By Ciara LaVelle
By Jose D. Duran
By Kat Bein
By Juan Barquin
By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
By Ciara LaVelle
How does a good piece of poetry get made? And more to the point, where do wordsmiths find their rhythm?
Lord Byron would make his way to a cave in Portovenere, Italy, to meditate and write some of the greatest romantic poetry ever composed. William Burroughs was never more at ease than in a quiet, dimly lit room with a fresh fix running through his veins. One of the best poems I've ever written began in the silent splendor of the British Library and finished on a cramped coffee table in a Parisian studio apartment full of noise and debauchery.
But what about the dark ambiance of a lively watering hole such as Gramps, brimming with drunken hipsters sucking craft beers and cheap cocktails?
Writing in a bar would be nothing new — I've frequented plenty over the past two years while working on my first collection of short stories and poems. But writing in a bar with my own reading lamp, a wooden plaque distinguishing me as the night's designated poet, a reserved barstool, and a stream of free beers in exchange for every napkin full of verse I handed to the barkeep seemed like a strange set of circumstances.
Yet that's exactly the intriguing prospect offered this month by Gramps' "Poet-in-Decadence" program, which sets up a different poet every night at the end of the bar. It's all part of O, Miami, the monthlong festival saturating the Magic City this April with an array of verse-related events ranging from an actor dressed as José Martí riding a white stallion on Calle Ocho while distributing roses and poems, to the first poetry wallcast at SoundScape Park, featuring readings by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and National Book Award winner Nikky Finney.
But the question remains: How would my writing fare drink after drink in the poet's chair at Gramps? To find out, I contacted the heavies at O, Miami and signed up as the inaugural Poet-in-Decadence on April Fools' Day. Here's what went down:
7:45 p.m.: It's too early. Much, much too early. I knew this would happen, too eager to jump in the hot seat, too far ahead of the evening's beat. The bar reeks of bleach and smoke and turpentine — and, dammit, why can't I smoke at my special stool? I'm the goddamn poet. I have a wooden placard and a lamp and a box of napkins. And I'm official, aren't I? Easy now— it's too early for that bloodthirsty kind of crazy. Sip your free booze and wait — it'll be time soon enough.
8:00: Poets — and writers — are cannibalistic by nature. We rarely play nicely with one another without a fair share of contempt, and we're usually all too quick to smile and then kindly devour our own young. I haven't been here 20 minutes and some yuppie roustabout and his leather-clad lover are already biting at my elbows, trying to wrestle me out of the chair of decadence. You're tomorrow's fool, you fool — get thee gone from the sight of my stool!
8:49: I'm working at a pace of two poems per hour when my friends begin to arrive and are deeply impressed when I show them how napkins with some scribbled verse can somehow turn into free alcohol. There's a middle-aged man on the stool to my left whose face is covered in four or five days' worth of stubble and a fine, oily film of sweat. He keeps asking for port wine and his eyes look drowsy and lost and mean. He smells like a gutted sturgeon in the sun. I wrote this to honor the pirate at my side:
"Bag of Bitters"
Look at this soggy shitheel,
this stubborn old degenerate,
too dumb to die off
and feed the sea pickles.
Unfiltered and full of poison
and fiending with that age-old bloodlust
for fresh fish;
Fear Him —
For there's danger where he swims.
9:30: Surprisingly, napkins full of poetry are not as quick to attract a bartender's attention as actual U.S. currency. I can't muster the same kind of flirtatious ire with which I usually fill my voice at the bar. That beckoning call of a proper patron feels like it would be ridiculous coming from my mouth since my patronage tonight is, for all intents and purposes, worthless.
9:40: Trivia hour began at some point, and the man with the microphone sounds like Bob Hope and Bob Barker might sound if they screwed each other senseless in the dumpster outside the bar. How am I supposed to write poetry with something like that molesting my ears? My attention strays from my dutiful residence for a little while to help keep my compatriots, Team Fish Blood, afloat.
10:00: My poetry corner has become infested with idiots ensconced in a debate about what technically qualifies as freebasing and whether Mary Shelley was a puppeteer or a lesbian in her spare time. Meanwhile, Team Fish Blood, now tied for second-to-last place — a true champion in the making — falls to pieces in a chorus of rancid laughter as Bob Hope Screwing Bob Barker babbles something about Don Cheadle. I am no longer on my special stool. I am on my hands and knees, pissing myself as I laugh at our majestic trivia-master.