Room 67 • Poetry Hotel
Five Poems / Ken Waldman
TO AN APPRENTICE WRITER
Everything's been written
(just look at the books).
So easy to quit
when every wilderness
has been mapped,
every love story launched,
every household built
(though that hasn't stopped others).
I only mean to say
go on with the work.
Not yet has everything
been written by you.
Writer or typewriter? Just burn, burn, burn
so the bebop jazz and everything beat
blast like an old Ford from Larimer Street
to Frisco or New York City, then turn
that jalopy around like a sax. Burn,
burn, burn, more beer, weed, books, then meet
Neal, Allen, Gregory, the boys in heat
to take on the big Buddha world and learn
dharma of mountaintop, sky, desert, road.
Bill Burroughs, Gary Snyder, a whole load
of good men. Mexico City. Lowell, Mass.
The clubs, parties, and girls flew by so fast
it was a dream. Sleep? Stars sparkle brighter
without. Dusk to dawn at the typewriter.
TO A TWENTY-YEAR OLD POET
Forty years old, I'm you times two,
and you think I'm pitiful, a prick,
unknown and unread for good reason
because what I write is “the worst.”
Listen, if you're serious about the art,
the usual advice is, first, find something
else to do because poetry is no way
to make a living. Second, read
everything you can, whether you like it
or not. Third, establish a schedule
and write even when you don't want to,
regardless of standards (which doesn't mean
you won't work to make each syllable
sing). Fourth, leave your elders alone,
unless invited, or you risk
being called asshole in print. Fifth,
if you haven't quit after ten, fifteen,
twenty years, then write even more,
and—this is important—watch what happens
to you, young man, in the process.
Sad-looking Mississippian begins
with the family tree, ends with a prayer,
in between reads, softly, a most bizarre
Gothic tale: a pair of identical twins
are separated at birth. One named Vin
at age twenty has a sex change, becomes Claire,
moves to New Orleans, falls in love with Bear,
who—you've guessed!—is their lost brother. Within
the first ten pages all this plus a murder/
suicide in some club. The French Quarter
has never seen such a stew. Further
twists include a ménage à trois with Carter,
Vin/Claire and Bear's crazy dwarf whore mom, who
recognizing her kids, goes mad anew . . .
Impossible to imagine a female,
no matter how angry or desperate,
would have crept across the Radisson lot
at 3 or 4 A.M. with a rock
to smash a passenger side window.
That's man's work, the satisfaction
of a quick shatter of glass,
an otherwise inconspicuous old sedan.
The gamble: inside the small bag
on the front seat, a tablet or camera;
inside the bigger backseat bag,
gadgets and instruments of greater value;
inside the glovebox—a wad of fifties,
or jewelbox of rubies and pearls.
Angry man, you rifled through glovebox
papers: receipts for oil changes,
tire purchases, sundry repairs; you swiped the change
from the beverage holder—dimes, nickels,
pennies totaling less than three bucks; you
tore open the backseat bag to find a mad nest
of bags zippered inside bags; you snatched
that little green satchel on the front seat. Perhaps
you've calculated what you can get
for the eight paperbacks that were within—
the collected works of Ken Waldman.
Angry man, now you're angrier.
Ken Waldman has 11 books, 9 CDs, and since 1995 has made a living by combining Appalachian-style string-band music with original poetry and
Alaska-set storytelling. Much more at www.kenwaldman.com and www.trumpsonnets.com.
Acknowledgements: "To an Apprentice Poet", "Kerouacian Sonnet", "To a Twenty-Year-Old Poet" and "First Novelist"
all will be appearing in The Writing Party, (Mezcalita Press, Wimberley TX, March 2020).