Archive for September, 2018

The Eat Write Cafe

Posted: September 13, 2018 in Poetry
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davidreads

David Allen reads at The Eat Write Cafe

Twenty years ago I stepped into a basement bar on Okinawa and was transformed. I was there to write a story about an Open Mic night run by Americans connected to the large military presence on the island. I was the Okinawa News Bureau Chief for Stars and Stripes. That night started my foray into public readings of my own work.

Thanks Amy and Michael!

Pacific Stars and Stripes
Tuesday, September 15, 1998

Bar gives Kadena muses a
              place to be heard

              Traveling poets tell your tales
              wherever you go.
              Don’t let them tell you no.
              Don’t think it’s better to
              hide with a pad of paper
              and ink on your hands
              than to share your souls
              with the world.
              Scream, pray, love, write
              and be true to the words.
              We are poets, we are
              a single voice of power.
              Scream out with me
              and be heard!
– Michael Monroe

               By DAVID ALLEN
              Stripes Okinawa Bureau Chief

              OKINAWA CITY, Japan — This is a definite departure from the normal nighttime entertainment on Okinawa’s infamous Gate 2 Street.
              

               In the snug basement bar called “Jack Nasty’s Neanderthal,”
              well known for its hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll every weekend
              night, a transformation takes place on the first Saturday of
              the month.

              You wouldn’t guess it at first. Just after dark, some of the
              street’s clubs begin to open. The bar girls with their high and
              tight skirts still linger on benches in the humid, subtropical
              night, trying to lure young American servicemen upstairs for a drink.

              It could be any street outside any gate of any military
              base in the world.

               But on this street outside Kadena Air Base’s Gate 2,
              something else is happening. There’s another kind of crowd
              descending into Jack’s. The place still smells a bit moldy, and
              the drinks are still a cheap 500 yen, but up there on the stage
              are people who have poured their souls onto a page.

              At 7:30 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month (and the third
              Saturday just down the street at “The Jet”), this cozy club
              becomes the “Eat Write Cafe Traveling Poets-Society.”
              They’re open-mike nights. Take your scrawled notes in
              abused notebooks, typewritten pages of untamed poetry,
              scraps of rhyme on restaurant napkins and bring them on
              down to the Eat Write. The crowd’s hungry for what you
              have to say.

              This is poet Amy Love’s dream and Michael Monroe’s
              newfound calling.

              “I had this vision 10 years ago when I was teaching on
              Guam,” said Love, a former English teacher at the University
              of Maryland. “I always felt divided between the academic
              world and something else. It took a while to realize what I
              wanted was to live poetry full time.”

              The readings began in the living room of her home in
              Yamauchi, but it wasn’t public enough. She needed to bring
              poetry to the people.

              “One midnight I was wandering around the neighborhood,
              and I came across a coffee shop called the Cafe Zen,” Love
              said. “We started there in April or May of ’97. But it was too
              small; we were discovering a lot of people on Okinawa were
              into poetry. They liked to write, read and listen, but there
              was no place to go with it.”

              It wasn’t until she sponsored a one-night-only poetry reading
              at the USO on Camp Schwab, however, that she realized
              just how large the audience was for poetry on Okinawa.

              “I went up on this stage and started to read to this captive
              audience of about 60 Marines who had been watching
              movies,” Love said. “The response was so overwhelming.
              They were listening; some of the guys ran out of the place
              and came back with poems in their hands, stuff they had
              been keeping quiet about. I gave them the mike. It was
              beautiful.

              “Poetry is not what you think – that’s my message,” she said.
              “So many of us got turned off from poetry in school. But the
              need to be heard, to be understood is within all of us. The
              muse is there. So, I started passing around fliers announcing
              the Eat Write Cafe. That’s when I changed my name to Amy
              Love, to make what I was doing totally distinct from my
              teaching. I didn’t want to rely on the students.”

              She’s also realized after 13 years that teaching was
              “complete insanity, trying to fit in where I didn’t belong.” She
              left her teaching post at the University of Maryland this
              spring.

              “It’s like what Ginsberg wrote in ‘Howl’,” the former Anne
              Tibbets said. “‘I saw the best minds of my generation
              destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked / dragging
              themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for a
              fix. . .'”

             The fix was poetry. “So many people have that creative side
              to them, but it’s stifled,” she said. “And they stuff it away
              deep inside them. After all, you can’t make any money at it.
              So, it’s on a low flame, burning you up inside. What the Eat
              Write does is provide an outlet.”

              Love decided to take poetry to where the troops are –
              Saturday nights on Gate 2 Street.

              It took a bar owner with the poetic one word name,
              Katchan, to make it a reality. Katchan, who, with long black
              hair and chest-length bushy beard, looks imposing until he
              breaks into a toothy grin, immediately warmed to the idea of
              turning his club, Jack Nasty’s, into a once-a-month Eat Write
              Cafe.

              “I told Amy I like poetry,” Katchan, an Okinawan, said. “I
              have my own band, the Katsen Band, that plays here every
              weekend night after 10. Poetry, music, it all comes from the
              same place – the heart.”

              The nights at Nasty’s can be raw. Anything goes on the stage
              illuminated only by a green neon light, the blue flicker of
              empty TV screens and a few dim lamps. The walls are
              plastered with one-dollar bills signed by long-gone GIs; a
              pair of manikin legs and a wooden wagon wheel stick out
              from a loft above the stage.

              On any night, the poetry ranges from the sophomoric rhymes
              of a young woman longing for love, to angry outlashes at the
              world that may bring to mind the early works of Allen
              Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac. The poets, many of them new to
              the art, are experimenting with style, substance, syntax and
              varying degrees of solemnity.

              These are unleashed feelings, sometimes laced with humor,
              just to break the mood.

              “It doesn’t matter how polished the person is,” Love said.
              “Letting people have their voice is more important than
              cutting somebody off.”

              The readings on Gate 2 Street began last January and show
              no signs of stopping. On a recent night, about 30 people
              listened to a variety of poems.

              A Special Forces trooper with bulging biceps and
              short-cropped hair gave the mike over to a woman wearing
              argyle socks and a thigh-length pleated plaid skirt.

              Michael Monroe, who serves as a Marine during the day
              under a different name, is the master of ceremonies. He took
              over after Love left for the States earlier this month. She
              plans to travel the United States with her 5-year-old
              daughter, Ginger, tramping and setting up other Eat Write
              Cafes as she goes.

              “The plan is to get a small camper so we can live in it and
              drive around,” she said a few weeks before she departed.
              “It’s kind of scary to give up a good job and all, but poetry is
              my life now. I’ve got to live it.

              “We have to take poetry to the people, renew the oral
              tradition,” Love said. “We’re going to the small cities, towns,
              places where the rebirth of poetry is not already happening.”

              Love said she’d like to come back to Okinawa some day,
              maybe open a club of her own with open mike every night.

              Meanwhile, Monroe carries the torch.

              “I’d been writing in the closet until Amy came along and
              brought me out,” Monroe said. “I didn’t know there was
              something like this out there. It was an awakening.”

              Monroe, a Marine sergeant and a native of Brooklyn, is a
              natural MC. Instead of calling for the poets according to
              their place on the sign-up sheet, he weaves a pattern,
              knowing that the stage-struck Marine with the machine-gun
              patter is the perfect follow for the intensely shy young airman
              from Kadena Air Base, who just bared her soul for the first
              time on any stage.

              “You’re liable to hear anything – from 18th-century romantic
              ideals to the poetry of the Beats, to some very modern and
              intense surrealism,” Monroe said. “I love to mix it up.

              “I found I was a natural up there,” he said. “I knew if Amy
              ever left, I’d have to step into the vacuum to keep it going.”

              Midway through the nights at Jack Nasty’s, young
              servicemen come down the steep stairs looking for a few
              cold beers and a bar girl or two to sit on their laps. Most
              peer around the corner of the stairs, see the poets on stage
              and realize it’s not their scene.

              But a few descend, discovering something new.

              “That’s what I love about this,” Monroe said. “Having so
              many people from so many diverse backgrounds come in
              and listen and read – it makes my mouth water. I love being
              there, seeing the response on people’s faces. Seeing them get
              Seeing them get it. It’s all about being up there and being heard.”

              Poets need to be heard.”

My Navigator

Posted: September 4, 2018 in Poetry
Tags: , , , ,

MISC PIX 2 069

MY NAVIGATOR
By David Allen

It’s been 30 years
and I have only now realized my love, my wife,
is more than my muse and soulmate.
She is also my navigator.

Like our car rides in the country,
where she sits next to me,
her hands holding tight to the fear post
as I sometimes stray too far to the curb,
or forget to stop at a light,
she settles in as I maneuver
the twists and turns of our life.

She endures the plot twists
and miscues, giving directions
that help me to somehow
stay on course for the future we both
deserve – as many more loving years
together as we wish.

She helps set the course,
proving love does exist for those
whose chosen path is
endless love.