be the same without his presence in it. I'm going to miss him very much.
Vertigo reading (photo by Jen Pezzo)
 Andi Grace Kackley:
There were a few peaceful moments this morning when I woke up before I remembered. Then it hit me all over again. The NE Ohio poetry community lost a great man on Tuesday. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would say that I wouldn't be half the poet I am today without Vertigo Xi'an Xavier. I went to my first poetry show with him. It was Snowetry -- trying to break the world's record for the longest poetry show. We drank and laughed and read poetry and barely slept. It was intoxicating and I wanted more. Vertigo was the first person to really see my talent and believe in me. He encouraged me, pestered me, even, to write. When I submitted my first manuscript, he said he wanted to publish it right then and there. He published my first book because he saw something in me that needed to be shared with the world. Some weeks we went to 3 or four poetry shows a week. He fed me when I couldn't afford to feed myself and never asked for a single cent of gas money even though we drove all over NE Ohio. It was Vertigo who encouraged me to try out for the Cleveland Slam team. I didn't think I would make it on the team, but he did. I made the team and we went the to National Poetry Slam in Boston, which is still on of the highlights of my life.
That was the kind of person Vertigo was. He was kind and humble and passionate and he believed in other writers and the power of poetry. I have so many memories swimming around in my head and they all make my chest ache. I was thinking about him early this week but I didn't reach out and now it's too late.
After I got clean and stable, it became a lot harder to write. I didn't know how to write from a place of happiness. I don't remember when the last poetry show I went to was and I've barely written over the last couple years. I know he would want me to write again, so I'm going to try, for Vertigo. He spent countless hours with me pushing me to be a great poet. I owe to him, and to myself, to not let that time and passion go to waste.
Vertigo at the Poets Haven booth at the Cleveland Ingenuity Festival (photo by Jen Pezzo)
  Kelly J McMullen:
Chris (Vertigo) had the most sincere soul and the wittiest frame of mind. He could always either make you think twice about pretty much everything or make you laugh, often both simultaneously. He was so dedicated to everything he loved and so extremely intelligent. He made normal things so much more fun. I will forever be indebted and grateful for him introducing me to the music of the great Richard Cheese, for letting me share a few poems with the Poets Haven when he was first getting it started, and my most favorite, for playing the Manamana song a hundred times in a row so I could think of nothing else. You will forever be a gem to me and you will definitely be so missed, my friend.  <3

Vertigo reading (photo by Jen Pezzo)
Vertigo and me








Cited...

The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau