Saturday, November 2, 2013

Two views of a one-time SoCal Poetry Icon.

Someone who I won't mention by name here (don't like the person, but sometimes appreciate his columns/essays) wrote the following about someone else who used to be a Very Big Deal in Southern California poetry during the first four to five years I was involved with The Scene.  Name and certain details redacted:
[Poet] was in rare form, and the crowd ate him up. What I like about [poet] is that you can drop him in front of just about any room, and he's fine ... even that night, when a heavy metal band upstairs was drowning out half of everything. (Not sure was up with that. [venue] doesn't usually book bands upstairs on Mondays. Odd.)

Anyway, it was good to see [poet], and great to see him having a blast on that stage. Like I said, the crowd there adored him, and he was just letting loose and flying, climbing furniture and shouting (although, as I said, that was partly out of necessity.) Not sure I would have reprised the poem [signature poem title omitted] in the 2nd half, but eh. Whatever. The crowd was buying what he was selling, and I have to say, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed him till he turned up. I get that a lot, actually.

My view of [poet] during the time I was on the outer edge of his orbit:
[Poet] once described himself and his craft as like "folk music" in a world where slam could be compared to rock and roll.  And I'll agree with the above writer that [poet] when he was "on" was an enthusiastic venue host expert at working a room.  The poetry of [poet] leaned towards storytelling for the most part (in my opinion, where it best played to his strengths), though it became more consciously "artistic" when he began courting the favors of the Artistic Leaders in the SoCal Community around the years 2001-2002.

This will sound small to some people who know and still unconditionally love [poet], and I don't care if it does.  [Poet] never thought I was good enough to feature at his-and-hosting-partner's venues (when it seemed like to do so was akin to a 70s/80s-era stand-up comic being asked by Johnny Carson to sit in the honored Guest's Chair) in those early years, although other places in LA/OC had no problem giving me featured bookings--which, in retrospect, made up for being slighted (especially since there were more opportunites and venues back then).  Perhaps it hurt me that I wasn't writing enough progressive-tinged poems, instead doing humorous pieces about office workers and--gasp!--poems about Hollywood.

And, to be honest, I witnessed (plus hearing stories of) [poet] being really small and mean and petty to some members of the community who were outcasts (for one reason or another) not liked by the Scene in general.  The seminal moment I became disenchanted with [poet] was a night in late 2000 at a Latin-American restaurant in a Hollywood-adjacent area.  [Poet] was forced by restaurant owner to cut the reading short; [poet] didn't explain this to audience, but promised rainchecks for the remaining open readers the following week.  Unfortunately, an Outcast Poet picked that moment to chastise [poet] for cutting the reading short.  [Poet] handled it in a bad way--screaming at Outcast Poet until an acolyte of [poet] came to hustle Outcast Poet away.

Perhaps the darker, jerkier, sanctimonious side of [poet] is why I've spoken my mind over the past decade (sometimes unwisely, at other times ready to risk misunderstanding/hatred for not being passive and careerist when I see prominent poets abusing their prominence/Brand Names at the expense of others they can afford to trample on).

In any event, I'm glad [poet] is on one coast and I'm on the other.

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