Memories of the Brighton Bar poetry night.
I arrived with a rose and left with a “Fuck you, Glory.”
Back in the old Thunderbird days, when we’d wangled a reading at the hole-in-the-wall on Main St. in Asbury Park, I would bring in a bale of roses for the poets, and a satchel of water-pistols for the audience. It seemed to me to be an unambiguous echo of how events usually unfolded. Purveyors of beauty were skewered, mocked and wetted. The audience eventually had the roses thrown at it by the poets–their only act of self-defense.
Tonight, at the Brighton, same thing. Only this time, the whole of the audience were poets. And it was as an audience member that I was selected and skewered on the communal kebab.
Now, this venue, and its master of ceremonies, Jacko Monahan, have their own tradition. The compact between chorus and Oedipus is a pleasingly peculiar institution that the blue coats of new talent annoyingly intervene to emancipate into a world of decorous dullness every few months. The previous month, a new cadre of wordsmiths had arrived, cliquish and wicked, from the slam poetry circuit…. Where all is revealed by the poet ransacking her real life–all, that is, except her own prejudices and preconceptions. Oh what I wouldn’t give for one of these menstrual mantras or prick proclamations to begin with a self-withering “I am a bigot!”
But, back to the Brighton’s traditions. It really is more like a rabble of groundlings than anything else. And a passionate rabble at that. “What do you stand for?” might be a typical opening line in the free exchange of ideas and Jack Daniels. “What’s it to ya?” might be a typical rejoinder. And then, what fireworks! People would reference lines they had heard recited that night, or obscure passages of Coleridgean Errata with equal ease. And always, always, with a passionate engagement. Some had a certitude of their divine rightness, while others had a more questioning and questing attitude in their searching conversation. What a lively time!
To those unused to this energetic exchange, such freedom seemed like an assault on their preciously prepared postures. And, looking back, perhaps it was. You had to really have some conviction behind your posture to pull it off; if you were instead using your posture to support or protect yourself from contact, scrutiny, or understanding–watch out! Audience members would often remark on a poem-in-progress as it was being delivered from the stage. These remarks often constituted part of a theme or meme that had been developing from some incident of the evening, creating a cri de coeur of the tribe, a communal poem of rudeness, rarity, and fun.
I am myself, I will admit, one such voice fluttering out of the dark toward the dawning of a conversation, a new co- created moment in the stage halogen’s jarring white, rather than simply be the victim of a whimping, limping delivery of a diatribe from the unstormed castle of the footlights. In fact, the only accurate award I have ever received was at last season’s “Anti-Awards Show Show,” curated by Professor Vile, but voted on by all, where I tied the artist, guitar-smasher punk, and bon vivant Ken Bastard for “Best Heckler.”
A new, tall poet was on stage, confessing her sins and damning her lovers. She’d been a few times now to the rugged arena of the Brighton, and had been liberally dosed (or douched), certainly by me, with the God-awful gospel of “the truth as I see it.” Her poems, to me, have such a great zing of poetic perspective, deep sensibility and feeling… occurring within the amusement park of standard confessional / slam poetry. She was using this format to get to and explore, or reveal a vein of sincere poetic feeling–pure feeling without judgment or conclusion. Posture had become its own parable in the best of her work. I felt encouraged to contribute from my paltry barstool.
What exactly I said, at this remove in time and space, only an Einstein could reconstruct. But my fellow campaigners in the crowded night squawked, I feel sure, their meaty amusement. As when young, dovey Rachel Weeks, no more than two, bunched her face up like a fist and pointed imperiously her out-flung finger and reprimanded her father with a hearty “Turkey you, Daddy,” the poetess on stage, a Jessie Smith (who’s grainy seaside wedding I just attended a few weeks ago (ten years on from this incident)), squinted out into the dark of the audience with a chuckling, but firm, “Fuck you, Glory.” And so we see that there is no end to our yearning to be let alone, just as there is no beginning to defiance besides birth, into which we are all “untimely ripped”–debouched ineluctably into this circus of our struggles.