What is Poetry?
By Tony Brown

a hat in the middle of a quickly cleared dance floor
in a connecticut italian club

regie announces
“brenda’s purse got stolen
along with all the cash she needed to get home to arkansas
you know what to do”

and that hat is filled in five minutes
with more cash than brenda started with

i don’t even remember all of your names
but there we were
in a downpour so hard it was big dogs only
strolling uncovered toward
an impromptu reading in the massachusetts woods
and not caring about the cold and wet
because everyone was together

pat’s blurred vision
sucking down all the faces
for the last time
in a nyc high style lounge
because someone went and found him
in tompkins square park
huddled under newspapers
and said
“we’re all there
you need to be there”
they got him past the bouncers
got him in for the last time

ken talking incessantly
about sleater kinney and the wars against us all
for hours and hours on a bus
breaking the flow only when we sang
“uncle fucker” to reverend bill as loud as we could
over a cell phone
and none of us on that bus being embarrassed
to dance right down its steps
and into a baltimore club
to james brown
because we were going in to share
words with friends

in the high desert outside albuquerque
four of us fruitlessly watch
a clouded sky
for the perseid shower
and don’t feel the need
to say a thing

angela in a cheer costume
shaking pompoms and wheezing
“gimme a P-O-E-T-R-Y”
at a crowd of people who have never thought
of cheering for such a thing

scowling at
“these kids these days”
with another guy named bill
in a seattle diner
while two crustpunks
drop poems of the road
on a microphone that hasn’t been silent
for a week
but both of us keeping our ears cocked
and noting every word
saying at the end
“that wasn’t bad”

listening to you running lines
in an empty theater before a bout
putting an arm around you when you broke down
afraid that people had forgotten you were also a poet
assuring you that no one
had ever doubted that for a second

(gabrielle, when you first saw this poem
you loved it
and now, you are in it

what can i say except
we’re poets
and this is what poets do for each other)

the modern stars of all this twaddle
each of us knowing there’s someone we don’t yet know
out there
who is hearing this and saying
“i could do that better
if i ever get the nerve
if i ever get the chance”
each of us praying that they do
each of us looking for our role
in making it happen

all those who know
or have known
the mystery
of a blank screen
an open notebook
and wondering how it is
that all things are there before us
but we’re not capable
of bringing them forth
when we can see them right there
before us
plain as paradise

and trying anyway

knowing i would never have known you
without this
and being more than grateful
that i have learned who i am
and could be
because of you

holding your dear
shaking hands
but with all the simple courage
i can give you
i say this
you are this
you are one
but not alone