I had my second-ever poetry feature last night at Ronnie at Number 34, a funky barber shop and art space at 9025 E. Florence Ave. in Downey. Proprietor Ronnie Contreras handed over the reins for the night to reading-series curators John Brantingham and Roy Anthony Shabla. Sharing the bill with me was literary legend Gerald Locklin. I was pretty psyched even before anything happened.
More representatives from the non-poetry parts of my life showed up: my wonder-wife Raquel, my painter sister Kathleen Buckley, and one of my best and oldest friends, drummer, sculptor, and visual-effects artist Eric Warren. Soon G. Murray Thomas arrived, whom I introduced to my people as “the secret godfather of Southern-California poetry.” Then there was Luke Salazar, whom Don Murray immediately appointed his enforcer, only partly because of Luke’s ability to approximate an East-Coast mobster’s accent and demeanor. My friends from the San Gabriel Valley came — lLoyd Aquino, Ann Brantingham, Scott Noon Creley, Michaelsun Knapp, and Adrienne Selina Silva; one of them, visual artist Sam Gosland, had already stationed himself outside the venue with his supplies, painting for the masses. A bunch of people came whom Roy seemed to know, apparently folks from the local Downey poetry scene and the Downey Arts Coalition, which sponsored the event in conjunction with the San Gabriel Valley Lit Fest.
I don’t recall all too much about the open reading because I was nervous about my set and because I was standing up instead of sitting and taking notes. Murray spoke about pain after being being hit by a car and about his new kidney arriving at LAX on a flight filled with organs. Luke Salazar spoke about hanging out in the ICU after his mom was hit by a car. lLoyd read “Beat Poets” for a new crop of people. Michaelsun read about Catalina. Adrienne read about Sam, her boyfriend. Marta Chausée, another San Gabrielino, read about less than perfect relationships. Two people I don’t know read poems about nature, particularly the desert. At the end of the reading, after Gerry and I had read, the audience voted on which open reader to have as the next feature; everyone cheered the three nominees — Luke, lLoyd, and Adrienne — equally vigorously, so they Rochambeaued for glory. Adrienne won, her scissors beating the men’s two papers. So along with Murray, she will headline in late February.
Between the open reading and the voting came the features. John Brantingham generously hyped each of us in turn; I wish I had recorded or transcribed what he said when introducing me. It was semi-gushy and very appreciated.
I try not to read the same poems for the same people more than once. This posed a challenge for this event, because many of the people who attended Ronnie at Number 34 also attended my featured reading in Glendora in November. Did I have a deep enough bench to construct a whole new lineup of good players? I hoped so. I didn’t hear any cries of disappointment or melancholy primate hooting during or afterward, so I guess I did okay. Here’s what I read:
- “Avoidance,” about getting ready to get in trouble at work for showing up hungover and smelly to an eighth-grade class trip;
- “Aching for a Knack for Charcuterie,” about sausage-making with my dad;
- “The Morning After,” about waking up hungover at my dad’s house;
- “Semi-Abstract Portrait of Student Driver”;
- “Portrait of a Dying Marriage as an Unplugged Refrigerator,” the title of which Kathleen likes;
- “Storefront Church,” about a diner/parish, the first piece I ever chose to read at a reading, on June 21, 2011;
- “Leaving New Eden,” about the sleazy side of vegetable love;
- “The Story Behind My Next Tattoo,” about loving the freakish;
- “Your Fault,” the third or fourth surreal poem in a row;
- “Syzygy,” about a couple who wish not upon stars for big dreams, but upon main-belt asteroids for small favors;
- and “An Existentialist Children’s Story,” about the death of a cruise-ship employee.
Upon reflection, I might have done better to put the longer, later pieces first, maybe inverting the sequence for the whole set. Ah, well. I did remember that trick Tamara Madison seemed to use in November, of speaking diagonally across the microphone instead of directly into it. Some of the poems I read have been published, others not. None of them have been printed online, but you can click on the Sky Sandwiches table of contents page or the Audio Recordings page to hear a few of them.
Gerry Locklin spoke, read, sang, and danced into our hearts last night. He’s been around so long and published so prolifically along the way that he’s able to bring a whole stack of books with him from which to pull. He read from his novella about a priest with many beautiful lovers. He read from his book on Hemingway and Cuba. He read crowd-pleasers I’ve heard before, like his super-brief poem on King Tut and his randy piece on CPR mixed with fellatio. He told us the history behind various selections, weaving personal information in with the literary. Although he was wearing his waltzing Birkenstocks rather than his dancing Birkenstocks, he boogied down for a bit. And he wrapped up his set with a capable rendition of “Danny Boy.”
After the poets, after the voting, during the mingling, a woman with a camera and Scott both snapped photos of different combination of Roy, John, Ronnie, Gery, and me. I kept forgetting to suck in my gut.
I haven’t hung out with Kathleen in months, so I didn’t stick around too long after the show. But I tried to say good-bye and thank you to as many people as I could.
It really was a pretty good night.