Although the first time I ever read my poems in public was at the Barron’s Art Center – only because my daughter made me – most of the time after that I read at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick. The reading was in the 2nd floor loft space which held a well used bar, an assortment of sticky battered tables, a few wobbly chairs, a wall mural painted by locals containing self portraits in varying degrees of dress and undress. One of the poets read before a portrait of herself – she is topless in the portrait. All of the clamor and NOISE wafted up the stairs from whatever band was playing that night, staged immediately below us, and from the usual huge crowd of Rutgers students shoehorned in around the bar below. There was no microphone, it was every pair of vocal chords on their own. No one ever stopped talking and drinking to listen to the poets. There was no “sign-up” sheet for who would read when – you just got up and read. You got over being shy/quiet/mellow very fast or you didn’t read. I learned to be pushy. I learned much about poetry there from some very good (and some very bad) poets. It is a different education than what you get at a summer workshop or an MFA program. It has stood me in good stead through the years since.

What triggered this trip down memory lane? We went last night to hear one of the old New Brunswick poets (and yes, they did start late) I knew from the old days. Eliot Katz read at the Via Dolce Cafe & Gelateria in East Brunswick for a group called Poets and Angels. It is a nice space to read – but the difference between the bowls of gelato of now and the steins of beer and shots of yore was worth a second thought. Eliot hasn’t changed so much – his political rants remain although he has added some other poems that are a lot calmer and would have required shouting to be heard over the crowd in the little smoke filled room in old New Brunswick.

For those who asked – I don’t usually post my own poetry here – I may eventually. If you look on in the verse archive (March 2005) there is one of my poems (The Seeker). There is another one that was in this past winter (Three Women in the Diner) but I couldn’t find it.

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2 Comments on “Ghosts”

  1. Tony Gruenewald Says:

    My first time was at the Melody Bar as well. It was the antidote to fear of public speaking. In some ways you got the same lessons young stand-up comedians get in clubs. You learned to deal with an audience that was not going to simply be quiet and attentive. You learned how to have a rapport with the audience. Yeah, you had to be more of a spoken word or stand-up poet at The Mel. Personally it didn’t hurt to have written lots of radio copy where you have to entertain from syllable one or else the listener is on to another station. Because of that experience at The Mel, I’ve pretty much been able to get up in front of any audience, be it for poetry, a sermon at church, special events at work, in any setting and at worst (The Saint in Asbury Park) survive with my dignity intact. And I also got to hear some good poetry and mishear some things that would end up in my own poetry.

    At work (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) we are preparing a Ginsburg bio for recording. I checked the index. Eliot and Andy Claussen are both mentioned in the book.

  2. David V Says:

    There’s something to be said for the “eat or be eaten” school of the open mic. I’ve run enough of them now to tell the poets that had first open experience like yours and those that had ones like mine – in the climate controlled kids section of a Barnes and Noble under the watchful eye of Maria Gillan.

    If only (as you hinted above) the talent always correlated with the confidence.

    Great to find you online her (Thanks for the tip!)

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