Ami Mattison
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Ami Mattison

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The best kept secret in music

Press


It has long been said that dynamite comes in small packages. One needs look no further for proof of this axiom’s veracity than spoken word phenomenon Ami Mattison. Small and slight of frame, Mattison’s unique poetic stylings are a force to be reckoned with. Defiant, poignant and straightforward Mattison’s work hits you where you live and cuts to the very core with a razor sharp edge of rage at the policies of exclusion, apathy and greed that permeate out society. Unafraid to offend delicate sensibilities or coddle the faint-of-heart, Mattison tackles the issues of poverty, homophobia, gender issues, and civil rights with an unparalleled ferocity that challenges even the most stalwart of opposition.

Having performed at universities and festivals across the nation, Mattison will be joining local spoken word troubadour Minton Sparks for the second in her new “Minton Sparks & Friends” spoken word series at TPAC’s intimate Johnson Theatre. The first of the shows was performed to a sold-out crowd. For every performance in the four-show series, ticket-buyers will enjoy free appetizers in the lobby beginning at 6:30 p.m., a post-show dessert reception with the artists, and a new, reserved-seating chart for Johnson Theater that includes cabaret tables. Audience members are invited to take beverages into the theater during the performance.

Playing to sold-out crowds at Nashville night spots, Sparks has performed nationwide at universities, clubs, songwriter series, and festivals and has been featured on internationally syndicated radio.

“Ami Mattison is a real inspiration to me,” said Sparks in a phone interview with iOut. “I think that she is a very important voice that people in our country need to hear.”

Born in New Orleans , LA and raised in Montgomery , AL , Ami lived in Atlanta , GA for nearly two decades before she moved in 2004 to the Midwest to serve as Visiting Assistant Professor in Women Studies at Antioch College in Yellow Springs , Ohio . Currently, she resides in Detroit , Michigan and has returned to her primary preoccupation with being a broke-ass poet.

Recently, Ami Mattison took time out to speak with iOut over the phone.

iOut: Your work contains a wide variety of subject matter. For people who may be unfamiliar with your body of work, what issues do you tend toward in your poetry and what do you feel are the most important issues of today that people should be aware of and involved in?

AM: I talk a lot about identity issues and identity politics. Most of my poetry tends to take personal situations and utilizes those to examine larger social problems and ideas.

I believe that people should be more aware of the poverty that most people are living in, more precisely looking at the ways in which poverty happens and the really complex puzzle that creates poverty globally as well as in the US. For instance, from 2004-05 there were 1.1 million more people who fell below the poverty line in the US alone.

George Bush won the last election based on playing to people's homophobia and fears. That is another really big issue that I think should really be examined and looked at. I also think that we should begin to look more closely at an issue that a lot of queer activists are interested in: Gay Marriage. There is this part of me that is not precisely against it, but I think there are better ways to take care of ourselves and our families. Ultimately it seems just a little bit ludicrous for us to be asking for certain kinds of privileges for ourselves rather than demanding adequate health care for everyone. If everyone got the same break just because they are citizens they wouldn't necessarily need to be married to have access to health benefits. Marriage would simply be about religious or social values. The fight for gay marriage is a really middle class sort of mentality and I wonder about the priorities that are involved. Why aren’t we trying to make sure everyone is taken care of regardless of their sexual orientation?

iOut: Based on your opinion about the subject of gay marriage, do you think this might signal a shortcoming in the approach of the gay community not only on this topic but also others that we seem to hold dear?

AM: Yes. There seems to be this notion floating around that since we are more visible we are somehow better off, but in the last election we saw eleven states outright ban gay marriage or strike down domestic partner benefits. I live in Michigan now and even before when I was in Georgia there was never even much talk about people trying to get married. However, both places wanted to pass a constitutional amendment as some sort of preventative strike that resounded with complete irony.

iOut: It sounds like you are saying that we may be tolerated as a community at this point but we are not yet accepted and that there is a big difference in the two. If that is the case what do you feel is the best approach that we can take as a community towards - Out and About Nashville


Adopted as a Chamorro child in Guam to white parents from the American South, performance poet Ami Mattison grew up as the perpetual Other in an Atlanta that was always either black or white. On her debut spoken-word CD, Strange and Potent Mixture (Fluid Mosaic Records), Mattison depicts herself as a “heartbroken colored girl turned raging Chamorro woman” who’s had enough. She no longer tolerates being pigeonholed by skin color or, for that matter, sexual preference: “I’m a dyke, get it right... / I’m the lack of your imagination.” The dislocation of youth has become, in adulthood, a brand of empowerment: “I’m not your fucking mirror,” Mattison proclaims. “[I] no longer [burn] with shame but with fury and with passionate love.”

If all this sounds confrontational, that’s because it’s meant to be. Mattison’s poetry is not for the faint of heart or those with sensibilities too delicate to confront tough issues straight on. Of the nine poetic performances on Strange and Potent Mixture, all deal with identity, all are political, and all but a couple rage against American antipathy toward people of color, women, homosexuals and the poor. Often, however, that rage is expressed in humor: In one track Mattison takes on the persona of a straight, white, wealthy male speaking to everyone on the planet except other straight, white, wealthy males: “Don’t hate me; just be my bitch.” Even the love poems included here are meditations on coming apart, the first a play on the words “come” and “go,” the second culminating in a metaphorical car crash.

Mattison’s poems are not the stuff of university literary magazines. Though she is presently completing her doctoral dissertation in interdisciplinary studies at Emory University and has published scholarly papers, Mattison in performance is decidedly less academic; her poems are broadsides against a hostile culture of hate and greed, an America ultimately defined by “remote corporate control.”
- Nashville Scene


AMI MATTISON -- she pronounces her last name with crisp, hard t's — is fierce, funny, shy, soft-spoken. It depends on whether you encounter her onstage or off.
If she's in the spotlight, performing her poetry, she'll knock you back in your seat with the force of her voice and her words. Catch her away from the microphone and she'll pour you coffee and talk about her life as an adoptee, a woman of color, a lesbian. There's a lot to this spoken-word artist with the husky voice and wide smile. Catch her act Tuesday (8 p.m. at Red Light Cafe, 553 Amsterdam Ave., Atlanta. $8 at the door. 404-874-7828, www.redlightcafe.com.).

• So what is spoken word? "Poetry, or any kind of writing, that is presented in a public venue as entertainment," she says.
• She started writing: In grade school by typing short stories, two fingers at a time, and showing them to teachers who'd read them aloud and comment. She still has some. She always wanted to be a writer but didn't want to go the creative-writing-program route. Too conventional.
• She started performing: In her current feisty format, to challenge herself, about three years ago. She'd done traditional literary poetry readings throughout the 1990s.
• Common themes: Her various identities . . . as a self-described "dyke," a woman of color, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, a Southerner.
• For example: "Ami Mattison Is the N-Word" talks about her first racist encounter, as a 4-year-old, in a Montgomery Sunday school. She's of Chamorro descent, one of the native tribes of Guam, and considers herself of mixed race. In this piece she says, "No one I knew looked like me. No one else had the same thick, straight, black-as-night hair and the same shade of skin that darkened from light gold to deep brown without burning beneath the sun. I didn't look like anything I'd ever seen before except my own reflection in the mirror."
• Back to the beginning: Born Nov. 15, 1965, in New Orleans. Adopted when she was a month old. Grew up in Montgomery. Moved to Atlanta right out of the University of Alabama.
• Family: Her parents are of Scotch-Irish descent. Mom owns a bridal shop in Montgomery. Dad is in sales at Sears. Her older brother is Ute Indian, a graphic designer and stay-at-home dad. Her younger brother, a musician, is Creek Indian.
• Education: Bachelor's in English from the University of Alabama, 1988. Master's in interdisciplinary studies from Emory University, 1999. Will get her doctorate from Emory in the same field — she's studied history, literature and film — in July.
• Upcoming gigs: At Atlanta's Red Light Cafe on Tuesday in collaboration with Dyke Verse City, which includes Amanda Kail and Sonia Tetlow; and May 23 at Lipstick Lounge in Nashville (615-226-6343, www.thelipsticklounge.com).
• Yes, you can make a living performing poetry: To do so, Mattison says, she needs the freedom to write full time and travel to gigs, and must sell product. CD, anyone? In the who'd-a-thunk-it category, she says colleges pay better than clubs.
• No set rules: She's been onstage for as long as two hours at a time and as briefly as a five-minute set.
• It's not about size: She's played to crowds of 500, at Atlanta's Ladyfest South in 2002, and to four lonely souls, at a National Women's Studies Organization poetry symposium in New Orleans.
• A day in the life: Has "terrible" insomnia, often not falling asleep until dawn. Up by noon. "I write all day inside my house [until 7 or 8, or even 10 or 11 p.m.]. I may go for a walk to get out, 'cause all living things need sun, right? When I'm really caught up in a project, I have a bad habit of forgetting to go out and see other people."
• It's not really procrastination: When performing, she says, "I wait until almost the last minute to decide on my set list. I do that out of this sense of 'I don't want to think about it that long.' "
• "Speaking of capitalism, I've got this CD": Finds it funny and ironic that she's written a piece called "The Crapitalist," slamming America's capitalist ways, yet sells her CDs from the stage. "That's something you have to do whether you feel comfortable about it or not."
• The real thing: Her only CD to date ($10) is a demo; she doesn't like how it sounds. By September or October she hopes to do a full-length CD with all the professional trimmings.
• Personal: Is three years into a relationship with Bindu Vanapalli, a physician who will soon relocate to Flint, Mich., for a year. They rent a three-bedroom, one-bath house in Decatur with cat Chelsea.
• Next: "I'd really like to be writing full time as soon as possible," Mattison says, "not doing just spoken-word performance, but publishing and editing as well. And making a living as a writer. I want control over my work and where it goes and what happens to it."
- Atlanta-Journal Constitution


Discography

Strange and Potent Mixture Demo CD (Fluid Mosaic, 2003)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

“A spoken word force to be reckoned with” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2004), " Ami Mattison is “a powerhouse poet...sexy, funny, funky, and yet substantive." (The Tennessean, 2004)

Out and About Newspaper (2006) writes: "Defiant, poignant and straightforward Mattison’s work hits you where you live and cuts to the very core with a razor sharp edge of rage at the policies of exclusion, apathy and greed that permeate out society. Unafraid to offend delicate sensibilities or coddle the faint-of-heart, Mattison tackles the issues of poverty, homophobia, gender issues, and civil rights with an unparalleled ferocity that challenges even the most stalwart of opposition."

Ami has performed at various art venues, festivals and conferences around the country, including the Lesbian and Gay Medical Association Symposium (San Francisco, 2006), Homo-A-Go-Go (Olympia, 2004), National Women’s Studies Association Annual Conference (New Orleans, 2003), Ladyfest Philly (2003), and Forword Girls (San Francisco, 2002). Some of the universities and colleges where she’s given speeches, held workshops, and performed are Cornell College (2006), UCLA (2005, 2006), University of Maryland-Baltimore County (2004), Emory University (2004), Georgia State University (2003), Agnes Scott College (2003), and Antioch College (2003, 2004).

Ami's demo CD, Strange and Potent Mixture, is described by Nashville Scene (2004)as "not for the faint of heart or those with sensibilities too delicate to confront tough issues straight on. Of the nine poetic performances on Strange and Potent Mixture, all deal with identity, all are political, and all but a couple rage against American antipathy toward people of color, women, homosexuals and the poor…her poems are broadsides against a hostile culture of hate and greed.”

Ami shares two co-writing credits and a featured performance on Nashville songwriter Ross Falzone’s debut CD Radical Heart (Poet People, 2004). Nashville Scene described Dyke Verse City--Ami’s collaboration with indie-rocker Sonia Tetlow(STB; Cowboy Mouth) and her longtime co-conspirator, the Atlanta-based poet Amand Kail—as “a kind of feminist Ramones combining mock-rock anthems with scathing political and social critique” (2004).

Born in New Orleans, LA and raised in Montgomery, AL, Ami lived in Atlanta, GA for nearly two decades before she moved in 2004 to the Midwest to serve as Visiting Assistant Professor in Women Studies at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In 2005, she returned to her primary preoccupation with being a poet. Currently, she resides near Detroit, Michigan.

For more info, check out: http://www.geocities.com/therealamimattison

For audio samples, check out: http://www.myspace.com/amimattison

For video samples, check out:
http://www.youtube.com/amimattison