Sometimes I want to run a mile from the A-list. This hasn’t always been the case. When I was young and impressionable, I was foolish enough to think that proximity to a ‘name’ conferred status. To have a well-known author provide a puff for a slim vol of mine seemed to affirm its unrecognized worth. To be able to tell the same author that I hung out with a great old ‘60s rocker at the gym made me think I was a guy who got around. Should I be forgiven? We all live in a world of semi- false values, and none of us created it. You have to swim in the same murky pool that I did. But every now and then we all hanker for a clear mountain stream - the authentic, the un-hyped.
Of course, just because a poet, painter or piano-player is famous doesn’t mean he’s not authentic. Equally, just because you are ‘nobody’, doesn’t mean that your work isn’t worth paying attention to. When I was the new kid in town, a wise woman told me, ‘You can learn as much from bad art as from good.’ What you need is a place where all can be heard and applauded, or allowed to slip softly away – a free space where reaction is generous and encouragement light, so that anyone known or obscure can stand up and recite what he wants, original, ancient, foreign, native; where she can come and express what she is, if only for a precious five minutes. Warhol’s Factory flew on celebrity-chasing. We’re not against celebrities – it’s not their fault – but we hardly depend on ’em.
Take a recent Friday evening. Steven, once resident at Shakespeare & Company, recites from his work-in-progress ‘The Banfag Stag’. Susan and American Robert offer original poems of their own; then Joseph plays flamenco while his actress friend Phoebe looks on. (She once recited a whole speech from Troilus and Cressida – or was itVenus and Adonis?) The next week Steven returns with an ironic tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, while Polly and Peter read prose, both from new work just published. Charlotte is persuaded to recite a lyric by HD, Ezra Pound’s girlfriend in teenage, and Chris and I respond with an ode to a butterfly by his granddaughter (Pound’s), Patrizia de Rachewiltz, Chris first in English, me then in her lovely (and my bad) Italian. This is the way. Matthew recalls a piece by Don Patterson, making no bones about forgetting two lines, and Hannah, who has never performed in public before, reads Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember Me’ in memoriam to her late mother.
We have no compunction about hearts on a sleeve. In a free space joy and grief may be twins. Bonding is formed between folks who have never met before: Russian, German, Australian, Chinese. Italian is not the only foreign language to be heard; poems, passages from plays and prose arrive in French or even to music. On the most recent Friday we missed Gregory ending the night with his rendition of ‘Great Balls of Fire’. But guitar or piano often patters subliminally behind recitations - Erik behind his bel amie Annie, or lissome Angelique or on occasion Cary, our resident poete maudite crossed with Ginsberg. He can roll out Joycean words to a blues beat or declaim a capella in the manner of ‘Howl’. This is fun time, the bar not set so high that it can’t be reached by a first timer once she or he has downed a couple of tender Sophie’s espresso martinis. The Society Club on Friday… a friends’ meeting house for aspirant literati. Jabberwalk to it. Perform and enjoy.