As a person who puts a substantial amount of stock in rhetoric and eloquence, I have always striven to improve my skills at the written and spoken word. I even nurture a profound hope, (or delusion, depending on perceptive,) that my skills have matured to such a degree that I can create a tapestry of words which people will find perhaps marginally as interesting and profound as I do. I am my own best critic, after all. However, at some point there comes that moment of rather profound apprehension:
Is my work actually any good? Or am I so out of touch, so personally biased, that my own lofty opinions of my work is in fact a polar opposite of reality?
One can only labor under such a soporific notion for so long. Some writers turn to alcohol. Some turn to travels. Some turn to just going bat-shit crazy, (I'm looking at you, Orson Scott Card.) But some look to test their work in the public eye, for personal vindication more than anything else.
So I printed off one of my favorite works: a short poem entitled "A Toast," which is only the first part of four in a larger comprehensive work of poetry.
After informing perhaps a dozen literary-inclined friends, (of whom only one showed up, but the bar was full anyway, so fuck YOU guys :),) I rehearsed once briefly in the car ride towards my maiden poetry stage: open poetry night at Lydias.
I was rather surprised by scope and scale of the entire enterprise. I must admit that my expectations were rather modest; perhaps four or so tables and a handful of poems read as background noise to a quiet Sunday pint. I really should learn to be more optimistic. The event was large, organized, exuberant, and had real production value!
The other poets read some fantastic original pieces: poems of note included a passionate monologue from Kermit the Frog as he leaves Miss Piggy, and a truly epic prank played on some gold miners up in northern Canada. One truly memorable performance came from a girl who talked about overcoming emotional abuse and learning to trust again. While she spoke about being diminutive, on stage she appeared anything but. I swear, she looked like she was ready to rip out a lion's heart and eat it.
My poem came nestled in the exact center of the performances, and was perhaps the longest single poem, though there were people who performed numerous shorter poems back-to-back. Truth be told, even though I am used to being on a stage and being the center of attention, (I revel in it, if I'm being entirely honest,) as I neared the end of my poem, I experienced something I haven't felt in years: stage fright. My heart sped up, my breath got shallow and rapid, dry mouth, all that shit. I was dreading getting to the end and receiving the polite pity clap; that modest ten second applause reserved for piano recitals and sub-par wedding speeches.
That did not happen. I got loud, exited applause, and several people I didn't know approached me to congratulate me and analyze my work. And, naturally, to invite me back next week, and I am inclined to oblige them.
I'll never admit this in person, but public vindication is truly the lifeblood of my charismatic attitude, and even one person being genuine and honest with their opinion of my work is often enough to keep my inspired and working for months to come.
So I guess I'll just leave that poem here. It really benefits from the verbal performance element, as I wrote it specifically to be read aloud, but I hope the words themselves have the merit to stand alone. And as always, I'd appreciate an opinion or two.
To you, the shelf life Socrates, the bargain bin Poe's, the milk-at-the-front-of-the-cooler Mandela's,
whose epiphanies and revelations and tears of profound refined outpourings of self have come a thousand times before, and will come a thousand times after.
To you, the sidelined geniuses, the team managers and waterboys of the human condition,
whose mountains of traversed texts and internet histories packed with non-cat films laden thick with the musings of history and philosophy and cosmology leave you repeating and improving verse and meter in front of bathroom mirror or cracked windshield.
To you, the muted rabble-rousers born a decade too late, the disenfranchised malcontented optimists born a century too early,
whose soul and mind and stomach and tonsils and fisted toes and pocketed hands shriek for a shared unselfish spotlight to continue a discourse now impotent and masterbatory, forgetting that the grave leaves plenty of time for silence.
To you, the writer and musician and poet and artist and philosopher who has seen their original work, independent and isolated, performed three years ago or three years later on a global stage better or even worse than your vision,
whose river of jot-noted novels and scratchpad songs and scribbled Mona Lisa's and three-rhyme Xanadu's fill your hard drives and flash drives and clutter your desk and inbox and binder and once motivated mind.
To you, the unabashed riders of intellectual coat tails, eagerly and critically prospecting the rivers
for Hitchens and Harris and Dawkins and Dennet,
who never claim arrogance and embrace the humility of their simplicity, aspiring to further their minds and opinions and stances and beliefs standing on the shoulders of giants and titans and the HMS Beagle.
To you, the questioners of 5th grade scare tactics and seekers of liberal drug studies, you shedders and moulters and pruners and polishers of bullshit and fact and opinions useful and damaging,
whose virgin sensibilities of the mind and human experience were joyously shattered as the hymen of beer and pot and music and film and pornography and obscure artsy films in dusty corner shops or on thepiratebay with only 3 seeds was torn asunder as you screamed with joy!
To you, the closet Darwins, the housebound and housebroken skeptics, the paterfamilias lapdog fetching the slippers of Genisis and Leviticus and Romans and Titus and Odin and Krishna and Cerberus,
whose gnawing rash of hidden doubt and factual convictions itches even now, where it could once be quelled with your hidden library and anonymous internet posts, now raging in twitching isolated insanity where the immature thrill of your great secret is now a poor thing.
To you, the addicts and fiends of debate and argument, eager for your next hit of firm voices and clashing views and elbows on the table leaning forward into your respectfully dark ale,
whose pingpong banter with friends and acquaintances and happenstance partners and rivals in deduction and citation carries long into the night with many concessions and achievements and beautifully warped views cause many heads to turn and waitresses to inject their two cents, and leaves many empty pints on the table.
To you, the builders of blanket forts and grillers of cheese sandwiches and authors of Alphabet Soup and William Wallace's of pillow fights and Shakespeare's of puns,
whose living example of exuberance and freedom breaks the ice among a crowd and within one mind, giving consent and permission to act the way we weren't brought up, and throw every grocery store lecture and parking lot pulled ear and angry car drive with empty driver's seat threats to the winds.
To you who enjoy the aftermath of passion more than the moment, relishing in the wake of the wave, in the afterglow of cooling sheets,
Whose confidence in mutual acceptance and sincerity, in the quiet breath on your neck, in the heat of slumbering skin contact and in the implicitly accepting numb arm trapped under the pillow, feel the purest and clearest of intimacy and love.
To you, the willing slave, unwilling to see your bars and bonds, trusting the devil you know, liberty a thing beyond recollection and desire,
Whose fear of the dark closet and creaking floorboards, of the group of kids playing a game, of the girl you secretly yearn for, of that one party, of that one road trip, of that one camping trip, of that school dance, of moving out, of taking chances, of change and failure, of upsetting the status quo traps you even now, even in clear view of your bars and possessing the key.
To you, the generous for whom karma is of no interest, the kind for whom recompense holds no motivation, the loving and caring who challenge their nearest and dearest because they trust in their ability to see and learn and change and grow,
Whose motivation lies not in one book but many, not in creed but concepts, not in idolatry but ideas, who know with certainty that minds can be changed, for their own minds had been made to change once, and shiver of what they might have become had they not been challenged more than once or bound by polite social restraint and acceptance.
To you, the imperfect spendthrift, the occasional hypocrite, the not-so-infrequent sloth and coward, the sometimes vain and sometimes petty, self deceiving skeptic, nervous with a winning poker face,
Whose honest outpouring of self in print and pretentious poetry may yet be only one more outcry, but has chosen to look into the mirror to enlighten and entertain. Better by inches, improving by degrees, soon to be man he wishes to be.
In short, a toast, to me.