Denver & the Dornstone

I went to Denver this past weekend. Hadn’t been there since I was a child. Didn’t think I was gonna think much of it, to be honest, but that’s a helluva town! The reason I went was to read with Jennifer Denrow and Erik Noonan at the behest of Jesse Morse, inaugurating the Coloradan continuance of his SMORG reading series, which ran some 15 dates over the course of a few years while Jesse was in Portland. He and Jennifer and Richard Froude all came through San Francisco last summer and read at Bird & Beckett thanks to Erik’s encouragement and facilitation. I met the three of them then, of course, but didn’t get to spend any real time, so it was great to go out there and spend a whole weekend. Richard, as it turned out, was reading with Eric Baus, Joseph Harrington and Andrea Rexilius at Counterpath the same day as Erik and Jennifer and I were reading, but instead of it being a conflict, the folks at Counterpath (which is first and foremost a publisher of some really fantastic books, but which now also has a small storefront and performance space) actually went out of their way not only to schedule their event early enough that people could do both, but to explicitly encourage people to do so in their own listing of their event and actually at the event itself  – and people did! How about that? Indicative of the real genuine community of writers out there in the South Platte River Valley.

Anyway, Erik and I arrived late Friday night. Jesse picked us up, took us over to Barracuda’s, a little bar/diner with pool tables and all, for a burger and a beer before we all hit the hay. Got hisself a whisky. Guess how much that cost… $2.50! Thought that was an error – I mean I don’t think I’ve ever paid that little for anything other than a PBR – but no, $2.50 it was, and I was starting to like this town already. Next day, E and I left Jesse’s place (which is also Selah Saterstom’s place and that of another fellow whose name is escaping me – sorry, thanks for your hospitality) and meandered Capitol Hill, the neighborhood apparently half the city’s poets reside in, and understandably. Beautiful tree-lined streets, hundred-year-old houses with ample elbow room, yards, front stoops, even porches, some of them, and a lot of old redbrick all around. Didn’t expect Denver’d have such an old town feel to it. Downright pleasant. As the temperatures started to climb (they’d end up around 85 by mid afternoon) we met up again with Jesse and headed out for a very dude-ly poetslunch. Froude joined us, as did Mathias Svalina, Noah Eli Gordon, Seth and Orin (sorry guys, don’t think I ever got your last names), for some grub and a few rounds of triple-X pale ale. Good company, good beer, good times.

So then, satisfied, and just a little lit, the three of us (J and E and I) rolled down to the Denver Art Museum for the “Ed Ruscha: On the Road” exhibition. Ol’ Ed not only took lines from the book to use in making his characteristic wordly paintings, but also made an artist’s edition of the whole text, selected pages of which were framed and hung on the gallery wall. A bound edition lay open, on display, but under glass, sadly. Would’ve loved to leaf through that! It really was the star of the show, though of course the paintings were as miraculous as they ever are. A pleasant surprise was the spectacular selection of works by Robert Motherwell on the floor above. Hadn’t seen a great deal of it in person before, so was really wowed by the richness of his tones. Would that we’d’ve been able to visit the newly opened Clyfford Still Museum next door! But alas Richard, et al.’s reading was drawing nigh… Next time, I suppose.

The Counterpath space is in an awesome old redbrick building, simple, even austere inside, a half-dozen long shelves bracketed to one white wall, a double room-dividing case, lightly loaded with books from such fine small presses as Ugly Duckling, Burning Deck, Coffee House, Flood, Litmus, Archipelago, et al., all grouped just so. E and J and I had to slip out to set up for our reading with Jennifer, so we missed Andrea, who was headlining the event, but Baus’ work was interesting. I’d been reading Clark Coolidge’s Rova Improvisations on the plane the night before, so my inner ear was already tuned to such sonic use of language. Froude makes one awfully envious. I’m not sure what else to say about that Welsh-English rogue. His work is utterly his own. He’s already received his doctorate, and he’s preparing now to become a doctor, the kind that wears a white coat and scrubs. He’s something of a pool shark too. Beat me soundly four or five games in a row later that night, when we all ended up at Barracuda’s again. Plus he’s got that accent the ladies all love. Harrington’s seemed an awfully difficult work to read out loud, as there are all sorts of typographical marks, out-struck text, etc., which Joe tried to indicate with hand motions in the air. It was hard, for me, to follow, though, I have to say. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the book itself in front of me. He himself seems like a nice guy. We exchanged pleasantries, had a drink in the City O City bar downstairs from the Deer Pile, where I read that night. Nice of him and the two dozen or so others who made the hop skip and jump over from the one reading to the other. We had a good turnout, reading went well enough, Denrow and Noonan were on it anyway. Who knows how I did… It was an honor and a pleasure both to read with them both, and great fun to hang out with them and the many others after. Jesse got it all off on the right note, his introductions were a real boon and easily on par with those Mathias gave at Counterpath, which were wild wooly and wonderful themselves. A good host goes a long way. Makes me feel really rather guilty for the chronic poverty of my own introductions at readings at B&B. I must do better.

Next morning, Jennifer, Jesse, Erik and I put Hank (Jesse’s beautiful black hound) in the back of the car and piled ourselves in for the drive to Boulder. It’s a beautiful half hour drive toward the mountains and Boulder is set in lovely relief against their snow draped peaks. We got a sandwich, perused a little poetry-only bookshop/café, the name of which escapes me, but which had a pretty great selection, with particular emphasis on the local luminaries, folks who teach up at Naropa or Boulder itself. From there to the liquor store for a sixer of Old Chub (an awful caramel-colored cross between a beer and malt liquor it seemed) then on to visit the man in his final resting place. It was April Fools Day, Sunday, the 1st. Ed Dorn was born on the 2nd, but I’m not certain any of us were much aware of that. We just wanted to pay our respects, I guess, make a sort of pilgrimage. We drove slowly around the outer road each of us trying to espy the proper stone. It took a while. I was worried we wouldn’t find it, but a beautiful magpie pointed us in the right direction, flew off, left us there before Ed’d head stone, and beside it Lucia Berlin’s. We spent a good long time there in the sun. Someone, or ones, had laid some lovely little stones down for both Ed and Lucia, so we read aloud a few poems for them, I tore from my notebook a quote I’d taken lately from a pamphlet in the SF State Poetry Center of an interview of Dorn, but since I tore it out and left it there, I can’t cite it here, sadly, but it was something about us all writing against the time we have left, which is forever too short. I thought it appropriate. Jennifer poured some purple glitter over it, left a little plastic camel, and then we all took our leave of them. The rest of the party dropped me at the airport on the way back to Denver and I flew on home.

Anyway, all of that was just to say thanks for a fantastic weekend, all of y’all Denvers. You’ve got a great thing going out there. I hope I can make it back some time soon. And happy birthday, Ed.

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