Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rocking the Suburbs (just like William Carlos did)

Read in Rutherford, NJ last night at a series honoring William Carlos Williams. My friend Ray, who was also reading, and I grabbed a bus at the Port Authority and amused each other talking about movies, the sets we were reading, and the Rate my Poo website (which I have yet to check out. Ray tells me it’s truly something to behold, but I guess I’ll have to take his word for it for the time being).

The bus dropped us off at train station, and we walked the main shopping district up to the library, past a mix of small, funky little shops and the usual suburban whatnot. One store was actually a restaurant called CafĂ© Eros that billed itself as “funky, underground Greek dining” which I told Ray was actually code for cunnilingus with a Greek woman. We thought it was pretty funny, but in retrospect, probably not. Given that the suburbs are sort of my "hood" (since all suburbs are really the same), I felt right at home.

We walked past an enormous blue house which I later found out was WCW’s house, past an even larger stone Presbyterian Church that sat on a hill above the road and dominated the landscape, crossed the street and went down some stairs to the library meeting room where we were greeted by our friend John Trause.

The reading was small, and sparsely attended, but what people there were there seemed very attentive and glad to be there. An older, stooped gentleman started things off by reading a few golden oldies from the WCW catalog, and then John introduced Ray and me.

He spoke very highly of us, and I found myself almost blushing. It’s nice to be well regarded by people you yourself hold in high esteem. Sort of a mutual admiration society, but still, it’s cool. You get to say all those things that most people find themselves on their deathbeds wishing they’d said – really, how many people are going to wish when they die, “God, I really wish I hadn’t told all those people how much I liked what they do.”

Anyway, I get up, do my poems (including a brand spanking new piece I wrote specifically in honor of the period of WCW’s work I’m most familiar with, his Imagist work. It’s about a coffee mug. The idea was we’d both write a piece, no more than 10 lines, no more than 5 words per line, about something we saw everyday – I picked a coffee mug. Ray picked the pussin’-out-didn’t-write-it, which is OK, too). It was fun, the audience was tuned in, and by the end I really felt like I had them. My funnier, lighter stuff seems to go over better, and in some ways, it’s more fun for me to read. It’s more emotionally moving to me, too, which is sort of a switch. I always thought, maybe just because I’m immature, that pain is more interesting. Truthfully though, pain is boring, especially in poetry. How many more times do I have to hear a fucking poem about (pick one): a. rape, b. love lost, c. murder, d. child abuse, e. drug abuse, f. parent/friend/loved one/cat dying, before I die? More to the point, how many more times do I have to write those poems? I’m sick of it. The poems that have moved me the most over the past year have been triumphs and battle cries, prayers and hymns. Tears streamed down my face in Albuquerque at the National Poetry Slam, when the Washington, DC team did their poem about trees and plants - it was so beautiful that I cried. To all the poets of the world, stop trying to make me cry by showing me your bleeding hands, and show me something beautiful. We’ll cry together.

(/rant OFF) So I did, as my closing poems, Vanilla and the Nokia poem. Crowd pleasers both, and I was close to tears myself a few places in them. I just missed my lady, whom I don’t really see enough, even though I’ve seen her relatively often of late. Our schedules and our lives hardly ever match up, and I’ve been staying up too late reading/watching TV/answering email/surfing the web. I was heckled by a drunk guy, which is a first for me in the poetry world, and I finished up, plugged PARSE, and got the hell off the stage.

Ray did his set, a nicely structured bit of work in which he alternated thematically similar poems from WCW with his own work. The nearest I can get to describing what makes Williams so great is strength and clarity. There is something crystalline about his work that also bespeaks of great tensile strength. His words do not wilt beneath the weight of his vision. Sometimes, you can hear, even in the greatest poets, the vision overreaching the grasp of the writer, and the words sound inadequate and lost amidst the crushing space of what the author wanted to say. WCW never sounds that way. He always seems to be describing exactly what he sees in a way that conveys exactly what he wants us to see (and feel, and understand) about it. The strength and clarity of his work accented wonderful similar qualities in Ray’s work, and since Ray is such a great reader, himself, it was even more of a pleasure. Great work read by a great reader.

There was an open mic, with a few people reading their work. The poems were of, shall we say, varying quality, with John reading off a few great ones, and my drunken heckler getting up to do his thing. There was an amazing moment when he stood behind the podium, and it was as if he suddenly realized he was drunker than shit, and he was ashamed. It was an amazing moment, I never thought I’d say that shame could be beautiful, but it was beautiful seeing a man awaken from a dream, even for only a moment. Beautiful and painful. He read his own work, and a couple of Poe poems (which makes me smile – I wanted to say “Poe’s a New Yorker, my man! Come back with some more NJ poets, and we can talk.”) which he read with such passion and abandon that I was momentarily stunned. His own work wasn’t great but the way he read Poe was really something: tears and fury, rising cadence and

After the reading we wandered back to John’s car, got a ride back to Penn Station, NY. I loved walking through Rutherford, since I am truly a child of the suburbs, and I had a great time just being out of the city, doing a reading with such a great audience, and hanging with friends. Plus, I got to see WCW’s house, which, given that he was one of the first poets I ever “discovered” and read voraciously, put the capper on a great night.

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