Tribute to Jack Powers: A Part of Something

It was a bad weekend for me. My ex had just told me that it was definitely over between us, and then I heard that Ginsberg had died. I didn't know which news made me feel the worse.

I needed something to keep my nights occupied so I wouldn't be sitting around the house thinking. I looked through the activities section of The Phoenix to see what the city had to offer, with it in mind to find something to do, somewhere to go, every night of the week.

The weekend was easy. Then I found something for Tuesday. Brother Blue's Storytelling in Porter Square sounded fun for Wednesday. Squawk open mike sounded promising. Johnny D's had live jazz on Fridays with a five dollar cover.

Then I came across Stone Soup Poets at TT & the Bear's Place (the events and venues were listed in alphabetical order). They had a phone number listed so I gave them a call. Jack answered, deep clear voice like a radio dj. He told me what Stone Soup was all about with such warmth and compassion and energy. He talked about poetry with such enthusiasm.

He told me where TT & the Bear's place was in Central Square and made me promise to be there that night, he wouldn't hang up the phone until I promised. He asked me to bring along some poems to read to the group. I told him I'd be more comfortable just listening. But he said bring the poems anyway, and we'd see.

I found the place easilly enough, paid the cover and walked in. At the opposite end of the bar was a tall skinny man with bushy greying hair clasping hands with everyone at the bar in turn and when he saw me, he came hurrying over and threw his arms around me in a bear hug. I knew who he was by the sound of his voice, and he called me by name before I ever spoke. And I hadn't described myself when we'd talked on the phone, he just knew.

He asked me if I'd brought any poems with me, and I said that I had, showed him my notebook. He said that he'd put me down to read, then, and he went to writing my name on the list he had on the clipboard he was carrying, before I had time to object.

"Oh. Well. No, I think I'll just listen tonight," I said shyly,but not wanting to hurt his feelings, I added, "I'll get a feel of how things are here, and maybe I'll read next week..."

He wasn't going for it though. "I'll put your name on the list, toward the end of the first set," he said, like he hadn't heard me at all, and unclasped my hands and walked off. I took a seat near the back, where it was dark and I could blend in.

I'd forgotten what Jack said about putting my name down, so it took a moment to register when I heard it called.

"We are honored to have with us... first time reading at Stone Soup..."

I could listen to Jack's voice all night. I was mezmerized by it.

"Let's give a warm welcome for..." hands clasped in reverence, "mister Erik Tate."

The silence brought me around, and then I noticed that Jack was extending his arm in my direction, faces were turning to see. I didn't even think about it, I got up and headed for the mike.

There have been many decisions that have been made for me in my life, instances where events carried me forward while I let them happen like a spectator and waited for the outcome. This was one of those times, as I measured my steps, climbed onto the stage, and stiffly adjusted the mike at the podium.

A good many of the people in the audience seemed to be fans of the Beat poets, and versed in their literature and lore, so I was feeling easier anyway. I chose three poems that I had done about Ginsberg's death over the weekend. One poem. Then the next poem. I was feeling my momentum like a boulder down a hill and by the end of the third poem I didn't want to stop, but I figured I'd better not press my luck on the first outing.

As I stepped down from the stage to return to my seat, Jack motioned me over, cleared off a seat next to him in the front row and had me sit there. He put his arm around me. Cathy Salmons sat in the chair on the other side of him. He leaned towards her and spoke so that I could hear.

"You see? You see?" he looked at me, and turned back to Cathy, "I told you we were in the presence of greatness!" Jack had that way of making one feel their importance, while letting them know that they were a part of something bigger. A part of something. I saw it time and again in the years that followed as he welcomed the new faces with declarations of "poetry without prejudice".

Weekends had always been difficult, even before the split with my ex, what with the break in the daily routine, differing sleeping patterns and the abscence of a definite purpose with a clear goal to work toward. I didn't know how to handle my freedom, and the depression set in.

With the discovery of Stone Soup, I had something to look forward to on Mondays, and it gave me something to do on the weekends, coming up with more material with which to impress Jack.

And Stone Soup was videotaped, and broadcast on local cable access. I could write poems about my ex and read them every week, air our dirty laundry and hope that she got wind of it. Healing would be sweet.

--Erik Tate