The Mutinous Mutt: Beat poet and arts patron

Cullen Balch’s name came across my desk last summer when he sent TRRT an e-mail announcing a poetry event/fund-raiser he was organizing for Vickie McGee, a local poet who suffered from an unusual kidney disease. Ever since, I can’t walk five feet without seeing his alias “The Mutinous Mutt” printed on fliers announcing a performance of his somewhere.

Balch’s work falls somewhere between the rhythms of Hip-Hop and the themes of the beat movement of the mid-20th century, although Balch has a creativity and freshness that surpasses the degenerate perversion of that era in poetry.

Balch (pronounced as it’s spelled, and not as “balk”) is a busy poet with trademark bed head when he’s not wearing a Tam cap. He hosts the Wednesday night Bizarro Beat Circus at Kryptonite, which is probably one of the most under-appreciated events in Rockford. Not only is there a backup band for spoken-word poets (with musical interludes when nobody feels like reading), local astrologer/horoscope columnist Denise Guzzardo gives readings to random members of the audience to kick off each evening. Her performance is somewhere between stand-up comedy and astrological consultation. It is reported that she is dead-on accurate.

Although Balch’s work is argumentative and sometimes cantankerous, somehow it’s impossible not to find his presentation, word choice and way of attacking issues appealing.

A common tendency of modern spoken-word poets is to insert extraneous expletives before every verb or noun, yet Balch only uses coarse language as precise modifiers or clever rhythmic fillers.

This poet has no pretensions though, and one would be hard pressed to find any finger-snapping, beret wearing or goatee-doting scene where Balch is involved.

The Beat Circus lineup is so extensive that these pages can’t fit all the musical and poetic guests to whom Balch lends his mic. In short, regular poets and emcees include Jesus Correa, Debra Jo Howard, Jeff Williams, and vocalist/rappers 12 in 1 Freaks. Dave McMahon is regularly at the Circus on drums, but Jeremy Klonicki, Jason “Pudge” Philips and Hosie Baskin come in frequently on percussion and drums as well. Some other “celebrity” guests include Steve “Rugburns” Kelly on guitar, Pete Sandona on bass, Grant “De-mus Deltoid” as a DJ, Chris Whitmore on alto sax and Chris Strand on mandolin and guitar. That list doesn’t even touch the full roster of who may or may not show up at the Beat Circus, but it can give the reader an idea of what kind of madcap carnival of poetry, flowetry and creativity occurs on Wednesday nights.

In April, Balch will emcee the Rockford Public Library’s poetry slam at the main branch on Wyman. Signup is at 6:15 p.m. and is open to the public. The library poetry events are always interesting and feature complete amateurs to well-seasoned writers and readers.

On Thursday, April 22, Balch will be one of the featured poets in the poetry slam at Hononegah High School hosted by local author/poet Debra Jo Howard.

Saturday, April 24 gives Balch the stage at Minglewood for Poetic Justice 2, which will be a slam and reading to benefit Rockford Social Justice Initiative. If you’ve never attended a slam, do so. There is a $2 cover for this event, but poets get in for free. It will also be the first in a weekly series of slams sponsored by Minglewood.

Keep your eyes peeled for fliers announcing a performance of “The Bed Head Beat Poet” or “The Mutinous Mutt;” whatever Balch is doing is going to cause a stir.

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