Since mid-1997, the New York City poetry slam scene has been more or less at the center of my life. Though more right-of-center these days, and considerably less significant in the bigger picture, there’s two things I will always cherish about the experience: founding a little bit louder, and the Friends I’ve made. While the reason for the former should be pretty obvious, I make a specific distinction in referring to Friends.
When I got married in 1998, there was a healthy contingent of poets at the wedding, including my best man. A year on the scene, I was still in the initial glow of finding a community of similar-minded people bound by poetry and, transient that I was, they became the majority of my friendships, practically like family. If I picture that day now, picture the table where they all sat together, the fact that I can’t quite remember who they all were suggests none of them remain friends, never mind Friends. [After checking with Salomé on who was there, I’d say I consider a couple of them acquaintances these days, as opposed to those I’ve simply cut off or lost contact with.]
I first heard of you in 1999 from Al Letson. He emailed me, saying you were cool people and were either visiting or had just moved to NYC. As I remember it, he’d told you about louder and encouraged you to come through. In my book, if someone I respect vouches for someone – personally and/or artistically – they’re good with me until they prove otherwise.
Al was right on both counts.
A year or two later, you told me we had actually met earlier than I knew, at the Nuyorican, back when I was still hosting the Open Room. I think it was your first slam and you were mortified by the idea of the scores and ready to walk out, when I stopped you and tried to talk you out of it. Back when I still believed in the democracy of the slam and its value as a forum for new voices.
You were always a reluctant slammer. My favorite kind. It’s why I begged you at times to slam despite your distaste for it. The slam needed your voice, your perspective, and the couple of years you spent on the scene are marked by your presence.
Beyond your considerable talent, you’re “good people.” Genuine. Sincere. Funny. Not afraid to be silly when you want to be. Or painfully vulnerable when you need to be. Determined to do things on your own terms, even when you weren’t always sure what those terms were. Less interested in what others think of you than in what you think of yourself when you look in the mirror.
I’ve always admired that and wanted to say so.
Your attitude; your approach to life and love and heartache; your bizarre sense of humor; all of the things that add up to make Bassey are an inspiration for me. Other than the bad taste in men and the obsession with shopping, if India grew up to be like you, I’d be happy.
At a time when all of my ‘poetry relationships’ have come into question, it’s been nice to know ours exists above and beyond the scene and that I can call you a Friend.
Love you madly,