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In poetry, it's tough to be the nice guy. Generally, it's flamboyant personas and manic stage presences that attract attention, not a pleasant, welcoming demeanor or a quiet diligence to craft.
Ironically, it was partly that wariness of the cult of personality that pushed Ben Trigg, longtime co-host of the weekly Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading at Orange's Ugly Mug, from a career in theater to one in verse.
"You almost have to have an insane hubris going on to have people pay attention to you," Trigg says of the transition from actor to poet. "I use the drama skills to some degree, but I think in the hosting, I've become more comfortable being up in front of people as myself, being more entertaining as a host. The only drama I've ever really had was other people's. I tend to try and avoid it. I'm not tabloid-worthy or anything, and I'm okay with that."
But mild-mannered, as any Clark Kent aficionado will tell you, doesn't mean meek. The 29-year-old Anaheim resident has become a driving force in the OC poetry scene, coming to the fore when he and longtime collaborator Steve Ramirez and now-former co-host Heather Melissa brought the then-floundering North Orange County Poetry Continuum reading (which possibly suffered from name fatigue) to the Ugly Mug in 2000, which culminated in the recent release of his book, Kindness From a Dark God.
Trigg began attending the NOCPC, then based in Fullerton, in the late '90s while he was a drama major at UC Irvine. He says the push came from one of his high school teachers, poet Michael Kramer, a friend of Trigg's family, who wanted to encourage the interest in poetry he'd shown earlier but never seriously pursued.
"As much as I liked acting," Trigg says, "I liked finding an art form in which I could say what I wanted to say, instead of pretending what someone else wanted to say. It was really a little salon sort of thing, but there were featured readers, and some of them were really good. That's what kept me interested."
It's that curiosity in other people's work, whether penned by nascent readers at the Mug or published writers, that has contributed to the growth of his reading as well as his poetry career.
Trigg's writing is delicate and meticulous, creating a feeling of being completely personal. In Six Attempts at Having Something to Say, he writes, "Four was a happy/melody/sent to hold the cat as the cancer won./It became silence." In If We Were in Canada, This Would Be Legal, he writes, "According to Target,/Amy is the groom./These are the concessions one makes in exchange/for cookware, bedding and bath towels."
Trigg finds the assertion that he's a personal writer funny, since he's rarely overt about his sexuality or his political leanings in his poetry.
"There's one poem in which I say something like, 'I reserve addiction for video games and clean-cut white boys,' and another where I say, 'San Francisco feels like where I belong.' But even that is very cloaked. I've never really known how to be overt about any particular issue without losing subtlety. I don't want to be all ranty. I find myself wishing I were writing more from a gay standpoint, but it doesn't come out that way. I have this goal to feature as many gay and lesbian poets as we can [at the Mug]. Steve has a good way of making that happen."
And perhaps the Ugly Mug reading is as much an artistic expression for Trigg as his poetry. Certainly, its growth as it enters its seventh year is astounding. Once it catered mostly to featuring local, developing writers, but it's now a frequent destination for touring poets, one where the pass-the-hat paycheck often nets the headliner more cash—as well as book sales—than some LA gigs.
"I like to think we've made this a completely welcoming space," says Trigg. "You're not going to be made unwelcome, no matter how bad your writing is. We're never going to overtly say anything to you. So this is worth doing. There must be some aspect of coming to the reading that's making the poets grow. And that's the vindicating thing."
Ben Trigg and Steve Ramirez host Two Idiots Peddling Poetry at The Ugly Mug Cafe, 261 N. Glassell Ave., Orange; www.poetryidiots.com. Every Wed., 8 p.m. Read "Kindness From A Dark God" by Trigg; Moon Tide Press. Softcover, 54 pages, $12 . Available at the reading or www.moontidepress.com.
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