[I'm in transit, on a 15 hour burn to Phoenix. The bus, as far as L.A. anyway, is the first bus outfitted with electric outlets and WiFi since St. Louis. Thank GAWD. Sometimes, Dear Reader, the universe is kind. Take care to keep that in mind, even when it's not.]
Corso. I taught Corso in writing workshops at the drug and alcohol rehab at the Cincinnati VA. Those crusty old bastards ate him up. Couldn't get enough.
The rocking chair looked entirely too comfortable not to sit in. Those old rocking chairs are like that; they get some wear and tear. Some love, some care. They take on a character and a personality all of their own; they can become a defining factor in any space they inhabit or any space they are removed from. That it was labeled -- perhaps sardonically -- "Poet's Chair" added to the look, but didn't scare me off. My feet were starting to scream from inside my boots and a few minutes repose with a little bit of poetry seemed in order to me.
And besides, I thought. If there's some stupid rule about not sitting in the chair unless your Ferlinghetti -- perish the un-egalitarian thought, but hell, it's his shop he can piss in the non-fiction section if he wants to -- then it was a good start to achieving my goal.
I chose a collection by Auden -- As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse -- and flipped through to "Letter to Lord Byron, Part 1." Auden is one of those poets I came to only maybe in the last 10 years or so. Formal, disarmingly and deceptively light, he gets passed over often. It probably helps that he's not only a Brit, but something of a Socialist... and since we don't even like to read our OWN Reds, Ballad, let alone those from across the pond, Auden is continually ignored in a culture that prefers to ignore homegrown poets regardless of their politics.
Such a funny poem. The speaker is a young poet, writing contemporarily, to Byron. And since Byron is, of course, long dead, the speaker is able to imbue the Romantic Bard with all sorts of characteristics... including making him a bosom buddy: someone with whom the speaker can relate, pontificate, and try out his ideas on.
In short, Byron is in artist's hell.
While I was sitting there, reading, resting my feet, enjoying a cozy corner next to a small window with west coast light pouring, another person perusing the shelves asked in what I thought was a British accent "Do you charge tax for books in America?"
"Yes," I reported grimly. "They do. Why do you think I'm sitting here reading it?"
"That's a good plan." he said, taking his prospective purchases downstairs.
There was another person up there, an older, balding man in a blue shirt and tie. He stuck to the poetry criticism section. I wanted to smack him with Leaves of Grass, but the copies weren't handy, being on the other side of the room.
After a while, though, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard anything. There was some office kid sliding in and out of a nondescript door between the stairwell and the bookcase of Beat Poetry anthologies. Bu no grumbly old poets. The closest I could get was thumbing through one of his books -- a newer collection published by City Lights as part of a series on San Francisco poets.
As I went back downstairs, I quickly pondered my options. I could cause a ruckus and run the risk of the sourly bald register jockey calling the cops... who would, I'm sure, arrive promptly and not trample my civil liberties. Or, I could leave defeated.
I looked around one more time to see if I could catch some glimpse of the man. I noticed a closet under an alcove, it was open, full of books yet to be stocked. There had been a hand written sign in large black letters:
END CORPORATE OWNERSHIP OF BOOKSTORES
Couldn't have said it better myself.
In the end, I didn't get to be told to fuck off by one of my few living literary heroes.
But I got to read Auden, and sit in a comfy rocking chair, and breathe in the same space as Corso, McClure, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Bukowski. And, of course, Ferlinghetti... who remains as much a mystery to me as, well... most mysteries.