What started as a bit of a lark back in March 1998—when myself, Lynne Procope, and Roger Bonair-Agard took over the space at Bar 13 on Monday nights and started our own reading series—not only survived 16+ years in the deteriorating cultural landscape of New York City (and the fickle tastes of bar owners always looking for the next new shiny), but thrived, throughout myriad trials and turmoils—some external, some self-inflicted—as a weekly oasis of poetry that occasionally bent but never broke.
The slam isn’t the automatic audience draw it used to be (for us, at least), and I can’t help but wonder if that’s partly because, a long time ago, the organized slam became much less about putting on a good show for the audience and providing an open forum for a variety of voices, and more about establishing an alternative career path for a select group of poets. The revolution gone corporate, as so often happens.
The original version of the poem, written back in 2003, was entitled Mozer, Bethea and I (as published in Handmade Memories), and it had a ranty, overly political ending that tried to be a little too clever and felt like a different poem from the opening, I tightened it all up, including a bit more nuance in Mozer’s section, while heavily revising the closing to end up with what I think is a far stronger, more personal, more relatable work. Veteran’s Day isn’t a time for generic sentiments, positive or negative, but a time for personal reflection. I’m generally ambivalent about my time in the military because I met far too many people who defied easy stereotypes of what it means to be pro- or anti-war, and I’ve always had nothing but respect for anyone who has served, not to mention a fair bit of curiosity about why they did so.
I’ve always been fascinated (and frustrated) by poetry’s “delicate snowflake” status, and how such a diverse variety of forms, styles, and voices often gets lumped into such a generic, cavernous category, like literary fiction and graphic novels. One of the things I’ve always loved about good anthologies and open mics is the inherent (or the potential for) diversity in those formats, something that’s not clearly communicated on bookstore shelves nor the Dewey Decimal system.
I’ve noted often in the past that most of what I preach and practice when it comes to marketing and community-building, I learned during those four years of Mondays, and by the end of the night last Monday, I realized how big a hole I’d created when I walked away from that part of my life. So, I’m back.