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Never Write a Poem about a Poem
None of us can say who will succeed, or even who has or who has not talent. The only certain thing about us is that we are too many.
--William Butler Yeats
Open mic night is simple: the first people to sign up are the first to read. I don't mind arriving early. I have a high tolerance for caffeine, and can sit for an hour drinking coffee before we start. About ten minutes before the read, I'll begin spicing my coffee with the bottle of Southern Comfort in my pocket. The café is crowded, but quiet. Sound-insulated walls work to give the place a stab at sophistication. The stools at the bar have posh felt padding. Most of them are stained. The clientele is changing. The business-dealers are moving out, and the part-time artists are moving in. Unlike the businessmen, they don't at all look alike, don't order the same coffees, but you can smell them after a while. Most carry manila envelopes. I don't like their odor. I move away from the bar, to a lacquered table and watch other people's cigarette smoke curl towards the ceiling fan. I listen to their chatter, half-awake. They don't much get along. We are indistinguishable. The café owner takes open mic night seriously. The woman laughing to fill the silence is warned away. We take our turns with the mic Like Onan, we spill our efforts at wisdom everywhere. We clap for one another, like golfers. We are highly variable: some of us shout, others whisper. Some are overdramatic. Some drink on stage. Some of us use cigarettes as props: Lucy started smoking for this very purpose. We all seek success accolades grants and awards fame As if any of us knew who won the Pulitzer last year, as if anyone outside this room cared. We announce ourselves with different styles and modes of dress searching for a bit of notoriety pursuing careers in a field that exists only in our imagination. We are washed-up movie stars that were never really popular but we move with a mission we develop the skills of self-promotion and exercise them on each other. We are philosophers, every one. We argue over technique as if we were discussing religion. We have our thesis statements: "Never write a poem about a poem." "Never rhyme without using meter." "Never write a second draft." "Never try to publish your first draft." "Write for yourself." "Write for your audience." "Avoid introspection." "Avoid the shallow." "Avoid the political." "Reject the emotional." We are certain and self-depreciating, violent towards one another. We have a caste system, based solely on charisma. The greatest among us are never on speaking terms. We are an insulated community, however, and we seek our friends and lovers from those surrounding us, members of the other castes. Well-versed in the psychology of metaphor, we learn much about each other from our readings, from Katz's Shakespearean references and Timothy's gutter slang. We watch Matt approach his issues with caution, sliding around to them, viewing them as dangerous. We hear Amber scream her inner thoughts, repeat them, discouraged by their distance from the language. Brenda hides her meaning in layers and layers of symbols, unwilling to permit us to glimpse what we already know. We ignore one another: the things shared in poetry have no bearing or place in everyday life. We conduct ourselves appropriately, our knowledge boiling under the surface, permitted to act only through our eyes. This we know: We talk and talk, and no one is listening. We are stubborn, inexhaustible. Unable to affect the world around us, graced with empathy, but not compassion, we vomit ourselves onto the page, leaving smear marks of our consciousness. We are mystics of a mundane world: left empty by the impotent religions of the modern era, we seek salvation through our own words. Overwrought, we act as missionaries and proselytites, hoping our poetry will do for others what it does not do for us. We are mirrors. We were forged by the society of mortals. We are obsessed with mortality. We stubbornly show each other what we would rather not see.
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