What's an ex-pat to do when given such a gift?
Immediately, she plans to meet up with a poet or two.
Bowery Poetry Club: Brooklyn (the city), Levi (Brooklyn the man), Fire Cracker and the gang
Amazing (sun)day in NYC. Light easy on the face - city empty of strollers. We, an enthusiastic trio, including, Gad, jazz musician; Andrea, rehab counsellor and myself, an excited human being with some poems up her sleeve, were off for the Bowery Poetry Club.
"Serving the World Poetry"
We knew we were there when we saw a huddled figure in a black t-shirt chalking a few lines of Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry across the sidewalk leading into the club. He introduced himself as Gary (Gary Mex Glazner), who was hosting the day's Event.
1:00pm - 6:00pm
Brooklyn on the Bowery Poetry Party! $5
Open Brooklyn Reading from 1 to 2pm
Featured Brooklyn Poets 2 to 5pm
Brooklyn Poetry Slam (Best Brooklyn Poem Wins Famous Bridge)
from 5 to 6pm.
Sponsored by Brooklyn Lager.
Confirmed Brooklyn Poets thus far: Todd Colby, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Poppy, Bob Heman, Bob Hershon, Regie Cabico, Daniel Nester
The Bowery Poetry Club is a small pleasant club, a few tables for coffee and such at the front and just past the bar there's a sound room and the theater. The famous artwall is on the left and the small hall contains maybe 100 chairs with a low stage. Walt Whitman, in red artbulb radiance, glows from above blessing the stage.
As we walked in, the place was in ready for the afternoon reading. I checked out the art and did some snooping around to calm myself. I was finally at a New York poetry club about to meet up with people I'd admired online for about four years.
At 1:00, exactly, Gary got on stage, foot geared to his collection of sound pedals and began his unique rendition of Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." He played the poem, he echoed the poem, and then he allowed the poem to introduce the First Annual Brooklyn Poetry Festival.
He officially introduced the Open Mic segment of the program, and Gene in jeans mounted the stage. She read her subway scene poem dedicated to a Chasid and proceeded to elucidate the longings of a 50 year-old woman. She smiled and was done.
There was a hiatus while people entered the hall. Two of those people moved the earth as they made their appearance: Levi and Firecracker had arrived. They announced that Ironhands had called to say that he was on his way, as well. Things were picking up. Firecracker entertained us with tales of their date the night before with Graham Seidman, and allowed me to photograph her.
Levi came back to the table after greeting various folks and then Gary announced Firecracker. She bopped into the spotlight, finding her stage feet, and began straight into:Down at the Motherfuckin Bourgeoisie
This, a hot poem, was versatile and could easily expand into voices, loud or choral. It could go anywhere, day or night, and I hope Firecracker takes it for a mean, far ride near a soundstage near you. She did it well - alive and confident, playing the refrain enthusiastically to a smiling audience. We all felt the energy.
Next, Levi rose to read, but Gary pulled a fast one by first introducing me as "someone he'd never met before" (Later on I realized that a few of us would be the recipients of this same laid back intro)
I had a range of poems I'd plan on reading - mostly short. I began with When Battle Cries Weep, a poem written during some of the heaviest shelling of the Intifada madness this past winter of 2003. My voice began a long trek from my belly on out towards the faces in the audience. Whitman over my right shoulder, for solidarity, I proceeded with:
a easy going rap about the cool people of the summer hot town of Tel Aviv: Peak of Hot Style; Screech Oud, written while listening to a song by Talvin Singh, playing the hot times of war with the powerful drone of the oud to quell the pain; and then
Cry Sis, a poem calling out to brothers and sisters worldwide to cry together in a time of Crisis.
I mellowed into my favourite of recent times:
Sit (f)ar Sitar. This poem requires dance, and I hope one day to animate it.
Most certainly time to bring out the flavour of the Black Forest, I brought a piece from the wonderful poet, Panta Rhei called Long Gone. This is a soft poem of nature, longing and separation. Actually, firecracker
liked two other panta gems: the wanderer and wandering, but they remained far away on the table with her, while I, onstage, was shuffling through pages til I realized where they were! Long Gone, then, steadily with me in my heart since the moment I'd read it, was most lovingly offered to the audience.
I finished off with two other poems: one, a request from my son, Rahm: Chomped Words Broiled and Discarded - a surreal picnic piece and another that Levi liked: New york City in August - 3: Ain't No Time to Stop. This, a short haiku, was written while wandering through Washington Square Park with Graham Seidman and Gad, who recalled the days when the park was a center for backgammon, chess and comraderie though we saw none the day we were there.
I stepped down, and Levi, fully ready (!) was on!
Levi, with the greatest ease, took over the spotlight and promised us a TV poem to remember. The TV poem innovation, Levi's baby, is a genre that links generations with reverence and empathy. This Brooklyn day saw Levi, with a finely honed eye probe the nooks and crannies of "The Honeymooners" lore and legend. He read Garbage Can Symphony with thoughtful and lively introspection, as TV viewer merged with the personae we've come to call our own. Well done and well received - Levi took the audience wandering through Brooklyn nostalgia.
Levi, off to bring well-deserved samples of Brooklyn Lager, came back with the news that another Litkicker, Pelerine, had been quietly catching our words from the Bar. Hence, I met the woman of the flawless ivory skin, who continued to watch the proceedings, with the cool objectivity of a journalist, enjoying the scene together with her nephew Joe.
Back on stage, Gary introduced Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Cheryl, mother of Levi's favorite hip hop artist (Phfife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest)came on stage to offer two poems, soon to be published in her new book. With her first tones, I understood fully why Levi was so excited to appear on the same bill as Ms. Boyce Taylor.
She poeted, playing words as all words would wish to be played, launching words through music and tone - blending nuances to take us along with her to the spaces of her private geography. She became the steel bands, the citizenry, the life of her creations.
Ordinary Joe came on next. The name was born when he had to sign up for a slam and grabbed the first low-profile name that popped into his head. He won that slam, and we found out why. No pages, no notes, nothing to stop the connection between him and audience. Joe told the tale of how a mentor eased him into slamming.
This one-man theater of multi-voiced drama hooked us all onto his experience.
Who dared follow a poet like the Joe? Our litkickin Ironhands.
Tony came on stage improvising a title to woo Brooklyn Lager (which is a truly delicious golden homebrew that demands wooing). Hence the audience was treated to: MMMm, Brooklyn Lager or Rain in Brooklyn, and as an encore, New York City in August.
Gallantly snatching up his lager, Tony jumped offstage to enjoy his accolades.
What could three litkickers do to repay him? It was obvious: Corso's Bomb had to be read.
Recovering, we sipped some Brooklyn lager while enjoying poets including Bob Hershorn, Bob Heman, Poppy, and Daniel Nestor (who waxed stupendous with his celebration of Queen) Regie didn't sing as Poppy had done on stage, nor did he use sound effects as Gary had done, but he used his wonderful imagination to take us there. His Ode to Nina Simone convinced me that I, too, could be saved if she were only to sing to me at my lowest point. Regie had been there and led us out with a hand smoothing Nina's hair and our own neediness. Regie was magic.
This article, though not short, barely begins to brush the details of the afternoon at the Bowery Poetry Club.
Yet, as I sit in the midst of a Beer Sheva cafe, with people of all heights, nationalities strolling by; as I watch Ethiopians, Moroccans, Bedouin, Arabs, Russians and the Black Hebrews of Dimona; as a man with a peg leg hunches by, I recall the quiet joy of a rapt audience listening to vocalists in the most intimate sharing of a common language. Now, here, not one word of English is uttered, yet the New York City Bowery hums in my mind.
What is my opinion of that afternoon? Only one thing can be said: I want, I need more!
Care to see more pictures? Click here
To catch Adventure 1, click onto Ticket to America! Adventure 1: 2nd Avenue Deli with Graham Seidman.
What's an ex-pat to do when given such a gift?
Immediately, she plans to meet up with a poet or two. And thus, our story begins.
Lunch at 2nd Avenue Deli with Graham Seidman
So, a humid day in NYC brought me, my life partner Gad and my second son, Rahm, over to Second Avenue for a simple lunch with Graham Seidman, the superb photographer/writer, who lived in what's called the Beat Hotel in Paris when Ginsberg, Corso and Burroughs showed up in the late 50's. Graham is a regular contributor to LitKicks, the site on the Net for all things Beat. I first met him a few years ago when he offered his marvelous picture of Gregory Corso on the trail of two monks. That superb photograph was only the tip of the iceberg, and I asked permission to put Graham's other photographs and accompanying tales on the net. Hence, Eye on the Beats was born. The site offers Graham's "Beat tour of Paris" along with collections of photos of Heller, Ginsberg, Corso and other eclectic collections.
Graham's life has encompassed so many twists and turns and that August day of 2003 at the 2nd Avenue Deli, he began to recount stories one after the other. He spoke of his time in kibbutz Ein Gev in the 50's, and hitching around Israel, staying in kibbutzim around the land. Sleeping was a little tricky because of Syrian shelling. It was 1956 and Graham joined in night patrols armed to the teeth, with the Uzi known to all who serve in the military. Graham tossed around a few words of Hebrew, a tricky language,(I should know - I've been attempting to master it for over 20 years).
He listened to the ideas of a radically honest Israeli kibbutznik (Gad) about handing over Jerusalem to the Palestinians in exchange for peace, and Graham raised his beer towards that gesture but stated that he'd hand over Jerusalem only to the UN, but for peace, he would happily dismantle the Israeli settlements. He then shared his own ideas about what might save America, involving a certain U.S. candidate presently considering entering the presidential race.
Graham left Israel for further adventures, including life as a professional gambler's assistant in Venice and as a sailing instructor (though he'd never before sailed) on an island off Dubrovnik.
Back Stateside, Graham did some summer stock with Carol Burnett's husband, and found himself opposite the famous comedienne herself in a skit.
Graham hinted at a multitude of adventures on the way from then until now, (did he tell about his adventures at sea, or how he was the first American to visit Odessa since the end of WW2?)
Lunch was busy, and after demolishing sandwiches the size of small skyscrapers, we walked the Village accompanied by more of Graham's stories--this time of his days with those Beat writers we love to hear about.
He spoke of Corso hanging around the others, somewhat of a nuisance, yet always the one to attract the women. He spoke of the days he and Corso sold encyclopedias and bibles to GI's in Frankfurt, Germany--Corso often making his pitch early morning and getting them to sign on the dotted line while still groggy from sleep, or writing howling notes of complaint to their then-time boss.
Graham and his French-born wife, Nicole, headed into the U.S.--she, slipping out of France illegally, had to be smuggled over the border at Niagara Falls. He spoke of his time living in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury scene.
There was the time when Graham saw Ginsberg who'd just returned from a trip to India, and was reading at City Lights. Bearded and not quite acclimatized to Western atmosphere, Ginsberg had trouble placing Graham's face, until he approached him, waving at his aura, trying to assimilate the vibrations, then reaching out to touch his face, Allen finally honed in on his nose to pronounce in a burst of recognition: "Graham!" Reuniting, the two went to a a North Beach cafe for espressos. They discussed printing Ginsberg's poems on Graham's printing presses, in inexpensive and easily accessible pocket form. Some time later, they headed over to Kesey's party at his La Honda farm.
The plan collapsed as Graham's successful business photographing churches took off beyond control, and eventually jettisoned beyond redemption. Graham and his wife decided to head out to Puerto Rico for a brief look around and spontaneously decided to buy a farm and make that place their idyllic home for 16 years. Corso came for a short visit back in 1970, in order to taste a drier, better life (have a look at some photos here).
At one point, Ginsberg came to lecture at the University of San Juan, and Graham entered the hall in the middle. Allen spotted him, left the stage to approach Graham, and bent down to kiss his feet.
Graham, playing host, showed him the town including the location of the local gay bars. Allen decided to shave off his famous beard, but discovered to his dismay that he struck out at the bars. "No one recognized me," he complained to Graham, and so ended Allen's beardless experiment.
Back in France, Graham lived his life, perfecting his craft, submitting his photographs to International Museums in Paris and Washington; Yad Veshem in Jerusalem. Here is an online exhibit of Graham's work.
(These short anecdotes, please realize, are mere whispers from Graham's treasury of stories, and barely begin to brush the surface. To those who are reading, please beg for more from the man who was there and who recounts beat anecdotes in uniquely straight out, affectionate tones.)
These days, Graham makes his home with his son and family in the southeast United States and is fully occupied with his latest exhibitions and research.
Why do people walk their dogs in 3's?
As we gazed at dog-walkers with their sets of three pets on leashes traversing Washington Square Park, Graham began to speak of his discoveries concerning the Holocaust and little known facts about soldiers, who were often half or quarter-Jewish and often unaware of their own background. These men actively contributed to the German army. (Presently a movie's being made about these men: Hitler's Jewish Soldiers - The Untold Story (Hitlers juedische Soldaten)), and the Germans were faced with dealing with that unavoidable embarrassment; about a group of Jewish refugees from Europe who were dumped from a ship, having been refused entry into the U.S. and securing permission to live in the Dominican Republic, built a salami and cheese industry in the jungles, engraving the Star of David on their factory and constructing a Synagogue of which there are still traces today; and other historical questions that currently drive him to further study. Graham is insatiable for facts, truth and knowledge.
Seidman is truly one of a kind - an authentic spirit, youthful and committed to discovering, recording and distributing information as he finds it. Do yourself a service and tune in to avenues of truth that Graham is opening up for us all.
2nd Avenue Deli-image thanks to Newman Fine Arts
- Street corner/the back fence
- Hot dog cart
- The Algonquin
- Bryant park
- Pizza place
- A bar called "remote"
- The bowery poetry club
- The car park
- The miasma of the streets
Cast of characters (plus wardrobe information for judih.):
It's all a bit hazy, but I seem to recall it went a little something like this...
I had been in the city for a few days and had planned to leave early on Sunday. That is, of course, until I heard there was a LitKicks event spontaneously brewing. Lightning Rod was planning to bring Doreen Peri to the city for her birthday, and other LitKicks members began saying they would also show up. There was no way I could skip town knowing the cast of characters that was about to seethe through the streets.
We met up with this bunch of ruffians just before 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Levi and I spotted the inimitable Lightning Rod and Doreen as we crossed the street. It was good to see them again and then it was like LitKickers just started appearing... yabyum materialized out of nowhere, Vaselina and her brother, Joe, popped out from the bar next door and ironhands coolly kept his back against the wall, pretending to be invisible... until we all had to admire his belt buckle. The eight of us gabbed for a while outside, went in to sign up for the open mic... then we took a stroll to clear our minds a bit and talk about the importance of poetry in today's modern society. As the LitKicks posse took over a nearby bench, onlookers and passersby became curious, yet suspicious of the assembled group of poetic hoodlums.
We strolled back, twenty minutes late for the 3pm scheduled starting time. Knowing poets, we weren't really concerned we would miss anything, as it's all about heightening the anticipation for the crowd for the show to start a bit. Bridget, the organizer of the back fence open mic, started the show with a little piece on what it's like to be called "a poet, of sorts". She's a feisty little devil and I certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of any wrath she would have to offer. She then handed the mic over to the first act, a husband/wife duo who read several bohemian-style pieces accompanied by a bongo beat and the man's flute playing (yes, that's right, there was *another* flute in the house). Next, a young lady named Lena read a 4-5 heartfelt pieces (and she's been spotted now posting as "goddessgirl" here at LitKicks, so welcome her aboard). Then I got on stage and read a few poems (including: i am so sick of writing love poems), got a few laughs, subliminally planted my message in a few minds... it felt good, and I got several compliments on my piece and delivery. Even L-Rod said I'd grown into being on stage, and that was nice to hear -- 'cause you know he doesn't make shit like that up. Then I introduced Levi who got in all of our faces by singing the Dylan song "Subterranean Homesick Blues", and "Goin' Down the Road, Feelin' Bad". Levi invited Brian up to the stage, and when he shyly declined, I (of course) rushed the stage and screeched a bit. Levi closed with his recent action poetry piece -- a haunting, yet subtle performance. He's just all-around good. After Levi, Doreen talked about a few of the wrong things that seem to take precedence over what really matters and read a nice piece to follow up. As Levi mentioned, she was a bit unfairly heckled off the stage by someone who just couldn't wait to get their turn, but I'm glad she stayed up long enough to read a poem in tandem with L-Rod (one they'd written together). L-Rod then read a piece of his own, and we watched his words "rise from the page". He graciously... and perhaps a bit bemusingly gave the mic over to the next performer at the urging of the above-mentioned stage-commandant. There were a few great local poets who came out to share their work, and I hope that you will seek out some local open mics in your areas; not only to try out your works on stage, but also to give a listen to what other poets are trying. Then... a regular reader (apparently) at the back fence read a poem about orgasm, being a "wo" (woman minus "man"), then proceeded to dance around the bar and strip her top off to show us her black sports bra to the Pat Benetar tune "Heartbreaker" (no, I'm not kidding). It was interesting to say the least. But I digress....
I don't remember the precise order of what happened next, but a few more talented poets came up to read a piece or two each, then Vaselina came up and read three very short pieces, two of which i think she just came up with off the top of her head and left the stage with a "gush". Then yabyum read a short piece with a lot of energy... (he hadn't brought his material with him, so we're lucky he treated us to a few pieces later.) ironhands was one of the last to read, and read a 5-6 quick pieces that kept you guessing where he was going to turn next.
As the open mic wrapped up, I think we felt as if we'd all done a good job. We mingled and talked for a bit, met some other poets, and got some good feedback. Then we regrouped the party and headed back to the Algonquin hotel, where Doreen and l-rod were staying, to crash their room and turn it into a makeshift LitKicks headqu arters.
Levi, Joe, Vaselina and I took a cab back and found a hot dog stand to grab a snack. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel, stopping to admire a few sites, hitting a souvenir shop, and visiting the Gertrude stein statue that graces the pages of LitKicks. We got to the Algonquin, looked up the lightning rod party and away we went...
We had roped Brian and three girls from the city to come back with us and we packed into a small hotel room for drinks, smokes, laughter, music, more poetry and dissertations on everything from Kerouac to the beltway. Eventually, after creating another "add-a-line" poem (which I'm sure might be posted on the boards if it didn't get smoked at some point) that yabyum read while standing on a chair because I said furniture climbing was required, more music, Levi and I doing our Sonny and Cher impression of the song "it's the end of the world as we know it" by REM, me losing my shoes a few times and ironhands mysteriously finding them... 'hands had to leave to get back home, the three ny girls had to escape to meet up with other plans and Brian... "went to take a walk" and never returned. I think it was probably my singing, although L-Rod didn't seem to mind when I sang him a few impromptu tunes. I i think he was just figuring if he smiled I'd just shut up. L-Rod performed a really great piece on the keyboard about the aliens calling which fused into an all-out disco jam. It was all really cool.
At some point during all this insanity, GHC called and said she was on her way. Before long, she came a knockin', although the room was a rockin' and we were all glad to see her face and hear about her day at work (not to mention her hilarious description of a story idea she's working on). We decided to all take stroll to hunt for pizza and more drinks, then hit a very techno-cool bar called "Remote", which featured monitors and surveillance cameras for added fun. The LitKicks poetry troupe talked, laughed, drank and swapped stories late into the night. It was a great night that reinforced the camaraderie that happens in our community. As the night faded, we all said our good-byes, and dissolved into the blur of New York streets.
Levi, at the back fence, mixin' up the medicine.
l-rod warming up, as he accompanied one of Levi's tunes
Lightning Rod and Doreen, performing as a team.
Words rising from the page...
ironhands, not willing to go until he'd said his piece
Yo, you talkin' to us?
You know the drill...
DP and DP
Gathering around Gert...
don't mess with LitKicks.
Yabyum takin' it to the streets...
Battle Creek, Michigan has long been known as the home of Snap, Crackle and Pop. Of Tony the Tiger and Dig'Em the Frog. Of the Kellogg Arena and the smell of burnt cornflakes. And now it can add Monkey in a Fez to its long list of prestigious residents.
The LitKicks Summer Poetry Shindig rolled into town on Friday, June 27th, 2003. It started with an art show at the Eclectic Gallery, displaying work by various litkickers: mtmynd, buddhabitch, Kreddible Trout, Vaselina, ~K, frontal-abstraction, firecracker, midnite, kairo and doreen peri. The art displayed was as diverse as the artists who created it, and altogether, it was a beautiful, impressive show.
Saturday night, everyone reconvened at the gallery for the reading. The evening started with a brief LitKicks Staff meeting in the basement, and was followed by gallery co-owner John Hart (Surreal City Planner) constructing a music stand out of foam board and duct tape. Once those tasks were accomplished, the festivities were set to begin, so without a microphone, I officially called the shindig to order.
The official order of the reading, officially, with official bullets:
- in_extremis read "a question of representation - or - confession".
- ellipsis read "this is what robbed laughter sounds like" and an untitled poem.
- ~K read a few short poems.
- I gave away a Lightning Rod poster.
- Levi read "THIS IS A POEM ABOUT ME", and "what's bothering me" (with a new ending).
- After Levi, Anniefay read a hilarious story called "With Apologies to My Daughter". (No apologies needed. It was great.)
- Firecracker was next, reading two poems, "proceedings" and "invitation".
- After firecracker, Yabyum read three selections from his new chapbook: "Yeah, I know it fucking hurts", "Ventilation", and "Butterfly".
- I followed with three pieces: "fuck you i'm talking about literature here", "seventeen", and "melting like sugar on my tongue/a kiss like war".
- Ruby Tuesday closed the scheduled list of readers with a few of her poems: "Fixer-upper", "Pass It By", "Friday Night Blues", and "And Venus Shifted".
A young Battle Creek poet and spoken word artist named Tyrell came up next and performed a couple of his pieces. He's a talented guy and it would be great if he ever showed up on LitKicks.
After Tyrell, we took a break. It was time to talk and eat cheese cubes and guacamole and Anniefay's famous cookies. We mingled for awhile, then it was time for the centerpiece of the evening. Yes. It was time for the grand monkey giveaway. After giving everyone a few minutes to write a haiku about the monkey, contestants read their entries into the mic (which had appeared sometime during the break). The audience judged the haiku by applause, and Jillian (who now posts as jillyfromthecreek) was the grand winner. Then Levi sang the monkey a song, a song called "The Monkey and the Engineer". And lo, the monkey was happy, because the monkey loves to be serenaded.
And then it becomes sort of a blur.
There was more talking, drinking and cheese cube eating. I gave away another Lightning Rod poster. Firecracker read "the way my face looks when i want to kill you (the 50 nifty united states remix)" (South Dakota-a-a-a). Then Jillian read a poem. After which, there was even more talking, drinking and cheese cube eating. A guy showed up selling t-shirts, and when he didn't have a certain number, he comforted us with the promise, "I got more back at the house."
Despite what the pictures would have you believe, Levi, in_extremis and I did not sing "The Star Spangled Banner". No, we read Gregory Corso's "Bomb". I'm sure that there was more talking, drinking and cheese cube eating (we had a lot of cheese cubes) after this, but at some point, John's friend Evan started playing the guitar and singing a couple of songs. Firecracker and I followed him with our exchange of poems about Art Garfunkel, and then firecracker r ead a poem by judih. called "Harmonica Angel". I gave away the final Lightning Rod poster.
The party didn't end there, though. It all spilled over to where I was staying, where the group of us wrote a poem together, appropriately titled "Amerihost Inn & Suites. Then there was talking, drinking and cheese cube eating that went on well into the wee hours of the morning.
What can I say? The purpose of the event was for members of LitKicks to get together, read some poems, and have a good time. We did.
For extra shindiggy goodness:
Read the article from the Battle Creek Enquirer
Set up: Pictures from day one & day two.
Pictures from the art show.
Pictures from the reading.
Even more pictures.
Torrential downpours be damned, there was a show to do.
The LitKicks BongoBeat Wintertime Poetry Happening got kicked off to a start by Levi, RALPH and Lauren Agnelli, who welcomed the crowd and gave everybody an idea of what was in store.
The first of the LitKicks crew to read was Lucy, (Gothic-Hippie-Chic), and she had the crowd charmed from the moment she took the stage. She read three pieces, "Angry Love", "He Crept Out of My Bed at Sunrise", and closed with "Roaster Boy" (which appeared as "Crush" on the Action Poetry Board). She read her poems with a lot of energy and got the reading off to a highly enthusiastic start.
Levi introduced the "cantankerous and fun" in_extremis who read three poems from his "Scenes from Our Bedroom" series and a prose piece, "Winter Solstice Sketch". His reading was quiet and serious, and the pieces he chose were clear and strong, like winter itself.
Then Paul Hyde (formerly of the Payolas) made his first NYC appearance in 20 years, drinking a beer, playing his guitar, and performing a fantastic set that included songs like "I Miss My Mind the Most" and "Drunken Lover". His set was amazing and heartfelt, and added perfectly to the evening's eclectic group of performers.
After Paul Hyde left the stage, David Amram came up to back the next group of readers from LitKicks. The first of these was Liz, (a.k.a. ChiLiPhiSh), who read a short prose piece centered around her great-grandmother's death. Her writing is honest and strong, and her voice was a great addition to the event.
Juliana Harris was the next to take the stage, and the first piece she read was a collaboration that originally appeared on Mindless Chatter on November 8th, which she (appropriately) titled November 8th. It was a perfect view for the non-LitKicks crowd present at the reading of what kinds of things take place on the boards, and was a smooth representation of the myriad voices and thoughts that make up the LitKicks community. Her next piece was a moving poem, titled Dear John...Forever Young You Bastard, which strings together memories and emotions dealing with the senseless death of a friend. The sad smile on her face as she read the final few lines of the poem, accompanied by David Amram's quiet piano, made for one of the evening's more powerful moments.
After another glimpse of what the LitKicks crowd had to offer, RALPH (of BongoBeat) took the stage. Backed by the David Amram trio, RALPH performed three poems, and his delivery was sleek, stylish, and oh so fun. He's like a walking homage to the beats, and his smooth reading, accompanied by David Amram, engaged the crowd and had them tapping their toes and snapping their fingers. Cool? Definitely.
RALPH's a tough act to follow, but then suddenly I was on the stage, following. I set up my first piece by drawling something sarcastic about having a three-day panic attack, garnering a few chuckles from the crowd. Then I read "unleashed thoughts: anxiety", the product and way out of said panic attack. Next, after explaining that since I can't draw people (unless they're of the stick variety) I write my drawings, I read an ultra-short sketch, "Sleep Peacefully, Young Man", a word picture of a young man alone in bed on a winter morning.
The David Amram Trio took over again, playing the legendary "Pull My Daisy" to cheers and applause from the audience. The fun Amram was having was clear on his face as he performed, and it was a joy to watch him in action.
Next up was Firecracker, who read two poems, "Speculation", and "Apology". Backed by the David Amram Trio, Firecracker read her pieces slowly, letting the audience savor the weight of emotion behind each line.
Levi was the next to take the stage, and he presented his recent Poetry and Politics post, "Pure Aggression". His piece was rhythmic, and it was definitely great to hear him read it aloud. As he'd say "I'm just gonna smile and let it go," he'd grin up at the audience, and the audience would grin back.
Then George Wallace (poetrybay) came up for a jazzy performance of a couple of his poems. He's recently collaborated with David Amram on a CD to accompany his new book of poems, and as he read, the trio's music perfectly punctuated the images in his pieces.
Then it was time for the evening to get even more musical. Mark McCarron (on guitar) and his wife Suzanne Mueller (on cello) kicked off a long set of musicians beautifully. Following their harmonious performance, Dave Rave and Lauren Agnelli took over, performing a series of love songs in a sort of tag-team musical whirlwind. Afterwards, the David Amram Trio came back and played more, rounding out a great series of musical performances.
Bob Holman, owner of the Bowery Poetry Club, took the stage with an apology to the crowd for his broken ankle, saying that he wouldn't be able to treat us with his usual acrobatics. But as he laid out his poem (a 72nd birthday tribute to David Amram), the fact that he stood mostly in one place didn't matter. With his gravelly voice and cane periodically pointed at the audience to punctuate his reading, Holman's performance was absolutely incredible. He's an amazing showman, to be sure.
Finally, it was time for the show to wind down to a close. David Amram called up all the evening's performers for a tribute to Jack Kerouac. Amram read a brief paragraph Kerouac had once penned, then returned to his keyboard to begin the song. When he got to the chorus, performers and audience alike joined him in singing "this song's for you, Jack", and it was great to hear all those voices coming together to honor a hero.
An awesome end to an awesome night. Ya dig?
See the pictures...
David Amram and Levi talk before the show.
Some of the crowd.
A girl and her hat...
in_extremis and Juliana Harris
Firecracker and ChiLiPhiSh
Post-show mingling. (Gothic-Hippie-Chic, Jamelah, smhppp)
Read others' reports of the event:
A report from Gothic-Hippie-Chic
A report from firecracker
A report from smhppp
A report from morocco
A report from Juliana Harris
Check out the poster
"So you better get this party started"
P!nk at a poetry reading? You better believe it. As the evening kicked off with the words "I'm Comin' Up" blasting through the Bowery Poetry Club, there was no doubt that this would be a night of raw energy and talent. At just a few minutes past 7, the club was already filled with people and the performers were ready to roll. Levi Asher of our very own LitKicks and Janan Platt of AlienFlower took the stage to welcome everyone and gave a brief overview of what would be taking place. Janan and Levi immediately set the tone for the evening by reading their collaborative piece, "What You're Looking For", a steady stream of seemingly unconnected phrases and thoughts read together simultaneously. As the piece ended, Lorraine Dechter gave a short follow-up to the poem, explaining that the words and phrases were culled from internet search keywords used to find Alienflower. Lorraine also read an interesting cut-up piece based on her and Janan's observations of New York City.
Lorraine introduced the first of the LitKicks Action Poets, the ever-talented Jamelah. As each poet took the stage, they were handed a flower to add to a vase placed in front of the microphone. Jamelah read her very poignant piece, "September 11th Birthday Girl" and immediately had the crowd hooked. She then read two selections from her new chapbook "Sketches of a Return Journey". The first, "underneath the audio", was a slice of reality taken from a father-daughter relationship. The choice of words and descriptive language in this piece brought it to life for the audience and you felt as if you were there witnessing the scene. "the water was moving too fast" was a haunting narrative of an inevitable goodbye. Jamelah's writing is simply beautiful and her performance kicked off the Action Poets series with a lyrical intensity I've yet to see matched.
As Levi introduced Litnrod11, the LitKicks faction who had attended the previous night's rehearsal knew they were in for a treat, as they had already witnessed his cool delivery of the poems "The Last Time I Was in New York" and "Circus of Dreams" as well as his devilishly humorous, "The Perfect Taco". I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found myself repeating the unforgettable refrain "On to Chicago" taken from the first piece that he read. The crowd in the club was no less impressed with his performance and sat perfectly still as he read "The Poet's Dirty Socks". As he finished up with "The Ballad of Dori Danger", he then introduced her, our own Doreen Peri.
Doreen took the stage and read the reply to "The Poet's Dirty Socks", which was a perfect response, perfectly presented with her rich voice and fluid movements. Next was "Installation of a Deadbolt" a chilling and passionate piece that she read with a wide range of emotion. These emotions were further heightened by Litnrod's flute accompaniment. Doreen closed with "Guess Who I Slept With Last Night", the tale of a nighttime visitor that had the audience giggling with the realization that it was in fact "that damned mosquito".
Billectric was up next, and kept everyone laughing with his tale of "How I Found LitKicks". His wry delivery and honest smile added such a personality to this performance, there was no one in the place that could help but have a good time watching him. He clutched a bizarre looking flower as he read. It was truly reminiscent of a "Laugh-In" dream sequence. He followed up by performing his own arrangement of Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet, which he dedicated to Doreen and Litnrod. As Bill sang and strummed the guitar, we got to see what a truly versatile performer he really was. As Bill left the stage, an enthusiastic table of LitKicks poets, all amazed at what they had just seen, greeted him wide smiles.
It was then turn for me to get up on stage and close the "Action Poets" segment of the show. I took the stage and warned the audience that someday their random words and conversation bits may one day end up as a part of one of my twisted poetry series. To demonstrate, I read a few short poems including "edit me". To illustrate the Action Poetry-style of poetic collaboration, I then read the call-and answer-pair of "I Sold my Summer" (written by jota) and my subsequent response to that poem, "I Stole My Summer". I then had a mild panic attack set to words with "Frenzy", which I followed with a poem to my father, "Inheritance". I then called Levi onstage to accompany my final two pieces with quietly played guitar. "Floor" was a short descriptive piece that had recently started a lengthy Action Poetry thread. I then ended with a dual language poem, "Together". Backed by the faint strumming of guitar, I hope the feeling of unabashed love in this piece was apparent, no translation needed.
The California poets then took the show in a new direction as Lorraine Dechter read several inspiring and lyrical pieces. Her heartfelt delivery of these well-written lines showed the skill of a true performer. Her cut-up piece "The Beginning of a Childhood Fairy Tale" was a bittersweet account of a young child who loses his father and was read with the tenderness only a mother could give. Two selections, "Woman" and "Orion , were sung a capella and Lorraine held the attention of everyone with the strength of her voice.
Janan Platt, co-host of the evening and creator of AlienFlower, read a few of her pieces, including "Flowa" (the New York city pronunciation of "Flower", she explained) and "Woman with the Lawn Ornaments." Janan's subtle interpretation of these works allowed the words to speak for themselves, especially the fabulous wordplay of "Flowa" in which fantastic descriptions create an dream-like image.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Levi came back to the stage to read three excerpts from his novel The Summer of the Mets (which will be available in paperback later this year). Although I had read the novel last summer, hearing Levi's voice retell the story was like nothing else. As Levi read, Litnrod played gentle melodies on his flute and Lorraine provided accompaniment on guitar; the quiet music set the perfect backdrop for the many moods of the story. The first passage introduced the main character, Chris, and was told in an innocent and honest fashion. As he recounted the summer vacation boredom of a teenage boy, heads nodded in recognition. In the second excerpt, we got an even deeper sense of Chris's internal feelings as he finds his first love. Mr. Asher's description of the excitement and amazement of new love was instantly familiar. The dialogue in each section was superbly read and the mellow sound of Levi's voice only made the story more lifelike. As he finished with a vivid account of a single inning during the 1986 World Series, you could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone waited to hear which way the game would go -- even those who already knew the outcome. Each piece worked very well alone, but together they really made for a powerful presentation and I'm sure The Summer of the Mets already has quite a following.
John S. Hall then took the stage quietly and timidly ... but as is often the case, looks were deceiving. He read many hilarious and high-energy poems like "Nickels for Ned", and he shared an alternate take on the "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker. His stage presence and demeanor only heightened the humor of the writing. After getting the green light to read two more pieces, John read "The President" (formerly titled, "The Mayor") and "The Miracle of Childbirth", prefacing them by saying "These next two pieces are made up almost entirely of curses". These last two were impressive on shock value alone, however even beneath all of the profanity; the audience felt a sense of awe at his ability to express so much in the use of just a few repeated words. As John S. Hall left the stage, we all felt as if we'd just witnessed a hurricane and lived to tell about it.
We were all then treated to some music by Lauren Agnelli, a talented and accomplished musician. Lauren started the evening most respectfully with a tribute to Elvis (who had died on this date, August 16, 25 years earlier), "A Fool Such as I". Lauren also performed "Sand Castle Song," and the raucous "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad,". She then sang a beautiful selection, "She's Gonna Change", joined by her friend Ken Anderson on vocals and tambourine. She closed by sharing her short poem "Spring Girl with a Song", a piece from the voice of Persephone.
Tom Goodkind of the Washington Squares joined Lauren on the stage, along with Billy Ficca of the seminal 70's punk band Television, to cap off the night with a long awaited Washington Squares reunion. The Squares were an excellent closer for the show, singing "Charcoal", "Greenback Dollar", "You Can't Kill Me", and the Civil War themed ballad, "Two Brothers". The chemistry of this group was apparent and they played with such heartfelt intensity that no one could resist moving along to the music. They closed with "Goodnight Irene", inviting anyone from the audience to come onstage and be a part of the action.
Before we knew it, the show was over and the bouquet on stage was finally complete, just as it wouldn't have been the same without each individual flower, the show wouldn't have been the same without each individual performer who contributed. It was a great night filled with a wide variety of styles and voices, all coming together to make for an intriguing and entertaining display of talent.
Jamelah, Litnrod, Doreen and Billectric
Litnrod on stage
Firecracker and Jamelah
Firecracker and Levi on stage
Litnrod and Doreen
Billectric and Levi's Dad
See the Poster.
Read another review.
Pictures from the Rehearsal.
More Pictures from NY and Rehearsal.
So I only got the go-ahead to do this show in early April, and called in Brian Hassett to help me arrange -- the last show he and I did together was the excellent but overwhelming 5th Anniversary show in 1999, and Brian and I both agreed that we wanted this one to be less totally insane then that one. The world-peace theme called for a different mood, and the evening began with a few songs by the Chess Shop Divas (Deb Reul & Amy Coplan on guitar, keyboards and harmonies), followed by Nicole Blackman, who read a beautiful and sad account of her work as a volunteer at Ground Zero last fall.
Next up was Sharon Groth with a poem about love and war and rocketships, followed by Eliot Katz, the rabble-rousing New Jersey poet who had co-edited Allen Ginsberg's last book of political poetry ("Poems for the Nation").
Eliot was followed by the one single person from the LitKicks message boards who had bravely volunteered to try her stuff onstage, the always-charming Lucy Torres (aka Gothic-Hippie-Chic). She read a poem by litnrod11 as well as a few of her own.
Next up was Sander Hicks, who talked about George Bush for a little while before giving us a powerful reading from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", which was appropriate because Holman had just installed the first decoration in the club, a huge Lite-Brite portrait of Walt Whitman (yes, Lite-Brite).
Sander was followed by one of the highlights of the evening, a few minutes of African melodies and singing by the cora master and griot Papa Susso, whose performance totally brought down the house. Bob Holman joined him for a second piece, a West Africa/New York storytelling collaboration, and I followed this with the poem I'd written for the evening, my "ode to aggression" titled "Fight".
Todd Colby, author of Riot in the Charm Factory followed with a few sardonic and unique pieces, and was followed by Living Theatre veteran/performance artist Pat Russell ("Views of Life from the Seat of a Bike: A New York Story").
We took a short break, and then Stephan Smith took the stage. If you haven't heard of Stephan, I hope you will soon. He's one of the best new folk/protest singers around, and has been performing with folks like Pete Seeger. He's hoping to do some good stuff of his own at Bob Holman's club -- stay tuned for more on that front later.
Walter Raubicheck followed with an excellent reading from Dylan Thomas, and after then Brian Hassett began the long sequence he'd been planning for the second half of the night, a stream of unstopping poetry and music which he'd been calling "The Wheel" as the idea was to wheel in one performer after another without pausing for introductions or polite clapping or any of that other stuff you always get at one poetry reading after another. Brian's Wheel included more songs by Deb & Amy and poetry by George Wallace, Angela P., Bob Holman and Brian himself, and music by Will Hodgson, Geoff B. and several others. At one point during this joyful stream, a bassist playing a standup bass even seemed to have materialized out of nowhere (I know we didn't have a standup bass in our plans) and there were many other magical moments.
I had hoped to join this myself and read some poems that had been posted to LitKicks after Sept 11, but we were way overtime and there was no way to do it. After the "Wheel" we totally changed the mood and closed the night with a killer set by a punk band I really like, White Collar Crime, led by Sander Hicks. This is a very unusual band -- they have no guitars (this seems to be part of their political mandate somehow), they play really loud, and I just like them a lot. Check them out if you can.
It was all over around 1:30 a.m. How can I sum up the night? I am still in a daze, and it is dinner time the next day. We were there to make some kind of a point, to the world and to ourselves. I think we made the point.
Here's the poster if you missed it.
And here are some pics (thanks to Tony & Stacy Leotta):
Deb Reul and Amy Coplan
Bob Holman and Papa Susso
Sander Hicks and White Collar Crime
The Walt Whitman LiteBrite
it is a vortex, he repeats.
maybe it's the water up here, or maybe it's the shape of the night. but when you consider all the exceptional energy which has gathered in and emanated from cherry valley, there's good reason to think laki is on to something.
technically it is sunday, but only just. laki and i are walking back from a late night low rocking jam session at carl waldman's house, ann's brother, it's after midnight saturday night not a soul in sight, charlie and pam plymell have preceded us back to charlie's house but laki and i have opted to walk, now he's stopped in the middle of the street in this dim-lit cold upstate new york village air, to get some footage of rury's grocery store by streetlight. after an evening of low-rolling improvisational blues and high company, i'm feeling it. the vortex. the water. the night. cherry valley.
it is the spell of the moment, one which is not easily broken. only that a woman in a car pulls up in front of us and rolls down her window and leans out and says "what ARE you two filming." laki and i look at each other and don't know what to say, "rury's," he says finally, and with offhanded authority. and i say "oh yeah, rury's, doesn't it look great at night!" we laugh, maybe it's a small town thing; maybe she wants to make sure we're not terrorists casing out rury's, the president has told people to watch for unusual activity and i don't know but that two out of towners filming after midnight in cherry valley might constitute that. either way, the challenge of having to answer her perfectly unnecessary question is sufficient for us to stop filming and trek on to back charlie's.
cherry valley, in case you don't know it, is ginsberg country. a tiny out of the way village settled amid the endless westerly ridges and valleys of new york state. from manhattan you head north to albany and then follow the sun as it begins its 3000 mile trek across america, but unlike the sun you stop here fifty miles into the journey. cherry valley, where 18th century pioneers, in their continental westward flowing way, stopped; and called the place they stopped the frontier; a nation's frontier before the frontier became flatter and wider and further away than this, when the frontier began to change in untold ways; ohio, kansas, colorado, california; as charlie plymell says, it's only a three and a half hour drive from manhattan if you don't stop to piss, though how long it took ginsburg and peter orlovsky, who traveled on different wings than angels, to discover their 70 acre farm in cherry valley, how far from the mean streets of new york city or tangiers, i cannot say. as for charlie, he landed here after being blown out of the maelstrom of wichita, kansas to san francisco, by a literary cyclone that tore mcclure from his kansas roots and planted him down in the bay area too. for plymell, it was the haight ashbury hippy sixties, where in addition to living with ginsburg and neal cassady on gough street he became printer of the infamous zap comix which help defined the era. "allen introduced me to cherry valley," he said, and the sense of the place held sufficient appeal to the midwesterner and his wife pam that they've been solid cherry valley citizens ever since.
as for me, what i can say is that, if i hadn't gotten turned around in cobleskill on this particular evening, i would've proved charlie's time prediction right; it would've been a three and a half drive, neat, no chaser, to come up the west side highway from spring street downtown, where i was at a poetry reading at the ear inn (at three o'clock on any saturday afternoon in new york city, there is not a better poetry reading series i know of); where i meet up with maureen and nick from bigcitylit, they want me to meet thom ward the publisher from boa editions who is reading, and vicki hudspith of st marks is there and an earnest cathy macarthur, curious and studious about everything, at the ear inn things are winefriendly and aesthetic and crowded and fun, but when i look up it is after five and the sky's growing dark so i take the straight as piss road, shoot up route 9 cross the tappan zee take exit 21 west north on route 145 through preston hollow and cobleskill and some other towns, then up over the humpback starlit moonbeam ridge, dotted with clouds and cows and dairy-eyed dreaming night, cherry valley here you are.
actually, there is something in the water in cherry valley. that something being lithium, to be precise, the patent medicine types in the 19th century they bottled it and sold it, they claimed cherry valley's lithia springs bottled water would do just about anything for you that you wanted doing, happier kidneys or better sex, i wouldn't know what; but what they didn't know was there really were beneficial psychotropic effects, lithium carbonate is the current stuff in modern medicine to lay on depressive personality types and smooth them out. "the old residents of this town just drank the water and smiled," charlie says, and grins to illustrate; he also says the place used to be called happy valley not cherry, and he has pictures to prove it.
there's some history to the place which might make you wonder. you might wonder, for example, whether drinking the lithium-laced well water of the valley effected samuel morse, who one day decided to string a wire from his cousin's house to the bank, thereby transmitting the first telegraph message in history and creating the information superhighway; or a fellow named spalding, who one day woke up and wrote a novel about finding buried tablets in the earth -- a story which joseph smith lifted whole passages from, supposedly, and they ended up in the book of mormon.
but 19th century lithium spas and alleged literary thievery are not my aim, i'm here on a visit to charlie and pam. a pilgrimage of sorts and of course by extension, to visit allen and peter's farm. "the committee," the hobohemians called it; what manner of commitments were made and kept and broken in that asbestos-shingled place, only to mention that, like charlie says, peter had this great organic garden thing going on, and he tended to lecture everyone who showed up at the farm on the benefits of vegetarianism -- but it was commonly known that he used to sneak into the city from time to time for a steak. anyhow these days allen has gone to his great reward, peter is under close supervision "somewhere near manhattan," and while the ginsberg entourage has mainly left the streets of cherry valley and wooded retreats of its environs for other apron strings, this little village remains home to an impressive band of aesthetes; not least of whom are charlie and pam.
but like i say i don't get here and find this stuff out in three and half hours; i'm late, having become turned around in cobleskill; i should have trusted charlie's directions or the corroborative nods of the counter girl at the convenience store on the north end of that town, but i don't, and i end up driving twice across the same sad starlittered fields and mountain passes, dazzled each way with the play of the moon through the clouds, before i give in and do what they told me and find my way to cherry valley.
so now it is some time after ten when i arrive.
the plymell's place is a rock solid wall structure of looming limestone, there are literally angels in the architecture, sweetfaced things, in the darkness i can make out in one clunch fisted spot the porcelain face of a doll, pink cheeks black eyes ruby lips, charlie tells me later he found the doll face when he was rehabbing the place and decided to cement it in, why not? there is a walking stick leaning at the entryway, all totemed up with feathers and b ones, some personal god to speak with on long lonely treks up into the hills. pam comes to the door, i have heard her referred to as "the beloved pam" but that doesn't get the job done -- i soon learn she's way more than that, pam's lived in san francisco and new york and paris and casts a considerable aesthetic presence on the entire scene, has more than a passing familial connection to sylvia beach, who ran shakespeare and company and published james joyce; her mother's mary beach and mary's husband is claude pelieu, fine artists and no mistake about it, there's a big french aesthetic connection going on around here, they live not too far from these confines. lately they've been doing collage work, explains pam, and she shows me a disc of their work she's been toying with; there is more than a little resonance back to charlie's early hippy days, the 1960 batman gallery era, when he began to make a name for himself; only their work at times reaches from cut-ups and abstraction toward the expressive intensity of pollock, the sensual stained glass warmth of chagall, the jarring political confrontation of picasso.
pam explains that charlie's already down at carl's place, bebop the three year old white lab is already leashed up and ready to walk, how about me? "i'm ready too," i say, "c'mon 'bop," says pam, so we're off, down montgomery past judge morse's place, a couple of churches each no bigger than a house, and up the deserted main commercial road to carl's.
inside it is obvious that the evening is well begun in anticipation of my arrival. dangerous dan is haunting his drumset near the front door; carl works out a meandering reflective theme on an electric bass; someone named cunningham from suny oneonta is flicking deep undergound guitar licks into the aura; while a young woman who may be with him is hummingly lost in a contemplative microphone reverie. "we've resurrected peter's old banjo," shouts charlie in my ear, meaning orlovsky's, it only has two strings on it so far, nobody plays it; instead he takes the mike, grins, hands it to me, "have a question for me, george?" he asks and just like that a faux public interview has begun, a parody of itself, i ask a question in the mike, "charlie, what is your economy in this place," i ask, "dog biscuits and bird seed," he replies, then drifts into and around and through the room, digging the music, the thought, the moment; then sits down and begins sampling from a bookshelf, plato, ray bremser poetry, or perhaps his own book "the last of the moccasins," a beat memoir classic; finally he begins a process of intoned gone phrases, in and out of sound and focus; it is pure gas.
"what is the function of the flame? charlie, i ask." "to remind us," he answers without hesitation, and heads off into a new jam-driven vision.
the entire woven effect is hilarious, dizzying and mysterious, and before long i am giddy, transported along with it; i picture the drive here under moonlight, cows grass cloud fields, big night sky over route 10, and find myself drifting along, comfortably, into the midst of the stoned jam session; and now i reach out to the electric piano, and begin tickling lost phrases of my own across the keyboard, reflected musical nothings that are from nowhere and going nowhere, just here, of themselves; streaks of sound, slipped out of and through and back into the electronic mist of it all.
i don't know how long the jam lasts, but at some point things break up and after our stroll through the village laki and i join charlie at his limestone castle; pam has put out a spread of good cheese and bread, garlic'ed olives, all of it laid out attentively, and we men of cherry valley, happy as lithium, dig in, accept the spread, grateful and fatigued. we are soon off to sleep.
the next morning i am up before the rest, as is my habit, and figuring bebop won't bark at me now that i'm welcomed into the clan, take a walk down to the convenience store, a gas station, at the town center; along the way noticing the street trees, saplings really with their dog tags still on them, the municipality is planting cherry trees, not native black cherries, but it is a nice gesture. the filling station is the only thing open in town this early on a sunday morning, two picnic tables to sit at and look out at the other buildings at ground zero cherry valley - a blue-painted masonic lodge, brown and white painted community health center, and a modest three story brick commercial building that houses a flower shop and nancy's gifts.
here in the convenience store is a sea of commodities to distract me; rolling rock stacked higher than a man, 99 cent american flag pins. lotto tickets, atms, antifreeze and a rack of gloves and knitted caps for cold weather. in ones and two come hunters in camouflage, it's bow season already, they're looking for coffee. women and children stop on their way to church, "no you cannot bring a breakfast sandwich to church!" says one mom to her daughter, "then how about a bagel?" asks the little girl. the bagel wins. among the men the talk of the morning is about a year old skidoo some guy's hauled in on the back of a polaris trailer behind his pickup, it's for sale.
i turn to the local paper, cooperstown, and learn that a new york city ladder company, from st albans, has come up by invitation to the area for some rest and relaxation, the boys "braved the cold" just last saturday to go golfing with some of the local firefighters, it was "very therapeutic for me," admits the woman who organized the trip up, and she hopes the firemen liked it too. in other news, otego opted out of prison consideration after more than half the 1500 voters in town signed a petition against it; the state was trying to decide whether or not to build a prison there, planners say a prison will bring 300 jobs and a twelve million dollar payroll, but the state says they won't put a prison anywhere if the people don't want one, and the voters have said no, now what?
when i get back to the big stone house pam's up, we talk awhile, charlie should be awake soon, he walks the dog at ten, and sure enough he appears before i can even turn around. charlie wants to show me down to the creek, where he feeds some pigeons every day, so down we go, alongside the house there are totems everywhere, actually, and a small path with a handrail built from twigs. we have to cross a small sweet bridge where watercress chokes the shallows, down the zigzag way i see water pooling up in spots, but even more than water there is a damn lot of the green watercress in the little creek bed. with full sun the day is beginning to warm up nicely; we are surrounded by a broad meadow of cattails and tall weeds, colorful in its variegated season, just now brilliant with yellows and browns, a dry caked painter's smock shining opaque in the bright sun. in a distant grove yellow leaf aspens shiver; there is a red blur in the green mountain backdrop, a barn and silo, and the one dark mysterious view which goes on forever, beyond that. at our feet, a small flock of ghost flies dance, perfect randomness, yet never colliding; a chaotic rising cluster which lives and breathes the life of the creek. "there were good trout in the creek a hundred years ago," says pam, who has joined us; these days a trout would have to lie down sideways exhale and do the sidestroke if it wanted to swim upstream.
in the middle of this field charlie is filling a pigeon feeder with a seed mixture and trying to explain the contours of the meadow in terms of a mathematical gyre that he has been studying, it emanates from an egyptian throne or something, in perfect proportionality, informs all kinds of existential manifestations, charlie is standing in tall grass looking for patterns, i am trying to follow, he searches to find the words to explain them to me but "words are the first to go," he says. in chaos we search for order, for theory. why do we persist with this quest for reason, for order? "because we're stuck with it," says charlie, but reassuringly.
for all his hobohemian iconoclasm, charlie did study formally and well, don't let him tell you otherwise, oral interpretation of poetry in wichita, philosophy; later, he sparred regularly with the stentorian elliot coleman at johns hopkins, a patrician of considerable standing and erudition in his day, a man whom charlie found he was unable to phase in debate and civilized discourse until the proper moment came; being that hour on most afternoons when coleman inevitably sought solace in a cocktail. with a background like that it shouldn't be a real surprise that ideas and dreams are charlie plymell's mentor, his master, his metier; despite his well-documented ramblings and celebrated inclination to see the falseness inherent in institutions and the phonies who inhabit them; charlie plymell, the institution of the mind; i recall to plymell how ira cohen said that he kept looking for a guru "but every time i scratched the surface i found a schmenderick." the best master, says ira cohen, is the one we find in ourselves. "what's a schmenderick," charlie asks, and i look around and realize, i'm not in new york city.
it is ten o'clock, "time for 'bop's morning walk," says charlie. it is a relief.
we all pile into the car, laki and charlie and me; and 'bop, who rules the back seat, even when we remove the comforter he normally sits on he cries for his spot, it is in the order of things, dogs seek order too, and no doubt fishes and aspens and reeds; we drive up to june barwick's place, a high spot overlooking the village from one particularly green ridge of cut fields, 'bop romps with his two girlfriends who live here, a chocolate and a black lab, while charlie describes the perambulations of local revolutionary war figures, history lessons from a crest overlooking cherry valley. it is a tale well told, and he reaches to tell it with confidence; tories, patriots, spies, george washington racing across and around and among these ridges, up the schoharie valley, which was the breadbasket of the british, and back; oh and the great cherry valley massacre is in there too somewhere, though charlie barely gets to tell it.
bebop's girlfriends are joycean, says their owner, who comes up from the house to meet us. her name is june, one of the dogs is named nora barnacle, the other is molly bloom, "they prefer their full names"; she's looking for another joycean name for an as yet unborn addition to the menagerie. i suggest sylvia beach. but june rankles at so unseemly a notion as naming a dog after the relative of someone you know. she laughs uncomfortably, and so i change the subject, we discuss black walnut trees; and wild blackberries, how they may be made to migrate across a field; the dogs take turns dominating each other rolling into and over and nipping each other, trying to dump the humans to the ground in their playful process, "looks like they've found a new body to knock down" says june when they plow into me, but i have found my sea legs in these autumn hills, and remain standing throughout.
back at the house we find ray otali and a bottle of good beaujolais, he's french; and a computer entrepreneur, he wants to show pam how he can help with mary and claude's website, or maybe it is charlie's website, nobody is very sure; after a lot of techno-chat, i extricate charlie and we head off to the climax of cherry valley's grand tour -- allen and peter's upstate shangrila, "the committee."
it is a circuitous drive over a different mountain, a distant spur of cherry valley from where the village lies, and heavily wooded. charlie keeps mentioning hunting season, why? "we might get shot," he says simply. along with laki and ray, we approach the farmhouse through an impenetrable stand of overgrown saplings and weeds, a narrow drive just barely passable and chained, we have to get out and walk through, passing the remains of peter's organic garden, charlie points it out. at the far border there are apples falling from a row of apple trees, 'bop and i plow shiplike and bounding through the overgrown field like harbor swells to retrieve apples; i pass some out.
then on to the asphalt shingled farmhouse, solid and abandoned and the grounds around it badly in need of attention. "don't break in there is nothing here to steal," says a chalkboard by the front door. at the western end of the house the remains of a barn, it has been knocked down; there is a door frame hung in surreal fashion from an ancient maple; ray and i take the path down to the pond, low for this time of the year. "listen," i say, and ray sniffs the air. "to what?"
"to the silence." yes, says ray, silence, it is a beautiful thing, and he breathes in deeply as charlie approaches. "a little too much silence for allen, i think," he says.
we cannot stay too long, paul bley is due for a visit back at charlie's, with his wife, carol; and i am eager to meet a man who played piano with chet baker and charley parker and sun ra, and furthermore wears the first purple sweater i have seen since bud schulberg. but we have a few stops on the way back, including one spot where charlie slows down at the house of an artist he knew once who lived here and actually had in his possession jackson pollock's last notebook and wanted to lend it to him. "i wouldn't take it home, i was afraid to," he says. inside was a drawing, jackson pollock's last dream. "he thought it was a vacuum cleaner," says charlie. "i thought it was a muffler and a tailpipe." so what was it? "anything you want it to be -- it was abstract."
but one last detour, to the house of roach, a friend of charlie's, the type of man in whom plymell seems to seek a remorseful tenderness beneath his tough mask, he's from the south shore of long island, a rough enough looking fellow with plenty of stories to tell, says charlie, brushes with law or organized crime during his biker days; roach is an avid collector of things, we find him at his work bench where he begins laughing hard and pointing to "things" around him and proudly explaining them to me; "that metal arrow weathervane there, it's from a prison they tore down," he says; "this clock mechanism here, it's 150 years old -- came out of a long island railroad station they were tearing down."
on the walls of the shed are old license plates from various states of the union, and japan. "that there says hiroshima," he declares. "1945." "see this book?" says roach, pulling an old kennedy era photo essay on beautiful women out of a dark unknown spot. "1962. it's worth hundreds."
roach's latest project is a 2 1/2 carat diamond he has and wants to deal quickly, looking for a buyer and now that he is done impressing me he is down to business, asks charlie to help him sell it on e-bay, they discuss that a bit, roach holds a caliper in his hand to show how he measured that diamond, "two and a half," says roach, charlie seems puzzled but willing.
we take a walk in roach's yard, "i own 700 feet that way," he says, and points uphighway, towards a pond with a narrow covered bridge over a spur of the water. "built that covered bridge myself." i walk across it, there is a small sign, bud's pond, 1986. "the pond has a name," i say. "oh, i had a son, he died in a car accident," says roach quietly; and then catches his breath and says in a husky whisper "muskrat!"
"there, don't scare it!"
i look, there is a tiny brown spot, evidently a muskrat head, poked out of the water midpond. "they destroy the pondbank," says roach, and heads back into the shed with long strides for his pellet gun. laki and charlie are somewhat ashen, i tell roach that he could get a ferret and that would take care of the muskrat, but he's all action now, roach the action figure moves with cartoon precision, the stalking murderous grace of a hunter, roach crouches slightly and aims. he picks off the mus rkat in one thudding shot.
"got him in the head," says roach proudly.
charlie says nothing. laki says nothing. "i had to do that," shrugs roach. "i know, i don't like to kill animals. but charlie, they do damage."
the three of us beat a retreat to the car, roach following us. "don't forget, 2 1/2 carats," he shouts at us as we pull out of the driveway.
there is not much talking on the drive back to charlie's.
at the plymell house, night is closing in fast.
we find paul and pam sitting amiably at the dining room table over wine, and we join them. ray and carol are giggling happily upstairs discussing gigabytes, but soon they come down too. over polite conversation, ray's talking about ionesco. "i drove with him in a car," says ray, "and said to him, mister ionesco, what i learned from your writings is this: you taught me that the question is more important than the answer.
that sounds about right to everybody. "yes," i say, "but what about gertrude stein's last words, on her deathbed: what is the answer."
ah, WHAT is the answer, says charlie. everybody smiles at that. the answer IS what, apparently, in tonight's company.
on this cherry valley sunday evening of good wine and companionship, i'm satisfied with that.
Also, Bob Holman was nice enough to remember the event by putting up the words spoken by Charles Plymell here.
2. Speaking of the Bitter End event (no, I can't seem to stop speaking of it), one of the reasons I'd thought to invite Lee Ranaldo to participate in it was that he's been working with Jim Sampas and Rykodisc to collect some of Jack Kerouac's best unreleased recordings onto a CD. The CD is a revelatory collection that anybody who is interested in understanding Kerouac will want to hear. While Kerouac's existing poetry albums are sometimes hard to listen to (I always found them somewhat stiff and difficult to enjoy compared to his written work), these newfound recordings of Jack's are charming, musically adventurous and surprisingly satisfying. Highlights include a plaintive version of the pop standard 'Rain or Shine', some complex verbal blues choruses set to music by David Amram, a 28-minute prose reading from 'On The Road' and, to top it all off, a rocker by Tom Waits with Primus (yeah!). This CD will be released in early September.
3. 'The Source', a well-researched and intelligent new documentary full-length film about the origins of the Beat Generation and its main players, is coming out in a couple of weeks. Directed by Chuck Workman (who also directed a movie about the Andy Warhol scene, 'Superstar'), the film focuses heavily on Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, and tries hard to fairly represent many other writers. It adds up to an informative and breezily entertaining introduction to this literary movement. Among the good points: the facts are accurate (though the chronology gets confused), and there are no boring talking-head shots of men in sweaters sitting in front of bookcases (thank God). At the same time I didn't find the film completely different enough -- much of the footage was familiar, and the summary style was pretty much the same as that of all those $35 coffeetable books about the Beat Generation that keep popping up in bookstores, whereas I wished to be taken somewhere new, to see some challenging connections made, either politically, spiritually, aesthetically or in any other way. A captivating filmed scene of actor John Turturro screaming the hell out of the great poem 'Howl' in an urban schoolyard is probably as "out there" as the movie ever gets, and this was for me the most memorable moment in the film. But even if 'The Source' sticks basically to the middle of the road, the movie is well worth watching, and nobody will regret the time spent soaking in the familiar footage of our lovable literary stooges, one more time.
4. And one lovable literary stooge who never played it safe was underground poet d. a. levy. I was happy to walk into Barnes and Noble recently and see, next to all those coffeetable books, the first trade edition collection of his works: ' The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail: The Art and Poetry of d. a. levy,' edited by Mike Golden. This guy was weird and a true original -- check this shit out.
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
The Living End!
by Marie Countryman
Brian Hassett writes ...
The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening