The Great Pretender/The Poet Who Didn't Write
   
 

in rooms with no windows, strange things can happen to a man's mind. it's the only explanation, surely... in a cavernous cellar bar buried deep in the underbelly of the city with a heavy mix of rain and pressure in the Friday night air, it can warp you beyond recognisable shape or form. that's what happened to a man before my very eyes. he lost his shape. he knew everybody but was a friend of no-one's. the room moved around him as if he were in the eye of a storm. but he couldn't be. he lacked the calm of a storm’s eye. his disposition was one of rigid turbulence. i'd seen him through the evening hopping between the people in the place and the bar. never very long with the people. always a long time at the bar. trying to pick up drinks and conversations. not many conversations, not long ones anyway. plenty of long drinks. when i found myself next to him at the bar, he claimed that he knew me. at first i thought maybe he did, i sort of recognised him, i've met a lot random people in my time. but then i realised that he just had one of those faces. i'd never met him in my life. i'd met some like him though.
'so, what do you do?' i asked
'i consider myself to be a modern beat poet,' came the reply.
'oh, what do you write?'
'nothing.'
'oh.'
at first i thought this might be some conceptual shit he was talking about, maybe he was onto something. a poet that doesn't write.
'so, how does your poetry work?' (i was looking for the big idea here).
'no, i don't do any poetry of any kind, but I like the Beats. I've read some Kerouac and my Dad was a Beat poet.'
'oh really, what did he write?'
'well, just bits really, not much, but he was around at that time and he was into Ginsberg and stuff.'
he was thinking he was a real cool guy, like he thought this shit would impress me.
'so was his stuff good? did he have anything published?'
'no. but he has all the books. I've been reading them. Have you ever read Kerouac?'
'Bits.'
'I've just read Desecration Angels...'
'Desolation Angels?' i interrupted.
'yeah, i love the beginning when he's on top of the mountain but the rest of it is spoilt because all the people ruin it, it's better when it's just jack on the mountain.'
'well, the contrast is kind of the point of the book, fella, but if you want to get into jacky on his mountain then read the dharma bums.'
'the what? oh, i don't know that one.'
'you're some poet.'
'no, i am, i tell you. because it's a personal thing to me, because of my dad.'
'oh yeah, your dad.'
'And Kesey, I'm more into him. but i tell you, i HATE the hippies for what they did to what the beats created.'
he was getting quite irate now, adamant to assure me of his credentials as a modern beat poet. as if i needed further convincing.
'i don't see any reason to hate hippies.'
'but they took a beautiful thing and politicised it and used it and destroyed it.' Then he went on about Vietnam.
'well i don't know about that, i'd say there's a bit more to it than that and there's plenty of worse people to hate, hippies weren't so bad.'
'but it's personal, you don't understand.'
'i think you're the one who doesn't understand. if you want to look at the hippies as an extension of the beats then it's kind of a logical progression but you have to look to the other factors of the era. in the fifties you've got the post war sanitised mass-production ethic going on, so the beats were just doing their own thing, rejecting the order of the day, not being self conscious about it, just living life how they wanted to live it, they just so happened to have something to say and knew how they wanted to say it and they were able to get their words out and get heard. Now, you look at the sixties and the issues of the day. The beats obviously appealed to the liberals and the left, who happened to be hippies, not just hippies, but that's the angle you're taking. then look at the politics of the day - a fucking outrage, blatantly. who speaks out loudest against governmental fuckery? the lefties, so what do you expect. Do you really expect the left not to speak out against a terrible war? I mean, even half the right were against that war. You think the beats weren't against the war? that's natural - just the way things go. it just happens that's how things coalesced with Vietnam and all your other shit and the hippies being the main left of the day so of course they're going to be on it. '
'Yeah, but it's not just vietnam. the hippies just fucked it up.
they were handed something great and they killed it because they had no focus. they ruined it.'
'Well if you want to talk about politicising a movement of that era you can't really ignore Vietnam. I'm not saying I'm defining how it was, I wasn't there at the time so how could I know? All I'm saying is there are several other things which come into play which affected the course of events and why things turned out the way they did. but you know, i can only go on what i've read and from what i've read between the lines, I can't say with any certainty. I mean who says the hippies did take on from the Beats, I've never heard of or read of any Beat being a part of the Hippy movement or associating with them on the level of the hippy movement. the hippies seem more like their audience than an extension of them in any other form. the beats were a small group of writers and intellectuals, the hippies were an altogether more public movement, and you're asking for trouble if you don't have some kind of screening process. the media just lumped the left movements together because it's easier and convenient to label and associate than truly understand...’
'but you don't understand. i know because it's so personal.'
'no, i understand you alright, it's you that doesn't understand.'
'no, I understand you clearly, it's just a thing with me. that's just how i see it.'
'YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME, BECAUSE IF YOU DID, YOU WOULD BE AGREEING WITH ME.'
that was much as i could take of the great pretender. I gave him that last line and got the hell out of there leaving him at the bar with his idyllic thoughts of Kerouac on his mountain top with the hippies conspiring to topple the beatniks and ruin them by dragging them into political debate. Something truly unforgiveable to him. So personal. I went off to enjoy the rest of the night with the drink and the music and the orgiastic atmosphere of the room with no windows - it was a good long late night of fun and feeling.
the great pretender was left to rearrange his his shape back to a slightly less recognisable form.
that poet, he doesn't write. but i do.