The Unnamable Poetry Reading at the Baggot Inn
Have a delightful libation with your poetry.
Why "Unnamable?" you ask. Or perhaps you don't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway. When I first got involved with the reading in 1997, LarryMallory was the host, and I was officially installed as the Poetry Bouncer. Larry had taken over the reading from another host and the name "Prairie Fire" was retained out of respect for the previous host. After a few months, the previous host revoked use of the name, much to my relief and that of others, and a committee was formed to find a new name for the series. Approximately 500 potential names were created--using the drunken, free-association method--including, "Serial Poetry," "Feral Pumpkin," "West Third Street Drinking Society And Glee Club," "Wet On The Inside, Wet On The Outside," "Tongue Cramp," "Tolerable On A Good Day," "Sufficiently Rubbery," "Mythic Pumpkin," "Ether, Tong and Tweezers," "Festering Sore," and "Nodding Dog." My personal favorite, "Larry, Queen of the Nile," was quickly rejected by Larry Mallory.
A core committee, fueled with Guinness and Jamesonís, sat down and whittled the list down to about 50. The various remaining names were pondered, but after a few months, nothing was selected. The reading series became Unnamable due to inertia, sloth and general lack of initiative. The series has been running continuously since 1995, first hosted by Larry Mallory, and then taken over by myself in a bloodless coup. Presently, I have enlisted the aid of a co-host, the venerable David Mark Speer, a/k/a "Smash Nova," "Gazillionaire Industrialist Playboy," and "Cheap Weasely Punk."
Our motto at the Unnamable Series is, "We're here every week, except when we're not!" We run at the Baggot Inn, West 3rd Street between Thompson & Sullivan in the West Village, every Saturday (except the Summer and holidays. Check the schedule at www.baggot.com/poetry.html). Sign-up is at 3:00 and start time at 3:30 sharp. Our other motto is, "You can do anything you want for five minutes, as long as you don't drive people out of the bar." There is a $5 charge for readers (to pay the featured poet, the bar and the bartender), and you get $2 off a drink. Listening is free, and we have a scholarship program for readers who can't afford the $5 charge.
The poets featured in this issue comprise a sample of regular attendees and featured poets who have graced the stage of the Baggot Inn. The poets selected for this issue do not include every worthy poet who comes to the Baggot, but are a fair representation of the regulars at the reading. I apologize to anyone who was omitted. (It was an oversight, OK?) The writers presented here include poet/songwriter/musician Adam Merton Cooper, Tobias Deehan, Elizabeth Harrington, Marc Levy, Jennifer Ley (Editor: Riding the Meridian, www.heelstone.com/meridian/), Princess-at-Large Jan McLaughlin (whose as-yet-unpublished novel, Seasons: A Homer-Erotic Thriller, can be previewed at members.nerve.com/janmclaughlin/index.html), Brenda Morisse, Mark Larsen, Larry Mallory (Ned, the Monster, Linear Arts, 1997, Some City of Their Desire, Linear Arts, 2000), Thaddeus Rutkowski (Roughhouse, a Novel in Snapshots, available at www.amazon.com), Susan Scutti, David Mark Speer, Jason Stoneking (no demon no god, onestar press, 2000), Chocolate Waters (whose four collections include Charting New Waters and Take Me Like A Photograph), and Carol Wierzbicki (Editor: Stories from the Infirmary, Universal Publishers / UPublish.com, www.upublish.com/books/infirmary.htm). I also included a piece by myself, Steve Bennett, because I can get away with it. (I think.) [Editorsí note: Two pieces parodying the distinctive, if arguably obscene, work of poet Orion, complete the collection.]
While the poets featured in this issue are a good sample of the work that is delivered at Unnamable, the most compelling element of the series is missing: the open reading. Week after week, the regular crew is joined by new performers, and they are the lifeblood of the series. The crowd is very supportive, and all styles of poetry, from slam to traditional, are welcome, along with music and prose. The quality of the open reading always amazes me, and it is the reason I have been involved with the reading for the last five years. I hope you will stop by and check it out.
David Mark Speer
The cormorant wields a knife and
stalks the block; he has been known to kill. Really! He has, with a knife,
killed a town watch captain, a sober driver, and a boy who was running
a lucky streak at marbles. And he has, with an evil eye, killed some grandmothers,
Evelyn's passion for the married military historian, and a producer's belief
in his playwright protégé. So you can call me a hallucinator,
but it's just not safe anymore. -- "Is there a far-flung guild of murderous
seabirds?" friends near the center of town puzzle when I, too fearful of
bleeding to death at a neighbor's gate, lodge with them. I will tend to
apply some red paste to my fingertips and neck for courage and luck and
not attempt to answer their questions. -- I will tend to the poppies adorning
the grave of the fifteen-year-old, fifteen-times-stabbed girl, who was
only visiting her sister and wanted to be just like her. -- I will tend
toward deep sleep; skittishness; benumbing, benumbing thoughts that someone
should do something.
Will a Legend Grow Up Under the Benevolent
Gaze of the Skinny Rat?
Adam Merton Cooper
Pull enough yarn out to lay nine
That should suffice for a city whose
rats grow up to an advanced age
before birthing their replacements inside their breaking shells.
It is not ignoble smoke-filled, flame-crisped
to perish of the nine hundred candles
when they charge upending through, frenzied
by the Bacchic scent of sandalwood & lavender.
The benevolent gaze of the skinny
her cast-iron effigy over the lintel
is various-city-dependently grace,
Regard for humanity not measured,
yet scratched-in books have grown in number
on human leanings toward rain-shelter,
(For my friend John McCausland)
He was not as the hero that was Casagemas,
a candle against life heavier, burning, burning
within the sudden cave, ever coming, coming for the green head,
yellow, threatening blue, threatening all blue, exist
in slanted mouths and elbows, slanted to place in this one world
hidden from real rose petals, one by one dropping from city windows,
as orgies carry beyond his folded skin, covered beyond white loincloth.
He was not as the hero that was Casagemas,
righting the chance held open to the bull emotion temple,
eyes, blankness like Negro statues.
The rats eat off his bones,
fucking who they want. There is every difference
with velvet, leather, boots and cowboy hats,
pulling names out of back pockets, bent with sweat infertile,
remaining infertile with jellies, pills and shots, stopping the flow of
life like a camera.
So loose the way, a carnival kiss,
Casagamus got his tattoo. He was becoming something else,
replaced all his life, paint-blotched like a rose bud close to the playground,
stepped on by black heels causing a fallen bouquet along the sidewalk.
Let the Picasso come back, the blond bartender comes for him
oblong, curved, inverted and out, cellophane hard around the left ankle,
keeping her peace purple, urinating warm, softening figs
watercolor homogenic stroke.
Horse buried him and crows stayed
close to cars,
trafficking their shiny black nail polish,
cursing God when the rain made them rose,
folding the skin flesh of the earth harlequin.
He was not as the hero that was Casagemas.
Could you hear it? Like June, lingering
urging brothers, less tomorrow of your lives will be,
finding the hero himself, that which he has come to find.
And the buildings are symbolic of the things imagined,
mighty legions of strong men, sanguine acrobats, cubed jugglers,
between life and the release of life.
"Everything all right now?" said
the black man.
When the pace, silently he thought, came to him alone.
"Yes," replied horse. "Getting on."
Let Me Be Frank
I understand and do not understand
the future. Didn't I just encounter it
a moment ago--disguised
as becoming? I mean the near
leap of the cat into thin air;
I mean you in your Jockeyís on the brink
of the past tense, your arms crossed.
I mean your coffee black
On the verge of losing heat. Your
in the volley you reserve for such occasions.
I too am in the not-yet-here, my
perched on the kitchen
table ready to rip through a bag of chips or button
my blue coat and leave.
A rubber band pulled to its limit
You could say we are like that: slaves
to our own stretch of the imagination.
But cut the crap.
The future is all bluff.
Dive into dream
and see what happens without it. On
waking, wear your wildest tie.
Throw out that old TV!
Honor my cat.
Even the Street Lamp Knows
Why I love you
is more than just a list poem
with no end in sight.
I could go on and on
about the who-what-where-when-and-why of it all,
but why bother? You were there;
you know all that.
I'd rather just stand here
underneath this spotlight
and sing you a song--Gene Kelly-style
Sunday morning breakfast
of bagels and lovemaking
You have a jones for Jack Jones,
and you dig the sin of Sinatra.
You're my cheeseburger gal,
and you're well done, too.
is your specialty too.
I'll never need a thing on the side;
all I'll ever need is your Harley ride.
Even the street lamp knows
why I am cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo
in love with you.
The ten thousand cannons
Stiff and silent by fields of green,
The smooth stone fortress
Hewn from speechless cliffs,
The brief conversation
As we stood, contemplating
Metal plaques stamped hard
With patriotic gore.
Myths are made here, I had said.
Learned by heart.
And this parade ground
Used for punishment and drill
A ghost town, really,
An Arlington without markers.
You were silent.
Half outloud, I wondered:
After the great, last day,
Strict uniforms trembling,
Caps suddenly flung high--
How many, once gun-christened,
Dared come home?
You, leaning forward on your good leg,
Vietnam, Class of Ď68, replied,
Christ, I never thought of that.
Which surprised me:
I saw it all in one glance.
The Heart of Darkness
Sing a world body electric,
shout down Hollywood's
Baud can carry
what so many were not
allowed to breathe into air:
document the limb-less
repercussions of a time
now silted with skulls
too many mothers' memories.
My prayer? May the electric
gods carry this traveler's
a transmission for change.
We all seek shelter
under the satellite-heavy
sky, whether in Buddha's
welcoming arms or the shade
of a monk's wat-shaped umbrella
from all things hideously rouge.
(View hypertext version
he remembers nothing
but the tv
a politician says
everything is ok
the opposition says
everything is not
but will be
the anchorman tells him
there are things to buy
time to go to work
he finds clothes
that make him look
like the anchorman
he watches a mouthwash ad
to kiss his wife goodbye
he walks in traffic
machines are good
he thinks they love him
at work he works
his boss has
a heart attack
he gets a new boss
his secretary reminds him
time for lunch
he buys some things
he thinks about
the mouthwash ad
to tell his secretary
a dirty joke
there are more things
he works overtime
his boss is pleased
his boss tells him
time to go home
his wife reminds him
to talk to mom and dad
he watches the news
a killer has received
the death penalty
another has escaped
he watches more tv
he remembers nothing
he is immortal
Sailor Decapitated on Roller Coaster
We're riding this roller coaster,
and Benny says we've got to be careful
to have as much fun as possible
before midnight, when the boardwalk closes,
and the sailors go along to their dockside
bars. At midnight, We really should go back,
sneak back to Aunt Bell's apartment,
Benny says, but I say, Hold the rancheros,
hold the diner open because we'll go home
later. In the meantime, let's have
a candied apple, let's go see the frog man
for a dime. He will sell us miniature
New Testament Bibles bound in leather
to take our minds off God and what he does.
I say Benny, let's go see the hermaphrodite,
let's go on the roller coaster again
and again, until our stomachs spin cartwheels.
Oh, Benny, the Navy boys are staring at me,
and I'm as full of giggles as cotton candy.
Do you think they think I'm pretty?
The tall ocean-eyed blond is following us,
see, Benny, see? Now don't look back.
Oh, let's ride the roller coaster Benny,
and hold our arms up in the air.
The sailors in front of us have been
drinking. Hush, don't let them hear us.
The short, dark one is giving me a wink.
The train climbs ever so slowly--there
he is, Benny, right in front of us,
two cars up. He's standing, Benny. He's
standing up. He's trying to impress me.
See? He's looking back and smiling.
Snapshot of Louis
(for Louis Goldman)
on the vast tarmac, louis dreams
he sips espresso
under the long shadows of the champs elysées.
a french girl passes, mincing her
steps on the cobbles,
and he winks when he catches her, for his happiness
is a gift that can only be given exactly this way.
to another, he lifts a finger, and
sends a tilt of his head or a smile.
each of these gestures is always
the perfect gesture
because louis understands moments of perfection;
because his life is a series of these perfect moments:
a breath in, a slight pressure of
and entire worlds are fixed forever,
like creating a family, like love.
like louis in a mirror in a mirror,
there are no numbers for him.
i kiss you farewell for everyone,
and am here to tell of the softness of louis's lips,
and the composure of his eyes.
when i snapped this photo, he was
That irreducible sky is taller than
My ears pop just looking at it.
I should have been a window
to reach into myself.
Instead, I am all drink and down
my topknot of yelling scented with newsprint,
my capsized luck and whip-like pretense . . .
I mean, how many people have swallowed that rule?
Diastaltic fairy tellers themselves,
embalming failure on the wrong-numbered day,
(which could have been either) ended the yelling,
and I was back to spontaneous alphabetization.
Wrote it on a Wednesday--the "will
I?" day, the "wait" day.
Left them the date and my mentholated civility,
but This is not a malanga day or L.I. life intolerable.
"How much can you coconut?"
Sorry, what was that?
Sometimes he is so morning, other times, so don't-ask-me-that.
"Just making conversation" he says.
The day was filled where it hurts,
his color-coded eyes, his stolen location.
"But do you?"
"Do I what?"
If you like, we can make one out of gold lamé and cypress trees.
It's Monday again.
Weather permitting, I will fight dirty or take money for a dive.
Autumn has a crunch beneath its color;
everything reddish is killing itself.
The sun yields to a park bench.:
"Here, the cold. There, the fluorescent hands."
My tamper-proof future double-crossed, double-essed,
the ocean floor against my chest.
I touch up yesterdayís outline, then
jump the gun.
Now I canít slip into Yakima. It came to me over coffee:
the meandering perforation, the hit-and-miss of my wrist.
But he wasn't a carpenter, so I won more than he.
I shop for compensation. Pollen is
This is the curb.
I said it felt like worry, like a cement day.
Pressure dome and back desaturates in a blink.
The science of blue had a look on
the room was white-dress hot;
the drums repeated the undress;
the drums repeated themselves.
Draped over courtyard near-violet with sunlight,
blue sheet in the stairwell.
Sweet push hands of spirits, blue-rich angles,
drowning in my direction.
I make conversation out of nicotine,
the vinegar of my jawbone.
"Come. There are no steps."
Thereís something different about
my irises too,
too much red in them: a tropical give-away if ever there was one.
Only I couldnít see it--being on the inside looking through.
Posing oolong wet and hot with their Wholesome glare and overtime Sneer;
Pond scum of tinsel, I tell them, "You have no disaster appreciation,
your gewgaws overhead and ice hook of sight.
You're getting warm." No. Some are born cold,
the mint-manicured type,
their spiked light and magnetic pointill.i.s.m:
Pruning in Spite of themselves.
I'll show you the basin of windpipes,
my overwrought cuticles, sand.
a raindrop holds on for as long as
it can the
bow-legged maple trees Tempered with gray Come Let us
sweep through the creosote of my
veins trace the shape and inflection of swamplands Put
Letters Together face-to-face We
cross the street Prophecies
cross the skin I've been around
the block, The traffic of my smile. I
file the minutes from my fingertips.
The numbers on 5th are higher.
As usual, Venus is ten minutes late
her mouthful of sidekicks
the vicious foliage of their eyes
the red mark of its grip
One more voice,
another pointed division.
Journey to the Center of My Id
At the end of the world, girl gangs
roam the street, ready to wipe out men with small arms' fire. I, for some
reason, am still alive. I have avoided death at the hands of the New York
Thigh School and the Happy Hornets. I get on the subway and ride. But no
matter where I get out, I will be greeted by the city's most revolutionary
residents. To survive, I could move to the country and grow vegetables.
I could milk cows for all they are worth. But no! I will dodge bullets
to return to my apartment, where a wall as thin as tissue separates me
from my neighbor, a small woman named Sumo. Once there, I will tiptoe around
in a futile attempt not to arouse her.
Flaming Tire Necklaces
We were present for the destruction of New York City, but we missed the flaming tire necklace performances. We considered going to Haiti, where, despite diplomacy, flaming tire necklaces were still in style. Then we decided that Haiti was too far to go for the sake of fashion. So we gathered our own tires (they were easy to find) and staged our own combustion events. We threw a flaming tire necklace party in a well-ventilated area. We dropped tires over our heads, set fire to our necklaces, breathed rubber fumes, screamed insanely, and said suddenly, "Just joking." We gave prizes for the best interpretation of the flaming tire ritual and for the most expressive dance of death. In this way we commemorated the passing of the culture capital.
(Prior pub. in Journey
to the Center of My Id, (Linear Arts, 1997), and in the journal, Caprice.)
what remains is not a memory of your
face and hands, the width
of your cock, the strength of
your glance or timbre of your voice, but a tempo
of being I could not invent.
Having Failed to Join Together as
One, the Lover Returns His Key
In August there will be rain
and muggy sunny days and
incomplete moons will cross night skies
and I will no longer
possess your key. Given
in an instant
of drunken loving whim
I return it to you in shame,
filled with all the embarrassment
of those who remain
in matters of romance.
"Needy," you called me, I
am usually busy,
I had taken care to
expect and reveal even less
this time. Next time
my heart will remain shrouded
asleep within my breast
resting silently on the ashes of your
In August there will be rain.
Hope Remains Strong
David Mark Speer
Hope remains strong in the hearts
of the living,
Itís the last thing left in Pandoraís box.
With only one ray to sustain us,
We can swim through oceans of misery,
If that's what life has to be --
Heeding the call of a soul on fire,
Crackling on the beach,
An unwavering beacon on the crest for the highest ridge.
The trip will always be worth taking,
When the sirenís song hums low,
Every effort is arduous,
Done as if underwater,
That's when hopeís beacon burns most faintly,
In only a glimmer of its former glory,
Dimmer now than when we didnít need it at all.
Back in somebodyís good old days,
Hope was the last thing we thought we needed--
A little more cash, sure,
A credit card with a higher limit, maybe,
When youíve got money,
Who needs that?
When the moneyís gone,
The robber barons have sacked all your villages
and thereís nothing solid left to hold on to.
Thereís one thing left,
Thereís the last thing left in Pandoraís box,
Giving you the power to wish your dreams into action and act on the results,
To live and cling fiercely to the claim on the space between your ears.
To live, and know that hope
remains strong in the hearts of the living.
one of the firing squad
in my head I've got her
tied to a post, blindfolded
and I stand, a perfectly fair
ten meters off, with a rifle
loaded full of my poems,
and I fire away at her
when it started, she
seemed really scared,
even crying a little,
but now, I've missed her
so many damn times that she
is laughing herself silly
and I am starting to worry
that the post may finally
shake itself free of the ground
before I get around
to loading up the one
that will do her in.
rare weather girl
she tells me she hates spring
because the melting snow
reveals all the dogshit
people left behind, and she
can smell it all over town
as it's thawing.
then she says she likes fall
because at least the others
are walking around depressed
and that makes her feel
better about everything.
she asks me if I understand.
I have to nod, I guess,
preferring the fall myself,
knowing she doesn't like summer
or winter either, but she
seems to like me.
she is so beautiful
when she's laughing and
showing herself; I worry
for her, that the autumn
is so short here.
Little fairy, you,
flying around my fire
with your wand of seductive stars,
mesmerizing me with your precious chatter.
You are precious, dangling
on my neck, my gaping heart.
I would walk the plank for you,
drown in your lovely aerial hands
that make my wishes all come true.
I want to pop you in my mouth
like the bonbon that you are,
lap you up like fairy dust,
never give a thought to Peter Pan.
Why did you brush against me with your lips?
Why did you start this fire in my mouth?
I told everyone
about that day you went all the way
to Ikea in New Jersey with me on the bus,
how you dragged that 150-pound
bunch of nuts and bolts and boards
of a do-it-yourself desk
just so I could have a place for my computer
here in my minuscule apartment in this colossal city.
I told everyone how you trudged
up and down the escalators,
lugging that thing, how it broke your dolly,
how we laughed and sweated--
how you sweated--how I laughed.
I told everyone how you put the sprawling thing together
that same day,
and I took you for a drink because you wouldnít
take my money,
here in Manhattan where everything is money.
I told everyone
how you came back and created shelves above the desk,
how you and Sally and I slaved to center those shelves
(how you slaved)
on top of the ones my dad had built
a few years before he died.
How I cried about my Dad that day
and you said what a great carpenter he was,
how it touched you that I cried for him.
I told everyone
how I hoped someday Iíd deserve someone
who loved me the way you and Sally loved each other.
That night at Rachelís Restaurant when you looked at me
with that non-judgmental look of yours
and asked so ingenuously,
"Choc, do you approve of me?"
Approve of you, Jay?
I told everyone.
My mom. My sister. My best friend, Silvana.
Ornery Billy at the liquor store.
I told them how lucky I felt
to have a friend like you.
Tonight Silvana says,
"This is a beautiful room Jay built for you, Choc."
I have this room, Jay.
And I have you
tucked away inside my heart
like a good luck charm,
your heart you gave so willingly;
I told everyone.
[Ed. note: Jay Addante,
a NYC sculptor, avid supporter of the arts, and a neighbor and dear friend
of the author, died of a brain hemorrhage in March, 1997. He was 38.]
So you're big in the poetry world.
It's like being a champion cat breeder,
You move in these weird, fussy
where egos erupt like
Big in the poetry world--
What does that mean?
Do people flock to your side,
hang on your every word?
Well, they're just other poets, aren't they?
They already know what you're going to say,
being part of your incestuous
and they make sure to stroke you
as you proudly display the
nose, tail and coat
of your poem,
and laugh at your
lame jokes so you'll publish
their stuff in your
Over the years,
the other cat fanciers in your circle
have developed nervous tics
their ears twitch or
they're always cleaning
some imaginary schmutz
off their whiskers.
If refreshments are offered,
they pile their plates high.
Later, they exchange
and tenderly pick their way
among the knots of obscure people
they've resolved to avoid.
champion cat breeder
might be too respectful a comparison:
Even cats know how to find the litter box.
My Spaniel is Wet and I Canít Find
is a relentless taskmaster
dispensing equal measures
of kisses and lashes.
He loosens my tongue
and enables my eloquence
whilst unleashing a ferret
on my occipital lobe.
During extended lectures
on existential debauchery
he pries off my toenail
and says, See what you've done?
ring with the music
of canines and felines.
The orchestra is playing,
sans director and winds,
Frank Sinatra's rendition
of "Send In The Clowns."
The sparrows are massing
with evil intent.
I find a pebble that glistens
with rare opportunity.
beautiful and repellant,
sated and hungry,
omnipotent and futile,
docile and dangerous.
I become sparkly.
I've learned how to rumba,
to soar like a gecko,
to fashion immense constructs
of mucus and fur,
to broker fleeting cease fires,
to manufacture empathy,
to consume and digest
the words of the clergy,
to delve into grottos,
to wield sharpened spaniels,
to become simultaneously
loathed and beloved.
Orion's Mother Speaks
You began as a scatological gleam
in my eye.
When your father and I saw you
spray-painting epithets on the nursery walls
we knew you were destined for greatness
a chosen one for
kicking up people's shit
a human anvil for their complacency
you were all that and more
a threat to the spineless
a low-hanging branch
a tower of purposeful perversity
on your first-grade report card
your teacher wrote:
"Plays hell with others."
but now you're on spoken word CD
OK but that power ballad duet
you did with Axl Rose for Zima beer
was the last straw
you've gone soft
sold out and become a pussy-poet
like the gelatinous maraschino cherry
on a rubbery pudding.
Your pubic area
has the mange and
now the children play
in the antibacterial sandbox
of your gentrified asshole.
Baggot Inn, November 2000
Winning Entry: Marc Levy
IF YOU SEE THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD, PUT SHIT ON HIS NOSE AND FUCK HIM UP. MOSES WAS A FLAT-FOOTED FAGGOT WITH ATHLETEíS TONGUE AND A MISHUGINA PUTZ. DUE TO INTENSE INDOCTRINATION, I KEEP BLEAK STATUES OF CHRIST HAVING SEX WITH ORNATE HEBRAIC TASSELS WOVEN BY MARC LEVY INSIDE MY ASSHOLE. FOR HOLIDAY ESOPHAGEAL THROAT DISTRESS, I AIM MY FEROCIOUS, SWEET COCK AT LINDA BLAIRíS PANTHEISTIC FACE. HER PREHENSILE POST-COITAL LIPS FLICKER LIKE FRUITY RED WINE, ACHING TO STRIKE DEAD MY DARK, KINKY SNAKE. AFTERWARDS, WE DRINK SEPHARDIC CAPPUCCINO WHILE HURLING WITH EXCESSIVE FORCE INCANABULAR EROTICA AT STINKY, LOW-FLYING EAGLES. DEME, WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME, DEME? JESUS CHRIST, FUCKING BITCH. WHEN THE CUCKOO CLOCK STRIKES TWELVE, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND.