Toying with Alternate History: “Truthful Wishing about Oregon”

When the hell are my reminiscences going to escape March 2009? Anyway…

It was, of course, March 2009. Typically, I would go to the second closest Starbucks, a mile down the road, where I knew most of the baristas, to write poems. Typically, whenever I needed inspiration, I turned to one of the few books with poetry I owned then, that three-for-one collection of the works of Richard Brautigan: Trout Fishing in America, the Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar.

Does anyone else remember that volume? Thick, white, with a picture on the cover of Brautigan standing and some unidentified woman sitting, both of them looking somewhat like inhabitants of a nineteenth-century mining town? There was a time and a place (late eighties, Ann Arbor, the Residential College at the University of Michigan) when and where it seemed every student in East Quad had a copy of that book prominently displayed on his or her shelf, right next to a novel or two by Tom Robbins. But I digress..

That day, March 6, I noticed that the Starbucks right by my house had introduced a huge table in their seating area, a table kicking the ass of the handicapped table I usually tried to snag at the other Starbucks. (I know, I know…) I set up shop there and started working, which meant writing a little and Facebook-chatting a lot. I did make progress. I talked to Christy Root Spicer and then wrote “Poem for Christy’s Daughter.” I talked to Erica Vale and then wrote “Poem for Erica’s Son.” Afterward, as the well started to run a little dry, it was time to pull out the Brautigan again.

But who was this dude anyway? All I knew was that hippie-wannabes liked him and that he had killed himself. I went to his Wikipedia page, where I learned about his crappy childhood. Hmm, I felt weird. I had been getting inspired by his short little pieces and writing pastiches of his work. I’d assumed he’d been some jolly-ass, free-wheeling guy. I didn’t know he had suffered a lot.

And I had just written two other poems about friends’ children. And my inability to have kids still stung. So I decided to write a poem about going back in time to become Richard Brautigan’s loving adopted father. I took many facts from the Wikipedia entry, responded to them, and ended up with a little litany of comments, a little narrative not ending in Brautigan’s suicide. It made me a little misty-eyed, if you really must know.

Poof. So there you go.

“Truthful Wishing about Oregon” first appeared in Two Hawks Quarterly Issue 2, Number 5 (Summer 2009). It also exists as the third poem in my chapbook Breach Birth, which is available from Propaganda Press.

Notes on Two Idiots Peddling Poetry – The Ugly Mug – 29 June 2011

I returned to The Ugly Mug in downtown Orange this week for another dose of Two Idiots Peddling Poetry. I sat in the same chair I did last week, but this time, I avoided spilling my cappuccino on the floor. Plus, I received a hand stamp from proprietor Phil. Fancy! Although I’ve yet to talk to anyone away from the microphone, I’m starting to recognize a few faces on the poetry scene. (I think the guy who told me I did well last week is named Daniel.) A lot of people already know a lot of other people; that much is obvious.

The featured poet, Mae Ramirez, was awesome. (Follow the link to see three of the poems she read during her performance.) If memory of last night’s introduction serves, she was on a Cal State Long Beach poetry slam team that did very well at the regional level. Whatever the case, despite her claiming to be nervous, she rocked the mic. She was an impressive performer as well as skillful poet. She invited a friend with an acoustic guitar to accompany her on her last couple of poems. She had a lot of friends there. The folding-chair seating area was packed with supporters of Mae Ramirez, most of whom left after the break.

There were actually a lot of people who performed well last night, myself not included. I was really impressed by how many people had their poems memorized, so they could spend their time focused on how to say, not just what to say. For my part, I don’t feel I did as well as last week. I read “Tentatively Writing This Body,” “The Story Behind My Last Tattoo,” and “Your Fault.” My delivery was a bit rushed and wooden, the poems were maybe a little too inscrutable, and the last one definitely went on too long. In the future, if nothing else, I need to supply more audible gumption and to read the longest poem first.

OutKast Probably Had the Right Idea

“I’ll call before I come / I won’t just pop over, out the blue”

-OutKast, Stankonia

I didn’t call before I came and got burned twice. I meant to attend a few more poetry readings this weekend, readings listed on the Poetix.net calendar.

I went to Gatsby Books in Long Beach on Friday night, only to find that there would be a music and visual arts show, not poetry. The guy behind the counter told me poetry was for the third Wednesday of each month, the Hump Day readings hosted by Kevin Lee of Aortic Books. The counter guy added that poetry might sneak in later that night, in another couple of hours, but I didn’t want to stick around that long to find out.

The next day, I drove up to Venice for the allegedly weekly readings held at Beyond Baroque. But when I arrived that afternoon, the door was locked and no one answered the bell. Luckily, it was Andy’s birthday, he lived only a few blocks away, so I came over and hung out with Sonia and him for a while. Then I drove to the Silverlake Lounge in Hollywood for their evening reading, looked at the time and the lack of convenient parking, felt hungry, and decided to call it a day and head home.

What did I learn? That Poetix.net’s Venues page isn’t kidding when it says “It is a good idea to call and confirm all events.” I don’t like talking to strangers on the phone, but I may have to become less of a shy baby in the future if I want to avoid wasting time and gas.

My First Tebot Bach Reading

Last night, after parking in exactly the wrongest (farthest away) parking lot on campus, I went to Golden West College Community Room 102 to attend the monthly reading arranged by the good people of Tebot Bach, perhaps most notably Mifanwy Kaiser, its CEO. Tebot Bach is many things to many people — it holds poetry readings and workshops for the general public, it holds poetry readings and workshops for the homeless and other disenfranchised communities, it publishes books and a journal (Spillway), it sometimes provides coffee, water, and cookies. It does a lot.

Tonight’s reading featured Paul Suntup, a freelance web designer originally from South Africa. He used to help host these Tebot Bach poetry readings, back in the day. I enjoyed his poems so much that I bought a copy of his new collection, his first full-length volume, Sunset at the Temple of Olives. After Suntup’s session, the rest of us who had signed up to read were randomly summoned to the podium. I read “Envy” and “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather,” the latter a favorite of mine but probably too perverse for that particular audience. Still, when I talked a tiny bit to Mifanwy after everything wrapped up, she said I had done a good job. Maybe. I think I did better than on Tuesday but not as well as on Wednesday.

Gradually Overcoming Social Anxiety

I’m okay at getting published, and my job regularly requires public speaking, but I haven’t been very good at reading my poems for an audience. In fact, for months now, my therapist has been assigning me the homework of getting out of the house and going to a poetry reading. He hasn’t required that I actually read anything myself. Still, I haven’t been doing my homework.

I had only read at one reading in the past. That was back on November 21, 2010, when I twitched and paced and nervously recited my poem “Last Lines of Poems by Fox Brummagem (1917-1985)” at the launch party for Spot(light) Lit(erary) Mag(azine) Volume 4, Number 2, at the Border’s on Bellflower in Long Beach. My wife Raquel and my friend Eric Warren came with me then. Both of them took photos, some of which made it to my Facebook page.

This week, I finally got on the stick. I drove to South Orange County on Tuesday, to The Neighborhood Cup, a coffeehouse attached to the Aliso Viejo Public Library. There, in an outside courtyard between the coffeehouse and library, was a Smiley Face reading, hosted by the welcoming Jennifer Donnell and featuring Jaimes Palacio and Mikel Weisser. Weisser had driven out from Arizona; I think Palacio is local. I think because Weisser had schepped so far for the sake of poetry, he got to perform — he was very animated –  a whole spate of poems. Other than that, the format was a semi-open-reading call and response — various people would read a poem apiece, after which Palacio would recite a poem somehow connected to the one just read. I read “Storefront Church,” which received a couple of laughs (good), polite applause, and an appropriately religion-relevant poetic response from Palacio.  The one official buzzkill was that we had to avoid potty words, lest we offend library patrons. The one unofficial buzzkill was that when they passed the hat for donations, I discovered I had no change, so I panicked and threw in a ten-dollar bill. Oh well. It was for a good cause.

The very next evening, I headed out to downtown Orange, to The Ugly Mug, just a block or so south of Chapman University. Wow, this venue was great — occupying a good chunk of a spacious Victorian-style house, half the space was set up with folding chairs in rows, half like a very nifty living room. I sat in the back half on a folding chair, both out of shyness and out of paranoia that a comfy seat would send me rudely asleep and snoring. The reading was a weeklyish event hosted by Two Idiots Peddling Poetry. Before the show, I think I saw/heard Jaimes Palacio and some guy John ______ from the Smiley Face reading. The featured litterateurs this time around were Chelsea Kurnick and Devin O’Neill, recently out of Seattle after moving there from Southern California. They are married and wore their wedding attire. Other readers had five minutes or three poems, whichever came first, to claim the stage. Some people read, then the married couple had their turn, then some others read. I read “Domestic Ops,” “The Appointment,” and “I’m Not Going to Lie to You.” I felt more comfortable than the previous night and thus earned a more enthusiastic response. I tried to relax, slow down, and add a bit of patter. Someone after the event even told me I did a good job, that I was funny. I hope I remembered to respond with a thank you.

Tonight, in a few minutes, I’ll head off to Golden West College, where Tebot Bach will host Paul Suntup. The Poetix calendar, where I learned of all of these events, has a “+o” after his name. Does that mean “and open mic”? I hope so. I’ll bring a folder of my poems to pick from, just in case.

Cranking the Nostalgia Generator: “Redheads Chat About the 1980s”

Back before they were Erica Vale and Christy Spicer, they were Erica Diven and Christy Root, two red-headed friends of mine who went to Ladywood, the all-girls Catholic high school down the road from Detroit Catholic Central, the all-boys Catholic high school where I sat my own ruddy-haired ass a quarter-century ago. We worked on several CC plays together, hung out a little bit in college. I even saw Erica a few times after she first moved to California. But then we lost touch, as people do.

At least, that’s how things worked before Facebook. Now, as we all know, it’s almost too easy to reconnect with old friends, lovers, acquaintances, and enemies. For my part, I typically love it. It was very exciting to rediscover Erica and Christy occasionally popping up on my Facebook chat list in the spring of 2009, to spend hours catching up on who had done what and where.

I constantly enjoy rediscovering that life can be sweet, has been sweet, can be sweet again. Bitter shit happens, yes, but what else can I conclude?

Underemployed and physically apart from my friends, I had the time and inclination to take frequent breaks from the many poems I was writing and gain inspiration from my de facto muses, two lovely women who remembered me from adolescence, when we were all on earlier, different, equally vital journeys of existential discovery. Now they had children, youngsters on their own paths to adulthood. Now I had my poems, my own creative spawn, the best I could manage with my infertility and inexperience. I even wrote some poems about their children. And then I wrote this one, an encapsulation of conversations on past days and present moments.

“Redheads Chat about the 1980s” first appeared in The Dirty Napkin Volume 2.4 (Fall 2009). You can no longer view all of my poem on that journal’s website. Luckily, you can find it as the thirteenth offering in my chapbook Breach Birth, which is readily available through Propaganda Press.

Deadly and Pointless and Stupid: R.I.P. Will Bell

I don’t have much to add to the Miami Herald‘s report on the murder of North Miami poet and poetry-venue operator Will “Da Real One” Bell beyond “WTF?” I mean, the guy had fallen into debt trying to keep open the doors of The Literary Cafe and Poetry Lounge. But did he have to pay with his life to cover the debt? Or was it a different sort of assassination? Did Bell kiss the wrong person’s person? Whatever the case, he should still be alive, fighting the good fight, promoting the arts, not lying dead on a sidewalk while his killer casually strolls away.

I wish the poets and other artists of North Miami the best of luck in filling his shoes and manifesting his legacy. I hope they receive more consistently the financial support that often eluded Bell.

Neruda Assassinated?

Chile will launch an investigation into the real cause of the 1973 death of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, according to an article by Paulina Ambramovich for Agence France-Presse. Manuel Araya, Neruda’s long-time driver, personal assistant, and secretary, has come forward to claim that Neruda died not of cancer, as is commonly believed, but at the hands of the newly-installed Pinochet regime. Araya’s assertion comes just a month after the Chilean government decided to exhume the body of Salvador Allende, to determine whether the former president (and Neruda’s friend) was actually a suicide or another victim of Pinochet’s forces.

What does your gut tell you? All this time, for no particular reason other than cynicism, I’ve always assumed Pinochet had Allende killed. Could Pinochet have had Neruda whacked as well? How big a threat to the general’s regime would an exiled or expatriated Neruda have been? How loud and effective is the voice of the dissident poet? Should we ask Ayat al-Gormezi, if anyone can get in to see her?