Can We Talk? 

Step right up to the Box

SUN 1/11

Are burning words held behind your lips, sweetly stinging your tongue like a mango dipped in chili and waiting to erupt like the vowels in a pretty girl's name over your teeth in a river of passion? Do you long to feel the hot wires of connection lightning-bolting your soul when your rhythms tap into the hearts and minds of strangers and their faces beam back pure understanding? Or does your heart thump and your toes itch to be planted firmly on a stage when a camera zooms in to preserve a bite of your razor-fanged vision in the canons of celluloid history? If so, wordsmith, your time has arrived. Unity Life Project, Inc. kicks off the first in a series of spoken-word and improv sessions at the recently restored Oakland Box Theatre on Sunday. The affair, titled Speak on It!, strives to provoke intense mental, musical, and emotional intercourse through the liquid medium of the word, as it is woven into poetry, rhyme, beats, and freestyle. The collective vibe invites everyone to participate. Teens and local youth are especially encouraged to take up the mic and share their ideas, realities, dreams, and talents with the community. The soirée will be filmed, giving performers a chance to appear in the upcoming feature-length production Dreadstock, which will document the Bay Area's reggae scene and its unique hybrid of Caribbean and urban cultures. And if that isn't enough to get all you roaming freestyle poets who croon your lusty calls of the wild on street corners and late-night BART trains to come out and get up on the stage, the evening also is a fund-raising event for the Unity Life Youth Project's Computer Technology Center, Health and Wellness, and Domestic Violence Awareness programs. So aside from the allure of the limelight, it's for a good cause, homies. Now the question is, are you down? Oakland Box Theater, 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., $10 at the door. Visit for details. -- Amrah Johnson



Lit Happens

Rhyme and be judged at Berkeley Poetry Slam, where contestants get three minutes to spit it out at the Starry Plough, and where tonight is hip-hop night. $7, $5 with student ID, female slammers free. Signups start at 7:30. For details call 510-841-2082 (Wed., 8:30 p.m.). ... True-life 19th-century oddball genius Charles Babbage, a polymath yearning to calculate the longitude of a solar eclipse as seen from the Santa Fe Trail, helms Shooting the Sun, the latest historical novel from Davis' Max Byrd. At Bookshop Benicia, Byrd reads from this tale of art, science, travel, and intrigue, in which Native Americans on the frontier aren't so friendly (Sat., 1 p.m.). ... Dig the tautly compressed and thus arguably Dickinsonian poetics of Say Uncle author Kay Ryan and the lushly lyrical observations of five-time Pushcart Prize nominee Elena Karina Byrne , author of The Flammable Bird, at Cody's Southside. $2. (Sun., 7:30 p.m.). ... His story in Best Bisexual Erotica was about two teen boys discovering their mutual desire; Oakland's Hew Wolff reads with his pediatrician/bard wife Jan Steckel at Poetry Express, upstairs in the Priya Restaurant (2072 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). Bring poems of your own for open mic. All attendees get a 20 percent meal discount. For details, call 510-644-3977. (Mon., 7 p.m.). ... Players with and without hairy toes are equally welcome to jump into the Lord of the Rings trading-card game at Borders Milpitas (Mon., 7 p.m.). ... Join Diesel's irresistibly titled Book Group # 3 to discuss Leaving, El Cerrito author Richard Dry's intense novel about three generations of African Americans going through changes in mid-20th-century Oakland. (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). ... Raiders, Panthers, horsecars: The Oakland Public Library has seen it all, and celebrates its 125th anniversary with a special exhibit tracing its own history via scrapbooks, snapshots, and vintage librariana. At the Main Library's Oakland History Room, now through March 12. -- Anneli Rufus

THU 1/8

Fantasy Island

The joke among travelers the past few years has been that you should visit Cuba now, while it's still illegal. Lately the Bush administration has squelched that joke by conducting a crackdown on US citizens who dare to enter the land of exquisite music, rum, baseball, and cigars. Should you venture to Forbidden Island? How do you go about it? Where can you find what remains of the Buena Vista Social Club? These and other burning questions about the C-place are fair game when travel writer Christopher Baker drops into Berkeley's Easy Going Travel Shop & Bookstore Thursday evening (7:30 p.m.). Baker wrote the Moon Handbook: Cuba guidebook (published by Avalon Travel), and he knows Cuba well -- the people, customs, food, places to stay, geographic realities, political hassles, etc. Easy Going is at 1385 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. For more info about the free talk, phone 510-843-3533. -- Kelly Vance

THU 1/8

Wails from Wales

They walk among you in Oakland

Despite his band's Misfits-evoking name, Richard Proctor of the Welsh band They Walk Among Us likes to get sentimental. He may very well have a Shakespeare complex, the way his lyrics evoke Shylock in "Telescope" (Cut and I will bleed, like anyone else/A passion and a need for everything/I'm alive like anyone else). Or maybe it's a Tom Waits complex, judging by the boozy, romantic melancholy spelled out in "It Goes On" (Did you just sneak a look at me?/If so, pull up a chair and sit by me/We can talk about the news and weather/You can flutter your eyelashes/And I'll pretend to be clever). So if you like your Britpop sensitive -- Welsh, even -- the Stork Club is the place for you tonight, when They Walk Among Us -- not as cold as Coldplay, not as weird as Radiohead, not as cuddly as Blur -- appear, with Yeah Man opening. Cover is $5, and this 21-and-up show starts at around 9:30 p.m. 2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Call 510-444-6174 for venue details. -- Stefanie Kalem


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