My Very Own Beat Poetry Scene
I enter the dimly lit basement of Yanni's Greek Restaurant and find a room full of poet wannabes who evidently shop at that new box-store "Rags R US." It's a strange transition, me in coat and tie, having just come from delivering a lecture to a bunch of well dressed older MBA students. I can't help but think that the beats reading their poetry in San Francisco and New York were similarly whacky. I think that I am needed here to provide balance—that without me, the entire room might tilt and slide off the edge of the Earth.
Most of the readings are a kind of rant-rap—the military invasion of Iraq, the plight of indigenous peoples, the sins of the opposite sex [which was about dumping the poet who read the piece].
My turn. I read 'Sunny Side', a piece about the plight of my daughter suffering mental distress. I choke up a bit, which tells me that I have quite a bit of bottled up feeling about her emotional ups and downs. It seems to go over quite well with this "I'm cool because I live on the fringe of society and have a reservoir of disdain for anything normal" group.
But, I don't feel particularly good about the piece—my critical voice warns that it's a bit smarmy, that the haiku are too contrived, that I shouldn't be writing about my daughter's plight. Oh, well. It's what I can do and that voice is always around trying to take the fun out of writing. I admit that when done reading a piece, however inept, I float between a bloated ego state and the kindness of a mild depression helped along with a bit of raw red wine.
I did think that at least my haibun aka rant was real, focused as it was on my difficulties in living with a daughter in distress ... whereas I thought that many of the overlong rants that I heard from some of the readers were dealing with mock rage.
I remember being 20-years-old, in Berkeley, a member of a mob ranting against the war, thinking we were oh so different from those nasty Washington politicians and their even nastier business elite masters. Now that was REAL because we were going to be drafted and forced to fight in a non-declared war that we didn't believe in. So, for the most part, our Berkeley rallies were what one would call a mass self-interest rant, which, I think, is the more honest kind. And, besides, they were more fun than studying.
Later, at home, the two cats that I live with appear when I enter the kitchen. They gaze skyward, as if praying to a cat god in the ceiling, their heart-felt mewing, also in the REAL RANT form. I'd like to think that they were acknowledging me for my poetry reading feat, but I know that they are simply looking toward the cupboard where the cat treats are safely stored away from their greedy fat-cat claws. Overwhelmed by their entreaties, I extend my hand, the desired treat in my palm. You see I have mellowed and made peace with the fat-cats of the world, indeed ...