I was e mailing a friend today and wrote the following lines:
“As a print junkie, who is and has always been reading books and
mags and newspapers etc. it was always what the critics and academics thought of as the secondary writing and the "incidental" writing or "occasional" writing (meaning written for a specific occasion) that I dug most, the journals and letters, the essays about some obscure obsession etc. So blogs and e mails and such are very appealing to me, but only if I dig the person's perspective or way of articulating it.”
And then the mail came, and in it was a great book (I’ve only just begun reading it, several pages in, but it is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about that I dig so much [and having now read even more pages in I really really dig it]) by poet Nick Piombino called FAIT ACCOMPLI, which, as he says in his “Note to the Reader” is a “journal within a journal,” a selection of posts from his blog (see my recommended list to the right where I have just added his—nick piombino) in which are also embedded selections from his handwritten journals going as far back as the 1970s.
I ran into him the other day at poet Bob Holman’s Bowery Poetry Club, and Nick asked for my address so he could send me the book, because somewhere in it, he said, he mentioned my first reading of my long anti-invasion-of-Iraq poem, written to be read on the eve of the invasion, and titled after that date: MARCH 18, 2003.
I was at the Bowery Poetry Club, when I ran into Nick, to see poets Elaine Equi and Rae Armantrout read. I hadn’t seen Rae or heard her read in decades, but had recently seen Elaine read in a group reading for poet Vincent Katz’s magazine VERITAS, that reading also being at The Bowery Poetry Club.
At that earlier reading, I remember thinking, as I listened to and watched poets like Elaine and Lewis Warsh and Elaine’s husband Jerome Sala and others, how I felt I had found a home, a community, when I first encountered fellow poets, and on this occasion that feeling was renewed in me.
I started reading my poetry in the late 1950s in the many coffee shops that sprung up seemingly overnight with the sudden notoriety of “the Beat” writers. I didn’t, and still don’t, always feel at home around poets, because there are very few rewards in the poetry world and in some poetry scenes the competition is so intense that it can feel worse than show business.
One of the reasons I left Manhattan in 1982 for Hollywood was a feeling that if people were going to be out for themselves and not care who they hurt to get what they wanted, then I might as well be in a place where that behavior was not only accepted, but up front, as opposed to some of the New York literary scene back then where there was the pretense of community but the envy and competitiveness was often so thick and heavy it sometimes felt like a shroud.
Anyway, I’ve been back East for several years now, and am old enough to not give a shit about any of that any more, and to realize that the spirit of community I was looking for among poets and other artists was often a reality and still is, if I can get my own ego out of the way. I dig almost everyone now, for who they are and what they do, with the occasional old resentment toward someone, usually in the poetry world, cropping up to take me by surprise now and then (after the reading the other day, having dinner with some younger poets, one of those resentments popped up and out of my mouth before I could stop it, and one of the younger poets said: “Wasn’t that like back in the 1970s?” and I realized it was probably before she was born and I certainly should have let go of it by now!).
But back to my point, at that earlier reading, I felt a sudden warmth flood my heart with love for the poets that were reading, and in the audience, and the entire community represented there, not just by the poets but also by the artists and musicians and actors in the audience, and others who just appreciated the work of these poets.
What occurred to me strongly in that moment was that all these people had individual quirks and eccentricities that most people would either try to suppress or be ostracized for, but among poets, and other artists, they could transform these traits into unique voices in their work and present that work with their equally unique personalities, that were an honest reflection of who they really are. And the poets did just that, seemingly with very little fear or self-consciousness, and even their nerves and self-consciousness was communicated as part of what made their poetry and their reading of it unique.
I’m not articulating that as well as I‘d like to (I should always write these things in the morning not the evening or night) but the feeling was one of, “Oh, of course, that’s why I always felt at home in this kind of poetry scene"—in this case downtown New York—because I too am a quirky character who is not ashamed of that or to express it in my work, and these are the people I can share that with, even when they have criticisms of the way I do it, or of who I seem to be projecting through the work, they still accept not only my “right” to do it, but understand the impulse, the necessity, for me, of doing it.
Does that make sense? At any rate, that’s why I always loved the incidental writing of poets and others, because it revealed that quirkiness, that unique voice and experience everyone has but so many get slapped out of them so young they forget how to express it or only feel comfortable expressing it through product preferences (sneakers, chain coffee—Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, etc.—or on the “art” side, favorite music, TV shows, etc.).
Most poets feel free to express their unique perspective, from their unique consciousness and experience, through their work, most obviously their poems, but more interestingly to me, through their diaries and journals and letters and other artistic expressions.
For instance a lot of poets, including me, seem comfortable making collages as a more tactile—and traditionally “modern”—way of making art. Nick Piombino in fact has one of his collages reproduced on the cover of FAIT ACCOMPLI, and a great piece of art it is, exactly the kind of thing I would buy and frame and stick on my wall if there were any more space to do that and if I had the money and if it were for sale.
FAIT ACCOMPLI is published by an interesting sounding group—Factory School—“a learning and production collective engaged in action research, multiple-media arts, publishing, and community service” (see factoryschool.org). It sounds like they dig the same kinds of things I do. I’ll have to check them out.
Meanwhile, thanks Nick for the book and for provoking these thoughts. Life sure is full of possibilities.
[PS: have since read the page that refers to me and it is highly flattering, but though some might think that infleunced the above, I wrote all that before I read what he had to say about me and would love this book even if he had trashed me in it!]