what I listen for
I don't mean for this to sound overly dismissive or wise-ass, but as much as I love to write -
about history, music, politics - I love editing more. Thus my natural migration towards poetry and, obsessively of late, haiku. The fewer words for me the better. Maybe I stay out of trouble that way.
Or maybe it's sheer laziness. To the chagrin of many friends who egg me on to finish either of the two novels I've started, the first a sullen tale of a copy cat headline making serial killer, Tuesday's Assassin, and my rock n roll murder mystery The Blonde with Blue Shoes (Jack Maverick is the down and out gumshoe hero) lie side by side on a shelf somewhere, famished and unfinished.
There's a forlorn stack of short stories in a basement filing cabinet somewhere. Decades ago I wrote and performed with two bands: one punk, the Sic Pups, and the other, commercially viable but too, too prescient for those times (now these), New Nervous Voice. (We lost our recording/distribution contract in the same capitalistic squeeze that Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison did.) But carrying around instruments, fighting with drummers, and miles and miles of nightmare wires just exhausted me to the point where I realized I could just carry around my notebook and read and write anywhere at anytime. Which came in pretty handy for a guy with wanderlust and a lax work ethic working for a certain utility company before these ragged days of GPS and binary code crunching.
I listen for the street comic cadence. I think rhythm always. I look for new words to replace the worn out excuses for language politicians, salesmen, and cable news pundits overuse then let the sound of the newfound word take flight.
As far as influences, if something ain't affecting you, then you ain't breathing. Charlie Chaplin. Kurt Vonnegut. Kerouac. Gracie Allen. Richard Pryor. Mickey Spillane. Dylan. John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Joni Mitchell. Tom Waits. Dean Martin, believe it or not, his delivery is flawless. Robert Hunter (is there anywhere a more beautiful poem/lyric than "Ripple"?) Robin Williams. Robert Creeley. Kenneth Patchen. Denise Levertov. Mary Oliver. Basho. Motown. Vivaldi. Groucho, Harpo, Chico. Steinbeck. Coltrane. Mingus. Miles. . . Mom 'n Dad 'n peers. Of course whatever dire times we happen to inhabit are prime fodder too.
I've always approached scheduling Calling All Poets featured readings as editing a living magazine. It might appear sensationally selfish or high minded at first (and yea, I admit, there is that) but, like any editor convinced of their salt, I hope I know what I, and the creatively charged community CAPS has become, want to read, feel, be inspired by,calmed by, pissed-off by - and assemble the schedule thusly.
It took me a long, long while to integrate wholly into the idea of an open mic. Jim Eve (the founder and my brother in Calling All Poets Series) has, for near twenty years insisted on it. But I mean, even in the best of times (and remember please the orange scourge in the People's House) how long can anyone listen to a poet moan? Even the most decorated, most award winningest, drones on after a while. And an open mic? Wow! They can get long in the tooth real fast. But CAPS open mics invite and inspire both novice and veteran, so the mix has added indelibly to the life of a living magazine. New readers, new voices, new listeners.
But it's not a solitary assignment. It takes input from everyone, whether they suspect themselves to be conspirators or not. Every featured reader brings their A game. This in turn challenges and engages the open mic'ers. New voices appear. Old names drop new. Everyone becomes an agent of change and outreach. Then along comes First Friday of the month and the magazine comes alive.