In the summer of 1998, my friend, Geoff Trenchard, newly dear to me, got his first car. The first thing he did was probably buy something with which to get high. Then he went to an open mic in downtown San José and got hooked on poetry, written and spoken. From page to the stage. Took him a while to convince me to join him so that I could perform stand-up comedy in front of a real crowd. I was too scared; no one would understand me except for every single one of my legion of friends. While he urgently attempted to lure me downtown, our friend David Perez was convincing me that I could and should write poetry. What the hell? I hated rhyming unless it was over beats. I still held it in my heart that I would be known for rapping and acting in sitcoms, a la Fresh Prince.
In no time, I was writing ode after ode to all things beautiful and funny. Geoff, David and I immersed ourselves in the San José open mic scene, which was healthy and full of a wide variety of writers and performers. We fell in love with the community and output of the Beat poets, the delivery of Saul Williams, and the hilarious subversiveness of Bucky Sinister.
Here I am, twenty years later, heavily involved with a new version of that community Geoff and David discovered, only now it seems younger, more vibrant and incredibly robust.
It is National Poetry Month and I am in the midst of a schedule that includes of a number of poetry events here in San José and in Portland. I am exhausted and congested. Not sure if it is due to allergies or some cold, but it’s been a very annoying trying to breathe through half a nostril.
But just now, someone I do not know on Facebook messaged me asking to help them remember a poem of mine:
“Hey, I hope you are doing well. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But I was just sitting out in my sunroom having an Ol’ talk of life with a friend when our conversation led me to an old poem of yours. I used to have it memorized and tried through the few beers and 12 years to pull it back up but just couldn’t. Now I’m searching the internet with no luck. It was your ” as an observer I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me”. If you could point me in the right direction I would be eternally grateful”
The poem they’re asking for is called “The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea.” This made my night. I had been thinking of this poem a lot lately. It’s not especially good or exemplary of my usual work. It’s sentimentally “frustrated” in a way I remember being in my teens and twenties. It was the very first spoken word poem I ever wrote and I was 22 when I wrote it. I hear poems like it from young people all the time. It feels good. I wrote it because I had heard Geoff and David read their poems out loud at the open mic and wanted to see if I could do it also. I remember reading it to a lovely crowd. I read it on my knees for some reason. I do not recall why. I do remember it being received warmly. I didn’t read it very often since I was always writing new poems and essays and always had to share something new each week.
Note: “Linus Phelp” was David’s poetry pen name back then.
The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea
Mike McGee, September 1998 (or maybe 1997?)
As an observer, I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me.
Whether or not it moves, breathes, sings, plays, kills or loves,
I enjoy its existence now.
I wake to each day as that of a newborn baby.
A newborn with debts, but nonetheless, a bright-eyed wanderer on this pretty blue ball we call home.
However, there is this lack of what we need lately.
I’ve grown tired of this garden.
The farmers and greenthumbs have become bland.
They now plant the same boring, corn year after year.
What happened to the colorful corn and asparagus and apples of yesterday?
I miss those tastes.
I miss the sound of a new guitar riff.
I miss the sight and capability of pondering new colors on a painting that I will never fully comprehend.
Money has become primary.
Add green to the status of Yellow, Red and Blue.
I am not pleased with the poets of today.
Have they forgotten the world we live in?
Has their community died?
I want a world where skies are gray when they need to be.
When autumn eats summer.
I want the sun in due time.
When spring pounces on winter and shoves it up a depressed poet’s ass.
I want my revolution.
I want my Renaissance Revolution.
I want to be one of its millions of observers.
I want to write like writing was a new thing.
I want to slash and burn the Internet.
Burn it down, it’s making us fat, unoriginal and way too dependent.
I don’t need to have my words reach you at the speed of light.
I just want them to reach you.
Slash and burn anything that kills free thought, free love and free life.
Freedom of expression is my duty to further myself.
It’s not just American, it’s human.
I will not evolve into a computer.
I will not be used by a machine.
Slash and burn the old ideas that do not work.
Make new, make love, make life.
Make a friend, make an impossible friend.
Shake hands with your beauty, my beauty and someone else’s.
Tell it to fuck off if it doesn’t work for you.
Find something else.
Talk about your testicles at the dinner table.
Bring up your clitoris at school.
Once upon a time, a friend of mine and I watched the sun go down to wherever that son of a bitch goes.
Sadly, my friend was afraid of commenting on the truths he felt.
The “uncool” truths.
And finally, he mustered the courage to say that the setting sun’s sky looked a “pastel pink.”
The beauty of smog and the terror of the ending day had indeed made the sky a “pastel pink,” and I agreed.
For him to pontificate on this type of thing is normal, for he is a great poet and everyday becomes even greater.
But for him to deny himself his “revolutionary” right to “dig” and “groove” to his own world is a crime.
It is a punishment to all the real poets of the world, to subject them to the horror of feeling ostracized, for simply holding up a mirror to the world and saying, “Take a look, this is you. It’s okay to like what you see.”
I am just an observer.
But even I could see that the sky was a “pastel pink.”
What caused him to hold back?
Could it be that art is dead?
Could all of the the true artists of the world have gone fishing?
Can anybody hear me?
So, I want to thank him.
Thank you, Linus Phelp.
Thank you for showing me the “pastel pink” sky.
Thank you for putting the Renaissance Revolution in me.
Let’s show the world what we see.
Let’s love the world for what it is and what it will be.
Let’s spread some artistic mayonaisse all over the walls and cribs and playpens of the world.
Let us march to the closest and farthest nurseries and orphanages and plead with the next generation not to give up on us.
Not to give up on their world, for they are the world and it is so very precious.
It will be hard, but so worth it.
Musicians of the world, unite and entertain us. Put our lives to a soundtrack that rivals our own heartbeat.
Artists of the world, band together and paint the murals that will stand forever as a testament to the uniqueness of what we were.
Poets and writers of the world, teach us how to teach ourselves to be whatever it is we want to be.
Observers of the world, show us what we can’t see yet. Please be patient with us, we will see it someday.
And all who may be willing, please follow onto the train.
The train that will take us to the Renaissance Revolution.
How mysterious the revolutionist can be.
For he is the key.
To finding what we long to be.
I am one as he is me.
Tell your neighbours, tell all your friends.
The world is much bigger than the chair you sit in.
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