Since I moved to Busan almost two years ago, my friend Val has been after me to go to the Wordz Only event. Since she doesn't live here, I made up flimsy excuses not to attend. I imagined (One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Imagination working overtime!) going and sitting alone and feeling bashful, awkward and decrepit as the spotlight shined like the sun and moon combined on the talented but haughty and exclusive Busan equivalent of the Algonquin Round Table.
Val gave up trying to persuade me or perhaps she was just taking a break. Whichever it was, in that interval a notice came up on Facebook that the next Wordz Only would have a theme: It would be Charles Bukowski night! My timidity and reserve melted. Bukowski Night! O Hank! I would be there. Furthermore, I was going to read something. If invited. I would not intrude. (introversion + being from the Midwest = hellish repression)
Last Saturday, I prepared for the evening by showering (probably not very Bukowskian) and watching a bit of Barfly. I also practiced the short poem I would read. Damn my voice! I needed to borrow someone else's larynx. Something deep, husky and velvety-raspy.
Oh, that's right: In all these years of blogging, most of you have never heard me speak. In pitch, intonation, and even syntax, I sound a lot like Sarah Vowell, AKA Violet from The Incredibles. Don't get me wrong; I love Sarah Vowell to bits, but for Bukowski Night, it just wouldn't go. Oh, well. I'd jockey for a position under the air-conditioning vent on the subway. Maybe I'd develop bronchitis en route.
The event was being held in the perfect venue -- a bar. Anywhere else would have been absurd at best and dishonest at worst. HQ Bar. Not as dive-y as I'd hoped, but I'd seen it from the outside the previous Sunday morning, and with the full and bursting trash bags nestled against its base, it looked and smelled every bit the shithole Bukowski would have required. It pleased me.
Walking in, I ordered a glass of red wine (should have been beer, should have been rye, should have been scotch and water...oh well). I almost said, "Hey, Barkeep!" when I asked for a refill, but I didn't.
So...awkward for a little while, but then K, the longtime organizer of Wordz Only came in, and I screwed my courage to the sticking-point and introduced myself and he was really nice! He asked if I was going to read! I told him about Val starting a Wordz Only in Cheonan as a tribute (tributary?) to the one in Busan, and he really liked that. K. didn't wear a beret! He didn't blow cigarillo smoke in my face! He was playing Tom Waits before the event started! I was starting to relax and enjoy myself. I ordered a plate of french fries so I wouldn't get too stinko and do something stupid like start singing He's Me Pal then throw up on the floor. That would be a little too Bukowskian. There's such a thing as overstating your theme.
Each reading was better than the last. Some people read Bukowski, and others riffed off of Bukowski, and their efforts weren't half-assed. I was impressed. Literary! Erudite! Articulate! I was falling in love. One guy read Raymond Carver's You Don't Know What Love Is: An Evening with Bukowski. Smitten doesn't even cover it. I wanted to freeze time and have it be Bukowski Night at the HQ Bar for all eternity.
So what did I read? I decided to read something by Al Purdy, a Canadian poet Bukowski admired: "I don't know any good living poets, but there's this tough son-of-a-bitch up in Canada that walks the line." I could feel all the Canadians in the room filling up with happiness as I read Purdy's poem: