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On 3 Poets Reading at City Lights

Updated on November 1, 2011
Wall in poetry room at City Lights bookstore
Wall in poetry room at City Lights bookstore

On Three Poets Reading at City Lights is a poem that I wrote shortly after attending a poetry reading at the well-known San Francisco bookstore. A few days had passed and the reading was still in my mind so I knew I had to write about it to let it out!

On 3 Poets Reading at City Lights

The beat and the breath converge

In this musty room layered with history

Where eager college freshman father

Hardly noticing the flecks of skin from poets past

That they inhale while they listen

Three poets share space

And breath


Love and sex and theories

Passion and commitment and drama

Stage fright and a love of theatrics

First the MFA student

Freshly voicing intricate webs of woe

Promoting work that she has not enslaved herself to

And yet has become shackled by

She will grow to loathe all that she has written in this thesis

She does not know this yet

And so smiles demurely at the applause

At 30 I am not young enough to believe in her work

Not that I don’t appreciate the effort

But that I recognize the artifice

It is not a package of passionate outpouring perfected into precise poetry

It is words spilled on a deadline and sliced with a red pen

Words driven by caffeination

And edited by the calendar

There is nothing wrong with this way of crafting

But I miss the magic of believing in timeless art

College freshman surround me in the dusty space

Spandex and latex and tussled headbanded hair

Bright eyes lined heavily with hopefulness barely hidden beneath faux angst

I want to HOWL

Middle aged modern poet woman proceeds the student

Graying hair and crinkled eyes

A dramatic improvised reading straight out of the seventies

She is mismatched to the era

And it bothers me that I am closer in age to her than to the student

But you can hear the Beat in her breath

And I feel it in my heart

Ferlinghetti falls from the wall

The restless student who caused the cascade smiles uncomfortably

Eyes turn away from the breathing poet

Who powers on until breathless

At 30 I know that she struggles to pay her bills

That she lives in too much isolation

That she sacrifices to live a poetic life

That she fights to maintain balance

That she writes to stay sane

The best poets of the Beat past were Madmen

At 18 you can idealize madness

Inhale cigarette smoke and believe that cancer is a curse that

Infuses life with magic tragedy

The insides of madhouses and jails seem but a price to pay

For decadence, for art, for truly feeling real

The truth is that insanity is boring from the inside out

And working poets are the woman who exercises creative madness

In between watering her plants and feeding her cats

And calling the plumber when she can’t fix her own leaks

Madmen drown in flooded houses

And there is nothing poetic about the mess

The college freshmen giggle at the awkward reading

And get excited when the glittery eyed headliner heads to the podium

Too-long black lashes curl painfully

Against snow white soft skin

A contradiction in action

Spider legs on pale roses

This stunning sex kitten captures the attention of college freshmen

And captivates me at 30

In her long flag of a dress

With her pouty crimson lips

Reading her film and fashion writing from the heart

She embodies all that writing really is

It is insecurity in drag

It is poems instead of fiction

It is biography and autobiography in one

She suggests we wear our poems like vintage outfits

Treasured for their link to the past

And valued for their expression of personality

I admire her for that

College students squeal at her eroticized political poetry

I moan inwardly at this mutual masturbation

Ultimately the beat has always been about sex

Boundaries traversed on geography and bodies

Borders bleeding into one another

I may not like the whole package but I feel the passion in the packaging

I am not 18

I am not 30

I am just a poet


Submit a Comment
  • WannaB Writer profile image

    Barbara Radisavljevic 

    7 years ago from Templeton, CA

    I loved it. I especially like

    "It is words spilled on a deadline and sliced with a red pen

    Words driven by caffeination

    And edited by the calendar."

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I enjoyed reading your poem. You brought your evening at City Lights alive with words. I wish I could do that. Rated up and beautiful!


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