Punk Poetry

Punk Poetry


You know why second-hand stuff is better than new stuff?

Because someone else already decided it was good enough to buy in the first place. It’s been curated. The really awful junk doesn’t even make it to round two; the best of the best gets to advance to the finals, where it become vintage or antique. Plus, when you dig through hand-me-downs, there are all sorts of surprises.

I have an older sister, and she’s been generously passing down her hard-earned college education. She has a PhD in reading, or writing, or short stories, or something like that. There’s lots of big words and theories. I don’t get any of that boring stuff, though (thankfully), just the good parts. When I realized I was a poet who didn’t know anything about poetry, Sis sent me a trash bag full of used poems.

Rummaging through, I kept catching hints of a familiar perfume. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was – something from my past – maybe CK One, or patchouli. It definitely wasn’t Estee Lauder Pleasures or Bath & Body Works Sun-Ripened Raspberry. It was far more dangerous than any of those. I couldn’t quite place it.

But then I skim-watched a video of Simon Armitage talking about poetry being a form of dissent, and it hit me. The thing I was smelling was…punk.

Simon Armitage says, “There’s something about poetry which is oppositional, and it’s a form of dissent. I mean, even in its physical form, it doesn’t reach the right-hand margin, it doesn’t reach the bottom of the page. There’s something a little bit obstinate about it […] Poetry’s always had a complex relationship with language. It’s alternative. It’s independent. It simply cannot be a mainstream art form.”

Like punk music: if it becomes widely appreciated, blasting on the radio or at a Superbowl concert, then it’s not punk anymore. It’s supposed to be fringe.

I have another friend who knows poetry (what are the chances?). She says you can do pretty much whatever you want and call it a poem. Currently, she’s serial-killer cutting up old poems and pasting them together to make a new one. And it’s poetry. She shared this gem with me recently, and it’s poetry, too. Anything can be a poem. Back in high school, a few friends tried to start a band. They wrote some really awful songs. When I voiced my opinion (a lifelong fault of mine), they said it didn’t matter – it was punk music.

I was at the skate park the other day, with my two young boys, just fooling around. They don’t skate; instead, they fling their bodies around in free-form parkour. No rules – you know, poetic. Punk. We were about to leave when a guy walks up with his BMX bike, in all sorts of flashy gear. He sets up by the big skate bowl, which resembles an empty swimming pool.

My boys were rapt. Was he going to bike it? He blared the Misfits, then Social Distortion, while he surveyed the area. He walked around and around, considering the drop from different angles, kneeling down, standing up again, kneeling at the other end. He mumbled something and picked up a hefty rock from beside the bowl, throwing it to the side. I thought, he’s doing an extremely thorough job of getting ready. He must be about to do something really cool.

And it was cool, especially for my four-year-old, who fancies himself a trick biker. The guy dropped in, straight down the side, then flew around in circles, all speed and color. He popped up over the edge at the end and balanced on one wheel. Oooh. Ahhh.

Then, he came over and chatted us up. He was a nice fella – my age or so, not as young as you’d (I’d) expect.

“Those long-haired kids have been throwing rocks into the bowl, chipping off chunks of the concrete,” he said. “You see the rocks they were using? I tossed one over there. It’s a shame.”

Now that he mentioned it, I could see gouges in the riding surface and the big stones scattered nearby. Those punks.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes came on, and we reminisced about the good old days. Even during our youth, though, punk music had been secondhand. We’d already missed its heyday, in our heyday. And like The Ataris’ cover of Boys of Summer says, ““Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said don’t look back; you can never look back.”

When I see poetry being performed lately, it’s often speaking up for minority or other underrepresented communities. Did you know that American youth, age 13-25, are a minority? They’re somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the population, from what I can tell. Us old folks are the majority.

I’ll be stopping by Town Hall soon to request they fix that skate bowl – repeatedly, obnoxiously. So we have something to hand down to the youth. And maybe they can host a punk concert while they’re at it. Or a poetry reading. The poetry of dissent.


Percolating Poetry

It’s time for the Percolator. It’s time for the Percolator.”

I was twenty-something. It was the early 2000s, and I was in Raleigh, NC at a nightclub called Visions (long since extinct). The DJ took center stage, and the crowd gathered ’round.

“Come on up to do ‘The Percolator,'” she said, and I took a step forward, towards the spotlight.

My friend grabbed my arm and held me back. “You don’t know how to do ‘The Percolator,'” she hissed.

She was right; I’d never heard of it in my life. I fought off her grasp. “I don’t care; I’ll do it anyways.”

But she was a muscly sort, and she held me back as a handful of dancers came forward, and a song came over the speakers – more of a pattern of popping sounds than a song. The only lyrics:

“It’s time for The Percolator
it’s time for the percolator.”

I don’t know that I ever properly thanked that friend.

This is the closest video I could find to what I saw that night:

I remember more popping up and down, like coffee in my aluminum camping percolator. Its clear glass top shows when the water is boiling over the grounds, and you can watch it change from light tan to strong, rich brew while you wait. Whenever I use it, I think…it’s time for the Percolator.

This post is, improbably, about my poem being accepted to the NC Poetry Society’s “Poetry in Plain Sight” program. “PIPS” brings North Carolina poems into “plain sight” in major NC towns, such as Raleigh, by printing them on posters. I am deeply honored to be selected.

The poem they chose is “Language.” I submitted it without any clear idea of what “PIPS” was, what I was signing up for, or the slightest anticipation that I’d be chosen. I just stepped forward.

I’m ready to dance. My poem will be on display next February in windows and other street-visible locations in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Burnsville, Wilmington, Durham, Greenville, and Raleigh. As Lil John says, “To the window, to the wall.” It’s time for the Percolator.

If you are of a literary bent

If you are of a literary bent…

Which I’m not.

I mean, I like to read. A lot. An unnatural and unhealthy amount.

But literary? No.

Nerdy. Bookish. Dorky.

Something more like that.

Which is why it’s no big surprise that I’ve never read a literary journal. Until now.

The feature article in this month’s Main Street Rag, a literary magazine out of my native NC, sums it up nicely – if you want to succeed as a writer, it helps to help other writers. Or, in more cliched terms, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Social networking; rubbing elbows. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. Put your money where you mouth is.

Which is why I bought my first literary journal, to put my money where my mouth is. If I want to be included in such publications, I should read one.

The good thing about a collection of poems and short stories is that if you don’t like the one you’re reading, there will be another coming up in a few pages you’ll like better. Kind of like phases in young children: the throwing-food phase replaced by the showing-food phase. It’s always changing.

As it applies to this literary journal, it was all the good-table-manners phase (please, let that be a phase).

My favorite poem was Absence Makes the Heart Grow by Jeanne Julian, about all the things you do when your significant other leaves and you have the house ALL TO YOURSELF.

The best of the prose, if you ask me, is Robert Perchan’s pieces on run-ins with the law. I’d read whatever else he feels like writing. And it’s his quote that titles this blog post, “…if you are of a literary bent.” Are you?