Dead Poets Sobriety

Sitting here in my hotel room, going over some files from the last 20 years or so. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of these, and looking over these files, especially the poems, I’m called back to a lot of the days and nights that now feel so alive and jumping, even though most of those nights were spent alone in my place(s) hammering out pages on my electric. A few of these came up off the page and stood on their own in front of my monitor, so I decided to post them here. Looking back on my twenties and early thirties, I have to laugh a bit at the levels of poverty and emotion, the feeling of the cassette player stopping and switching sides, the rising of the smoke from the ashtray, the liquor, the day-old coffee cold and the sounds of the other tenants walking, falling, fighting, or knocking on my door to use my phone or hide out from a fight that had brewed with their girlfriends. There was always a job, or a search for a job, there was always a feeling of waiting, even though now I can see that I wasn’t waiting for anything. I was getting the words down like a madman. Not a lot has changed. I no longer smoke and I no longer drink every night, or even every weekend for that matter. Once every few weeks or so, I tie one on and pay dearly in the morning. The point is, you get older and you start to value your mornings more than your evenings, you start taking care of your body, watching what you eat and drink because it will either make you or break you. It’s funny, really. Now that I make a living off the novels, which is fucking mind-blowing to me, even after years of doing it, I’ve noticed the core of the work remains the same, the same feeling is there for me. I’ve been getting back to the short story lately, and even the poem, though I hate the words “poem” and “poetry” because of the image they portray of the person writing them. Whenever I hear the word “poet,” I feel violent disgust, because I visualize what most mentally sound people visualize: some insecure, narcissistic asshole pretentiously writing a “poem” for others to read in order to pad his ego because his father didn’t hug him enough or his mother stopped telling him how good he looked. I contemplated a book of poems to submit to my publisher called Stories in Under Two Minutes or Less, but then I thought better. And while it’s justifiably true that “poetry doesn’t sell anymore,” in Dead Birds Hot, I sneaked in a few poems between the stories. It was fun for me. I felt like I was spiking the punch at a church social of sorts. In my next book, Gutted Rose & Other Stories, there are quite a few poems. The beauty of having a publisher smaller than the huge NYC houses is that they take risks, they gamble on content. They’re already braced for anything. I have to respect that fighting spirit. Here are a few short things I’ve found today that I wanted to post here. The first one is from way back when, the two that follow made the cut for Dead Birds Hot, and the last one is just ridiculous, but I remember laughing after I wrote it, drunk in 1997. Anyway, I was thinking about poetry this morning, and the fact that poetry doesn’t sell. I’ve even heard the phrase, “poetry is dead.” I would say the true poet is dead, but that’s just my opinion. All the poets I respect are dead, that’s for sure. That would have been a better way to say it. But fuck it, no reason to start treading lightly at 42.

***

 

 

Entertainment Tonight

 

 

sick in my apartment

bent over my coffee

table smoking

on the tube

there is a special

about actors

and their drug problems

my rent is due

in 3 days

and I am broke

2 final notices

in the mail

yesterday

one for the

electric

and one for the

phone

I haven’t been

able to leave

my place for

a week

I have half a

check

coming in from my last

job

and a blown head gasket

in my car

I sit

here and listen

about

the

dangers

of

cocaine.

***

 

 

Insomnia

 

 

the ghosts come sideways

diagonal

vertical

forwards

backwards

and up from the floorboards

angry fellows

one holds a clock

the other a ring

one a set of keys

two are cradling a marble coffin

and one has my face on a pole

my heart wedged in my mouth

that’s a new one, I think to myself

normally he just laughs at me

Christ, don’t tell me he’s running out of

ideas, too.

***

 

 

In Our Youth

 

 

we were lemmings against

the sun

the birch trees

laughed

and the water

held wonder

green shades

covered our hair

from the teeth

of age

and the captains waved from

cloud scorched horizons

and the wood

of the pier

was fresh

the dust clean

and cool

the girls were beautiful

and bright and loving

our tan

sculpted

bodies

locked together

free of charge

and money was optional

and morning was optional

dying a fairy tale

our skin pure

and uncombed

by addiction

our stomachs

a warm orange

our heart

an easy power

life was a theater

of experience

and the music smiled

and the sky told truth

and all of our

hands

showed

promise.

***

To The People Who Call Me An Egotist

 

 

The only merit which I can afford

you is that I can’t stop reading

my own poetry.

over and over

again and again.

I mean check it out.

Really.

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About Jeff Stewart

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