Familiar faces and many new folks gathered round for the First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s on July 7, 2023. The evening’s special format allowed each performer to share a poem written by someone else that inspired them, as well as performing their own work.
Participants who read were Portia Choi, Carla Joy Martin, Don Thompson, Thomas Brill, Heather Ponek, Laila Bearden, Alan McAfee, Jill Egland, Angel Monreal, Crystal, Christopher Robert Craddock, Tim Chang and David Chase.
David Chase drove all the way up from LA to be with us, and he impressed us with his intriguing poetry which he recited by heart. We asked David to share one of his poems he read that night and to let us into his creative process. David may be our newest Open Mic participant, but, as you will see, he is an accomplished, veteran poet.
Here is one of the original poems David recited at Open Mic:
Flophouse in Phoenix
I drove to the desert to escape,
Still things began to get murky
I started fading fast fifty miles from Albuquerque
I was headed for the High Sierras
Hoped to hide out for a while
But my luck ran out in Kingman
Going down a moonlight mile
And though the lights of Las Vegas
Shone above that rocky ridge
I stumbled when the earth moved
As I stood high on London Bridge.
Was it only just last Sunday
That I rode that mule down
To the bottom of God’s grandest
Hole in the ground?
Now I’m flat on my back
Staring across at the wall
In this Flophouse in Phoenix
At the end of the fall.
I once listened to a man
Who said, “Life’s like the Super Bowl
It’s measured off in yardage
As you go marching toward a goal
No matter what your place in life
Just play it like a game
Where winning is all that matters
And there is no guilt or shame
But all the while I played those rules
I had this nagging doubt:
Where did Casey go for comfort
When that pitcher struck him out?
Yes, I used to be an oilman
Climbing to the top of Texaco
These days I dream of Mazatlán
And fishing off the coast of Mexico
In fact, I hung up on the boss
I got another kind of call
In this flophouse in Phoenix
At the end of the fall
I dreamed of this beggars’ banquet
Like that movie by Bunuel
The waitress came and kissed me
Then she screamed out “Go to Hell!”
I ordered up some bread and wine
She served me flesh and blood
I looked outside the window
There stood Gilgamesh in the mud
Then up walked Captain Bligh
He gave me forty lashes
I woke up screaming for my family
My bed aflame with my own ashes.
I think my father has forgotten me,
He hasn’t sent a word
Though he knew of my condition
As soon as it occurred
Thank God I got a letter from my sister in St. Paul
In this flophouse in Phoenix
At the end of the fall.
Q. What inspired you to write your poem? What is its back story? Give us insight into your creative process.
“Flophouse in Phoenix” is one of the few poems that I planned meticulously. I wrote it over months while I was living in the country in Northern California in the mid 80’s. It was a time when many of my generation, who had weathered the disruption of our late teens and early twenties by the War in Vietnam, were seriously questioning our beliefs. Simply put, this tsunami of seekers for a spiritual or religious answer ushered in the so-called “New Age.”
When reading William Irwin Thompson’s The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, it really rocked me and gave me a whole lot to think about. I was astounded by Thompson’s breadth of knowledge concerning the kind of esoteric, occult, or other types of paths that spiritual or scientific seekers have employed to interface or break through to the fourth dimension.
Thompson’s book was also about myths from prehistoric times that dovetailed into the spiritual seeking of many of us, buoyed by the new paradigm of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s physics. The one through line that resonated with me was Thompson’s contention that some ancient societies thought by archeologists to be patriarchal were really matriarchal, misidentified by scientific thinking before the paradigm shift.
There were two themes in the book that resonated with me, “The Fall” and “Matriarchy.” Once I decided on these two themes, I decided to write a poem where the narrator wends his way through his path from his fall to his rise. Since I was raised in a Presbyterian (Protestant) church, I was naturally drawn to “The Fall” of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the redemption of Jesus, who, in the Bible, rises three days after his crucifixion on the cross.
In “Flophouse in Phoenix,” I wanted to utilize a riot of characters such as Bob Dylan sings about, as well as the geography of the United States, found in Chuck Berry’s songs. Though I used many Christian symbols, I hoped to personify the poem by making it about a single person’s journey in earthly terms, even though it is somewhat surreal.
I wrote the poem in my usual iambic pentameter style with the same kind of meter and rhyming stanzas used by poetry writers from Shakespeare to my favorite contemporary singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, and many others.
I began to write it piecemeal over many months. By writing it, per se, I mean that I’d think of a line, couplet or stanza, and use it, then find a better one. I just kept it all in mind and something would pop up. Despite the length of time it took to compose, I have always felt that this was one of several poems that ‘wrote itself’ more than I wrote it.
At the time I was reading Thompson’s book, I had just written two songs to sing at my improvisational group’s performances in Sonoma County and I was in the kind of creative cloud I’ve felt all too infrequently.. I felt confident for the first time in my life, to have a prior plan for a poem – it didn’t just pop into my head.