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For the conclusion of The Great Old Man Mystical Poet on the Mountain, continue reading below:
They spoke mostly of failed relationships and sexual desire, with one or two venturing into the more dangerous realms of race relations and social injustice. Listening to them, I couldn’t help musing on the nature of poets and poetry as I understood it. I especially recalled the great San Francisco poet and jazz oboist Toussaint St. Negritude, whose extraordinary creative gifts had once prompted me to observe the following:
The birth of a true poet is neither an insignificant event nor an easy delivery. Complications generally begin long before the fated soul carries its dubious light into whatever womb has been kind enough to volunteer the intricate machinery of its blood and prayers and muscles for a gestation period much longer than nine months or even nine years. For most true poets tend to be a long time coming. Consider first of all that such beings rarely result solely from the happy minglings of human egg and sperm but evolve out of forces as seductively commanding as the magnetic pulsings of jazz and as numinously elusive as the whispers of an Ethiopian priest confirming remembrances with his God in the bright silence of a small dark hour.
Consider secondly that even as the body of such a one journeys from infant to adult, feeding upon the grains and meats and disillusionments of his North American homeland, his spirit engages a different order of hunger and grows aware of itself as something more informed than a sociopoliticohistorical construction. It allows the soul of his being to look back, wander forward and dance sideways through the many many mansions of unfolding consciousness: kneeling in joy before the fames of divine manifestation; weeping in wonder at the miracles of Mahalia and Malcolm, Baldwin and King, Mandela and Morrison; sighing with liberated love before the glorious spectacle of a new millennium. Having sought and found the threshold of such unrestrained revelation, one is not allowed to succumb to pain but becomes obligated to embrace it with the full might of earned wisdom and truth and grace. Such has been the birth and death and double-death and rebirth of the poet known as Toussaint St. Negritude.
These reflections on Toussaint St. Negritude may have slanted my assessment of the young performers before me which probably wasn‘t fair at all since St. Negritude‘s work has been culled from his travels in Haiti, Harlem, Paris, and elsewhere, as well as from his rather formidable musical sensibility.
Many of the poets got pissed at the Old Man Down From His Mountain because I turned out to be the toughest judge on the panel. The audience got pissed too because, on a scale of 1-10, I gave one of their heartthrobs an 8 and a local hero the same score when they felt they should have gotten 9s (I gave two of those). For me, as with the other judges, only the very last poet rated a 10: his spoken words actually stood as powerfully by themselves as the extremely emotionally raw performance he gave. It turned out that his wife had given him the boot and he used his grief over that to heighten his performance. His pain won him best of show and allowed him to pocket the top prize of $100.
The highlight of the entire event for me was a special segment featuring an "MC" competition. I had thought MC meant the competitors were going to scratch and mix records. It actually meant someone else played records while two rappers brutally insulted each other in rhymes composed extemporaneously. At that point, the closest I had ever come to witnessing such a spectacle was while growing up in Savannah when my playmates and enemies alike would sometimes engage in what we called "checking," referred to more commonly in the North as "the dozens." I later would see another powerful example of this unique and challenging art in the acclaimed Eminem’s movie, 8 Mile. But until the night of the Slickfire competitions I had never seen anything exactly like it in my life and laughed so hard my headache went away.
Some of the rhymes were basically mindless profanity but some were genuinely witty, profound, and outright hilarious good comedy. This segment was judged by screams and applause from the audience rather than by scores from the judges so I got to lay my scoring pen down and yell like an idiot without fear of being institutionalized. Talk about great therapy for stress-relief from writing and care-giving every day! The whole event turned out to be a little oasis of sweet diversions and delightful surprises that had a powerful rejuvenating effect on me.
Somewhat fearing the reaction of the poets and their fans to my tough-love scoring, I tried to sneak out after the competitions ended. I didn’t quite make it. Some grabbed me and picked whatever they could out of my brain for a second or two. Several others insisted that as "deep" as my writings are I seem to lack a fundamental understanding and appreciation of their feelings toward me–was that an insult or something else?–so they insisted on ritual hugs and kisses and handshakes. I could hardly say no with my public stance on unconditional love. Jesus Goodness! After all that mush I made it back to my car and found a parking ticket for $100 on my windshield. I decided it would make a nice thank you card to send the leader of the Slickfire Poets, with love from The Old Man Mystical Poet Back Home On His Mountain.
And Now For Letters From the Soul Number 6