The Readers’ Writers: Word rocker Cyndi Dawson

DA Kentner

In “Outside Girl,” poet Cyndi Dawson takes us into the off-the-grid New York City club scenes of the ’80s, into the filth of bathrooms with junkies feeding their habits, false bravado thumped by those needing to fit in, the genuine lost souls, the hopes and dreams that will be left behind, and the beautiful hearts of those who will emerge from that era a little tattered but all the wiser and stronger for the experience.

Dawson shares that world from her own experiences, her own viewpoint of the life she was living. As a “word rocker,” Dawson has performed her poetry to music in clubs around the world, always growing and always – in her terminology – evolving.

I think that’s one of the things that made her word artistry stand out for me. Dawson views life as a personal evolution. Because, after all, if we aren’t evolving, we’re stagnating.

A rocker at heart, Dawson (from the Cynz’s Facebook page) “and longtime musician friend Henry Seiz joined forces, grabbed fellow musicians Matt Langone, Bob Stockl and Patrick Schoultz, and put together what is being talked about as 'the closest thing to the sound of 1977 CBGB's since 1977'” - the band Cynz. Cynz is a hard-hitting stage from which Dawson’s lyrical prose melds with skilled guitar licks, a solid bass foundation, and Stockl’s percussion perfection.

One of their most popular songs to date? “Evolution,” of course.

Actress Cyndi Dawson has appeared on “Law and Order,” Advil commercials and other film and TV projects. Her poetic prose has appeared in more than 50 anthologies and magazines, as well as two other collections she published, “Dream Sequences” and “Inside of Outside.” As a performance artist, Dawson has enthralled international audiences. And yes, “artist” most accurately describes Dawson. She is a painter of words, and life is her canvas.

Q. You founded the poetry and music venue Poets and Angels Music and Poetry Series. Would you explain for our readers what that venue is?

A. I wanted to create a safe space where people could explore their work without having to be a “professional” writer. I found a perfect cafe in town where I live and they gave me free reign to start the series up. Since I worked with musicians doing my poetry pieces, it evolved into a poetry AND music series. It was very organic. We all allowed it to become its own animal, so to speak, and it was a beautiful one.

Q. I read a blurb that you once stood in for Madonna. When and why?

A. I was an actress in the ’80s, and my agent called me one night and said I was to be on set 6 a.m. for a movie as a stand-in. I asked for who, and she said, “Madonna.” Well, you know Madonna was HUGE at that point. I was a dancer, so our bodies were very similar at that point, though I look nothing like her in the face. But as her stand-in they could use me to set up shots and to do shots where she would have been filmed from behind or running, etc. This film was “Who's That Girl.”

Q. Poetry isn’t known for its ladders to success. Which leads us to this question – in your mind, what is “success”?

A. Success is when something you do that connects you in a positive way to the world gives you great satisfaction. It's obviously not about the money to me, although how I admire those who DO make their living doing what it is they love. That's a bonus, but not necessarily success.

Q. Performance art and small clubs allow for interaction with the audience. Do the people who come to your Cynz’s performances inspire your work, and if so, how?

A. Absolutely. The interaction with the audience can make or break a performance. It's an alchemy of energy. You try and bring everything you've got to every show. I've never experienced a dead audience at any of our shows so far, whether we had 100 or we had 20 people. They all move towards the stage and you can see it in their faces. We are definitely experiencing some shamanic exchange of purge during our performance. I often think the audience NEEDS me to cut loose and get that scream out. It's OUR scream, together!

Q. Any parting thoughts for readers not yet familiar with your poetry?

A. I think the one thing I try and create is a set of “unrules.” Craft is important. I am a “street poet,” but I still try and make sure every line is essential, that the piece doesn't go on too long just for my own ego, and that it isn't so written for myself that a reader couldn't grasp any of it. I write from where I live. Not every word is in chronological order, but most of my work is gleamed from my life or thoughts pertaining to bits of mine and/or another's.

I find if you write from a place of truth, there's a sense of urgency in the words you just can't fake. And the reader knows this.

DA Kentner is an author and journalist.