to be read in "old man" voice
Back in the early 90s I met two poets about taking over their reading series in the East Village. Was it an interview? I'm still not sure. Things looked that way. The poets introduced me to the bar owner. We talked about line-ups. Late in the meeting one poet, the man, said they "hated poets who revealed too much about their lives." He cringed as he mentioned things like "bodily functions" and "confessional poets who curse a lot." I played dumb and thought about how I think of my life as a series of bodily functions and curses. "You know, like S.," the other poet, the woman, offered. "Well," I said, "S. was my teacher and I adore her work." (I said words like "adore" a lot when I lived in New York.) I said this without thinking. (I said a lot of things without thinking when I lived in New York.) The poets backtracked, apologized and I held my ground. (I was younger then, perhaps more eager to stick up for myself.) They didn't mean to put down my aesthetic, the poets said, stammering, meaning exactly that. Now it's twenty years later. I hadn't looked up their names in years. One went to Iowa for graduate school, which he thought was a big deal. He had a book out a couple years ago. His poems make no sense to me. His family has suffered, experienced losses, and so now I know he was covering everything up. The other had a podcast about fancy make-up and doesn't write poems anymore. I didn't take over the series.
This was the late 90s. The poet I was about to read with asked me to read first, and I said sure, fine, I don't care. Then he asked me to keep my reading on the short side, since he had a new book and I did not. "That makes me the headliner," he said. I said sure, fine, whatever. I got a drink at the bar. Then the poet asks me to not be too dirty, since his family was there. He pointed out to the crowd where his grandmother sat, and we both waved. I said fine, sure. But then I panicked. But, all my poems are dirty, I thought. Just before our reading, the poet said to me "I like your work a lot—it's very mainstream." I gave him a confused look, and he said, as if to clarify, "Oh, I just meant to say that your poems are funny." As it happened I was writing a new poem in my notebook, which I decided to debut that evening, a poem about a man with the biggest penis in the world, how his pants have to be tailored for him, how he works at an Off Track Betting place, where he sits on this big stool that creaks. He takes bets on races from all over the world. There were other lines I sort of remember, like how the man's super-large penis causes him to lose jobs, how he is forced to live alone and forage for his food, how he can't even kneel and pray in church. His grandmother told me she liked the poem, which I entitled "Poem," just to be generic, but I should have called it "Poem for Poet Who Just Asked Me to Read First, Keep It Short, and Don't Read Anything Dirty Because His Family Was There." This all happened in Chicago. The headliner poet lived six blocks away from the bar. I'd paid for my own flight, of course, because poets always pay in the end.