The palm trees were waving above us as we sang “Happy Birthday” to the punk with the mohawk, the green vinyl shoes, and the poetry that proclaimed, “We will carry the weight of the world straight to the top!” It was Felix's birthday, see, and he was reading at the “mikeless open mike” that has happened above ground at the 16th Street BART station every Thursday night around 9:30 for the last three years.
This weekly gutter-verse gala was founded by true believer Miguel Pereira, an Ivy League beatnik who saw the need for performance poetry to evolve beyond the open mike scene and take to the streets. Turns out that this BART station is the perfect haven for poets and posers with notebooks full of words and the desperate need to read them out loud. The level of talent and discipline varies from promising to god-awful, but the audience offers an impressive level of acceptance and respect for the artist and the artistic process. The point's not professionalism or even quality (heaven forbid we have standards); it's about self-expression and community, a small band of rebels coming together to revel in the joys of language, good herb, and a brown-bagged bottle of a little sumthin' sumthin' on a fine S.F. evening.
On May 25, for example, we got treated to an old-school beatnik who made parody redundant, a dimwit hippie writing moronic phrases in chalk on the sidewalk, and a folk singer whose attempts at being weird didn't mask the fact that he sucked. But there were also some substantial diamonds in the rough. E.K. Keith took her place on the pavement with a sensual, quiet power and stated, “I want to convert you to the church of your own outrageous beauty.” Carson Lepre rode his wild, soulful verse past obvious punk and hip-hop influences into uncharted territory, and Charlie Getter commanded attention with his bacchanalian charisma. As Getter reminded us (and we needed reminding), “This is all about living.”