Thursday, July 24, 2008

From the 82nd Airborne to Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

If you’re a young writer and thinking of going to school, then this is a short story-line about what it took for me and what I found and kept along the way.

In February 2001, I got out of the Army after three years of jumping out of planes.  C-CO 2/325 AIR, 82 Airborne (the AIR stands for airborne infantry regiment), based at Ft. Bragg NC. I took a trip back to Texas, where my father lives in a small town outside of San Antonio, where I went to high school (Boerne TX). I stayed with him a few weeks and showed him my first writings, first poems, short stories. I had some money for college from the GI Bill and had heard of Naropa when I was a kid, wanted to go there. My Pop called me on a Saturday to come over to his house and when I got there he had the application printed out  in little stacks on the floor. I told him “Dad they only take the cream of the crop there, they’re not gonna take me.” He said “Gary, fill these things out and we can see what they say, you never know” and he was right. I got a phone call about a week later for an interview. The lady on the other end of the line’s name was Samantha Wall, she asked me a few questions about myself, how often I wrote, what I liked to read, had I ever been to Boulder? She was kind to me, to this day I know that without her my life would look radically different, I owe and think of her often. She took the time to help me put my ducks in a row and get accepted to Naropa. I remember being outside my Pop’s house and screaming my poems in his yard, rain coming down around me, neighbors peeking through the curtains.

I had three hundred dollars and an old car (which I abandoned when I got further west) I left Texas for Colorado in the early morning. Landed in Boulder January 2nd 2002 and went to Naropa’s campus right off and just walked around. Rented a room from a lady in the paper. The woman’s mother had been part of the Jim Jones Cult and died in the mass suicide of his followers in the 80’s. She had been a teenager when the group left from San Francisco, her and her brother stayed and survived but lost their mother. I lived with her for a month but she wouldn’t let me smoke in the house, so I moved into a small place with Sean Burke, who I had met the first day at orientation. Sean liked that I had about five hundred books of poetry and prose, he would sit on the floor and just read for hours. Our friend Todd D’anna moved into the flat at the end of the semester. The place was small but we didn’t need anything, we had food and paper, mostly just goofing off but learning about poetry, which none of us knew much about. I mean, we had been writing with no direction, no education or real history pertaining to poetics. Still putting in the work, still gulping white paper.

I studied for the next four years with some of the best writers and poets this country has to offer. I learned from Anne Waldman (who taught me that I’m ten feet tall inside), Lorenzo Thomas (I was his last TA at Naropa, learned about voice), Maureen Owen (taught me about the series poem and poetics in general) , Jack Collom (taught me I could write anywhere and anything, collaboration with anyone, finding poetry while teaching and listening to children), Anselm Hollo (the big dog, I just listened to him and tried not to say anything stupid, read and reread his poems like I do even today) , Steven Taylor (my first poetry teacher, told me that it was up to me), Jill & Reed Bye (who tried to teach me meter and prosody, helped to build my ear and make me a better man in general), Bhanu Kapil (who taught me about beauty), Keith Abbott ( taught me prose and film writing), Bobbie Louise Hawkins  (who taught me how not to be a shmuck all the time, lessons in dignity and class), Akilah Oliver (what it takes to keep going and how to hold your head up high), Junior Burke (how to see the picture from many points) so many people gave me a hand.

Every student I encountered taught me something. They are writers and poets that made a difference to how I see and interpret poetics and writing: Jamba Dunn, Emily Crocker, Andy Peterson, Leann Bifoss, Amy Matterer, Jessica Rogers, Stefania Marthakis, Liz Guthrie, Jeremiah Bowden, Sabrina Calle, Tom Peters, Tyler Burba, Rob Giesen, Kevin Kilroy, Jennifer Rogers, Celeste Davis, Meredith Forbes, Roy Montez (from childhood). Too many in this lineage to count and name, look for them in the text of the future.

What I want to articulate is if you’re a young writer sitting in a two-horse town or a tenement with screaming children and want badly to go to school, then I know something about that. I know if your dirt poor and want to write, a path can appear to you. Or if your wealthy but awkward and think money is a crutch, I know about that too. I know about what it takes to change the course, to make a sea change. I think I learned about courage most of all during my time at Naropa, just having the courage to live my life. The sojourn not the destination is what became important to me and is still important to me today in Brooklyn. 


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