Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening



Wow. I can't believe it's finally over.


Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening


I wanted to do something special to celebrate the 5th birthday of the Literary Kicks website, and I decided to put together a small poetry reading that would showcase Beat writers and web writers together on the same stage. I invited a few readers, a few more signed on, the focus began to broaden and take on new dimensions, and the next thing I knew my small birthday party was starting to look like a huge poetry marathon.

I knew my friend Brian Hassett knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked him to get involved, and with his help we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club The Bitter End, in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept growing until I had assembled such an amazing group of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself. I spent much of the last few weeks running around the city like an idiot, trying to organize posters, hotel rooms, musicians ... in fact some friends report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway, Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was time to get on stage. Here's how the night went down:

Vermont writer Marie Countryman opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed by an excellent short story, 'The Shock of a Feather' by novelist David Alexander. Next, web writer Xander Mellish read the beginning of her short story 'Extraordinary' to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who read the introduction to her just-published Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.

The evening then started to veer towards the outer orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman, accompanied by legendary jazz composer David Amram on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I'd like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little more gentle when Briggs Nisbet read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed by two sublime haiku readings featuring, first, Beat scholar Walter Raubicheck and then Cor van den Heuvel, editor of the new 'Norton Haiku Anthology', both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.

Smug.com's talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story, 'Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall', about strip poker and skin types, and this was followed by what was possibly the evening's most unique moment: a spontaneous spoken-word performance by John Cassady, son of Beat legend Neal Cassady. John had never visited New York City before, so a lot of people had come down specifically to see how Neal's son had turned out and what he looked like, and not only the Village Voice but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut. John is a nice guy but also a "regular guy" like you or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what all he'd say when he stepped up to the mike. As the Mighty Manatees (a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite) kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later John was riffing left and right on an unpublished letter he'd found in his father's papers, and the "John Cassady Rap" was becoming legend before my eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang Chuck Berry's "Nadine" as a tribute to the Dad he'd been missing for the last thirty-one years.

The show went on -- Robert Burke Warren stepped up to the mike and ripped into "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then the David Amram Trio went onstage to sing "Pull My Daisy" and jam. I read a short story of my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster Mark Thomas, creator of Sorabji.com, who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop poet Charles Plymell who read an extremely affecting fable about John F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played behind him.

Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming screenplay, "Don't Be Denied", and after this began the main "I'm not worthy" part of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving independent writing/publishing scene of today. First was Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as a calming humming sound played on the PA, then Richard Hell a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent punk rock in the early 70's, and then having the talent to write the excellent novel ' Go Now ' in the 90's. Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us "I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway" (fair enough), and then recited his unique poem "Weather," which contains 12 different alterations of a single poem, each growing in its own unique direction. Hell was followed by Lower East Side poetry hero Bob Holman, who years ago helped start the spoken-word revolution with his friends at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in the East Village, and now helps to run the excellent About.poetry website (among many other things). Holman took the band with him on a bizarre "Peter and the Wolf"-style instrument-vocalization jam that had subtle moments and also occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming and yelling, Holman-style.

The show continued: Meg Wise-Lawrence delivered a smoky, snaky performance of her prose-poem 'Twelve Beginnings ... One End' accompanied by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, who read his powerful "I Will Not Bow Down" among other things, and Icelandic web innovator Birgitta Jonsdottir Next up was a thoughtful language poem by Aaron Howard, a light-jazz-toned excerpt from Breathing Room by Christian Crumlish (the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and funny moments with John Grady (whose "New York Bagel" is one of my favorites), and a closing performance by avant-garde/surrealist Gregory Severance. With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees, David Amram and John Cassady stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a couple of Dead tunes, 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road Feeling Bad'.

I know everybody who was there enjoyed it -- in fact there was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event that has made many of us, myself included, think back to that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and thanks to the Bitter End for letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn't stay out late enough to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night -- we learned a lot and will know better next time.

Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry, and this night proved it to me.

-- Levi Asher
-- July 28 1999




Richard Hell
Richard Hell




Briggs Nisbet and David Amram
Briggs Nisbet and David Amram




John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees
John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees




Birgitta Jonsdottir with Ron Whitehead
Ron Whitehead with Birgitta Jonsdottir




Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler
Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler




Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson
Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson




Meg Wise-Lawrence
Meg Wise-Lawrence




Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady
Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady




Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo
Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo




Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard
Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard




Xander Mellish
Xander Mellish




Charles Plymell
Charles Plymell




Marie Countryman
Marie Countryman





The Living End!
Litkicks Bitter End Blowout

by Marie Countryman

For over a week now, I have been struggling to capture on paper an event that was so much larger than the sum of its parts, that it overwhelmed me, staring at the computer monitor, fingers almost paralyzed on the keys.

The joyous 5th anniversary of Levi Asher's Litkicks' web site, organized and produced by Levi Asher and Brian Hassett was a marvel in meticulous planning and organization that came to life as spontaneous improvisation and collaboration between musicians and print and web poets and writers, many meeting for the first time.

If I had to choose a few words to encapsulate the experience, I would have to choose 1)continuation from the beats who broke the barriers of self expression to the freewheeling web writers of today, and 2)mutual appreciation and support. No egos knocking into one another, no one slamming on the stage or competing aggressively with one another to top the performance that just had finished. Fluidity and flexibility were also key, particularly when Charlie Plymell, who had made no previous plans for musical accompaniment, was so taken by Mark Thomas's piano rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' that he asked me to get Thomas to stay on stage as a Wichita Kansas segue into his set (which included a beautiful fable, 'The Prince of Tides' written on the event of JFK Jr's tragic plane crash). Also accompanying him was a woman only known as Jesse, who came up and improvised her own unique blend of scat and improv singing accompanient. Jesse had never worked with Charlie, in fact, she had never even worked with Hersh Silverman, who she had come to accompany for his reading. Among other pieces, Hersh read a new poem - 'The Literary Kicks Summer Happening' in tribute to the event. Both were flawless collaborations, among many sparkling and unexpected such joinings.

Among the musicians were the David Amram Trio, and the Mighty Manatees, along with "Ted the Fiddler", another mysterious performer known only to me still by his first name.

I was free to move about and my head was clear after being first at bat: so intimidated was I at the onset, that I didn't even want to 'jinx' my reading with a sound check, so I read my first poem two feet away from a microphone that was taller than my head. The audience got my attention before I launched into an autobiographical piece titled 'Shrinkwrapped' - and some one jumped on stage and adjusted the mike for me. After that, I had little problem finishing my set, ending with a poem dedicated to Bebop Jackson, Charlie and Pam Plymell's Labrador, with whom I had spent a joyous morning prior to leaving with Charlie for the city.

Some of the easy supportive atmosphere was certainly laid down prior to the 21st, when more than several of whom the Village Voice described as the 'arsenal of writers, poets and musicians' gathered at John Cassady's Chelsea Hotel room the night of the 20th for a rowdy rock&roll rehearsal party, with several of the Manatees present with their guitars, and amplifier. Thank god for the Chelsea, whose management and residents seemed to have no problem with our good natured ruckus.

We actually picked up what John Cassady quickly named our 'intern,' ("My dad said there was always a new guy, dubbed The Intern wherever the Pranksters were happening"), who was staying in the room directly above Cassady's, and who came into the room from the fire escape window, drawn by our party noise. He then appeared at the Bitter End for the show, the after show chowdown at the diner across the street - and finally back to John Cassady's room once more, where he sat up with Brian, John, and me until 7 am talking talking talking.. He told us we had changed his life, and got out 2 composition books full of his writing from 3 years ago. I do believe he has started writing again, and with fervor.

I can't begin to go into all the combinations and permutations of bands and musicians, other than to rave about their ability to jam: rock musicians with jazz, jazz with rock, with poets, with short story writers, and for me the 2 highlights: David Amram pulling our daisy, incorporating the lyrics Jack Kerouac wrote for the famous beat film as well as improvising lyrics which celebrated the present gathering (and following that with a tribute to international music), AND John Cassady on guitar, playing 'Nadine' (to which Charlie Plymell and I danced with abandon), and later, to my ever Grateful Dead loving heart, played Jerry Garcia sweet licks and soaring melodies within melodies to 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road' - which finally caused me to lose ALL inhibitions and jump on the stage to sing off key harmony and dance my soul free.

Haiku was another form that had many readers: Walter Raubicheck began reading some of Kerouac's haiku, then several of his own, including wonderful baseball haiku, and Cor van den Heuvel followed, reading among other pieces,more baseball haiku. John Grady later read haiku, and a piece called 'New York Bagel', and then segued with the band into a rollicking version of 'Bertha' which brought the house down.

Briggs Nisbet slowed the tempo and lowered the volume with a series of beautiful California nature poems she had written recently. The audience sat hushed by her lovely voice and images.

John Cassady took the stage after her, and with only a letter his father Neal had written, previously unknown and not yet published, showed us that he has his father's talent for story telling, beginning with a reminiscence of riding with Neal in the back of his '39 Pontiac, and then suddenly WE were the 'kiddies' in the back seat as John morphed into Neal, telling story after story with great good humor, enthusiasm, and shining smile. John, you've got the right stuff, all right! Robert Burke Warren came on after John's rendition of Chuck Berry's 'Nadine' and in keeping with Cassady's musical memories, sang two Buddy Holly songs and then 'Fever' as the place went wild.

Aaron Howard proved that you don't need to be anyone but yourself to be truly beat - if you closed your eyes and listened to his moody and rhythmic reading of 'Language' you could transport yourself back in time to the glory days of beat poetry readings, his voice and words transporting one from the abstract to the concrete and back again several times, very very beat.

And speaking of beat, bebop and improv, Bob Holman brought down the house with laughter and energetic good spirits as he used the band for backing and bopped with vigor for his piece 'Storyline' - assigning different instruments and their musicians riffs for different words. Truly spontaneous and very wonderful.

Lee Ranaldo and Richard Hell seemed to drift into the club from the dark of night, taking the stage, giving hypnotic readings (specially Hell's reading of his chap book 'Weather') and then drifting back out, both very NYC and somewhat mysterious. Christian Crumlish read a sweet piece titled 'Rosalita Jump a Little higher' - and I must give great praise to Breath Cox and Gregory Severance, our closing poets, who despite the thinning of the crowd by the late hour, put their all into readings of their most excellent pieces: Greg's own brand of surrealist poetry and Breath's paean to the wonders of country life in Cherry Valley, which she read with a decided city beat intonation.

All in all, I must say that I have never been so legally high in all my life.

Many thanks to Levi Asher and Brian Hassett for all the time and effort they put into making this event a magnificent 7 hour marathon triumph, as well as Laki Vazakas and Danya Reich for their marathon 7 hour filming of the event.

(Levi has declared he is going to edit all of the rehearsal and performance footage to an 80 minute DVD/CDrom. What a daunting task!)

marie countryman
8/2/99





Daniel Srebnick, John Cassady, Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell
Dancing the night away: Daniel Srebnick (on sax), John Cassady (guitar), Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell




Breath Cox
Breath Cox




Christian Crumlish
Christian Crumlish




Cor van den Heuvel
Cor van den Heuvel




Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck
Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck




Greg Severance
Greg Severance




David Alexander
David Alexander




Birgitta Jonsdottir
Birgitta Jonsdottir




Holly George-Warren
Holly George-Warren




Toby Kasavan
Toby Kasavan




Will Hodgson of the Manatees
Will Hodgson of the Manatees




Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady
Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady




Crowd Scene
Crowd Scene





Brian Hassett writes ...

The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
July 21st, 1999
The Bitter End, New York City

It went really great. Sold out and all that.

John Cassady said afterwards, "I swear to God, it's one of those nights you'll never forget. Like Hendrix in '68."

People were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the standing room area by the bar, and one of the owners told me that was the first time he'd ever seen that. It was sweet, impromptu, and very Beat.

In fact, the club actually called the next day to make sure everything went alright, and after how many gigs do you think they do that?! They said we could come back anytime and we probably will.

And speaking of Will, Hodgson was really one of the highlights.

My favorite mental picture of the night was the full band line-up -- one side being David Amram on grand piano, Daniel Srebnick on tenor sax, with Will's Mighty Manatees and the featured poet in the middle, then John Cassady on electric guitar with Ted The Fiddler on the other side.

Bob Holman used that line-up to rattle the rafters and rock the room with a "Peter and The Wolf" send-up, and all sorts of other musical variations assumed themselves during the night.

The New Yorker wrote about it, we were the pick of the day in Time-Out New York, one of the picks of the week in New York magazine, a highlighted show in NY Press, and had a nice long listing in the Village Voice describing our "arsenal of writers, poets and musicians."

The show started about 7 PM and didn't end till 2 AM, after which the 20- person-late-night-core went across the street and had a big chow with Dave Amram in a 24-hour diner just like that famous John Cohen diner photo that's now on the cover of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats, which we also tied-in with that night. Then a bunch of us went back to Cassady's room at the Chelsea for a final roundup till 7 AM.

For the whole first set we had the audience in the palm of our hands with about 200 people absolutely packed in and around every table.

John Cassady's reading/talking/playing was an obvious highlight for everyone. He'd read about a sentence of this letter from Neal which would then remind him of some other story and off he'd go with some reminiscence of zooming around with his dad, until finally he and the band broke into a rockin' lead-filled version of Chuck Berry's "Nadine."

Herschel Silverman read his new poem called, "The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening" that played with the styles and works of many of the other performers. Rolling Stone editor Holly George-Warren read in her sweet southern accent from her just-released Book of the Beats, and her husband Robert Burke Warren closed the first set as he and The Manatees had people dancing to Rave On, Peggy Sue, and Fever.

Levi was doing most of the hosting, although we traded off all night. We seem to make a pretty naturally symbiotic duo on and off the stage and you'll probably see us tootling the multitudes again.

The Amram Trio opened the second set with a special Lit Kicks / Bitter End "Pull My Daisy," and Lee Ranaldo did a couple of pieces to a taped background with the lights dimmed. Richard Hell, looking every inch the rock star with his black shades and loud red shirt, was funny and hypnotic reading an entire poetry chapbook with each chorus beginning, "The whole city seemed to optically snap," then going off into that verse's development.

Ron Whitehead and his fiance Birgitta Jonsdottir gave a tender, heart-felt dual performance -- their first together in NYC -- including a piece co- written by the Dali Lama called "Never Give Up." Breath Cox was in from Cherry Valley reading, torquing the vibes, and looking regal in a long evening dress, and Marie Countryman was down from Vermont being the best audience shusher and performer pep coach you could hope for. Charlie Plymell read his new and touching fable about JFK & and the Kennedy's, then did "Rapid Ronnie" with The Manatees' rock 'n' roll back- up that so inspired him he began free-form dancing on stage in between the multiple guitar players at several points in the night.

I didn't read anything -- told a story instead -- part of the screenplay. My Mom was down from Toronto so I worked her into the tale, telling it in first-person as a true-story so convincingly that afterwards people were telling me they came from divorced parents, too.

The next day the woman from the new Beat documentary "The Source" said the room was electric, and that's about the simplest, most accurate word for it. There's been a flood of calls and emails since, so it really did seem to warm and inspire some people -- like a good book brought alive with music and voices in a seven-hour spontaneous epic.

Keep ya toasted on the next one.

Brian
7/23/99




Check out the original web announcement



The Master: David Amram
The Master: David Amram



Thanks to John Grady and Bill Gargan for the photos!

L i t e r a r y     K i c k s

LitKicks Shoppe    Action Poetry (the LitKicks Book)    About LitKicks