Your first time at Nick’s, 3218 Adeline Street near Alcatraz? Surely the wrong place, noisy, thirty-something, high-energy party atmosphere. Two shelves of bottles behind a thirty-foot bar, a long saw blade on the wall, guys in denim jostling about the OK Corral.
“Not a bar,” says the woman on an adjacent stool. “It’s a lounge.”
The fifty-plus people, including a few Blacks, are utterly quiet when the reading starts. Three minutes for each poet, on the theme of “Bad Romance.”
“There was a mess inside her, a mess I hadn’t made and couldn’t clean up.”
“Gouge guilt’s baby blues right out of his skull.”
“She was gone and all I could smell was burning.”
“Oh, man!” yells a poet after three minutes. Red and blue disco lights rotate around the walls, getting brighter, a gentle reminder that time is up.
“I live to think of failure, heartbreak, disenchantment as a group effort, a team sport.”
“You could break a thousand eggs and never find a chicken.”
“My life falls like a pale warm pair of panties to the floor.”
The tone ranges from earnest to sarcastic, from slapstick to disgusted. One guy walks into the audience, bends over and bellows his angst. Another poet has the audience shout, “Love!” every time she uses the word. For another we intone, “Nothing I want. Nothing I want” like a chorus.
“There’s beauty in imagining your absence.”
“Feign interest beyond indiscriminate hunger.”
“Held her against him with such ferociousness she thought he would never let go.”
It gets raunchier. Sex “a sticky fraud perpetuated by the prophylactic industry.” If language makes you uneasy, better step outside.
“Bad Romance” in such quantity creates a verbal Rorschach. A template calling up flaws and strengths of my relationships, the current one especially. Will I meditate, in this one evening, on every relationship in my life? But it’s not all negative.
“That love is mine! I take it back.”
“‘Going back to her place,’ which are my favorite five words.”
“No intention of riding off meekly into my sunset years.”
The free, accepting ambiance reflects the generosity of hosts Hollie Hardy and Tomas Moniz. Twenty-somethings hanging at the rear come to the mic, too, amid shrieks of approval. One poet comments, “Intelligibility doesn’t matter so much as good feeling. You get good feeling back.”
Two hours ago a solid-looking fellow with a full beard greeted a newcomer, “Dude, you’re a top-tier poet. And you show up at the open mics?”
“I get appreciated here.”
Next month at Nick’s – always 7 to 9:30pm the last Saturday – what topic will consume us? Go to http://www.holliehardy.com/readings—events.html or “Saturday Night Special” on Facebook and find out.
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times March 19 2015 print edition.)