Then went to meet my friend Marietta at The Annual New Year's Day Marathon Poetry Reading at St. Mark's Church. I didn't last the whole time but did put in 5 1/2 hours, which miraculously went by quickly. I probably could have stayed for more but when looking at returning home really late, I decided it was best to leave when I did, especially as Marietta and her partner had already left an hour and a half earlier.
Some of what I did see and hear from people both obscure and famous was truly wonderful. Some standouts you may not have heard of before included Peter Gizzi, Monica de la Torre, Wayne Koestenbaum, Pamela Sneed, Mark Novac, Daniel Kent, Pamela Sneed and John S. Hall who is kind of a genius (and funny). I cannot possibly describe the poem he wrote, because if I did so, it would be a disservice and make it sound way less interesting than it was. Many of the poems referenced Occupy Wall Street either overtly or associatively. The crowd at St. Marks is as political as it is poetic, a kind of spiritual continuation of the Allen Ginsburg East Village legacy...
The more well-known people who read included Penny Arcade, who was spectacular and whose narrative poem included a recitation of a description of the many letters she wrote to men when she was a young woman, which included pining after the man in question (most of whom she could not remember) in which she was accepting them and their quirks and attempting to explain her own. She ended with a story about talking to a woman in Turkey last year who was surprised that she was traveling alone as an older woman. One line, which summarizes my own feelings right now, was "I'm not afraid to be alone as an older woman because I was afraid to be alone when I was young." I loved that.
There was a woman destroying a large cardboard box to loud music when I arrived, a perfect introduction to the day. I was 2 hours late, because I knew it went on for many hours, and wanted to do my own writing. What I encountered when I walked into the church was astonishing - a very large space packed with people listening to a marathon poetry reading - a room that got more and more packed as the hours wore on. And I mean it goes from 3pm to 2am or so. The vibe was very friendly and relaxed and the famous mingled with the less famous with ease, which was lovely. I joined Marietta on the carpeted step/seat things, squishing in front of and behind some folks.
This is an event I've always wanted to attend but never managed to make it there before...I think it will stay on the dance card now.
The more famous people included Jonas Mekas, the wonderful Czech avant-garde film-maker. He read something from his 1960s journal about Peter Orlovsky, because he died this year. I got some video of it, which I will add here. The sound quality is not great, but it's lovely to see him, even if faintly. He is very old, so one of the reasons I did use my phone as video camera had to do with realizing it wasn't a sure thing that I'd ever see him live again.
I also saw my current idol (again) Patti Smith. She premiered her poetry/music with Lenny Kaye at St Marks Poetry Project in 1971, so the resonance is quite extraordinary. Below is some video of her singing a song called Gratitude, which came after a poem I did not record properly but was in reference to Occupy Wall Street. Lenny Kaye also played, a lovely gentle song - it makes me laugh in a good way that these folks who were rocking so hard in the 70s now play these gentle, soulful songs. It feels like a natural progression not like a sell-out of any kind. It's actually kinda sweet. In the video recording the loud laugh is mine - apologies in advance for this. It's really loud...
What I love about Patti Smith - and am reminded of it every time I see her live, is her sheer humanity on stage - it's so refreshing to see someone at ease enough with herself to admit mistakes and laugh at herself. I'm a total sucker for that kind of presence...
Here's a bit of the poem:
And here's the song with prequel:
There were little kids all over the place, too, being allowed to run around. No one minded, they were smiled at a lot and picked up and played with.
Oh, and I almost forgot - and how could I - there was John Giorno, now 75, reciting a poem he wrote when 70 called 'Thanks for Nothing,' which was the usual Giorno brilliance - hilarious, sad, incantation - political, poetic, queer, glorious.
So that's how I spent my New Year's Day. Not bad.
I even did what I planned to do but thought I would chicken out on, namely, giving Patti Smith a copy of the poem I wrote for her when I was 23, along with the cut-up text of Future Worlds - Tricorn Init!, because the last time I saw here was in London at her curation of the Meltdown at Royal Festival Hall, which included a tribute to William Burroughs.
Speaking of which, the scene tonight was lovely in its respect for its elders - a lot of references to the departed, such as Ginsburg, Orlovsky, Burroughs and many others. There were a lot of older folks in the audience and younger folks, too. Marietta's partner told me he'd been coming for many years and that it only gets better. Isn't that nice to hear? That something gets Better....
Lots of predictions for 2012 (Year of the Dragon) being quite the year - lots of hopes for Occupy movements, a sense of revolution in the air, which I haven't seen in a long, long time. Is it real? Time will tell, but there was another amazing poet, Poez, who said he was also a lawyer who worked defending the Occupy folks who get sent to jail. He said when he was speaking to them through bars in the middle of the night, he felt a power coming from them that he did not think was coming through via the press. He sounded quite impressed, even awed by this. It sounds to me like I've always imagined the Civil Rights leaders and marchers must have seemed like to those who knew them. This is exciting. And accords with what I am seeing - something that is sustainable and is not going away - people who don't feel it's even possible to turn back.
Another famous person who read was Suzanne Vega. She read a startling poem/lyric about her character Luca, the abused boy that shows up in her earlier music, as an older man. It was spare, sad and quietly brilliant, like she is.
This was just a special night. The more I'm writing about it now, the more I wish I'd stayed until the end...ah well, next time.
On the other hand, I did have the feeling all night that we in the US do not honor our poets enough. So many of these people have jobs unrelated to their primary work and are not as well-known as they should be. I felt the lack of support in general, perhaps because of reading Chris Goode's blog mentioned in the last post detailing the work he is doing, and knowing it is being supported financially in a way that it would not be here. That makes me sad.
Also alternately battling and allowing pervasive sense of loneliness today. Then feeling really happy to be at this event and with friends. However, I have a feeling this loneliness I just have to walk through - it feels like some kind of last frontier for me - the fear of loneliness being what I think has driven all of my codependent behavior and stupid choices. The fact I stayed after Marietta left amazes me. I was OK sitting alone, at least for a while. That's why the Penny Arcade piece meant so much.
Then I made the move to the back room where the books and food was being sold so I could give the poem/writing to Patti Smith. I stood around until there was a moment to hand it to her when she wasn't in conversation with other people. She was quite gracious, though she also looked very tired (she is 65 and just played 3 concerts including a New Year's Eve concert, so like, that's not surprising), and said thank you. All I could stammer was 'Thank you for being you' and then just stood there after she walked out of the room feeling both proud of my boldness and quivering a bit because that kind of exchange scares the living crap out of me. I stared at my ever useful smart phone as if it mattered, then went to the bathroom.
That was as much courage as I could muster and I left, wishing who I knew to call about what I had done but not being sure, called no one except to leave a message on one friend's voicemail. This made me sad but I don't think it means I have no friends, just that there are certain times (and times of night) when I'm not sure who to call. I also go through this battle with myself about whether I should call anyone anyway and why can't I be my own witness, etc. So instead you all get to hear about it.
Happy New Year! May it bring us all great joy.