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Straight Outta Castro

Michelle Tea and Company Take On America

"Santa Fe, New Mexico," says Bucky Sinister, swallowing the grounds at the bottom of his coffee without a thought, "That's the show I'm most looking forward to. They treat poetry like a festival there, and after the performance, they like to stay up late. You do your show and they show you what Santa Fe's like, sightseeing and all. Poetry as a party, that's what this tour is."

Sinister is one of eight poets and musicians on tour with the traveling cabaret known by its full, inexplicable name of Stromboli's Island of Donkeys and Dolls. The tour is organized and orchestrated by Michelle Tea, author of the dizzyingly glamorous and trashy Mission-dyke novel Valencia and the upcoming memoir The Chelsea Whistle, which has a release date to coincide with the tour's Sept. 1 launch party. The Strombolis will cut through twenty-eight cities in thirty days, circling the country, with starting and ending parties to be thrown in San Francisco.

"The idea is to keep things moving," Michelle explains. "We have different hosts every night. There are really hysterical poets and really heartbreaking poets, sometimes at the same time."

Right now she's talking about Ali Liebegott, a Providence, RI-based poet whose self-deprecatingly funny rants bridge the gap between Sinister's caustic humor pieces - where all the dead angels wash up on Ocean Beach one day and kids steal their halos and sell them to tourists, and the energy of bad relationships creates Japanimation monsters - and Michelle's new bittersweet stories from Whistle, of growing up outside Boston and discovering her sexuality and her inner smartass.

In fact, as I meet the cast of characters, it feels almost like a soap opera. Not the bitch-slap kind of soap opera as much as a Dallas-type soap opera, where everybody looks larger-than-life and even when they're killing each other, it's with style and flair. When the poets read, you get the sense that they're having as much fun as you are. And when they introduce each other and move backstage, you feel like there's a party going on and you want to be invited.

There are surprises, of course. Tara Jepsen might read stories or poetry, but she's just as likely to bust out in sweatpants and a Flashdance hairdo for a bad 80s stand-up comic routine or pull half the poets onstage for a skit. The always-reliable Bucky Sinister published King of the Roadkill a few years ago, and it's a worthwhile read, but he's debuting a number of new pieces. Then there's Morty Diamond, a transgendered clown, and God only knows what we should expect from that segment.

The Stromboli show culminates with the End of the World, a queer/trans hip-hop group whose notorious and bizarre resume includes Nectar Stage at SF Gay Pride, Ladyfest, and the dyke porn film Sugar High Glitter City. For the theme song, "Candy Ass," members MC Katastrophe and MC STD (Something Totally Deep) received a nomination for the adult film industry's version of the Oscars for Best Soundtrack. They lost to Snoop Dogg in the end, but there's something to be said for two queer kids who got nominated against Snoop for a catchy little hip-hop song about lollipops. On this tour, the former duo brings in member Ricky Lee, who switches between solo poetry sets and MC duties, under the nom de rock Strict Chem.

Stromboli's Island of Donkeys and Dolls leaves San Francisco with a sendoff party on September 1 at Kimo's on Polk St. They return exactly a month later, on October 1, with a yet-to-be-confirmed show at the Harvey Milk Center.