In Chicago, there's a Poetry Garage, and, no, I'm not making this up. Why would I make it up? I'm too honest, earnest and anal retentive to make anything up, ever. The Poetry Garage is at 201 West Madison, and for a modest fee, say, $2,000 a month, you can park your miserable, beloved poem in the Poetry Garage, where no one, but no one, will ever proposition it, not that it's been getting lucky anyway, lately or ever. My primary and lifelong interest, however, is not in this Poetry Garage but in the cousined, digestively related Poetry Junk Yard, reputedly further West, where every life form, radiant or otherwise, goes to die, with its dreams, Hollywood or otherwise, never coming close to being fulfilled. Hey, but the road was fun and crippling! The Poetry Junk Yard is said to be larger than the Earth itself.
In Providence, some wise guy at Cafe Francaise has decided to scrawl some effete, literary hors d'œuvre on the chalk board each morning, and on March 11, 2011, at exactly 1:12PM, I was affronted with this nonsense from a guy I've never heard of: "Poetry begins when we look from the center outward--Ralph Waldo Emerson." This nutrition-free yet pestering nugget was promptly redeemed, however, by a lovely coda--and all codas are lovely, my dear, in its proper lighting and coupled with a carafe or six pack--right beneath it, "Today's Soup: Chicken Tortilla."
As we all know, Providence is home to excellent Brown University, an ivory Watts Tower that mostly benefits folks parachuted in from divers brown stones, cul-de-sacs and walled and moated communities. That is, they ain't quite germaine to Providence itself, with its million Dunkin' Donuts and a few excellent Cambodian eateries. So here's the punchline: Brown pays only 2 million bucks of city tax when it should cough up 19, which is exactly the deficit of sugar and trans fat-mainlining Providence. Ah, but Brown has an excellent writing program!
Opening a Brown door to go outside, I nearly slammed into a white bearded and ushanka wearing character, so I shouted my standard greeting, "Yo, let's go for a beer!" But this Russian caricature dude was not impressed. Though he seemed crazy, he probably thought I was crazy. It turned out he was the take-no-prisoner Keith Waldrop. Just so you know now, Keith doesn't bullshit, and he has stopped going to poetry readings or lectures. He has enough poems in his head to last several millenia, so he has to use what little time he has left to hunker down and turn each one over, to examine each from all sides, to decide whether it belongs in the Poetry Garage or the Poetry Junk Yard.
In Austin, someone has scrawled on the bathroom wall of a cafe on Congress Street, "I don't know if you or I exist, but somewhere there are poems about us."
Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...