"Beat Poetry" by Michael Showalter
Taken from MR FUNNY PANTS
In high school, I began listening to Bob Dylan and Charles Mingus. I grew my hair a little shaggy and started wearing a jeans jacket and small leather boots. I read “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg and Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. “On the Road” was too obvious. Only poseurs read “On the Road.” I was no poseur. I was the real deal. I read poems: “A Coney Island of the Mind” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and “Bomb” by Gregory Corso. I was hip to their vibe. They were cool cat daddios and so was I. They were counterculture and so was I. They liked jazz and so did I. They were artists and poets and so was I. We were all bound together by a thread of oneness that . . . bound us together . . . in a thread . . . of . . . um . . . oneness.
My senior year, I became the editor- in- chief of my high school’s literary magazine: The Cheshire Cat. The job had been passed down through the years from cool- arty- graduating- senior to cool- arty- incoming- senior.
A guy named John was the editor before me. He was mysterious and deep. He wore a necklace made of seashells, and button- down shirts unbuttoned to his navel.
As editor in chief, I took my role very seriously. I solicited poetry and short stories from my classmates and selected which submissions would be published. I retyped all the pieces on my mom’s electric typewriter and spent hours assembling the pages into a pamphlet: I cut, I collated, I stacked. I wrote the following introduction:
A youthful voice can be eloquent, musical, impassioned, and gracious. Yet it can also be coarse, angry, vulgar, and acrimonious.
“Acrimonious”? I must have been studying for the SATs.
But whatever sounds emerge from young voices, they should not be dismissed as uncultured, unknowing, or immature. The work of a writer or artist in development can be just as meaningful as that of a professional, sometimes even more so, and this work should be heard.
“Sometimes even more so”!
These voices, however, are many times stifled by those who are trying to carve a writer to their specifications and not let the vitality that is inherent in the works come through. We believe that these voices should be heard regardless of their content and in the exact form that they are presented to us.
I don’t know to whom I am referring when I say “we,” like I had an entire staff of people working under me. The “we” was just me.
Arnold Epstein in Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues said, “Don’t you know that if you compromise your thoughts, you can’t be a writer?” We advocate this philosophy and acknowledge all writers, no matter how beautiful, humorous, caustic, morbid, lusty, or dull their works are.
Wow, there’s a lot going on there. First of all, how about that quote? Could I not think of anyone cooler to quote than Arnold Epstein? Also, I slipped in two more SAT words: caustic and morbid. How about “lusty”? I was still a virgin then. I hadn’t even masturbated.
This year’s Cat is a powerful combination of poetry, politics and prose.
Now it’s just “Cat.” I’m clearly saying that there’s really no need to use the whole title now. The Cheshire Cat is so well- known I can refer to it by its nickname.
In this Cat we have tried to represent the poems in a generic and simple graphic set. We have done this in emulation of the great poetry journals published by the Beats in the late 1950s.
Again, there was no “we.” It was just “me.” Then this thing: “Graphic set”? I can only assume I couldn’t think of a better word than set.
We had to read each piece at least twice before the quality and meaning hit us.
“At least twice,” he says. What dedication! Most editors wouldn’t do that. Most editors probably barely even read what they put in their magazines at all, but not me. I read each piece twice.
We strongly recommend that you do the same.
Now I’m just being a jerk.
The Cat this year lacks a certain happiness and for this,[sic] we must apologize. It seems that the only grin you’ll find in this book is the one that remains when the Cheshire Cat’s body has fully disappeared.
I submitted a poem of my own to The Cheshire Cat. It was prose poetry. Amazingly, I accepted my poem that I submitted to myself.
The poem was a no- bullshit glance into the depths of human darkness. When I wrote the poem, I read it out loud to my mom. She laughed. I had no idea why and was very hurt. Now I think I see the humor.
THE APARTMENT BUILDING
by Michael Showalter
Curious title considering that the closest I’d ever been to an apartment
building was visiting my sister’s college dormitory.
There is a whore in my apartment building,
Her room smells like dirty sex.
This is what they call starting big.
There is a man next door who reads the comics.
His idea of a hero is a hand job and a beer.
“Hero” is a double entendre: either a hoagie or an idol.
There is a dog in that man’s room,
His name is “Asshole” and he smells like piss.
Word for word, I swear.
Across the courtyard, a couple lives.
He’s an actor— she’s an actress.
They can’t find work so they steal from the market.
The market? Suddenly, we’re in Marrakech? What are they stealing
from this market? Figs? Spices? Lanyards?
I smoked a reefer with them.
It’s not bad enough that I said “reefer.” I had to say “a reefer.” I don’t
know that there even is such a thing as “a reefer.”
A manuscript lies on a naked mattress
That lies in the corner of my two- room apartment.
Now we’re learning more about the narrator. He’s a writer! And he lives
in a “ two- room apartment.” No den? No conversation pit? No game
It has a coffee stain on it.
The publishers and editors have fucked it all to hell.
Okay. So apparently he’s got a book deal.
A six- string guitar rests against a chair in my room. It only has
I’m strung out on dope.
Why not take some of the book deal money and go buy new strings?
Next door to me a young man is writing pamphlets,
They are anti- Semitic.
But for Chrissakes that man is a JEW!
That is very ironic.
A guy lies on a flat surface smoking a cigarette.
I lie dead in my bathtub.
Huh? The End. Thankfully.
Mr. Funny Pants by Michael Showalter. Copyright 2011 by Michael Showalter. Published by Grand Central Publishing.