I’m a “poet bum”. (A term used by Patti Smith. I framed her promo photo sent to me by her mother, after she had called me in response to a letter my youngest daughter wrote to Patti, back in the mid nineties. A story I’ll get to some other time.) That’s all I am: a poet bum. I read, I write. I love literature. I love writing.
Emily Dickinson was a poet bum. She hid in her room. She wrote (give or take) two thousand poems, discovered after her death. Although she wrote letters to family and friends, and her correspondence often included a poem, no one realized she was a Great Poet. Up there with Shakespeare. Higginson told her she “wasn’t ready” to be published, yet corresponded with her the rest of her life after her first letter to him, was intrigued by her, went to visit her, and assisted in her posthumous publication. Different, unique, extraordinary. She dressed in white. Exclusively. Like a bride. Or a virgin. Or a saint. The “Queen of Calvary”. A recluse. Only one who refused to stand to demonstrate her desire to be “saved” during her year at Mount Holyoke. “The only kangaroo,” she said. She left school and never returned. A demure rebel. Poet bum.
Kerouac was a poet bum. Ginsberg. Rimbaud. Shelley. Bukowski. My literary heroes. I am not in their company. I only wish it. Dare say, aspire toward it.
I believe everything that happens was meant to be. Spirits move the world, not humans. We are spirits on an earth walk. I’ve heard it said that the spirit chooses every person it will encounter and every experience it will have on it’s earth walk. Still, here I live in this human world. A world of inane human absurdities and madness. This blog is my room, “a room of my own”.
I ran away from creative writing classes after my experience with a crazy bitch, who shall remain nameless. I said to myself, Fuck it. I wonder what became of this guy, one of my classmates? He was a thin, blond kid who looked like a Seattle grunge rock musician. Cobainish. He says, “She gave me a birthday present.” I said, “What?” “Yeah,” he said. He reached in his pocket and took out a small, wrapped box. “I’m afraid to open it,” he said. “Why?” I asked. Years later it dawned on me. But at the time it didn’t. “Because I’m afraid of what’s in it,” he said. “What do you think is in it?” I asked. He didn’t answer, just put the little box back in his pocket. Oh, man, it never occurred to me. Of course. I know why he was afraid to open it. A small square box that fit in his pocket.
Inappropriate, dumbass bitch said our project was to turn in a coloring book. A poetry writing class at a university. A coloring book? At the end of the semester, she brought in examples of what former students had turned in wherever it was she had taught. (She was there only for that semester. She was at the beginning of her “fame”.) The only example project I recall, how could I forget, was a pair of panties with some words printed on the crotch with a black marker. I don’t recall what words were there: Sorry boys you can’t come in? Come on in boys? Some “clever” shit, meant as some sort of feminist humor, I suppose. That might be “creative” in some other context, but it didn’t belong in that classroom. It certainly was not poetry. She giggled. She loved it. I was mortified. I thought it inane and inappropriate.
She thinks herself chingona (bad ass), but she isn’t. She’s chingada (dumb ass). Fuck her and her little books. (She didn’t deliberately write young adult books. It’s how they got classified for marketing.) I’d rather write more a la Kerouac, Bukowski, Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, or Richard Brautigan. My literary heroes. I also love Simon Ortiz. I don’t know Robert Boswell enough, but I loved his stories in The Heyday of Insensitive Bastards and his essays in The Half-Known World: on writing fiction. If I were teaching, I would have students read Half-Known World.
All writers, whether good, great, mediocre, or lousy, have ego. Big ego. Kerouac, as he sits atop a ten foot cliff at Big Sur, writing stream of consciousness lines, interpreting what the waves “speak”, wrote, “Writing down these fantastic inanities actually but yet I felt I had to do it because James Joyce wasnt (sic) about to do it now he was dead.” That amuses me. Yeah, that ego. That writer’s ego. I’m no different.
I want to increase my life as a writer. I want to be published. It isn’t something that mattered as much to me before. The writing mattered first, publishing was secondary. Now, publishing matters to me.
Here is a poem published in 1992 in Konch, Ishmael Reed’s magazine.
Will you will rise from the ground
like a flower, after you’re dead?
You worship nothing but space
and yourself, as if you were the sun
and God was your father, as if
you were an immaculate conception,
She spreads her legs and opens her mouth.
She comes on that white horse
in your dreams
while you nod.
Do you think you will rise
from the dead and walk among
the living? Will you float
among dead heroes?
I burn candles
and think of you.