O, Miami's Gramps Residence: Inside a Night Trading Verse for Booze
How does a good piece of poetry get made? And more to the point, where do wordsmiths find their rhythm? Lord Byron would make his way to a cave in Portovenere, Italy, to meditate and write some of the greatest romantic poetry ever composed. William Burroughs was never more at ease than in a quiet, dimly lit room with a fresh fix running through his veins. One of the best poems I've ever written began in the silent splendor of the British Library and finished on a cramped coffee table in a Parisian studio apartment full of noise and debauchery.
Photo by Robbie Ramos The author writes for his beer.
But what about the dark ambiance of a lively watering hole such as Gramps, brimming with drunken hipsters sucking craft beers and cheap cocktails?
Writing in a bar would be nothing new -- I've frequented plenty over the past two years while working on my first collection of short stories and poems. But writing in a bar with my own reading lamp, a wooden plaque distinguishing me as the night's designated poet, a reserved barstool, and a stream of free beers in exchange for every napkin full of verse I handed to the barkeep seemed like a strange set of circumstances.
Yet that's exactly the intriguing prospect offered this month by Gramps' "Poet-in-Decadence" program, which sets up a different poet every night at the end of the bar. It's all part of O, Miami, the monthlong festival saturating the Magic City this April with an array of verse-related events ranging from an actor dressed as José Martí riding a white stallion on Calle Ocho while distributing roses and poems, to the first poetry wallcast at SoundScape Park, featuring readings by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and National Book Award winner Nikky Finney.
But the question remains: How would my writing fare drink after drink in the poet's chair at Gramps? To find out, I contacted the heavies at O, Miami and signed up as the inaugural Poet-in-Decadence on April Fools' Day. Here's what went down:
7:45 p.m.: It's too early. Much, much too early. I knew this would happen, too eager to jump in the hot seat, too far ahead of the evening's beat. The bar reeks of bleach and smoke and turpentine -- and, dammit, why can't I smoke at my special stool? I'm the goddamn poet. I have a wooden placard and a lamp and a box of napkins. And I'm official, aren't I? Easy now-- it's too early for that bloodthirsty kind of crazy. Sip your free booze and wait -- it'll be time soon enough.
8:00: Poets -- and writers -- are cannibalistic by nature. We rarely play nicely with one another without a fair share of contempt, and we're usually all too quick to smile and then kindly devour our own young. I haven't been here 20 minutes and some yuppie roustabout and his leather-clad lover are already biting at my elbows, trying to wrestle me out of the chair of decadence. You're tomorrow's fool, you fool -- get thee gone from the sight of my stool!
8:49: I'm working at a pace of two poems per hour when my friends begin to arrive and are deeply impressed when I show them how napkins with some scribbled verse can somehow turn into free alcohol. There's a middle-aged man on the stool to my left whose face is covered in four or five days' worth of stubble and a fine, oily film of sweat. He keeps asking for port wine and his eyes look drowsy and lost and mean. He smells like a gutted sturgeon in the sun. I wrote this to honor the pirate at my side:
"Bag of Bitters"
Look at this soggy shitheel,
this stubborn old degenerate,
too dumb to die off
and feed the sea pickles.
Unfiltered and full of poison
and fiending with that age-old bloodlust
for fresh fish;
Fear Him --
For there's danger where he swims.