Barroom bards: Maine band of poets to rock the Midwest

booksCL_ryan_030515When the self-proclaimed “white trash” poet Wil Gibson first heard Beau Williams and Ryan McClellan perform their poems in Manchester, N.H. back in the late 2000s, he knew it was a match.

“I started recruiting Ryan and Beau right away because the Portland [poetry scene] needed them and, OK, I needed them … to be my best friends,” said Gibson.

Fast forward to 2012 – Williams and McClellan are both competing on the Portland national slam team under coach Gibson; the three share an apartment in the city.

Jump to present day – the trio, called Guys Like You, is about to clamor into McClellan’s Honda Civic embark on their two-week “Hell Hath No Razors” poetry tour rocking the Midwest with gigs in the bars and cafés every night.

Guys Like You showcases rowdy bar poetry that provides the audience with refreshing, frank accounts of the conflicts, rapture and reflection that anyone can relate to.

“We make them feel good; we make them feel bad; we make them feel everything in between. People laugh and cry frequently during our sets,” says Williams, referring to their audience.

booksCL_guyslikeyou_030515“We show people that we know how this feels too…those people that you forget about, we want to try and connect with those people,” adds Gibson.

In a climate often dominated by pretension and alterity contests, Guys Like You tries to bring the art back to a forum for sharing those things that bring us together, invoking a comforting catharsis. They pride themselves on appealing to audience members who have never taken an interest in poetry. Not infrequently the band is approached after the show by someone telling them how refreshing it was to have finally heard their struggles put into words, and damn fine words at that.

Boasting more than six full-length books, scores of chapbooks, and hundreds of publications, it’s hard to deny the virtuosity of these poets. Williams, the youngest of the three, has put out the most recent book. In Rumham, Williams achieves a voice both simple and magical. Throughout the book he weaves drunken urban vignettes, brawling with ghosts and coming up roses. Both McClellan and Gibson promise new full-lengths by the end of the year.

Though Guys Like You deals a lot with issues like addiction, loss and separation, they don’t do so with melodrama. Of course, some poems are infernos, burning every image they invoke, but these only clean the slate and enabling the growth of more positive emotions. Gibson describes this element best in his self portrait #12: “My scars appreciate in value/ They were free. They are priceless.”

Poetry is a powerful tool for appreciating the value of your scars. In addition to relating compelling narratives of change and growth, Guys Like You works to inspire these elements in younger generations. McClellan has long been a high-school Resident Poet and English teacher. He now teaches at Bridgton Academy. Williams and Gibson often hold workshops in local schools and both regularly teach poetry to the adolescents at Sweetser, the behavioral healthcare center in Portland. Gibson is also a co-founder and occasional host of the long-standing Port Veritas poetry organization in Portland.

I’ve never seen a Guys Like You show, but having seen all three of its members blow various audiences away with their performances, I imagine the effect could only be something like the rapture of smashing all the photos of your ex, the energy of a barroom brawl between Bukowski and Buddy Wakefield, a beautiful barrage of blue-collar wisdom.

Check out poems, dates and more at https://3gly.wordpress.com.