[PREV - SOUL_SO_DEAD] [TOP]
February 24, 2004
On New Year's Day, my sister took the initiative
to set up an expedition to Manhattan, to go to This was an event
the St. Mark's Poetry Project marathon reading. that she and I and
the recently departed
went to together.
This is a great event, and it's pretty
silly that I'd been ignoring it in
The way it goes is that hundreds of poets
volunteer to do short readings in St. Mark's
church from around 2pm to 2am, and this
attracts an audience of thousands. This is
probably the biggest poetry event in the
United States, and in general the poetry is
quite good, the poets do excellent readings,
and if need be you can always get up and take
a break... though myself, I get anxious about
missing something if I go away for too long.
It helps that you can duck into the back room
to get some food, coffee and assorted bakery The poetry from the front
products (not to mention piles of different room is sometimes piped
volumes of poetry, for about $3 each). in on a PA, but usually
there's too much other
This back room is also the back stage, stuff going on there to
where the off-duty poets hang around. listen to it.
(Someone on stage was joking
around about how the back
stage scene was great, it was
like being on the TV show "Fame".)
One thing about this event is that it does help
reassure that New York hasn't completely lost
it... suddenly you find your self emersed in this
huge crowd of more-or-less boho people; and at the
very least my long hair and leather jacket don't
seem quite so incredibly out of place.
A popular theme that night was whining about the
yuppification of New York, with which I can sympathise.
But even more popular was proudly declaring
one's determination to work on getting Bush out
of office; and I have to say I found that
schtick more than a little irritating -- sure,
*I'd* like to see Bush lose the next election,
but what if I didn't? Are Republicans not
welcome at poetry readings? Even though my
politics and theirs happened to be similar, this
unconscious assumption that we *had* to be
similar was repellent; casual assumptions of TRIBAL
tribal unity always drive me away.
But even though I had a plane flight out the
next morning, I wasn't going to leave too early,
because I didn't want to miss seeing Patti Smith
read at 11pm or so... I figured I might be there
until around midnight.
I was making yet another coffee and brownie run
back stage, and as I turned away from the
folding-table-of-plenty, I became dimly conscious
of someone looking at me over on my left.
I glance over at the woman, she looks away, and
I realize that this was Patti Smith herself.
I hadn't thought about it much, but
I had some dim notion that for Patti
Smith, they were going to have to
come up with some version of the
Star Treatment, if only to find a
broom closet for her to hide in; but
there she was out with the rest of
the gang, and if I was the sort who And why didn't I?
gushes at celebrities, I could have
gone over and opened the faucet. Patti Smith herself was
completely unabashed about
As it was, I walk off with a mild glow running up to celebrities
at the thought that Patti Smith had been she admired...
checking me out...
Returning to the main room, I find the beat but not bashed.)
path down the left isle is totally
blocked with people sitting around on Clearly I had not
the floor, and so I look for another learned the lessons
way around, and end up squeezing of the Master.
between audience and stage to get to a
center isle that I'd never noticed
before... this route was just
unpopular enough that I find some
great seats standing open there, and I
end up in 6th row center, with only a
few more readings to go...
Patti Smith comes out and
oh-so-humbly announces that she's
going to read something she "writ"
that morning, and she guessed she
must have written it for us, because
she knew where she was going, though
she's not quite so sure what the
thing is that she's going to read...
And what she went off into was a long
piece written in the first person plural
with lines like:
boys twisted the necks of their guitars,
and sang of the future
but then they died of cancer ... PENNYWORT_AND_DOLLAR_SHORT
we broke our mother's hearts
and then made it up to them,
but we became ourselves ...
God is within you.
It's a long road,
in our holy coats of black ...
This is *your* story.
And what she was reading was no
less than the creation myth of a
people. A creation myth of
*us*, of our people. She fuses And I go out into the streets,
the audience together, and at and decide I need to write some
last I'm willing to admit that notes about all this before I
I'm one of them. I feel a deep return to the hotel room.
sense of identification with the
group -- shallow political I have trouble finding a place to
rants, and all. call home, but I turn up a pizza
joint with a handwritten sign in
the window offering a cup of Dahl
I scribble in my pocket
And wonder about the crowd
of clean-scrubbed college
kids I'm surrounded by.
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