They keep trying to say that poetry is dead–that the written word is completely defunct. But here on Governors Island, it’s alive and well–or so it would appear to the novice or lobotomized brain. There are booths and stages set up, a smattering of small presses offering their “merchandise”–more of the t-shirts and hats variety than actual literature. And I am suddenly aware that all of the worst poets talk the loudest, always wanting their “brilliant” use of celebrity name checking to be heard. Hearing one of the many lesbian Puerto Rican poets mention Yara Sofia (the more obscure the celeb name check, the better), I regret the bizarre urge I had earlier this morning to be a supportive friend to Landon, doomed to be ignored at the New York City Poetry Festival for being a white male. Because at this moment in what’s left of the literary “scene” in New York, being white and male has all the cachet of an empty asshole to an administerer of colonics.
Still, Landon was talented and had hung onto the delusion that if he tried hard enough at putting himself out there, he might succeed a.k.a. curry favor with the right small press. I couldn’t bear to tell him that the best thing for his writing would be to become a transvestite. It’s something I’d been considering myself lately with all the luck I was having as one of the plenty of fish in the New York cesspool of a sea. And since Landon had a girlfriend that all the poetry bros drooled over, it wasn’t likely that he’d be available anytime soon. Especially since Lucinda was the type of “casual,” “aloof” girl who didn’t mind if Landon hung out alone with his female friends, of which he had many (the poetry world is, for the most part, a “taco fest,” not a sausage one). Her absence at the festival today was a prime example of how trusting she was, as this event was essentially placing Landon–a giant piece of catnip–on the island for all the felines to fawn over.
I could already see it happening from afar as I took in the sight of Landon excusing himself from a powwow with a group of straight girls (two of whom were dressed in Fabletics, automatically giving away their sexuality) to walk up the petite staircase to the stage to open his “set” with one of my favorite pieces by him, “Jezebel.” As a deliberately misogynistic poem that could land like a lead weight depending on whether or not people took it as a satire, I was worried. And considering the pandemic of literalism afoot, Landon often offended. Today, it appeared, would be no exception, for right as I sat down I could already hear the condemnation of one of those aforementioned lesbian Puerto Rican poets muttering her discontent over the addition of Landon to the lineup to her friend.
Oh Landon, I though to myself, you do try. It’s your greatest downfall. I tuned out the titters and the remarks of the audience to listen as best as I could. Though a microphone was provided, Landon was a soft talker (like I said, only the bad poets speak loudly) and most of his stage time was ruined by the idle chatter of the audience around me, among them another constant hanger-on of the “scene.” Her name was Aris and in truth she must have been one to be able to start her own publishing house, Featherweight. It was a bullshit name, and she was a bullshit person. But to paraphrase, “Fuck Me Pumps,” “Without girls like her, there’d be no readings.” And there’s nothing Aris loved more than her readings, at which time she could talk about how such and such penis violated her vagina. Jesus, how I dreaded interacting with her–it was like churning my tits out of a pasta maker.
And just then, she sidled up to greet me with false pleasantries. She only considered me still worth ass-kissing because I had gotten one critical piece into The Believer six months ago and that was only because I used a three-night stand to get my work looked at. I was surprised I was still able to rest on this lone laurel, but then, it just goes to show how little literary “tastemakers” actually read or keep up with what others have published besides themselves. Granted, if someone did manage to put out a book that was readable through a company that anyone had heard of, then they pulled their head out of their ass long enough to pay attention.
“Hi Christina. I didn’t expect to see you here,” Aris opened.
I shrugged, “I just came to see Landon.”
Aris gave me a knowing grin, “Didn’t we all?”
I didn’t bite at her attempt to get me to admit to some sort of attraction to him, so she carried on, “Well, I’ll be reading too, you know. You should come check out my performance in twenty minutes on the Chinchilla Stage.”
Performance indeed. She had to be acting to have that much conviction in her bathetic style. Rather than bluntly tell her that I’d sooner swim back to South Street than listen to her prattle on, I assured, “I’ll definitely come by.”
Thankfully, Landon intervened by giving us both his salutations after exiting stage right to become a civilian again, you know, as opposed to a walking advertisement for why no one takes poetry seriously other than the niche community of NYC poets themselves.
Aris took it upon herself to monopolize the conversation, which allowed me the opportunity to slyly step backward toward the crepe cart. I turned away from them to order a spinach and goat cheese one, officially permitting my dismissal from what Aris must have assumed was witty banter.
She finally stopped talking only when she felt she was running out of time to get to the Chinchilla Stage for that little “performance.” Meanwhile, I had practically skipped to the shoreline behind those buildings where they like to display all the prison artwork to enjoy my crepe. Landon found me there, plopping down next to me to express his dissatisfaction with the festival.
“I knew it was going to be a bad idea to come here. I just knew it. But how else am I supposed to get exposure, you know? There just has to be a way to make money off of poetry.”
I laughed. “There isn’t. You can get hyper-locally famous off of it. But there’s no money to be had.”
He sighed the sigh of knowing, but not accepting. “You’re right. Yet what else can someone like me do? My major was pretty specific.”
I’d met Landon at Brown when he was getting his MFA in poetry. I, going the somewhat more “practical” route, opted for comparative literature. We had, admittedly, slept together once during a night fueled by absinthe and an attempt to feel more Parisian. We could be really humiliating in our geekishness that way. If anyone in the current anti-art movement had seen us yammering on about Hemingway’s consumption of the beverage, we would have been burned at the stake. And that was another thing, I could admit to Landon that I liked Hemingway without him telling me I was a traitor to my gender and that his prose style was all masturbatory anyway. In part, so I told myself, that was why I never thrived in getting my work published–I didn’t capitalize enough on the zeitgeist of feminism, so mangled as a concept at this point that it smacked of disingenuousness when anyone called him or herself that. Landon, however, never begrudged me. And the remembrance of his constant encouragement was making me feel those old pangs of attraction again. Ostensibly, he must have been reading my thoughts and experiencing the same nostalgic lust.
Lamentably for Landon’s clout with the so-called poets orbiting the island that day, the only thing more scandalous than a white male in the literary world is a white male who fucks in the open outdoors instead of allowing the other poetry hoes to believe he’s available. Needless to say, Landon wasn’t invited back to the New York City Poetry Festival. But that’s all right. He dumped Lucinda and we soon after fled to Zagreb, where public fornication and quality writing isn’t as frowned upon among the artistic community there as it is in New York.