A Traveling Monk Observes
I have noticed in my travels that people do not put Kleenex out for guests. They do not even put out trash cans to put the Kleenex in that they do not put out. I have noticed in my travels that people do not put towels in their restrooms for their guests to wipe their hands on after they wash their hands. I have spent much time meditating on why this is so while I have waited for my hands to dry, usually in a dog paddling or bicycle tire pumping manner. I confess I sometimes discretely use their decorative towels to wipe my hands on, but I always feel guilty and end up rolling around on the floor asking the host to please forgive me. About half of the hosts do forgive me and the other half usually include the shell in the scrambled eggs they cook for me at breakfast. I crunch and smile and determine to mend my ways, but decorative towels loved this much make me want to puke on them; I don’t like to get sick so I’ll just go on meditating while my hands dry. I have noticed in my travels that people do not put a lamp near enough to the guest bed if at all. Aha I see now. I do not need a Kleenex, a trash can, a hand towel, or a lamp because I am a Traveling Monk and I meditate, I meditate, I meditate, and I meditate in the dark.
If you live in New York or San Francisco or Chicago or the Twin Cities, you may not realize that in much of the rest of the country poetry is a traveling monk of sorts, scrounging to find a home where it is welcome. Many towns have a resident community poetry group or two, and those little groups of poets (who usually pride themselves on not being academics) are largely responsible for providing the life force of poetry outside colleges and universities in this country. My hometown has the Wednesday Night Poetry Series, which has been booted out of a couple of coffee shops recently for being a bit too rowdy, for (gasp!) selling books of poetry without sharing a cut with the building owner, and for not generating the proper level of coffee sales. Apparently the musical acts still hosted at those venues inspire far greater desire for caffeine than did the poets. The WNPS now meets in a local community center, which is probably its proper home.
My former home city, Dallas, has a burgeoning literary scene that now boasts many venues for poetry and poets’ groups such as the Dallas Poets Community (despite the almost universal death, as in most cities, of the independent bookstores like Patty Turner’s Shakespeare Books that once were the de facto home of such groups). The current health of poetry in Dallas is due in part to the leadership of the late Jack Myers, Thea Temple, and the late Robert Trammell and the non-profit organizations they spawned—The Writer’s Garret and Wordspace (both of which have received crucial support from John and Marquetta Herring at Paperbacks Plus). Those organizations have added to the cultural life of the city, but the smaller, ad hoc subgroups and the individual poets wandering the streets in search of poetic sustenance deserve credit as well.
Charles Kesler (author of The Book of Willie) is one of the many poets who has helped to keep poetry thriving in Dallas—they are far too many to list but I especially remember Christopher Soden, Tim Cloward, Joe Ahearn (now in Austin), Jeff Davis (now in upstate NY), Fran Carris, Michael Puttonen, Michael Helsem, Patty Turner, Mary Anne Redmond, Renee Rossi, Rauan Klassnik (now in Mexico), Shin Yu Pai (now at Hendrix College in AR), Ray Bianchi (now in Chicago). My apologies to the many other poets in Dallas I have not mentioned here.
“A Traveling Monk” originally appeared in Sentence 3 and is reprinted in An Introduction to the Prose Poem.