Interview With Rachel Kann (November 2004)

Rachel Kann is the founder and host of the monthly co-lab:ORATION Series held at Los Angeles’ Temple Bar. She has produced two spoken-word CDs, including the brand-new “Word to the WHY’S,” and several chapbooks. caught up with her on her recent swing through New York. She returns home to co-lab on December 5. To find out more about her, view video clips of her performances or snag copies of her CDs and chapbooks, visit her website

rachelRachel Kann is the founder and host of the monthly co-lab:ORATION Series held at Los Angeles’ Temple Bar. She has produced two spoken-word CDs, including the brand-new “Word to the WHY’S,” and several chapbooks. caught up with her on her recent swing through New York. She returns home to co-lab on December 5. To find out more about her, view video clips of her performances or snag copies of her CDs and chapbooks, visit her website

How is the tour going so far? Is this your first national tour?

Rachel Kann: Tour is going absolutely FANTASTIC so far! When I tell people the span of it (Sept. 9th to Dec. 3rd, from Cali to Mass. and back again), they kind of look at me in blinking shock, a mix of amazement and horror and admiration, and say things like, “You’re a girl driving alone, cross country?” And it’s true, it is kinda wacky, but like most big things (I am Libran), I thought about it and weighed it out and looked at it from all angles before I did it. And then out of no place, boom, I just kinda planned it out way last minute and went on tour!

I really wanted to do it; the things that held me back were:

  • fear of driving alone cross country as a female (it’s true!)
  • lack of desire to couch surf (I really don’t like to feel like I am putting people out or mooching, and this kind of tour requires you to depend on other people to an extent, and it is kinda hard for me to receive; that’s been one of my lessons on this tour. Plus, there’s the issue of staying at people’s houses whom I never even met before. I haven’t had to do it much, but there is that x-factor, and there are horror stories out there.)
  • the overwhelming task of planning a tour all by myself. ugh.
  • wanting to have my latest CD completed before I left.

Eventually I just bit the bullet and was like, “OK, Rach, you have a Saturn, you can sleep with one eye open, you can plan this tour, and you can burn CDs … barcode notwithstanding. Y’know? You ain’t gettin’ any younger, do this now.”

I had the amazing undeniable impetus to beat all motivators for this tour. I have a dear, dear friend, Jen Swain, out in Providence, RI, who is currently battling cancer (and kicking its ASS, I might add!) and I knew I wanted to get out and see her and be with her. I was trying to decide when to go out there, and she told me she was having a fundraiser benefit September 20th, and I agreed to do it. Of course. And then I was thinking, “Do I fly? Hmmm … I want to stay out there for a while, and if I have my car, I could be a lot more helpful than a burden,” and I was broke (starving artist blah blah), even getting a plane ticket seemed hectic. And then I was like, why not just plan a tour around it? It just made sense.

This is definitely my lengthiest and most in depth national tour. I was on the SlamAmerica tour in 2000, the brainchild of the badass Gary Mex Glazner. It was on a sweet bus and went cross-country with different poets rotating in and out. I was on the bus from San Francisco to Santa Fe. Then in April of 2003, I was a part of the Chicks in Arms tour, which was organized by superhero-rockstar-you-all-need-to-know Sheila Nicholls. We went up and down the west coast, to Seattle and back, in a converted school bus, with some of the most amazing women I have had the pleasure of knowing.

In November of last year, I toured all the way to Minneapolis and back, so that was pretty huge and far (I love my Saturn so much), but it was a quickie, only a few weeks. This is definitely my largest undertaking by a lot.

What’s your goal as a poet? What draws you to performance? To going on tour?

RK: My goal as a poet is a constantly shifting thing. It’s more a mosaic of current objectives. You know? I didn’t become a poet because of any perceived goal I wanted to accomplish; I started writing cause the words needed out. My right-now-goals are:

  • to become more evolved as a writer, to be a better writer. I am always trying to improve my quality on the page. I am trying to get myself some training. I don’t wanna jinx myself so I won’t say anything else about that, but WILL keep you posted.
  • to get my children’s book, “You Sparkle Inside” published.
  • to get a record label to put me out, the level of quality of the musical production I have on my tracks right now is ridiculous. The sound is so quality. Tack Fu, Michael Gardner, Stephen Davis, and Enduser are the producers I have been working with.
  • to publish a real book of poetry that I don’t have to staple together.

As far as performance goes, performance is just in my bones. I started ballet when I was 3 and continued in a very serious way with that until I was 17. At that point I segued into theatre. So I have been a performer for as long as I can remember. I don’t know a life without being on stage.

I am drawn to touring because any reason to get out of LA and see the rest of the country is a good one! And I love to experience different people and poetry. I receive so much being on tour.

Tell us about and your new CD.

RK: Back in 2000, I was approached by a friend of a dear friend (Amy Steinberg). His name was Andy Coules, he lived in England, and he wanted to build my website, for free. He is literally an angel in my life. He still maintains the site, and I still have no money, so you can see what a wonderful man he is. When we decided to dive in (we created the whole thing through IM conversations!), I was certainly not at a place in my life where I was like, “Y’know what I need? A website!” So we had fun with it. And it is a great place to disseminate information.

My new CD is rough and amazing. Again, because of the producers I am so blessed to work with. I cannot believe how lucky I am to have such sick-ass music backing my poems. It is the best I have heard thus far, in terms of musical quality. And I made a real effort to not have it all be just hip-hop beats with poetry over it, which is such an easy thing to do. This has some darker, more melodious stuff.

How did the co-lab:ORATION series come about? It’s an unusual format for the spoken-word, slam poetry scene. (Everyone whoperforms does so with at least one other person.)

RK: The co-lab series came about because I created it myself from the ground up based on what I wanted to
see more of in LA. I wanted to see people be less about themselves and more about the art. So it seemed to me that a good way to do that was to force them to work together, on stage. You really have to get out of your own head to make that work. And the right artists just organically and slowly came together. I am so blessed (there’s that “blessed” word again! but it’s true) to work with such an unbelievably talented and good-hearted group of musicians and artists. It is kind of unreal.

A lot of your work talks about desire/fantasy/perception. Has performing/touring informed or changed your ideas about those concepts?

RK: I don’t know that it has, any more than life experience always informs my work. I know that I find it more and more important to be outspoken and talk about sex on stage as a means of empowerment. Why can’t a woman be a feminist and experience desire? There is the whole virgin/whore thing STILL so prevalent in our culture. It is important to me to present a multifaceted picture to other women.

What are the three things you can’t go on tour without?

RK: The great thing about being a poet is you really don’t need ANYTHING when it comes right down to it. Not even a mic! Just a voice. But, I would be unable to tour without:

  1. My car. Duh. But I love my little Saturn! I got it new in April of 2003, and it has almost 50,000 miles on it from all my touring, and it has never had the slightest problem. Yes, I am knocking on wood right now!
  2. BOOKS ON TAPE! They rock, they are the best, they make all the driving (almost) a pleasure. I would be SOOOOO bitter to tour without books on tape. They are my crack. I love them beyond measure. I am currently listening to the end of the “Dark Tower” series by Stephen King. I am on book six, “Song of Susannah.” OH MY GOD I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!
  3. Hate it/love it: the cellphone! On tour, the cellphone is so helpful. I cannot imagine touring without it. Getting lost, something happening with the car, etc. It seems awful without a celly.

What’s the first thing you plan to do when you get home?


Are you leaving anyone at home? Meeting anyone on the road?

RK: Ha. Ha. No comment. That’s all classified.

You’re ending your tour back at co-lab. Are you already looking forward to returning home? If someone wants to feature at or participate in co-lab, what should they do?

RK: I am excited to give all of co-lab a big hug, but I am not homesick at all, I am really having a great time. But yeah, anybody interested in co-lab should just email me at mail [at] inspirachel [dot] com. The show is 12/5 at the Temple Bar.


Author: schenelle

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction in Jersey City, NJ. Co-author of Using Informational Text to Teach literature series. Doctoral student in Teacher Education and Teacher Development at Montclair State University.

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