PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES: I'm just back from my quick jaunt to San Francisco and LA for two readings. I'm exhausted. The trip was full of serious highs and incredible lows. I had never been to San Francisco and was looking forward to not only playing tourist, but the reading for the Red Light anthology. The weather was rainy and cold, which doesn't bother me, but there was something alien about this city that I just couldn't find any connection with. My uncle Terry lived there for many years before his death, and adored it. I felt like a stranger in a strange land, and I've been to some weird places around the world.

I've got at least three poems working about San Francisco. The phrase "a city on the edge of forever" (which I think might be the title of an old Star Trek episode...I haven't looked it up yet) has stuck in my mind. I don't think I was prepared for how "big" SF really is. I knew it had skyscrapers, etc. but it's massive, filthy, and the thing I just cannot comprehend is the number of homeless on the city's streets. We have a significant homeless population in Atlanta, as do most large cities, but there was something about SF that absolutely gutted me. Women, young kids, sad old men...and not just one on every corner, but clusters of them, huddled in doorways to escape the cold rain. I saw a young guy (maybe 16) walking across the plaza at Powell Street wearing ripped old jeans, a button up shirt he was clutching closed against the cold and only a pair of socks. While I was standing in line at a deli, a woman came in and started asking for change...she was crying. The guy behind the counter took one look at her and screamed for her to get out, that she would make the customers sick. I stopped in the big library on Market Street to check my email (because l left my laptop at home, because I was determined not to be one of those people who can't go a day without checking email...oh, well) and there was a row of homeless people waiting to use the free internet terminals. It was mostly homeless people seated at them. Some were just watching snippets of news. One woman watched the same music video of Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt over and over until her 15 minutes were up. That's a poem right there. When I was on the streetcar coming back to the hotel (which is now number four in my Top 10 of worst hotels I've ever stayed in), the drivers were switching out and the new one getting on started screaming at a couple of homeless men in the back, telling them no liquor was allowed on the streetcars. The men, holding brown paper bags, shuffled off the car in humiliation. There seems to be no tolerance for the homeless, but the city is over run. Why are their so many homeless people in SF? I need to do some research. I can't get the images out of my head.

Since it was raining and cold, I saw the sights on drive-bys on the streetcars and cable cars. I should have been more impressed, but I wasn't. I saw Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge and my hotel was down in the Haight-Ashbury district, so I was really "in the thick of it" so to speak. I sort of had the same reaction that I did to LA and Hollywood: I'd seen the landmarks so many times in movies and tv that seeing them in person was no big deal. Damn...I really must be jaded.

So...the reading for the Red Light anthology was a disaster. There were two people in the audience. Yes....TWO. The editor, Anna Camilleri, said the other readings in NYC, Toronto and Seattle had drawn great audiences and to end the launch of the book on this downer note was disappointing. I second that emotion. The book is simply gorgeous. You MUST buy one. I don't know who to blame for the lack of audience. Anna seemed to think it was a mutual screw up on the part of Modern Times Bookstore (which is really a cool shop) and Arsenal Pulp Press. Anna read her intro to the anthology, contributor Barbara Jane Reyes (who just won the American Academy of Poets Prize) read her work and we were also treated to a story from Ivan E. Coyote. We read to each other, just to say we did it, and then we all trooped down to a bar for drinks. The conversation was all about poetry and American politics and I had a giant fuckin' cosmo and was tipsy as hell. I giggled all the way back to the hotel. It was the first good laugh I'd had in two days.

The trip down to LA on Thursday was an adventure. I flew out of the Oakland Airport, which was a rinky-dink little hole that reminded me of any airport from a Costa-Gavras film. I knew it would be a tiny little shuttle since it's only an hour to LA, but this plane was some 1980s holdover. You couldn't even take your carry on luggage onboard because the bins were too tiny, so it had to be checked at the jetway. Two seats on each side of the row, and wouldn't you know it, I'm next to Jabba the Hut. I'm not a small guy, but this guy should have had to pay for two seats. All I needed was a chain around my neck and some harem clothes and I would have been Princess Leia. I was basically under this guy's armpit for an hour, while he dozed off and snored and thrashed around. Christ. It's now Number 1 on my list of worst airplane rides ever (and there have been some doozies).

I took a shuttle from LAX to poet and friend Sarah Maclay's temporary home in Santa Monica. She's housesitting for a screenwriter and living in the pool house. I officially want to move into this pool house. It was huge and gorgeous and oh, so LA. The whole property, including the main house, are like something out of a movie. I got to relax, watch tv and go over my set for the Beyond Baroque reading that evening. Sarah didn't get home until around 6, so I was able to just chill out in the beautiful surroundings.

Sarah drove us over to Venice Beach for the reading. Beyond Baroque is inside the old Venice Beach city hall and is a big, airy place. They have a bookstore full of poetry and the reading space was black-box theater style. I was delighted to see Lisa Allender, her mom Dimitria and their friend Alan in the lobby when I arrived. Then it was like old home week: Teka Lark Lo came breezing in with air kisses (she's so fab), Sholeh Wolpe was there looking beautiful as always, then John Amen arrived and we hadn't seen each other in ages and then Cecilia arrived. Soon, we had a good-sized audience who were eager to hear some poetry.

John started with work from his new book, More of Me Disappears, and mixed in new work and some selections from Christening the Dancer. He connected with the crowd. You could hear the little sighs and "oohs" when he would finish a poem. Then it was my turn. I picked a set of old and new stuff as well, and started off with To Margot Kidder, With Love (since the night before as I was dozing off in the hotel, I was channel surfing and there was Superman II). I did Why I Want To Be Pam Grier from the Red Light anthology, and closed out with Credentials, which I rarely read, but thought it was time for another airing. When I finished, people hooted and hollered. It was a great feeling and such a boost after the disaster in San Francisco the night before. Cecilia blew us away with her set of mostly new poems crafted while she was in Paris. Three of them were "postcards," with shimmering imagery from the city of lights. Another set was modern takes on mythological characters. Stunning work. Her next book is going to kick serious ass.

After the reading, we stayed for awhile signing books and chatting with the audience. So many kind words of support! I was also thrilled that Beyond Baroque now has a few copies of Better To Travel for sale in its bookstore, and also put a book and copy of the HalfLife Crisis cd in their permanent archive. While I have a love/hate relationship with LA, it has the most supportive poetry scene in the world. It's just mind-boggling. I hope we can finally arrive at this "ego-less" type of scene in Atlanta one day. I'll be going back out to LA in May after What Remains is published for a series of readings, and I'm already looking forward to it!

After the reading, a group of us went to a Mexican restaurant and stayed late. As usual, the conversation turned to politics. That morning, Harriet Miers had withdrawn her nomination to the Supreme Court and the special prosecutor was preparing to announce indictments in the Valerie Plame scandal (so long, Scooter Libby!) and FEMA was once again fucking over hurricane victims in southern Florida (except those without power or drinking water had only themselves to blame, according to Gov. Jebediah Bush, although he recanted later and said he took the blame. Sorry, Jeb, your chances of winning a presidential election are now officially zilch). Cecilia and I are hardcore Democrats, while some of our tablemates were more moderate, so we had a lot of interesting debate. The Republican party is spinning out of control, but Miers withdrawal is frightening, since it was prompted by Dubya's Christian, whacko base. He'll be under pressure to find someone ultra conservative.

After sleeping like the dead at Cecilia's place, she drove me to LAX and I caught my flight back to Atlanta. I must say AirTran is kicking every other airlines' ass right now. The planes are new, comfortable and now they have XM satellite radio in the armrests. They even handed out free ear buds. I jumped back and forth between the BBC and an 80s music station. Did I mention the fares to fly on AirTran are cheap? They should pay me for an endorsement.

That's all for now. I have to sleep. Tomorrow night is the reading at Sycamore Place Gallery in Decatur for the Body Maps exhibit. Check out www.collinkelley.com for the details. I finished a series of poems based on the artwork while I was on this trip, and I'll be redrafting and polishing all day tomorrow right up until it's time to perform. Talk about working on the fly!

Comments

man, that bit about the homeless women watching the video for hurt over and over is amazing.
Collin said…
Yes, it's an indelible image. Thanks for posting. Your blog is a hoot...not fluffy at all. I'm adding you to my blogroll. Cheers!
Teamaster said…
Good post, Collin!

(Fingers tired??) :)

-D.
C. Dale said…
There are so many homeless in SF because the climate is fairly stable. Never too hot, never too cold. SF isn't Chicago or Miami. There are reports of entire make-shift villages in Golden Gate Park. Sad. But very much a real aspect of this city that is overflowing with wealth. The juxtaposition is really weird.
minispace said…
I felt very at home in San Francisco. Went there on holiday a month ago. Very European feel I got there. We had better weather as well it appeared.

You missed out on some nice English cuisine on tuesday btw ...

(ps. also like ms Bush, haven't heard the album yet though)

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