The irony is that going into THE FUCKING READING TONIGHT, I was afraid that my poem was too obvious, when in reality the language of my microcosm seemed to be entirely unknown to the audience. One table of black on black hipsters displayed utterly blank expressions, which I believe is the sophisticated equivalent to a slack-jawed air of 'HUH?' Afterwards, confirmation of their confusion came in the spontaneous comments, as one person after another wasted words by offering me meaningless â€˜LIKESâ€™ without â€˜WHYS?â€™
Shattered Presence still makes sense only to me. A reasoned, scientific response to New Age be-witchery and all other non-explanations built on wishful thinking, made no sense to them. A poem that says a TV show titled Touched By An Angel should just be called â€˜Touchedâ€™ was taken for more pointless, whining. They took me for another depressive rant on a world seen through the glass darkly.
I DO NOT write professorial puzzles or nifty pictures to be taken in whatever way the receiverâ€™s past tells them to---my goal is to create convictions; make this fucking world offer more shade to babies and lovers; convince that the meaninglessness is malleable; to do so, my texts have to be clearly understood. Tonight, my seed dies ignoble, encrusted on paper rendered garbage by its presence.
Part of the problem could have been the poet who read before me, Gorgeous Surely (sic). Our local performance artist was dressed up as an S & M nymphet, wearing a skintight, black leather mini skirt, dark brown nylons, hot pink garters, and a black leather vest worn sans shirt. She breathes poetry through pouted lips painted glossy red, takes the most innocent words and turns them into whore heat with husky, â€˜fuck me more tones.â€™ The actual words she uses are more a comment on how they sound side by side than anything else. The subject was sex---surprise, surprise.
Her performance, like her chapbook, Let Me Suck It, is a puddle of images designed to create strong reactions in apes â€“ make their crotches tingle and juice. Surely Shirley is a stripper on the wrong stage.The One called The Nervous/Touchy Woman hosted. She has stubby fingers that tremble slightly from some psychotropic or another (she wrote a poem titled the name of the drug . . . I, of course, of course, half listened as I doodled away my boredom, and now the name escapes me). She was wearing yellow lipstick, had heavy black lines of black mascara around her eyes, a black skirt and a white T-shirt that was tight enough to contour no less than four bulbous tiers of fat. Her hair was spiky orange with a half-inch or so of black roots, and there are too many tattoos and nose/lip/ear/whatever rings to count without obviously staring.Iâ€™ve heard enough of her â€˜making sense of my journeyâ€™ poems to know more about her than anyone needs to --- including that sheâ€™s been in and out of therapy all her life and hates the idea of a poet like herself (but not herself, the poem that I am referring to had to point out) soiling her artistic soul doing a job exactly like hers, data entry. She also gets drunk on cheap red wine and calls up psychics to talk about angels.
The Upshot of her poetry is always, â€˜everything works out like it should, and there are angels everywhere, and sheâ€™s just fine, thank you, pretending that she lives in the best of all possible worlds.â€™Milton Eugene Peters read next. I've never written him. He signs his work â€˜The Scoffer,â€™ though Iâ€™ve never seen him scoff at anything. Indeed, he always comes off drunk and defeated.
The first thing he did on-stage was hold up a cheap looking chapbook to make sure everyone knew they could be bought. A slim volume with colored paper for a cover, something he put together on an ambitious afternoon at Kinkoâ€™s. Iâ€™ve looked at it before. The intro says that theyâ€™re written in a â€˜Whitmanesque style, celebrating the wonder of Toledo, Ohio and the surrounding mental vicinityâ€™ (this oddly askew vision of Toledo most likely originated when Valium was â€˜non-addictiveâ€™ and then just carried right on through the Prozac revolution). Milt read a first person narrative about a mailman who overcomes rain, sleet and snow, only to be mauled by an ennui monster.
The poem is in the early morning, with the narrator sitting in a postal truck sipping whiskey to stem off a hangover thatâ€™s been trying to settle in for years. The mourning cords of a broken heart country song remind him of his ex wife, which then brings to mind getting his divorce papers delivered at the YMCA. The bad news was handed to him in a dingy lobby of a Y.M.C.A. by a wrinkly faced, toothless, old queen who reeked of lilac perfume, BO and Vicâ€™s Vapor rub. After the memory, he either goes to sleep and dreams, or has a vision (the reader can choose either, depending on their level of sanity). A truck rocking wind blows though an open window and a cloud of envelopes fly up into the air around him. Some stop in front of his eyes and he can read who wrote them, where theyâ€™re addressed. Itâ€™s all the evil mail that heâ€™s delivered over the years: a shut off notice that he delivered to a young couple with babies a few days before their lights went out, a scam that he took to an old Italian woman who lost forty grand, the mocking deluge of get well cards that he delivered to the dying (he actually only wrote â€˜cloud of evil mailâ€™. To quote the poem: â€œI was too despondent to drop off missives of misery.â€� This line is evidence of why I have to make some of this up - otherwise,Dear Future Selves, as you read over this, you will curse me for writing down such boring shit).Milt drives back to his house, grabs a cane pole and a .45, tells himself that heâ€™s going out on his boat to do some fishing, and then shut himself down once and for all. He goes to a Turkey lake, which his poem purports to have â€˜water as clear as a tear,â€™ gets in a rowboat, paddles out to the middle and starts to prepare a line to cast. He spikes the hook into a worm and yellow gunk comes out. He wonders how his head will look after he fires the gun into his temple? If his gray, crinkled brains will show? He wants to get rid of, quote, â€˜a bag of psychic thorns,â€™ so heâ€™s brought a gray, lumpy mailbag with him. He drops it over the side of the bow and watches the words 'U.S. Mail,' sink into the murky water.
Then his poem veered out of control and crashed. I donâ€™t know where the remaining words came from, but they were not generated by the preceding text. Well, whatever their source, the tacked on lines describe how Milt suddenly realized that â€˜frogs find reason enough to live in the crunch of a fly,â€™ and is magically transformed into a, quote (for godâ€™s sake) 'paradigm of peace.â€™I wish to hell that I could make peace with the universe in two lines. I think my differences run much too deep. Did he attend that workshop on writing â€˜life-affirmingâ€™ endings? He could be trying to reinvent himself as happy?A happy man in a sad world--is there anything as repugnant?
I should write down that Milt really is a divorced, depressed, half-drunken postal employee who indeed still lives at the Y.M.C.A. After reading, he propped three copies of his book up in front of the podium for people to, quote, â€œ . . . peruse and purchase during the breakâ€� (didnâ€™t happen), then gave the stage back to the nervous women.
She stepped in front of the Mic, reintroduced herself, and then extravagantly proclaimed that the next reader would be The Big Fish, saying how she read all his books and took his classes, knew him as a beautiful Father, Teacher, Brother. I mean, she blew him up and down that little stag horn of his. Had him strutting up to the stage ready to rut.He of grammatical greatness still hasn't lost the weight that he gained while writing â€˜Ambrosia,â€™ his book of passionate love poems to his favorite gourmet meals (complete with pictures, recipes and center-piece ideas). A loose narrative runs through the Ambrosia text, describing a monastic initiate learning ritual eating habits. The Big Fish based the regime on what he learned from the last survivors of an obscure religious sect . . . Ugh, itâ€™s sad, but Iâ€™ve forgotten their name. He met them while he was on an academic sabbatical in some country, or another. The introduction says, quote: â€˜I am in the unfortunate position of having to single handedly preserve a culture,â€™ then goes on to â€˜implore' readers to â€˜use the rituals as a dinner party theme.â€™I once asked him about the metaphorical underpinnings? He spewed out something about how â€˜Zen moments contain their own truth.â€™ Iâ€™m not sure if that was a blow-off, or an answer? I hope it was the latter, but . . .
Okay, back to the actual events that took place at The Tuesday Night Toledo Poetry Slam. . .
The Big Fish plays the crowd, walks across the bar touching peopleâ€™s shoulders, looks down at them and smiles. He knows everyone, of course, because in the cultural Anti-Mecca of Toledo, Ohio, the dozen of so people who show up at readings are poets and their lovers. On stage he adjusts the Mic down below his chin and asks the bartender to aim the spotlight so itâ€™s shining directly on his face. He wears an over-sized, beige Peruvian sweater with a blue llama that seems to be kneeling on his protruding gut, and starts out by saying that he has a signed copy of Miltâ€™s book at home and recommends the volume as â€˜a record of how Toledo is viewed by todayâ€™s working classâ€™. Of course, he then brings up his own book, which he strangely enough says can be purchased at a lot of bookstores (I happen to know that at least in Toledo, only the university sells them).When the political preliminaries are finally finished, his face goes pointedly blank and he silently gazes out over our heads, takes a drag off a cigarette and exhales into the circular beam of the spotlight.
Thick tendrils of white smoke swirl around him. He silently smokes until the silence itself is the first stanza of the poem-â€“ if indeed, not itâ€™s entirety. The audience is unsettled by the lack of words. I personally grow almost terrified at the thought of spending the next five minutes attempting to follow the vague mental direction of smoke swirling around a bulge of fat. One minute 39 seconds into said silence, a couple people in the back of the room begin whispering. The Big Fish's face takes on a stern, knowing expression as he switches from Beat Poet to Worldly Professorial Mode, leans into the microphone and says, â€œSome people are here to experience the arts - please, give them a chance.â€�
Then his face goes blank again and he returns to his silent smoking. It goes on and on . . . On and on. . . On . . . On. . .
I feel like Iâ€™ll be noticed if I get up and leave. I try not to look at my watch but there is no way in hell that I can stop myself. The second bout of silence clocks in at two minutes, forty-three seconds, point . . . suddenly the Big fish throws his arms up into the air and yells loud as hell in a Martin Luther King cadence, â€œI have been to vulva! I have disappeared into heavily verbiaged pussy! Fuchsia! I say, Fuchsia!â€œ
Beer is spilt, a couple people yell out . . . everyone is startled as planned, including your normally unflappable narrator, who dropped a pen that rolled away into the netherworlds of the dim bar lights.He falls silent for another 37.9 seconds, then launches into a whispery jazz riff using alternative words for a vagina as notes. I get out my pad and another pen to write down any new nicknames that heâ€™s discovered for my favorite place in the known universe; sit with my pen hovering over the page for the rest of the poem. When heâ€™s done, there is hooting and hollering a-plenty. I write a note to myself - -â€˜ everyone seems to 'get' a poem about fucking.â€™
I used my years of Lit-Crit to look under his prose for the secret language of the literati, the gems supposedly passed from writer to reader, jot down, â€˜The 'message' is the same old, same old; gray little nothings; infant lies sponged from movies and ad's and idle conversations; images that scream about how cars crash, little kids cry, people fall in love. I confirm my criticism later, during the smoky, slurred chitchat phase. I use the student voice, display the demeanor of a novice impressed by the teacherâ€™s insight and wanting more, â€œWhat is it that people should take home with them from your poem. You know, the revelation?â€�
â€œThe revelation?â€� He acts like I need to be clearer if I expect him to bless me with an answer.
â€œThe point, what it means?â€�
â€œFucking is fun.â€�
â€œThat, I never would have known.â€�
â€œWhat do you mean by that?â€�
â€œAs a Baptist, I was raised to think as little as possible about sex - and then only bad thoughts. But if you say that fucking is fun, then I damn well might give it a try.â€œ
I hope to convince people that over-dramatic times deserve over-dramatic responses, to take their ethical circles and expand them, to see themselves as part of the generations yet to come; to destroy the delusions of religion, ego, politics . . . Itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m praying to the sky. Empirical data shows my talent could nuance consciousness, actually shape minds more in tune with the world around us, rather than the word-worlds that weâ€™ve made up for all those reasons that have nothing to do with the search for truth. I mean, my god, writing a poem that says fucking is fun? Money? Praise? I might as well write a poem about how windows open.
don't steal my shit.... no use what-so-ever of this material is lawful, unless you have my permission.... don't make me come smack the shit out of you.