Poetry for Southern California

 

3 Wise Idiots

                             
 

Three Wise Idiots: Scott Wannberg, John Dorsey & SA Griffin Meet Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel and Harvey Keitel

By Carlye Archibeque

It’s happened again, SA Griffin has had in idea about words and the road. It happened from 1985 to 1992 with the Lost Tribe (SA Griffin, Mike Bruner, Mike Mollette and Doug Knott); then with the Carma Bums (=Lost Tribe + Scott Wannberg & ≥ Bobo Sarton) from 1989 to, well, one can never be sure if the Carma Bums have actually finished since it was/is life as poetry and all of its members are still kicking and writing in their own little corners of the world; and in between it was the Onyx Café, the White Trash Apocalypse tour (SA + Iris Berry + Pleasant Gheman), the Words on Wheels Tour of Words, and a half-dozen other projects including a co-editing credit on the popular Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.

Now another year of Il-Bush-e has brought Griffin back to the road with someone old, Scott Wannberg and someone new, John Dorsey. The result is the Tour of Lost Words raging up and down the state of California and a new book, humorously entitled Harvery Keitel, Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel, featuring a generous offering of works by all three of the poets, each electric with a different frequency and color.

Trying to figure out which lines of Scott Wannberg’s poetry to quote is not an easy task. His poetry is everywhere and everything at once, each line is deadly and important and linked to every other line like the body and the soul. Wannberg’s section of the collection is titled Strother Martin is My God, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Scott’s influences. They are grounded in history: the history of film, the history of music, the history of Los Angeles and America and the history that happened as you were reading this sentence.

 “Dancing cans of Strange Soup can be Yours for Free if you Call now.”

begins:

Operators are standing by.
Waiting to get to know you.
The way you talk when you think nobody can hear you.
The way you think when you swear you left your brain somewhere.

and ends:

Dancing Cans of Strange Soup
are coming now,
and you will have to cook them up
without adding water
because all the water
it sort of went dry.

Volumes about the pitfalls and confusion of daily modern life are spoken in the 22 lines that make up the entire poem and because I quoted only the beginning and the end, there was still of lot of Wannberg’s meaning missing.

All of his poems are full of revelations about the nature of everyday people, politicians, dogs, cats and everything in between. In the mad world of Wannberg one thing is just like another: rich in love, longing and fallibility. His words whip between the sacred and the profane like an expert skier on the mogul run of a life time.

From: “somewhere they got the fine food”

I saw the lovers escape the monster
I saw the lovers climb into the sky
they were very graceful
they ate good food

From: “Take Your Rapture And…” for Warren Zevon:

No, don’t need any rapture today, I’m too busy
taking part in this life, this world, too busy
learning how to use my energy to make this time
and moment endurable…”

John Dorsey’s work is structured like haunted house. His ghosts are the beats of old and he has learned to live his own life despite the presence of spirits in his life, and maybe because of them. His only tour before this one was with Gregory Corso. Griffin & Wannberg met Dorsey through another luminary of the LA underground, Iris Berry. Dorsey started emailing the guys and posting poems on Wannberg’s Ongoing Dancers Yahoo Group, a friendship was struck and another round of LA poetry performance and publication commenced. While his voice is distinct, he shares with Wannberg and Griffin the whimsy of ticking back and forth between classical philosophy and streetwise simplicity.

“pink plastic flamingos:”

exist         simply
for those
who         refuse
               to put
               a limit
on           miracles

and everyone
else       well
              fuck them 

anyway.

From: “on borrowed sunlight…” 

we are living

on borrowed

sunlight… 

for cult status

celebrity skin   used vinyl

most days I feel   like

leatherface revisiting

the scene of the crime….

From: “poem: 9/23/04””

today i am
my mother’s son

in absence of eternity
we majored in silence

Finally, Griffin’s offerings in the book are at once self-referential musings and an everyman diary of someone who has learned to love the world he lives in and to poke fun at his efforts to make a mark on it. And everything is about the word, the language and the literary life.

From, “The Apes of Wrath”

virus history flickers
incurable
inside my heart
& you are with me Walt Whitman
in every blade of grass
you are with me
on Brooklyn Bridge
crossing over 

… 

& what New Deal have we now?
what Great Society
conspires to steal the vote
& pimp our country
to the lowest bidder? 

… 

America
you drank
& became
empty 

From: “Genius”

a dangerous word
full of guilt and promise
often misunderstood
much less if ever
defined or fulfilled

Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel is a great read, thoughtful and entertaining and ultimately life-affirming. It speaks to the wondering, wandering spirit that exists in everyone who is willing to admit that they don’t know everything but would like to at least get to know it better.