by Joe Pachinko
As I sit here writing, in America, what I am doing becomes more and more illegal. Nobody has ever liked it much. The writing. As years pass the reactions have been getting progressively more angry and strange. I was in a bookstore in Portland, Oregon doing a reading to promote my first novel. The reading had gone well, people were buying books, when a guy walked up to me carrying a little girl.
“Your reading was really offensive,” he said.
“You sat through the whole thing to tell me that?”
“You should realize that you are reading in public and some of us don’t appreciate that kind of language. My daughter’s only three years old,” he said.
“Man, did somebody nail your ass to the chair? I didn’t notice anybody crazy gluing your butt down here. Why didn’t you leave?”
“This is a public bookstore!”
“And this is a book for adults. I’ve noticed that children don’t notice words they don’t understand anyway.”
“This is a public bookstore and you have no right to read that kind of filth in here.”
“Yeah, great. Kiss my ass.”
“I’m complaining to the management,” he declared and went off looking like someone who was going to complain to the management. Apparently there were other complaints. In the novel I had described the environmental degradation of the Southern U.S. as seen through the eyes of archaeologists working in the swamps. The characters talked the way actual adults who do those jobs talk. When my second book of poetry (“Stumpfucker Cavalcade”) came out the bookstore would not allow me to read there again. Was it the title? The books always sold well. Some people LIKED them. What the fuck? What the fuck indeed.
Another odd phenomenon was people stealing my books. I’d go to a reading or some kind of “literary” event, people would talk shit about the books I brought, they wouldn’t buy them, but then the books would disappear. Who was doing this? I started acquiring stalkers, people I didn’t know who would send me deranged letters, or show up at readings and follow me around, although some of them were NEGATIVE stalkers. They’d follow me around telling me how horrible I was, how horrible my writing was, but they wouldn’t go away, and they’d keep showing up. This never seemed to happen to anyone else who read. I will not lie, it was disturbing.
When 20 riot cops surrounded the stage at the 36th annual North Beach Poetry Festival in San Francisco, I realized that things were getting out of hand. I had read a poem lavishly praising female genitalia (“cunts”) in what I thought were lovingly graphic terms and pointing out people’s irrational reactions to this kind of language and there had been some kind of uproar. Police were called. The beat poet who followed me and felt he had to scream into the microphone hadn’t helped the situation. Ironically, when the police showed up to pull the plug on the microphone, a 73 year old nun was reading a poem about trees. Naturally I jumped up on the stage and started hollering at the police and had to be dragged away by the promoter. The newspapers reported nothing about it, though the festival had been a yearly event since 1956. A columnist for the local paper told me that he felt the shut down of the poetry stage by police was a “Non-event.” The festival has been canceled ever since.
The crowd at the Monterey Death Metal Music Festival had been listening to heavy satanic speed death metal rock at deafening volume for two or three hours when I took the stage to read some of my poetry. I had been invited to read in between bands. The woman who had arranged this, my friend, gave a disclaimer and a warning to the audience before I read, telling them about “adult” language, freedom of speech,” etc. Nobody left. I started reading. I read poems about using babies as sled dogs to pull SUV’s when the oil ran out, I read poems about the Oakland Ghetto, vomit, love, the obscenity of corporate America, but when I started reading the “cunt” poem people started booing and other people cheered, fights broke out, people started throwing things at the stage, the “satanic death metal” musicians behind me on stage threw beer on me. I had a cup of beer in my hand so I threw it over my shoulder onto them. People were yelling obscenities, it was insane. That I was “obscene” but songs about Satan eating babies, and yelling “GET OFF THE FUCKING STAGE YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER!” somehow wasn’t. The crowd and musicians were all heavily tattooed, dressed in black leather, long haired, Satan worshippers, and yet, I had outraged them somehow. I finished the poem amidst the yelling and walked off stage to find all these 17 year old guys with stringy hair slapping me on the back and shaking my hand “That was like seeing Morrison dude!” one said. “Awesome! Dude!” Meanwhile these guys were getting into fights with other people who were offended all around me. A group of them escorted me to a tent away from the stage where the promoter of the event was screaming at my friend about what my “poetry” had done. What it had done was apparently offend all the wives of the Death Metal musicians who had their cute little Satan worshipping children with them . My evening reading was cancelled.
At a reading in Las Vegas I was so drunk after sitting through five other poets that I neglected to read anything out of my new book, had a long extemporaneous conversation on a toy cell phone about who was going to pick up the butt medicine for the poodle, set my book on fire with a cigarette, and had to be dragged off stage by the promoter. I have not been invited to read anywhere since then but I don’t wonder why.