It's high praise from a spoken word community to be dubbed a "human nerve ending."
Don McIver proudly displays the compliment on his Web site, press materials and bio, although the tag stems from an early version of his performance style.
"When I came out, I was barely into the performance game, so I would get really anxious when I read," he says. "And so, some of the pieces I would do, I would really tap into my anxious energy, go really frenetic and hyperactive. My movements were all chaotic. I'm not nearly as nervous about performing now, but in certain poems, I still kind of draw on that kind of energy."
In fact, maturity hasn't mellowed McIver. His poems and reading style still are intense and fraught with emotion. He's simply learned to deliver his words in a more mannered approach, a product of eight years of consistent performing in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M.
McIver's first collection of poems, The Noisy Pen, recently was released, bringing him onto the performance circuit for a short book tour. With twenty-some years as a writer and recognition as one of New Mexico's most prolific and visible poets, he's earned whatever street cred comes his way.
McIver's poems are pleasingly eclectic, running the gamut from humorous, spastic personal recollections to harrowingly personal accounts. Between those are the political, ecological, angry and genuinely depressing, each strung together with a powerfully percussive, liquid use of language.
His slam poetry marries that use of language with a knack for delivery.
"I feel like you do have to perform," McIver says of slam presentation, "and I do feel like it's all writing, too. I came into it through writing. I'd always been writing. But other people have come to it through performing, and other people have come to it through music. It's both. It's performing, and it's playing with the sound of your voice and understanding how voice works musically and how that plays off of the writing."
In recent years, Albuquerque has sustained a vibrant spoken word culture, with numerous venues hosting frequent slams and open mikes. In addition, McIver hosts "Spoken Word Hour" on Albuquerque's KUNM radio and broadcasts a variety of poetry forms, from the ubiquitous Western cowboy poetry to political rants to comedy tracks to academic poetry and slam.
Such an active community has propelled, or at least encouraged, McIver.
"Spoken word communities are kind of a low entry into art. The thing I like best about them is that they're really accessible and open to everybody. All you have to have is your words. You don't have to buy a lot of equipment, a guitar or a set of turntables," he says.
"There's also the sociological reasons, that it's a lot of what people are doing when they get on the mike. They're kind of saying their truth, or giving an outlet to speaking their piece, where it's, 'Go up, do your thing. Say your thing. We'll appreciate the fact that you said it.' Whether or not they like it is a different question."
-- Aaron Retka
Don McIver at the Colorado College Poetry Slam
Saturday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Gates Common Room, CC's Palmer Hall
Tickets: $3, or $2 for students or those with CC ID; visit the Worner Campus Center, 902 N. Cascade Ave.