Heebie Jeebies

I don’t hear voices
But sometimes when it’s quiet
I hear faint swing jazz

A radio plays
Benny Goodman and Chick Webb
In another room

A haunting refrain
A particular madness
I don’t hear voices

heebiejeebies

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Charges

I wandered back to
the shop, gunpowder
and cement dust in
my hair, ’grabbed a cup
of burnt coffee and
listened to old Ben
Greenwood jaw a while.

He was tomcattin’
with some poor fool’s wife
in Meridian,
Mississippi, back
in the tarpapered
days of roadhouses
built on dirt levees.

I listened awhile
and nodded in all
the right places then
left him still talking
to grab cartridges.
Green ones have the punch
of a .22.

McElroy, he had
a partner in ’Nam
who would collect ears,
which didn’t bother
Mac till after work when
his wine would whisper
how fucked-up that is.

Acceptance is part
of pressing a gun
up against a rock
wall and pulling the
trigger. Sometimes nails
hit buried rebar
and come shooting back.

Or a big charge can
shatter the concrete
like a bomb. Most times,
however, they stick
in the rock like an
exclamation point.
Or a memory.

The Information Age

Doggerel pervades
As data on the screen
Streak like abstract raindrops
A flat approximation
Of the raging storm outside

Amused by our own reflection
We Twitter our organs
And mouth blackboard profanities
Deliberately designed to distract
The passive population

It’s time to conjure the critic!
A single dissonant note
Conspires against the meme
Overrides faulty logics
This is the price of personhood

Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Poetry as Insurgent Art

If any man alive can be still held responsible for the Beat movement and/or the poetry renaissance of the ’50s and ’60s, it is San Francisco poet and City Lights Booksellers & Publishers co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He was there from the very beginning, helping to create a scene in the Italian North Beach neighborhood that reverberates to this day.

It was the publishing arm of City Lights that propelled East Coast writers such as Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso, as well as San Franciscans like Kenneth Rexroth and Ferlinghetti himself, into the national spotlight. The landmark Howl obscenity trial, sparked after San Francisco police seized the City Lights paperback, won more notoriety for what Ginsburg, et al, were up to than any lame spot-the-beatnik tours could have ever brought to bear.

The bibliographical note to this slim volume, Ferlinghetti’s own Ars Poetica, marks it as an on-going work in progress starting as a KPFA broadcast in the late ’50s. The main body of Poetry as Insurgent Art reads almost like a collection of daily affirmations, ranging from practical advice to writers—If you call yourself a poet, don’t just sit there. Poetry is not a sedentary occupation, not a “take your seat” practice. Stand up and let them have it—to more philosophical and sensual musings such as—Be a dark barker before the tents of existence—and—Instead of trying to escape reality, plunge into the flesh of the world.

Some of Ferlinghetti’s aphorisms seem antithetical to a movement that worshiped the idea of Jack Kerouac spontaneously writing On the Road on a continuous roll of teletype paper. Advice like—Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking. First thought may be worst thought—seems to place him outside of the spur-of-the-moment crowd.

Of course, Ferlinghetti always argued that he was never a “Beat,” but was rather a bohemian, sort of a proto-Beat, if you will. In her 2004 book, Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, Laren Stover breaks down the evolution of bohemianism into five branches: Nouveau, Gypsy, Beat, Zen, and Dandy, any number and combination of which can still be found slouching around the City wherever hipsters congregate, leading to possibly my favorite of his bits of wisdom—Stash your sell-phone and be here now.

The book veers into more abstract attempts to answer the burning question of What is Poetry? some of which bear the brand of the modern world, such as—Poems are e-mails from the unknown beyond cyberspace. ’Erm, … why do I get the feeling that one may not make the cut in a future edition? Others are timeless—It is private solitude made public—psychedelic—Poetry is Van Gogh’s ear echoing with all the blood of the world—religious—It is the street talk of angels and devils—It is made by dissolving halos in oceans of sound—and political—The idea of poetry as an arm of class war disturbs the sleep of those who do not wish to be disturbed in the pursuit of happiness.

It takes him a while to get around to it, but toward the end of the book lies possibly the best definition of poetry I have ever read—Poetry is making something out of nothing, and it can be about nothing and still mean something. Ferlinghetti certainly knows what he’s talking about, and we’re truly lucky to still have him around.

All the Way to the Bank, Laughing

She gets a text while sitting across from me
Her device buzzes like a doorbell and demands
“Ask him if he’s hungry enough to be a poet”
Am I willing to commit to the last, best hope?

That’s what we are going to address …

While anointed apostles, solemn and monkish on the outside
Are spiritually saturated with triviality?
Is it not obvious by now that in secret moments
They are dreaming of ravishing magnificent pumpkins?

We can discuss whether or not I’ve got the juice …

But to our right, there is an army of bleach-haired women
Scheming behind a six-foot wall of shrill dissonance
Their deadened eyes reflect the same old news
While hidden from the live-stream, a fire creeps across the horizon

Why not ask if I’m hungry enough …

To boil an oil oligarch while achieving viral visibility?
Or to cook the books to mine own liking—pink in the middle and a little crispy?
Without this rapacity, I would be busy dancing
And following the scent of burning money

All the way to the bank, laughing