I don’t usually share these memories, but 6 years ago today I read at my first poetry reading. It was the beginning of my 3rd year in Philadelphia. I had just moved to VWVOFFKA, a house gallery my friends had started a few months before. My friend Jenna Wilchinsky hosted VWVOFFKA’s first ever Word Exchange, with some featured poets from Temple University. I think both Masha Badinter and Jenna had collaborated on the name for this event which would eventually become a series at the house, and I would eventually carry into describing any reading I would host around town (recently I noticed Little Berlin, another gallery I put a few years into, started using the same phrase to describe a monthly reading series they’ve been hosting in the Annex Space. Ha! It’s a good phrase!).
I was 23. The writing I was putting to paper was part of a novel called The Voice of Wye Gnough, a story about a lonely, angsty twenty-something named Michael Cavendish and this sage-like, acid-wine drinking, bum savant that he keeps seeing at Le Bar named Wye Gnough. The story wasn’t very good and mostly about a recent short-lived relationship, I was still dealing with the fall out from. I was young (or well, I was younger).
The other poets were well-versed, maybe a little bit rehearsed and generally inside the same crit class together, so all pretty aware of each other’s writing and all the inside jokes / meta language they were using. I don’t remember what they read, but I remember they smoked cigarettes while they read and as they finished each poem, they threw the page to the ground.
I had never read my work out loud before and I didn’t really know what I was doing. WHY-NO, a performance art act I did that involved drinking wine and banging on the emptying jugs of it and singing angst-ridden songs of desolation, was still fresh in my mind so I brought my omnichord. I strummed chords to keep the words rolling off my tongue. This is kind of funny looking back at because one idea I had for this last tour of reading haikus was to bring a casio keyboard along (the same one I used during WHY-NO days) and play tunes between each haiku. Obviously WHY-NO still has a hold on my imagination.
This was pre-erotica (I didn’t start writing that till the following year after traveling to Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona while reading Delta of Venus by Anais Nin). It was pre-travel fiction (I had traveled some, but not found my voice in the road just yet). I think people received my short stories alright. I think I might’ve been the only one who read short stories. But the most interesting thing was that I heard my own voice for the very first time.
I have written since I was 16 or 17, with actively thinking myself a writer, and even longer without. But this was the first time I heard the words outside my own head. I heard how the sentences didn’t flow exactly the way I predicted them too. I listened to how some droned on as huge mouthfuls where I would run out of breath. And others didn’t get the reaction I desired. A laugh. Or a sigh of awe.
I think I had what I thought was a poetry voice to make things sound more intricate. Really it was to cover up my nervousness. I think it involved several gin n’ tonics. It was the beginning of a few year period where I slurred my words and thought there was magic in how garbled they rolled.
This was the reading where I met Willow Zef (then Jozef Maguire). He had passed by our store front window and seen what he correctly thought was a poetry reading, though I probably corrected him at some point and said, “Nah, man. It’s a word exchange.” Disagreement has always been an interesting part of our friendship. It’s helped me explore new parts of myself I didn’t know were there to have this other contrasting perspective in one of my close friends. 6 years ago, he stepped up and read and he taught me the value of beat and recitation, through these almost hip hop inspired, magically real verses he would rattle off his chest without any verse in front of him.
A month or two later, I would meet Augustus Depenbrock at one of these word exchanges, a week or so before the first ever Plato’s Porno Cave (a surreal gala that we eventually collaborated on for several years) held in his warehouse loft space, and Gus would perform the most interesting, off the cuff recitation of a Bukowski poem about a radio thrown through a window, I’ve ever heard. From him I would learn repetition and the value of controlling the tone of voice.
I would meet other folks like Scott Bickmore and Cipro that year at further Word Exchanges. And folks like Keri Hansen, in who I would find a friend to share inspiration with. She’d share with me writers that I should read, and in that way constantly push my expression. She’d also be the final voice to complete the group that would write a literary blog, Top 5 Fingers, which involved me, Gus, Zef, and a friend from college, Alana Franasiak. That year I would even host the writer of the La La Theory and White Elephants zines, who I’d admired for a long time, Katie Haegale. And in somewhat a different direction, that would be the year I would lose the first person to ever call me “brother”, Mike Hall. His death still carrying it’s weight for me every November, leaving me lost and longing, but also giving me a better sense of the value of life and how fragile it can sometimes be.
I read The Voice of Wye Gnough several more times over the year. Each time I’d read, I’d find new things I liked and many more I disliked. I started to write new chapters and rewrite old ones with the sound of my voice in mind. Back then I mostly wrote on a typewriter I bought for 10 dollars on the side of the road in North Philly. Each time I read, I paid more attention to the sound of the words. But The Voice of Wye Gnough wasn’t quite right yet. Some of it was unsalvageable to this new style I was finding. This new voice that was increasingly my own.
Eventually, I would scrap the novel because of its jumbled sentences and lack of true development. One of the last times I would read from it, Gus would actually light some of the pages on fire. It was New Years. A celebration in the second house for VWVOFFKA to pop up in, two blocks north on the road. The same building where Little Baby’s Ice Cream now resides. In the basement, was the first home of the Dream Oven. I watched and admired the flames, but then I realized I had no idea which pages Gus was reading from and whether they were any good or not.
I yelled out, “Gus! That’s typewritten. I don’t have any copies!”
The pages turned to smoke and ash and went out on the floor and I had to accept they were gone. Part of me accepted it was better that way. The remaining pages I put in a box somewhere and taped shut, maybe a month or two later.
If I had never read poetry that year, I would’ve never found my voice. Even more importantly, I would have never found my writing community.
Now six years later, I’ve just completed my second poetry tour across the country. I’ve found and been reinvigorated in the magic that spoken words hold. They can be healing. They inspire others. They create a sense of connection that maybe some other forms of expression can’t quite match. There’s a vulnerability in them. There’s definitely a catharsis.
It’s interesting to perceive how short a time six years are, relatively, between then and now. It’s interesting to examine how much growth, I’ve had personally and where I’m at as a writer today. And even more so to see all the growth in my peers. To see all of the many good vibes we’ve brought ourselves through. It’s amazing to think of all the things we’ve created together.
The creative life is a beautiful one. The Voice of Wye Gnough was an attempt at telling a story of it. Of our generation. Even back then I was calling us all Dream Punks. But it came up short. It failed miserably.
One day, hopefully soon, I’ll finish that first novel, though, and tell the story of the incredible scene I’ve been brought up in.
For the last year, The Crow has been telling me our planet is into its last stage of suffering. It’s only a moment before we pass the point of no return and the whole thing tosses us off of it. In many ways we’re already there.
I’ve seen it across the country in the form of waste. From landfill along the highways to deforestation and strip mining in our national parks. In East Texas, they hand you an over-cooked hamburger in a styrofoam container 5 times a normal size, with a plastic bag and a handful of bleached white napkins. On the Oregon and Californian coastlines there are the dead bodies of seals and sea birds decaying slowly, their guts full of plastics and no one notices. Back home in Philly, I’ve watched folks unload an entire car trunk’s worth of garbage bags in the abandoned lots of East Kensington only to have them open up days later scattering tons of plastic and paper product into the wind and across the sidewalks into the local ecosystem.
I’ve seen it everywhere and I’m no saint. I propel my poetry tours upon the ignited fumes of a fossil record that reaches back eons. And I, a storyteller, know nothing of its history. I, like everyone, have been taught to fill the tank without asking questions about where the fuel comes from. Right now each gallon comes cheap and I know it’s at the expense of some sacred waterway in North Dakota or a child’s life in the Middle East.
Yet, I keep going. We all keep contributing. This endless cycle has no end in sight.
That’s the reality.
The Fool in me sees the other side to this blunt truth. He sees that dreams can be manifested. He believes in The Artist and The Poet, and their abilities to create new realities. He sees The Crow, and says, “Well, there must be some reason The Crow is talking to me specifically, and not only that…He’s talking to other folks in my tribe as well. There must be some reason all of us in particular are even noticing.”
And then it clicks, and it’s pretty simple. It’s that we are the solutions that we seek, and all of this can be remedied if people like us continue to wake up to it.
I’m all about social activism. But the Earth is my number one bae. She doesn’t get enough attention in this current hierarchy of things that need to be fixed. I wish that were differrent. The warning signs are all there and it’s up to us whether or not to use them to empower ourselves and our home planet into a brighter future.
The industrial revolution is over, it’s time for a rêvolution of heart.
Anyway, Happy Earth Day, friends!
Donate $1 a month to my Patreon campaign, and have full access to my forthcoming release, Travel By Haiku: Still Trippin’ Across the States. It’s as easy as that!
Over the last year, I’ve gone on 3 separate poetry tours, traveled across about 35 of the 50 states in the US, been through a few dozen national parks, and met all sorts of incredible creators from around the world. I really couldn’t have done it without the help of so many generous people on the road. It’s been a fun time with life’s typical ups and downs, and I’ve tried my best to take everyone else along for the ride, to share with them all the stories and all the magic I’ve encountered. I can say honestly, I have grown in so many ways, especially as a writer.
Travel is certainly tough, though. There’s a lot of expenses from paying for gas to general upkeep on my car to camping fees and buying food. Beyond that, traveling for 3 month stretches means I don’t have a regular income for that time and I’m mostly living off of my savings. I’m far from starving, and I think I’ve almost got this traveling thing figured out as far as being efficient and living on the cheap and busking when I need to pick up some extra gas money. But every little bit really goes a long way.
If you like what I have been up to over this past year, and you’re looking for a way to contribute, you could help by becoming a patron to my poetry. For only $1 a month you will have unlimited access to various pieces of my work before they are made available elsewhere. This includes travel stories, haikus from the Travel By Haiku series, photography, and more. Like any crowdsourcing campaign there are bigger rewards the more you donate, so follow the link below and pick what suits you best: https://www.patreon.com/marshalljameskavanaugh
Thank you, everyone, for so many great experiences in 2015. I’ve had so many opportunities to meditate on gratitude towards all. In 2016 I hope the year brings even more in the shape of abundance for all of us.
Marshall James Kavanaugh
Last night a very beat thing happened to me. I watched a man play a saxophone to the San Francisco Bay under the carpet of stars above, backlit by a whole digital mainframe animating circuit board of city lights glittering like tiny solar systems orbiting the ground here where we stood. I was stoned and a little bit drunk from drinking more than an adequate amount of pirate’s port wine on a friend’s pink sailboat in the marina. We all feeling extra nimble with our loosened bodies we listened snapping our fingers, dancing weird jigs, and tapping our weird feet enjoying being star struck by such a quintessential imagery. It was all very merry and glorious and could’ve gone on much longer, us clown bums and dream punks and country beatniks far from over with the day’s rêvelutions, but then the Weed Ma, she came over to me and she grabbed my attention and she said, “Look, Ma! Look at the way the bay responds”, and that’s when the universe really started to click and snap its fingers back at us taking on that divine curvy glow of subliminal ecstasy.
An excerpt from my new novel Fire. Sun. Salutation
Get your copy today on Amazon.com: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Sun-Salutation-collection-transformations/dp/0692362762
or if you live in Philadelphia, copies are available from the Random Tea Room (located at 713 n. 4th street)
from the story “Fire Breather, Beach Sun”:
Joe Cockren raises his right thumb to Neil Redrun’s right ear and flicks it. Underneath his sunglasses Neil wakes only slightly disturbed. The green smoke from the last joint still settling onto the golden sand. His towel creates a pillow for the crown of his beach bum head. The girls giggle as the boys wrestle and dig a hole with the force of their motions topsy turvey acrobatting out into the ocean and tossing one another into the waves drowning only slightly in order to wash the sweat from their brows coming up for air in a panic that seems worse than it actually is.
Maja Ra is radiant. Her tan breasts supple in the end of summer sun pushing back against the light as they raise themselves to heaven. Adele Catchlight is less adorned but her calm beauty feels au naturale against the serene backlight of the blue sky.
Joe kicks sand into the air as he walks back to the encampment. He shakes the water out of his hair and off his muscular back onto the girls causing them to stir as they smile up at him standing there in his blue green bathing trunks with arms outstretched taking in the sun. “What are we going to eat,” he says. “I got the munchies and the beer isn’t enough to contain them.” He dives onto Maja and rubs his sandy chin into her breasts as she laughs and wraps her arms around him pulling at and straightening his red-blonde hair. She lays back and he picks her up with one arm walking her out towards the sea her arms draped back fingers drawing a line in the sand mapping out his conquest.
To finish the story you’ll have to grab a copy for yourself. Fire. Sun. Salutation. is available now! It is a collection of 9 short stories of erotic surreal splendor. You won’t be disappointed!