Like one of those music festivals with eight different stages, Litcrawl is one of those events where you’re guaranteed to miss something simply because you can’t be everywhere at once. Since it also involves venues serving alcohol to hundreds of thirsty readers, the other impediment is crowds. Here are the highlights of my own very subjective Litcrawl 2009.
BEST EVENTS I DIDN’T GO TO
Somehow I missed these in the program. Plus they were too early, in Phase One of Litcrawl (6 p.m. to 7 p.m.) so I probably would have been late anyway — I’m not quite sure why Litcrawl starts so early. After all, most of the venues are nightspots. At any rate, I missed Threepenny Review’s event at Creativity Explored. Author Louis B. Jones, whose Pushcart Prize-winning story “The Epicurean” is really fantastic, read at the event. I’m sorry I missed him. “The Epicurean” is one of those short stories that manages to feel so expansive, almost novelistic, without really being that long. The characters are fractured Californians, their dialogue acidic and convincing, all of them doubling back on themselves in contradictions.
I also missed “Instant City: A Literary Exploration of San Francisco” at Dalva. I’ve been enjoying this journal for a while. It is always stuffed with crisp anecdotes of life in the City, local lore, and stories using ‘Sucka Free’ as a backdrop. Among others, Jim Nelson read at the event. I ran into Jim later at The Elbo Room, and I suspect he was drinking because his fedora was tilted back.
BEST STREET VENDOR
Given the impressive Twitter address listing near the back of the Litquake brochure, I was expecting to finally catch a glimpse of the “Creme Brulee Guy,” “Sexy Soup Cart,” “Escargot Evangelist,” or the elusive “Mincemeat Mystery Man.” But alas, no exotic street food to speak of was around. The bacon-wrapped hot dogs were, as always, a contender, but best street vendor of the night had to be Lynn Gentry.
Name your price, said the sign, for a poem. Mr. Gentry typed up a dense paragraph of rambling stream of consciousness free verse, one which exists in no digital domain anywhere. He has a beautiful typewriter.
BEST “YOU MIGHT BE A REDNECK IF…” JOKE
Ok, so he didn’t actually tell any “you might be a redneck if…” jokes. But laughter-worthy meditations on the white working class (among them the probing of the similarity between the Bodhi Tree and The Couch) were made by one Bucky Sinister. Like a literate, urban incarnation of Jeff Foxworthy, Sinister riffed on NASCAR and fundamentalism. As someone coming from their ranks himself, but now living in San Francisco, Sinister commented on the cultural geography of coastal living: from a high place in the Bay Area, you can look east and see the Midwest, and baby, it doesn’t stop until you hit the Catskills (I’m paraphrasing, badly).
Other notable writers appeared at this event at the Make-Out Room, “The Rumpus Presents…” including Vendela Vida, Michelle Richmond, and a man named after a Bob Dylan album. It was hosted by Stephen Elliot, who edits the fine online publication called The Rumpus and is the author of The Adderall Diaries. I wanted to check out more of the readers, but Bucky was about all I saw. Arrived late and was barely able to swim to the bar and then people kept shoving me with polite looks on their faces.
BEST BEATNIK POET
I initially headed out to “Emerging and Established Latino Writers” at Sub-Mission Art Space (strange decor: Satanic neon, stenciled penises covering the walls) to check out playwright Octavio Solis, who was set to appear there. Solis couldn’t make it, unfortunately. As I sat and sipped a “Simpler Times” in my disappointment, poet Alejandro Murguia got onstage and, hands free of paper or notes, recited some hard-hitting freeverse, mixing it up in English and Spanish.
Murguia is a veteran of Bay Area poetry and, you can believe, a Chicano from the old school. He reminded me of the first readings I went to, seeing Max Schwartz or Jose Montoya read in Sacramento. Crusty old beatniks who seem a little like eccentric winos until they make obvious their deep relationship with language, one that comes from years of honing craft and drinking in the work of other poets and dreaming hard until it crystallizes.
Words by Justin Allen
Photos by Aurora King