Willie Smith at Red Sky

I enjoy The Red Sky Poetry Theater, the long standing open mike currently running at The Globe Cafe on Capitol Hill, because of the democracy of the readings; just about everyone in the audience ends up at the mike sometime in the evening.

I do, however, find it is good to sit near the door so as to skedaddle once the Kerouacs begin to show up. Last summer, Willie Smith read from his chapbook, Go Ahead Spit On Me, published by Portland’s Unnum Books. While Mr. Smith’s reading didn’t directly result in a riot, his percussive routine did get under the skin of one open mike attendee who not only occupied the floor well beyond the Red Sky time limits, but directly addressed Mr. Smith. At one point the drunken poet openly wondering, how Mr. Smith could ever have gotten this far in life without successfully committing suicide. The poet attempted to capture Mr. Smith’s mesmerizing performance by duplicating Mr. Smith’s antics, and then by heckling and baiting the open mike host. This resulted in a riot. Asked for commentary on the violence that has historically been be associated with his poetry readings, Willie Smith had this reply:

The stories of the sordid violence that has associated me to Dr. Jesse Bernstein are mostly bullshit. I read with Jesse exactly once: February 14, 1981, at the old Glover-Hayes Bookstore down in Pioneer Square. It was an absolute riot. The only reading I ever gave where Detox attended. The van driver spotted Jesse reeling around in front of the bookstore during the break and at once began taking him into custody; but Jesse screamed and howled he had 35 people inside the bookstore who would come out and prevent their carrying him off. Somehow they threw him back; I forget; I was inside drinking with the rest of the scum. Oh, you don’t wanna hear this; nobody does; nobody did at the time. Monsieur X. (a locally famous artist and pot-thrower) went ballistic. He arrived high on glue and MD 20-20. He threatened me both verbally and bodily as I read. Jesse drew this ridiculous little knife and drunkenly threatened the audience with it as he read. I read first, and Jesse and his skidroad pals talked volubly the whole time, while Monsieur X. insanely screamed threats, including over and over: “I HATE JEWS! I HATE JEWS!” Then, when Jesse got up to read from his chap A Ghost of Himself, somebody in the audience whispered to her neighbor, and Jesse outs with the knife, starts screaming: “NOBODY FUCKING TALKS WHILE I GODDAMN READ!” Gary Minkler (you never heard of him: Seattle’s finest rock vocalist of the 70s & early 80s) said it was the greatest poetry reading he was ever privileged to attend. The next day, a band of militant feminists attempted to shut down the bookstore for tolerating such demonstrations of heathenism. As usual, I was blamed for everything. And why not – I was the guy who spent $30 arranging the show. Yeah, back then I hadda pay to read, because the “writing community” universally turned its nose up at me. Can’t say as I blame them. Like I say, I’m not a writer. What I do at readings is not fair. In the immortal words of Monsieur Z. (a long time curator of Red Sky), as he once explained to me why I can’t be allowed to read: “Willie, you just don’t know how to pull your punches.” Oh well, I’ll be dead soon enough; then all the embarrassment will cease.

Go Ahead Spit On Me
Willie Smith
Unnum Books
6735 SE 78th Portland, OR 97206

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