Saturday, June 7, 2008

Alive and Well

Last night I did a gig at the Dire Literary Series, a long-running (they’ve had over 80 readings) forum for young writers organized by poet Timothy Gager. It was held at the Out of the Blue Gallery at 106 Prospect St., People’s Republic of Cambridge. The Gallery was an eye-popping mélange of far-out art, some of it horrible, quite a bit very loveable. They’d hung a children’s art show that night, and the walls crawled with dinosaurs and super-heroes.

My Big Box bookstore readings typically draw crowds of three or four people, two of whom are derelicts temporarily dwelling in the store’s spacious aisles. So I was surprised to see that there were a couple of dozen attendees at Out of the Blue, and even more surprised to learn that each of them had shelled out $4 for the privilege of hearing us read.

Emcee Gager warmed the crowd up by reading a few of his funny, gritty, slice-of-life poems, alternating with his own brand of good improv comedy, playing off the audience, getting them relaxed, making them feel involved. They were already getting their money’s worth.

He was followed by a poet named David Lawton, who did something that I found remarkable. Rather than read his poetry, he ranted it, rapped it, declaimed it, crooned it – all off the top of his head, without ever once sticking his nose in a manuscript. The poems were strong and smart, but what really impressed me was Lawton’s performance – in the old bardic tradition - bringing us news from faraway places sung by a minstrel in cargo pants.

Next I did my bit out of HUBERT’S FREAKS which, since I was probably twice the age of anyone else in the room, at least proved that people had been trying to write things since before they’d been born.

Last up was novelist Mike Heppner who read a bit from a work in progress about going to a reading with a girl who kind of annoyed him. The guy giving the reading in the piece was a burned-out case and Heppner got into a very funny riff imagining this guy's life, which started reminding me of my own, especially the part about his poor weary liver feeling like a pulled muscle.

The whole reading had a young, funky energy to it that put me in mind of Freebird Books in Brooklyn, where I’d read a couple of months before. Same age-group, same sense of humor, same confusions, same freshness. Then, with the synchronicity that sometimes accompanies such events, I got an email from Freebird this morning. They’d just discovered an artifact from the old Hubert’s Dime Museum, and Charles Hutchinson, one of the proprietors, had written an eloquent essay about Hubert’s, with a link to the YouTube video of our old pal Jack Dracula talking about Diane Arbus. (Check it out at )

Everybody in my business talks about how the publishing industry is a sinking ship, how retail bookstores are a thing of the past, how books themselves will soon be replaced by Kindle and its spawn. But a couple of nights at places like Freebird and Out of the Blue are enough to give me hope.

This stuff won’t go away. It’s too much fun.


Tom said...

Hi Greg,
At least you are having fun both at the event and then afterwards writing about it. Now your writing books becomes your ticket to perform. Soon you will be out on the street like Charlie hawking your show.

Kathleen Valentine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen Valentine said...

Your accounts of your reading are as much fun to read as your book, Greg. Like you, I hope books go on forever. I recently received a box of books that had belonged to my father and there is just nothing as wonderful as going through those books, finding the odds and ends of paper he had stuck in them for who know what reason, and the underlines and notations... and, of course, that old book smell.

I don't know what publishing will come to but no Kindle book could ever replace my father's fifty year old copy of Edwin Way Teal's Autumn Across America.

Thanks for a great blog,

deleted said...

I enjoyed your article in today's Boston Globe