The whole thing started in a moment of inspiration, and accident. It was back in a time when i had deep community, and all the fantastic inspirations that come with that. I was just generally took those inspiration for granted, and didn't really act to realize them. Wasn't real keen on follow through. The truth was that I often found adequate alleviation in conversation. So I tended to express what could otherwise have been poetry, or story, or performance, in having great conversation with people; or dance.
On this particular night, however, I did write a poem. It was in October or November, not sure which, but I know it was a bit after Burning Man and a shot before New Year Eve. I was at the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado and the Motet had just finished a great funky show. The backstage was thick with good friends celebrating full throttle, and I was feeling it.
I was feeling the love, but more particularly I was feeling that heightened sensation of my fluid body, of the juicy business of life alive and wanting to be born in words. So in the middle of this party I grab a pad and pen and hear someone say, "Sitting on a Rainbow", so made that the first line and as I started writing, I felt a sudden surge of euphoria. I remember having to fight my tendency to go social, or just bask in the light, to keep my pen going. The poem was already there; I could feel it loud and clear. I just had to write it down. So did so.
When I was done I looked up and saw the lovely, charming and gorgeous, Karen Seade, sitting on a couch. I went and sat next to her and said, "Karen, I wrote a poem for you.", and read her the poem. When I was done she quick, snatched it out of my hand and read it to herself while her friend read it over her shoulder. When they were done her friend asked me, with the sweetest smile, if I could write one for her. I did.
I wrote four woman poems that night, and was high on it for weeks.
Here is the poem that started this whole thing.
The following year, at Burning Man, I gave it the title, Temple Of Joy
TEMPLE OF JOY
Sitting on a rainbow
and the doves fly out of my head
a gray tickle wind
a laugh and a mighty
and angels did awe
to see such joy
as the belly took off
with the moon
fire of sight
eyes of the sky
breathe in the light
and never to die
Post-show photo in front of Bill Graham Civic Center, San Francisco. That's quite a crew of super freaks, including John Barlow (center, silver top hat), Micheal Kang (above him to the right lookin all pucker lipped), Micheal Travis (top row, third from the left). I'm looking down (second row, second from the left)
Several weeks later I went to San Francisco to see the String Cheese Incident play on New Years Eve. To help get into character I took 18 index cards and cut them in half. I decorated one side of the cards with ink stamps, and on the other side I left 18 of them blanks, while the remaining 18 I wrote a joke or quote. I wore a top hat, and placed the cards inside the hat. When I had occasion to dispense the love, I would bow to the recipient and remove my hat, and ask the person to pick a card. If they picked a blank card I wrote them a poem.
That was an off the charts night on many levels. But what made it so special for me, was the feeling that came with having composed 19 poems (18 cards plus one on a pad) in a very loose and compromised state of mind. It gave me a greater appreciation for myself as a fun loving freak of beauty.
The only poem that survives that night was the one I wrote for an old friend, Amy. I will tell you the story because it is one of Poetic Justice, and lead me to meet one of my core heroes, John Barlow (former lyricist for the Grateful Dead)
This one was also backstage situation, but this time at the Bill Graham Civic Center. Where Amy pick a blank card. So I said, "You picked a blank card Amy, and I'm glad you did because that means I get to write a poem for you". Then I explained to her how the ritual worked. That she needed to stay close while I wrote, that I would then read it to her and then she could keep it. A very simple and sensible ritual I thought.
I want to let you know that I also had this amazing confetti, it sparkled and had a lazy float. I would hand people their poem and arch a bow of confetti over us; which usually ended in big hugs.
So right as I start writing Amy's poem, it flashes like a flood and I can feel the whole poem, I just had to write it down. That's an exhilarating recognition to have, so I looked up just to smile a bright knowing smile at her, and noticed she was gone.
So I finished the poem, then scan the room, which was a few thousand square feet, and spot her standing among some people. I walked straight up to her and held out the poem, saying, "Amy, you didn't play fair." Then notice that it was a sweet circle of about eight people or so, including Billy (one of the bands front men), who was fresh off the stage from having just played the best show of his life, and I just sort of barged in on their tender moment afterglow. I suddenly felt like a rouge bowling ball and in my embarrassment tried to crack a joke to smooth it over, but...the pins basically had already fallen. Their moment interrupted, the circle broke up and got reabsorbed by the party, leaving me and Amy standing there.
I said, "Can I read you your poem now?"
So read her the poem.
So oh the tide
and they do fall
a living disaster
a heart throb
on a knee
all to alight
the sweetest delight
on your sleeve
An unusal thing occured between me and Amy: we would sometimes embrace, usually upon goodbye, and we both would weep. It would surprise me because it seemed to come from no where, and we would just hold each other.
But in this particular moment, she was annoyed with me for ruining her moment of circle love for Billy. So when I was finished reading this poem, she took it and said, quiet snidely, "Oh thank you. I'll cherish it forever.", and slipped it under the thin strap of her dress.
I was so dejected.
Backstage at the Bill Graham Civic Center.
That's me with the top hat, back row.
The rest of these freaks are String Cheese Family all stars.
Later, as I was leaving the venue, I recognized one of my ink stamped cards on the floor. I swiped it up to find it was the poem I'd written for Amy.
I put it in my pocket and went to the hotel, where I walked into party packed with soul family. I on the bed, where there were various people sitting on the edge or laying down, and rested my head next to a dear friend, Suzanna, and lift up my shirt to reveal her red, orange, and yellow boa tied around my waist (I had found it in the venue). Well she, and several others, were just absolutely astonished by this.
As it turns out, I walked into to a collision of serendipity that unfolded like this:
Amy had just mentioned that she had lost one of her ear rings, when someone else on the bed looked at the one hanging on her ear, and said, "Oh I have it!". Apparently she found it on the floor in the venue and just grabbed it because...
So in the excitement of the extraordinary unlikelihood of this return, Suzanna says,
"Oh I wish I had my boa",
then, with TV show timing, I walk in.
With that I jump off the bed, took my hat off and slipped the poem into my hat and said,
"Amy. Pick a card"
She pulls it out and goes wide eyed with glee.
Amy then explains the situation to everyone and reads the poem out loud to the audience of, among others, String Cheese members Kang, and Travis, and...John Barlow.
That was a significant moment: to be recognized by people who have touched and inspired me to the core. Particularly John Barlow. He, along with Robert Hunter, are the core of my poetic inspiration. I can not overstate that. The influence the Grateful Dead had on me is profound. Everything I do is an echo of that inspiration. To have been introduced to Barlow in this way was a great blessing.
The next morning when I woke up, I rolled over and on the floor next to my bed was my top hat, sitting upside down, with sparkles of confetti, and the one card left, lying words up, YOUR A FUCKING GENIUS.
A gorgeous image to wake up the year. It was a token of magic just for me, having done my job well.
I wrote that on the card because it's true, no matter who picks it. We're all are fucking geniuses, usually in ways totally unique to our individuality. In that moment I truly felt it. I found and lived into my fucking genius.
THE OLD SCHOOL REVUE
Beginning this Thursday, January 28th, at 8pm, I will be hosting a monthly variety show on the last Thursday of every month, in the Gallery at PS 109,
215 E 99th Street
This month's lineup:
Jason Kanter is bringing stand up comedy
Spencer L Stephens will sing some songs
Papo Melendez will give us poetry Greg Accetta is showing some short film clips
Artikur Abdul will show and tell some of his artwork
Malgorzata Staniszewska will sing
If you're in New York, stop by.
We are also looking for people who would like to perform, or participate in any capacity you'd like. All help and suggestions are welcome.
I'm using the halls of my building to start telling the story of The Poem Life in photos and text. This is the beginning of a coffee table book.
ART OPENING, MAY 3rd
On May 3rd, my 52nd birthday, I'm opening a show of photos, text, video, maybe some audio, in the gallery of my building, Artspace PS 109. This show will tell the full arch of The Poem Life, starting in autumn of 2001 to now.
I'm now using the walls outside my studio to figure out how to tell this story. My archives have over two thousand photos of people holding poems, a few hours of video, and a bunch of audio, to sift through.