Saint Jack

Jack Powers saved my life.
When I met Jack, I was homeless
about two weeks before, I ran into an old friend of mine
who told me he had just seen a poetry show by a mutual friend of ours, Lee Litif.
He said Lee’s show was wild and Lee was doing somersaults during his reading.
My friend told me that they have these readings every week at TT the Bears.
and I thought no more about it till I moved into a shelter in Central Square.
The following week I asked if I could go to this reading since the shelter had a curfew.
I was granted permission as long as I didn’t drink while there.

Stone Soup Poetry was an incredible experience.
When my spot on the sign-up sheet came up, I read a piece I wrote many years ago.
I got a favorable response from the crowd and I was hooked.
The next day a flood of poetry came from me and I filled notebooks with it.
I was a poet.

Each week I would read at Stone Soup and each week I would write better pieces
Jack gave me my first professional feature
which most of the crowd walked out and some even told me I sucked.
Jack encouraged me to continue.

It was at Stone Soup that I met up with D.A. Boucher
and eventually became a member of The Collective.
It was with The Collective that I would gain a new name, Rat.

Jack called me “The Rat man”
and the way he said it, you could tell he just loved to hear me read.
This man, liked my work.
Jack who had poets like Ginsburg, Corso, Ferlinghetti, and Weiners as friends,
liked my work and encouraged me to continue.

With The Collective we added theatrics to our work
we often would be the opening act for Lee Litif
even going so far as to duct taping Lee to a cardboard cross, essentially crucifying him
and flogging him with a rubber chicken the day after Easter.
Jack took it all in stride, all this from a tortured catholic.

Many members of The Collective experimented with different forms of poetry
like haiku, A-Z poems, and the exquisite corpse.
It was after one of our performances that Jack gave me my true purpose in poetry

We performed a piece we called the haiku hippy road trip
which consisted of Alan Wilbar, D.A., and myself
sitting on stage pretending to ride in a car
we had these 3x5 cards we passed to each other that had haiku written on them
each haiku line had to have the word “man” in it
and at least one line had to have the word “fuck” in it.
We did our bit and left the stage to raucous laughter
and when Jack took the stage the first thing he said was;
“You said fuck so much, it didn’t become the word anymore”
and that’s when it hit me,
that’s when I became a word warrior.
My niche in poetry would be to take words and to try to make them something else.
I was transformed.

Through the years I toured with The Collective
and even did a split tour with Jack Power’s Word Warriors as a member
of the Barnum and Buddah Circus
and over the years a lot has happened.
Just to name a few:
I’ve had cops in riot gear show up just after I finished reading,
was asked to “go outside” by 5 guys wearing Black Panther symbols after a reading
(total misunderstanding), nearly set AS220 on fire during a reading (not my fault at all),
and was kicked off stage by long distance telephone in Kentucky
all with the power of words.

Without Jack Powers I wouldn’t know where I’d be right now.
He opened his reading to anyone and let people express themselves in so many ways.
Jack was a champion for the word and he has kept his open mic alive for over 30 years.
Stone Soup has always been exactly like its name,
a place where new readers and veterans can go to share their work.
More than any other form of expression, poetry is the most personal
and in the open mic, you lay yourself bare before your peers
for often your audience is just that, other poets.
I’ve never found a more accepting reading than Stone Soup
and that is due greatly to Jack in the values that he tried to instill in its alumni.
Luckily for the future of poetry we have someone willing to continue Jack’s legacy
but for those of us who knew Jack, who experienced Jack,
know that there’s a place in Heaven for someone who dedicated his life
to the language and beauty of poetry.
And if I may end this tribute in any way,
it would be the phrase Jack used to close each evening at Stone Soup;
“If the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise, we’ll see you by and by.”
God bless you Jack Powers.

--Ryan “Rat” Travis