My first time at Malvern Books, a small independent store in Austin, Texas, was exactly what I expected and yet wholly surprising. The expected part was that people would come to hear the author and the poet, there’d be snacks before and Q & A plus schmoozing after. One Page Salon creator and host Owen Egerton had announced the reading of his good friend Walter Moore, who also read a page earlier in the week. When I bicycled over to the site formerly adjacent to Vulcan Video, I was greeted outside the door by Owen. He took a moment from his conversation with the smoking guest poet to smile at me. I thought he was opening the door but instead gave me a big hug. Sorpresa numero uno.
Surprisingly Real and Damn Good Poetry
I don’t know much about poetry, even though I penned enough of it as an elder teenager. That mostly came to a stop when I presented a binder full of probably very bad and sappy love poems to the object of my affection, who most certainly did not appreciate them. I’ve toyed with a few poems here and there since, but that was pretty much the end of my poetry writing. It’s an art, for sure, and not for everyone.
But Walt is a word artist for sure. His book, titled My Lungs Are a Dive Bar, is a collection of some of the over 300 poems he’s written. There will be a follow-up by EMP Books, whose website has a typewriter next to the phrase “books for freaks by freaks” on its site. Billed as “An Evening with Walter Moore,” Malvern said this about his poetry:
“… a series of deadpan/gritty/neo-beat/punkish poems about rural Indiana and urban Washington (some Texas, too)”http://www.MalvernBooks.com
I anticipated some cleverly strung together words that packed some emotional punches or made pithy observations. What I didn’t prepare for was the disarmingly charming, humorous way he had of reading them. The live reading of it by the author just makes it that much more meaningful. He kinda blew my mind with astute observation, crisp description, humanism, and compassion. Neo-beat seems to fit it well, from what little I know. Sorpresa numero dos.
By the way, he’s got a PhD, which adds to his persona, since Dr. Moore looked like a cross between Walt Whitman (I suspect it’s no accident he shortens his first name), Hunter S. Thompson, and maybe a little Ernest Hemingway because of the big beard and hat. Smiling and sort of sounding like one of the Beats (he and Owen both said they admire Jack Kerouac), when the poems came out of his mouth they were both mundane and extraordinary. A series of poems about his yard guy with a drug problem was funny and tragic at the same time.
Of course I can’t spoil any of the poems here, and sadly I didn’t have the funds to buy the book right now, but you can buy it at this link or if you can, get it at your local bookstore. As Walt might say, “It’s some pretty good shit.”
Owen has written at least four books, several screenplays, starred in and directed movies. A gifted improvisational comic, I actually have seen him perform for many years, first at Comedy Sportz, later at Master Pancake Theater making fun of movies and now at One Page Salon. He also has a radio show, leads workshops, and does a lot of other stuff. So yeah, he like, does a ton of stuff and is embarrassingly talented, but humble about it. Tonight he introduced Walt, but first read a short story. It was imaginative, wise, sad, funny and just very…. Owen. Then he read a Writer’s Prayer, from the book he wrote with his wife Jodi Egerton. It’s called This Word Now. The poem is structured but wild, focused and creative, funny and serious. I loved it even though I’m not a prayer or deity guy. I really must read all of his books and have at least two in storage.
At the end, I asked Walt a question: Do I need an awesome beard and advanced degrees to publish my memoir? (I’m almost done with the first draft.) He said no, that everything is bad the first time, just to keep creating. He even tells his students at the college he teaches at in Oregon that they don’t need to go to college to become writers. I bet that goes over really well with the registration department!
I wish I had absorbed more of the specific words he said, but more importantly I came away with a feeling of okay-ness and confidence about my writing. It wasn’t a huge crowd, so afterward I got to ask him another question, and he invited me to drinks at the Hole in the Wall. I declined but wished him happy travels, and gave a hearty salute and “Goodnight sir!” to Owen. Cool and smart dudes, both.
Cyclists Can Read More Than Street Signs
As with OPS, the chatting afterwards is a key component. I saw Adam, who read on Tuesday. He was with Erin, who writes fictional short stories after just finishing her Masters of Fine Arts. They both ride bikes, casually though. There was Mark, who also went to grad school with Owen, Walt and Adam. His girlfriend though, was the most accomplished bike rider. Caitlin had taken a several-month bike-packing trip through Colombia. She approached me after to chat. Sorpresa numero tres. Unfortunately, I can’t find her blog to share, but suffice it to say that she had an epic adventure.
We talked for a while about how she came to do the big ride (two co-workers at a travel company where she helped cyclists talked her into it), how she did it (flew to Colombia with her bike), the perils of taking too much stuff and not following directions. In the latter case, they biked through a desert and planned to take a truck back. But due to the prevailing headwinds, they were supposed to get a ride to the end and then return, so it took a lot longer to bike. It was like a two-hour hot and miserable slog on the bike, but like a 25-minute truck ride back. It was character building for a younger woman who had never done anything like that before.
They all seemed interested in this blog and my book, and that was invigorating and also surprising (numero cuatro). Even if they were just being polite, I felt that their encouragement was genuine. I suppose it’s good to hear that sometimes after toiling away in solitude for over a year now (three days a week here on this blog, four days on the book). I was interested to read their work but didn’t find out how, but it’s always good to expand one’s circle. Maybe one will end up being a reader, or in a group.
After the event I was on my way downtown and stopped at a streetlight when an obviously very fit racer in a kit on a fast bike pulled up next to me. Still being in social mode, I said hello, and one thing led to another, it it tuned out he is the son of fellow blogger Capejohn, a Midnight Rider. The dad told me Brandon lived here but I had yet to make it to the restaurant where he works to say hi.
Not only does he race, he’s also sponsored, which means he’s the real deal. He even encouraged me to ride in the Masters races, which I had to pass on. Sophie my Fairdale is not up to that, and neither am I. He’s heading up to New York for a tour with his dad, which sounds like a lot of fun. And now we are following each other on Strava. So that was yet another cool thing that happened because I got my ass on the saddle and did something to meet with the humans. As an introvert, that’s sometimes hard for me to do.
There’s Meaning to Be Found If One Seeks It
It was a fun, inspiring, moving, and instructive evening. I thought it was productive, too, in just expanding my mind and hearing about the craft of writing. I put myself out there and not only received something in return, but somehow in my modest way maybe I contributed to the scene just by showing up and engaging with people. That’s why people go, to be part of something, to be with like-minded souls, and even those of a different mind. Maybe I’ll write a poem, or grow the cojones to sign up to be a reader at an open mic at Malvern or One Page. I know I’ll keep doing what I can as long as I can. I’m no Brandon or A Midnight Rider, I’m not even The Dude. I’m just A Dude who rides his bike.
Riding to the post office, words and faces swirling through my head, I wondered if maybe I’m a bit of a Beat poet myself. Sorpresa numero cinco. Maybe we all have a little bit of the Beats within us. I am a bit of a wandering Jew, just without a travel budget these days. But I have lived in half a dozen states, been to 49 of them, five countries, and certainly have moved around Austin, Texas a lot. I write lines on the world around me, with the maps made by my feet on the bicycle pedals, sometimes pedaling in anger, sometimes with love, but always with care and being open to noticing things, to adventure. I’m sketching my way around the world digitally but also spiritually, hoping to find some solace or salvation or both from the effort, the sweat, the incessant cycle of life as a cyclist. Heading out again to go home (whatever that is), I set myself… On the Road (Kerouac’s seminal work).
“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Le Tour de France starts today! Some thoughts on that Monday.
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