So I read on Craigslist that someone in Tribeca is looking for a “poet’s assistant.” And basically, I don’t even want to begin to understand what that means.
It’s a tough thing, “poets.” On the one hand, I absolutely, 100 percent, love good poetry. I am friends with many a talented writer. One of my all-time favorite classes in college was on Hopkins, Yeats, and Eliot. I truly and deeply long to collaborate with a musician and record a bunch of Dorothy Parker poems as songs. And song lyrics in general are extremely important to me.
So okay, though, now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way: people who call themselves “poets?” Well, it’s hard not to hate them.
Besides all the obvious reasons, I think this probably stems from all the memories of angst-filled nights spent in coffeehouses. I went to a lot of Bible studies, and therefore spent an inordinate amount of time in diners and coffeehouses. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I mean, if I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, coffee is my One Great Love. And I’m totally down with that whole used bookstore/shabby living room feel. Secondhand couches, old paperbacks, the awesome smell of must and caffeine. That’s good stuff.
But that isn’t why I went. No, coffeehouse life was way more socially political than that. I got the initial invitation through insiders, but if you plan to become a fixture at MIBs (RIP), or Witches Brew, or The Cup, or wherever — I’m not counting Classy Coffee though, that place stresses me out — then you better have one or more of the following: a) brown hair down to your ass that has never seen a shampoo bottle, b) five visible piercings or else a septum ring, c) artistic talent of some kind, or d) angst.
Obviously, I lacked a, b, and c, so I needed to really make sure my angst was operating full throttle on a weekly basis as I spent all freaking night long at the coffeehouse every Tuesday for…shudder…open mic night. Open mic night. REGULARLY. No wonder I suffer from anxiety attacks. It’s post-traumatic stress from years of THAT.
So but you know how that all worked. If you’ve never done the coffeehouse thing, maybe you have done the all-ages show thing, and it’s pretty much the same, only with more sitting and fewer studded belts. But there would be that one guy. You knew he was sensitive, because how could you sing/play/paint/whatever like that and not be Someone Who Really Feels? So even though he was cute and popular and everyone was in love with him, obviously he would choose you, because you were concentrating all of your energy into d), ’cause you were soulful. As was he! It was just a matter of him talking to you for longer than five seconds so he could see it!
The problem was, that Soulful Guy? Really didn’t have that much going on upstairs. Therein lay the problem. He wasn’t really deep, just kind of showy and vapid. So what seemed like a dark mystery to which only you held the key was actually a doofus with a guitar. And when he laughed at and listened to the comedic stylings of your Ashleys and Mikaylas as they alternated between witty and deep about how like Alice in Chains was like so meaningful and also their cousin’s friend was named Alice, so they knew it was like, a connection, he wasn’t being nice, he was being…himself.
But in the meantime. In the meantime. There was much in the way of sifting and enduring in the form of tortured dudes in bajas. The ones who actually were sensitive, but just…NOT FUNNY to the nth degree, and it was seriously just like…what do you do? Because he’d come over and sit there and once the topic of where you went to school and oh, did you know so and so had been exhausted, all that was left was for him to say, “Would you like to read my poems?” And then you’d sit there and awkwardly read from his spiral notebook with all pictures of like, eyes and dragons all over it, and his poem would usually involve you know, knives, or his childhood swingset or something. Then you’d be all, “it’s good!” and instead of saying “thank you” or something, he would nod all soulfully, like almost complimenting you for being deep enough to appreciate his genius. And what was UP with that? And these are totally the guys who fast forward to the present are all bitter that no one has sex with them, but like, maybe that’s why, dude, ya know, like if a girl you like is paying attention to you, pull yourself out of your navel long enough to buy her a cup of coffee or something!
So yeah, I know the same thing basically goes on at bars nowadays. But the bar is easier in my opinion because a) Faux Soulful Guy will show his true colors much sooner after he gets drunk off of his Scotch and starts making out with some chick named Heather, thus saving you a lot of time and energy, b) Open mic nights at bars usually have a lot of hot musicians who may not be any better, but will be more funny and at least no one will be ironically snapping their fingers because they learned about that in that upper room of the Hofstra arts building, c) Many bars don’t have open mic nights at all, but rather jukeboxes, where you may have to hear a lot of Dave Matthews, but at least you can play your own stuff and also weed out the douchebags by how self-seriously they “Uh uh uh!” to “Sweet Caroline,” and d) The poets have usually gotten a lot better over the years, and if they haven’t, you can always start singing “Fading Shadows,” a mortifyingly awful song you wrote very sincerely in eighth grade. This will usually scare them away, or at least inspire them enough to buy you a beer.
© March 22, 2006