At the point where most artists consider a career change or graduate school, Samantha Barrowopted for the university of life. "I think I found what I want to do," she thought at the time. "I want to write and ride my bike around." So in 2000, the 24-year-old New England-raised poet hopped on her '84 Honda Shadow and hit the road on a tour of America that took her through seedy campsites and sketchy motel rooms. Along the way, she built up a fearlessness that eventually led her to unleash her poetry on unconventional audiences.
She earned her performance calluses the hard way, by jumping right in and reading at a rather threatening-looking biker bar. As she stared out over the rough crowd, she thought, "Aw, shit. These people are gonna beat me up afterwards." But following a surprisingly positive response, she developed what she calls "a good case of the fuck-its."
Barrow doesn't have much trouble reaching unconventional audiences because -- unlike the beatnik and hippie stereotypes of road-weary, hallucinatory freakouts and epiphanies -- her poems are bold, lucid narratives that move forward with solid rhythm, rooted determination and a firm handle on sexual politics. And she'd just as soon perform for someone who lacks a scholar's knowledge of poetry or art in general. "It's not about the ego; it's that someone out there will find something useful," she says. In fact, when she reads at rock shows (past appearances have included readings between sets by King Missile and Moldy Peaches), Barrow says, people who absolutely hate poetry find themselves cheering for encores.
Fueled by a grant from the Leeway Foundation, an organization that supports female artists in the Philadelphia area, she's hitting 18 cities this summer. And get this: Barrow rides alone -- no partner, no protection. On her 2000 trip through Texas, she turned down a stranger's friendly offering of an unregistered pistol, figuring it would only attract trouble. "I've got my Swiss Army knife," she says.
That case of the fuck-its doesn't appear to be fading.