Literary Death Match

Last night the Bowery Poetry Club hosted an event far from your typical bookstore reading. Dominatrixes, drugs, cowboys, bongos, and pinatas were on the menu in what proved to be a wild war of words. Literally.

Indeed, the 26th NYC episode of Opium Magazine's "Literary Death Match", was an epic one; bursting with the subversive, raucous energy of its contestants--Melissa Febos (author of WHIP SMART), Mike Topp (Shorts are Wrong and Happy Ending), Wythe Marschall) (of Electric Literature, and, the event's eventual champion, Mike Edison (of High Times, and Screw magazine).

Co-hosts Ann Heatherington and James J. Williams III set up the rules. The four writers were to be faced off in 7 minute readings of their work, with each piece adjudicated according to its literary merit, the quality of the writer's performance, and the most mysterious category, "intangibles." Publisher extraordinaire Richard Nash was the judge of literary merit, Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova the judge of performance, and comedian Jena Friedman on intangibles.

The first battle was between Febos and Topp. Febos had the crowd on edge with a racy excerpt from WHIP SMART about a particularly wild encounter she had with a dog breeder in her past life as a dominatrix. Topp, who requested to remain seated for his performance, followed with his uber short surrealist comedy, dropping such pearls as, "Thought of the Day: It's okay to stare at a dog's dick."

Then it was off to the judges. Nash, while lamenting that all good writers have to be "outsiders", concluded that Febos ultimately passed his test by saying, "I'd f**kin' publish you," while Friedman loved the "bendy, bicurious vibe" she was picking up from her.

Porizkova compared Topp's reading to "Spock doing stand-up comedy" and Friedman praised his "serial killer vibe" as really working for him. After a solid minute of deliberation, Febos emerged the winner.

After a brief intermission, Wythe Marschall took the stage to battle with Mike Edison.

Marschall went first with a complex, frenetic battle scene from his new short story (he describes it as" the X-Files in the 1870's American West"), which he read in a feverish Southern Twang that the audience, while enthralled, was left struggling to keep up with.

Edison took the stage second, and, calling a bongo player from the crowd, read one of his classic tales of pot and porn in traditional Beatnik fashion.

Nash praised the cerebral, "classy shit" in Marschall's work, but like the other judges, had trouble keeping up with Marschall's performance, which Porizkova called "John Wayne on meth."

Instead, Edison's drumming and dancing were the clear favorites of Round Two. Porizkova summed up his performance pretty well--"You could be reading a tractor manual and I would be interested."

On to the grand finale between Edison and Febos, which involved beating a pinata styled in the mold of Opium's founder, Todd Zuniga, with a hardcover book. After about three swipes, Edison emerged the winner, and a triumphant one at that.

If the goal of the evening, as described by executive producer Ann Heatherington, was to create a fun, light, wild atmosphere to enjoy good writing, then Literary Death Match was a huge success. The stuffy pretension infecting much of the city's literary culture was nowhere to be found. This was a party for the cool kids--exciting writers having a good time competing with their work, with no one taking anything too seriously.

Opium holds LDM's in 23 cities world-wide, with the next NYC match going down June 17, at the Bowery Poetry Club.

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