My name is Tom, and I’m a poet. I’ve been off poetry now for about a year. This isn’t my first Poets Anonymous meeting. I’ve been on and off the poetry wagon many times. Always going back to the old-school poetry days in my weakest moments. I didn’t think I’d ever be here again, but here I am. My higher power is way too high. I’m helpless and want to unburden my shame by sharing my poet story with you. I started out curiously nibbling on poetry bits and pieces 50 years ago. At first, it was fun and different from anything else that I’ve ever done. Hanging out with other like-minded poets and folks who dig poetry but don’t write it.
You may know the type, those helpless artists, hopeless musicians, and silly intellectuals with an unquenchable thirst for the written or spoken word. Those creative dabblers have their own up-close and personal problems to worry about. Poems are the hotshot gateway syntax language leading to other dangerous and insidious literary forms, like journalism or scribbling novelists. Back then, we were young, dumb, and full of words. We believed we were invincible immortals. Ideas came as easily as a quickie orgasm. But after a while, the fun wore off, and the cracks began to show. The shine faded away along with the thrills. I found I needed more of a poetry fix to maintain my buzz. I became a maintenance poet. Just getting by without any high. I was strung out on surreal verbiage and lyrical lunacy. Promoting journals of generic gibberish. I was publishing poets for a second-hand high. Using them to get off.
It was a gradual decline into madness. My tolerance level grew, and I always required more. More words mean more time to read and write poetry. A steady diet of poetic dregs. I was like Lord Byron—mad, bad, and dangerous to know. A half-assed eccentric who didn’t care about rank or station in life. Tom is my name, and poetry’s my game. Have poems, will travel. At the peak of my verbal addiction, I was doing two, three, or sometimes four poetry readings every week. I was hooked on sad-assed lines, and real stinkers.
The origin of my blackout years is directly attributed to overdoses of long-term Bukowski abuse, plus all those Beat Generation boys. A steady, deadly diet of Henry Miller didn’t help. I imbibe those French fruitcakes like cheap wine. The absinthe drunkards and opium hookah suckers of my delirious dreams. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Artaud—you name it. I tried them all. I even sampled existential dread with Sartre, Camus, and Ionesco, among others.
I had a bad three-decade bender on Samuel Beckett, taking microdoses of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and the biggest hustler of them all, Walt Whitman. It was never enough. A combination of exotic poetics combined with potent potions and poultices, mixing ethereal poltergeists, like phantom poisons, a powdered, pyrotechnic portmanteau of self-imploding otherworldly soul-crushing poesy pleasures. I was a dipshit, a discombobulated dipsomaniac.
I was hitting rock bottom. There’s nowhere to turn and no place to hide. Just like poor Sylvia Plath, I had it bad. I felt her cosmic angst. I tried to off myself by sticking my head in the microwave but it wouldn’t turn on with the door open. I had the heebie-jeebies. Mary Oliver was a loner. Don’t even get me started with that chronic agoraphobic Emily Dickinson. She was so absorbed in the sauce that she was almost invisible. Then there was Eddie Poe, in a league of his own. Chasing the green fairy while huffing ether on a hanky embroidered with the letters EA POE.
I’m a sad poetic junkie. Who put Poe in poetry anyway? I can’t get enough of that poet stuff. Poems are the drugs that I’m thinking of. I overdosed under a heap of books more times than I can recall. The delirium tremors are still a premonition of my poetic problems. Jonesing for handmade chapbooks, ransacking bookshelves for an unknown bard, or an anthology of repeated literary abusers. I’d begin the day with some haiku, then gradually get off, mainlining the eight-ball soliloquies of Shakespeare into the rings of hell simultaneously wallowing in Dante’s Inferno. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for an angry fix. I couldn’t kick that crazy dilettante monkey off my back.
My internal dialogue was in a bare-knuckle brawl with my inner voice. The screaming in my head was too much, and it exploded out of my mouth. So here I am again. What’s a poor poet to do but stumble down the 12 steps, one poet at a time? I never stuck around long enough to receive a one-year coin of no return. They were handing out state poet laureates and lifetime beat poet laureates like Halloween candy from a perverted dealer. But I kept coming back for more. You may not see me in the rooms for a while, but I'll get by one poem at a time.