poetry as usual|
at the watershed
saturday, april 6, 1996
b and i took bart to watershed, not that we were trying to be green or anything, but driving from oakland to san francisco midday saturday and trying to park in golden gate park would have been maddening and or impossible. still, it was nice to park the car in rockridge and ride into the city together. we had time to sit and talk and it looked to be a perfect day for an outdoor poetry reading and environmental-consciousness jamboree. i had to remember my sf commuting chops, specifically where to get off the n-judah streetcar to best walk into the park to the bandshell.
did i mention that the day was glorious? you couldn't have asked for better weather. several of the poets who had flown in from new york (all clad in black, of course) commented on it, comparing the outdoors favorably to smoky cafés, citing stereotype of california as paradise, and complaining of recent snow and slush.
b and i wore straw hats and it's a good thing too because shade was hard to find. we slid into some seats splinterless and started listening on a bench.
i'm afraid i didn't get too many names. billed as a celebration of writers, nature, and community, the event featured activists telling stories, nature poets, language poets on nature, and other types of presentation. some poems had nothing to do, explicitly, with the earth, ecology, or the cycle of water life.
one accomplished reader spoke his poem from memory, almost in pure vernacular, a witty tale of a family of acrobats clowning around in the air, the real clowns on the ground resenting the aerial shenanigans overhead, and the manager of the circus. i hope to find that poem and the name of the poet someday. (Send hints to xian.)
Some people just plugged their orgs, though at least one credited his environmental activist career to hearing gary snyder speak in his college years. the tenor of the entire crowd community was decidedly left leaning not untypically in this byzantine tip of the american empire.
a festive atmosphere surrounded the event. a hulking multiply-earringed, mohawked man brought a drink back for his mother and spoke to her quietly. in line skaters passed through. booths promoted nonprofits, hemp, regional parks. (medical marijuana petitioners hit us up several times.) the international rivers network promoted its river of words contest for schoolchildren, wherein they were asked to write a poem about or paint a painting of a watershed. some of the winning entrees (sorted by age group) were precocious. some were naïve, directly to the heart. A 3rd grader wrote a solemn blues of a sad sun. don't worry, it said, i'll be back.
francisco alarcón called out the four directions of the compass in the mode of his ancestors. we must have missed gary snyder. and michael mcclure. a woman danced and crammed a semester's worth of information and ideas about water and how it sustains us is us into a ten minute soliloquy. i heard (a few days later, at the national poetry month celebration) that ferlinghetti read too.
briggs and i strolled through the shakespeare garden and visited strybing arboretum, some of whose trees were uprooted in the violent windstorms of this winter. we found a grass spot and lay down, stretched out. we felt inspired to write a poem. briggs showed me a tiny blue (looked purple to me) flower. i asked her about it and repeated her answers to me back to her as lines to start the poem with.
nearby three women gabbed and one called frequently for her tiny scrappy schnauzer dog Pepper when it ran too far afield or failed to heed her calls she went through this elaborate charade of getting up to go. everyone nearby laughed when the dog suddenly came running. the first time.
briggs handed me her page and i wrote a poem of m own in the space left on the page.
we visited the arboretum library and then headed off to see my old housemates in the inner sunset, looking forward to national poetry month reading the next monday.
the san francisco bay area (i like to think of it as Greater Oakland) has no trouble filling up a poetry reading. put it in the park on a perfect weekend and we are all enamored of the spoken word, we all love our mother, we all want the revolution to come, and one of those italian ices.