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Theater: The Toxic Avenger

Blake Nelson takes to the stage -- to read poems about his ex-girlfriend.


Blake Nelson is a little worried about how the dramatic reading of his 139-poem cycle will go over. The poems, which memorialize his anger at an ex-girlfriend who dumped him, typically go something like this: "I'd kill to fuck you once more / It's fucking sick! / I will not be returning / Your calls." He wrote his enraged epic in one seven-hour sitting after breaking up with a girl in Portland, Oregon, in 1995, and left it in a box until he decided earlier this year to read it on WKCR, the Columbia University radio station. Simon Hammerstein, the 22-year-old scion of the Hammerstein theater family, happened to be at the station and decided to turn the poems into a one-man show, Ache, which opens May 11 with Nelson reading at the Flea theater in TriBeCa.

"All I can think of is that if Naomi Wolf hears about this, I'm dead," says Nelson, 34. A small-press friend who looked at the manuscript told him, "If we published this, we'd be dead and your career would be over." But the Hammerstein boy and his friends aren't bothered: "They're in their twenties," Nelson explains, "and haven't internalized the politics of calling a girl a cunt, like people ten years older have." Nelson, on the other hand, is "sort of worried that we'll come out and the room will be full of jocks shouting, 'You give it to her!' "

He's not telling his parents. "This would be the first thing I wouldn't want them to see," he says. And the girl? "I only dated her for two months -- of course. She was the wildest girl in Portland." At the time, Girl, Nelson's first novel, had just been published. "When you have a good book out and it's selling and the movie people are calling -- I guess you think you're Superman. And I couldn't even keep one grungy punk-rock girl!" He says they're friends now, though he notes that "if this was getting a lot of attention, I think she'd feel funny." His new girlfriend, he says, thinks Ache is "going to make me a star."

That doesn't mean she has any illusions about him. "I said, 'Isn't it interesting that I'm not like that now?' " Nelson recalls. "And she said, 'That poem is you. You're totally like that.' That scared me to death." But if the women in his life have accepted that he could whine, "I went down on you / . . . So give me head / You selfish bitch!" he's not sure how others will react. "Are you dating anyone?" he asks. "Well, don't bring her."


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