A Poetry Reading at The Loft
Copyright by Norm Olson, 1/31/01

  Even though I am a poet and have lived all my life in Minnesota, I had never been to a poetry reading in Minnesota. Back in the early 1970's, I used to read poetry at the open stages at the old Extempore' and the old New Riverside Cafe. In those days before "spoken word" became chic, I was the only person who read poems at those open stages. Between the hippie folksingers crooning the anthems of the flower power generation, there was square, nerdy me with thick black rimmed glasses reading poems that made even less sense than most of the folksongs. It was a pretty Dada kind of scene although, entirely unintentional as we were all very young and very sincere. (I sometimes wonder what happened to all the hippie folksingers,  are they still plucking out "Greensleeves" on the guitar or have they all gone on to the great hootenanny in the sky? "Where" indeed have "all the flowers gone?") ... Well, anyway, since I have now become a  highly successful small-press, 'zine poet, and have achieved a certain success de scandal in the local arts community due to my rants in the Strib; I decided that it would be good for me to go to a poetry reading and see with my own peepers what the really successful poets are up to, live and in the flesh. Besides, my partner was out of town on a business trip, my kids are pretty much grown up and off about their own business, I don't really have any friends and I found myself with absolutely nothing at all to do on a Saturday night.
  So, I went to a poetry reading at the Loft last Saturday night. Actually it was a reading by two winners of some big award the Loft gives out and the person who had judged these poets worthy of the award. The poets of distinction read. Although I was not familiar with these particular poets, I read so much poetry in the journals that publish my work and in other journals that people send me that, I was pretty well prepared for what they had to offer. I actually found the evening very entertaining and it proved, I guess that even the crushing burdens of bureaucracy and academia cannot quite snuff the fire out of art. The first poet was kind of twisted, like Thomas Hart Benton on acid, which I liked and the other two did a fine job.
  Then when the show was over, the MC had the poets line up on the stage to take questions from the audience. Nobody seemed to have any real questions and this part of the reading really did deteriorate into a bullshit session. But, asking artists to talk about art is sort of a general invitation to vocal flatulence, in my experience so, nothing really new with that. All three seemed to agree that they agonize over their poems for weeks, months or years. Okay, so what? Art is what it is, it seems to me, and the final form of the piece has, or should have, in my empty headed opinion, little to do with the degree of agony that went into its creation; sort of like a gymnastic trick, often the easier it looks, the better it is done. But different stokes for different folks, as we would have said back in the seedy confines of the old Extempore' , and apparently most of the Loft folks cared about this stuff because only a few left.
  After the reading was a reception with food and a person playing the harp. I stepped on somebody's discarded chewing gum in the men's room so, my foot was sticking to the floor making me walk, clump, step, clump, step. I clump, stepped over to the food line and tried one of the stuffed mushrooms which was okay. Then, since I don't drink alcohol, I went in search of water which I found in the corner behind the harp player. It was a very tweedy college type of crowd, and, indeed, I believe that at least two of the poets were actually employed as college teachers (I wondered briefly if they had been folksingers in their youths but they didn't seem old enough and I really did not feel up to talking to anybody to check it out).
  Well, I was beginning to suspect most of the gentlemen were named Biff and took a great interest in the sport of rowing while the women were enthusiastic about Ralph Nader, Garrison Kiellor and comfortable shoes. Unfortunately for me, I am more at home with factory workers, dead end civil servants and the more mainstream American madmen (and women) like you see at Hinckley Casino on a Saturday night, for example, or at a bar in East St. Paul. So, this really was not my kind of crowd. Besides, everybody seemed to know each other... "Oh Amanda, let me introduce Dr. Lunker from the Gerund Department...."
  So, much as I was digging the nimble fingers of the harpist, plucking the intestines of long dead cats (maybe not, what are harp strings made of anyway?); I licked my plate, winked at an obviously insane woman with purple hair and clump stepped down the stairs. The reading was well done, the audience friendly and collegial, the ambiance warm wood and bricks, actually much like the old Extempore' except a tad more prosperous. I was glad to walk out into the Minneapolis night, glad to be out in the real America where cars are towed for parking in the wrong spot and where maniac drivers risk it all jockeying for position on the freeway bridge, heading toward the winking lights of St. Paul, with the hyper-aggressiveness that bespeaks pure honest American rage at 70 miles an hour. The streetlights whirled overhead and the bridge columns laughed like Sid Barrett on a good day. As I flew around the Highway 280 curve in a sea of taillights exactly the color of a poet's blood, George Thorogood came on the radio. I turned it up loud and as the roaring guitar tore the sky to shreds, I thought, "Bad to the Bone" is about all the poetry this fucked up society needs, wants or deserves.

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