This weekend my wife and I flew up to San Francisco for Litquake, the literary festival/pub crawl where writers from all over the country come to share their work and join a community of scribes who usually only communicate over social media. We stayed with Joe and Justine Clifford, and I read at their event Lip Service West, which tells real and gritty stories. I told a story about trying to find a way to convince a mental patient to willingly enter an ambulance in order to find a higher level of care, but I think next time I read in a bar I’m going to tell the story of how I got in a fight with a little person in St. Petersburg, Florida, or how I almost got in a fight during a community theater presentation of Macbeth in South Beach. Of course, when you read in a bar, you have to expect anything, and I’ll tell that story a bit later.
This was my second reading in San Francisco, and the last time I drove up the coast I wrote about trying to rediscover the California Dream for the LA Weekly and then read at Lip Service in the Tenderloin. San Francisco has always been one of those cities I’ve felt at home in — a sort of Boston transposed to the West Coast. The landscapes are stunning, and there is just so much water everywhere. I was able to shoot some solid pictures, and the Cliffords took us to Telegraph in Berkley, where I was able to find some colorful moments. It was cool to hang out with Joe, who is the author of books like Junkie Love, Wake the Undertake, and the newly released Lamentation. Continue reading “A weekend in San Francisco for Litquake”→
Last night at Traxx Bar in Union Station, J. David Gonzalez and I put on a reading for Writ Large Press’ 90 for 90 series, which is basically 90 events in 90 days. It’s an ambitious project that Writ Large Press seems to be handling seamlessly. We invited Hank Cherry, Shawnacy Kiker Perez, Yago S. Cura, and Joe Donnelly to read poems, essays, or stories about work — a subject that has always been on my mind.
For some of my favorite artists, work has been a central theme. Think about Van Gogh’s earlier work: the potato eaters, the men and women working the field like lost saints. Think about the work of Millet (the painting below) who influenced Van Gogh. Think about Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”: the understanding of why men drink gin or stand in line for work at an axle plant. Think about Denis Johnson’s famous story “Work”: two addicts stripping copper wire from abandoned homes. When you know how to work, it can inspire, it can become poetic, it can make words real. Work is such a part of our lives; therefore it naturally becomes a major part of art.
Honestly, the crowd was slim last night for the readings about work. It was mostly the readers and their significant others and the people who showed up to get shitfaced before a ride on the surfliner to San Diego. The late-night commuters shuffled in and some unsuspecting people sat down and ordered drinks and listened to us read. It was a great reading filled with writers I admire. But I wasn’t sure if the people at the bar, the strangers, would give a shit about us.
But what I found was that there were three people who stayed for all the readings. Their names were James, Paul, and Mark, and they would sometimes yell in the middle of a story, shouting a loud cry of appreciation over the recollection of a place they’ve been before, a certain phrase, a certain moment. At the end of the reading, I went and thanked the three men for listening. That’s when a young man named Paul grabbed my hand, and he said, “I never thought I would like this shit, but you guys are speaking truth. All those bangers out there, they’re always trying to be tough, but this is what they should be talking about.” He had tattoos on his arms and a bald head, and he was wearing a cut off and a pair of basketball shorts. There was a brown liquor in front of him, and he had that spaced off look that showed he had already polished off a couple of other drinks before. He was shaking my hand for a bit of an awkward beat too long. Continue reading “Put Some Work into your Art…Literally”→