Friday, October 12, 2007

The first week

First posted 23 April 2007

After Celebration Circle on Sunday morning (see previous post) we rushed back to Austin where I called in to make myself known to the staff at BookWoman, the wonderful feminist bookshop that had agreed to launch my book. It was hard to tear myself away from its treasures! I bought a sticker that now adorns my fridge, saying, 'Well-behaved women seldom make history' and was delighted to note that Angela Davis, whom I had not heard of for decades, is alive and well and writing books. Yes, she is still dedicated to social reform!

Thom picked up a supply of bagels to take to the homeless, his regular afternoon task, from two young poets who run a cafe near BookWoman. He was expected; a young woman met the van at a park where the homeless people hang out, and thanked him smilingly as she shouldered the huge bags of bagels. Thom explained that there is no government assistance available; it falls on individuals or businesses so inclined to try and help. One of the guys from the cafe had been taking the bagels to the people by pushbike every day, until Thom discovered what he was doing and said, 'Hey, I've got a vehicle; let me do the delivery.'

I finally met Dorsey, my hostess, who had been away in connection with her work as a psychologist. I'd seen her photos around the place, and thought she looked warm and dynamic. I discovered she is also gentle and thoughtful. I taught her Reiki I over the next two days with Neil acting as assistant, fitting it around their work and my gigs. On the Monday (April 3) they took me to lunch at La Casa, a restaurant attached to a primary school. We ate outdoors, enjoying authentic Mexican food, the happy sounds of children playing just over the fence, and the good company of some of Neil's friends – journalists and poets.

I don't know how the al fresco dining would be going this year. Roger West and Clive Price, the musos I met at my first gig in 2006, returned for this year's poetry month. Clive, now back home in Edinurgh, says Austin was very cold this year following a severe winter – in fact colder than the UK. This news was a great comfort to me for not being there this time! When I was there, the weather was balmy.

That night Rupert and I were featured at The Hide-Out. It was where the young crowd went, though there were some older poets too. All were outspoken, including me. Thom presented us with trophies for being 'the only Rupert Hopkins and Rosemary Nissen Wade in the world'. To which I added, 'And the only one to drop her poems all over the floor' having just dropped my red folder of uncollected pieces. The rings came apart and pages went everywhere – which I took as a signal to abandon the planned reading (a good decision). I made a joke about it, kicked the pages out of the way till later, and careered blithely on.

My award, which now sits proudly on my computer desk in Australia, is like a sporting trophy. It is in the shape of a castle, and as far as I can see behind the label with my name, had an earlier incarnation as a prize in a chess competition. Rupert's was similar but not identical.

Thom had also created and disseminated poems about Rupert and me as an announcement ahead of the event. For Rupert:


He wears his father's hat-
a style statement from some sixty years ago
when men wore hats like his brown fur
and sported jaunty Trilby's and Bowler's
His is different-
carefully folded in a triangle crease
Dark brown and somewhat conservative
(Like what we would see in early police TV)
he wears his father's hat to poetry..
His father still alive-though on a thin string
he survives by willed intention-his son
carries him with him-above his brain
his father always on his mind
whenever his brown hat comes to hand

(featured at THE HIDEOUT 617 Congress tonight)

... and to promote me (for which you need to know that Jenny Joseph is the poet who wrote, 'When I am old I shall wear purple'):


Recently,we have been importing clouds
to assist with these green Spring rains-
they cross borders with smiling genius
and give us the gift of their inspiration
She channels Jenny Joseph-purple hair
and flamboyance,announcing herself
where(with laughter)she deals with healing
and beams forth Reiki to all who receive
Here,she revisits her SELECTED POEMS-
a SECRET LEOPARD that still stalks responses
across borders of consciousness
She will find you soon-tow you to your moon
and sit with stories around older campfires
She is Spring-come to remind you
of your green energies-your golden reasons..

featuring@THE HIDEOUT tonight from 7pm

I wrote to Andrew:

'Tonight The Dress and I appeared at The HideOut, an 'open mic' venue run by Bevin, who is just a young thing. (And who runs it very well.) The poets were mostly young – though the first guy on when I arrived was white-bearded, and was saying some things I really liked, about the Void. [I later came to know this poet – pictured below – as Johnny Zianni. The photo also shows the big "tip jars" for people to give donations to the featured poets.]

It's a coffee lounge and was pretty informal. It's a real performance-poet venue, some rappy things, lots of passion, much irreverence, huge energy from all concerned, and some terrific poetry and also wonderful unaccompanied singing. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it! My kinda place. Uncensored too,so I got to do some of the wilder stuff.

One young black man, after hearing the famous C*** poem, presented me with a copy of a long and sensual poem of his own! I felt honoured, and made him sign it. [This is he, pictured, during his performance that night.] And a young Spanish man came up to introduce himself, shake my hand and tell me how much he liked my C*** poem – without any embarrassment whatsoever in saying the word.

I got great audience response, laughter and applause in all the right places – and shouts and whistles and stomping too. It was such a joy.

It was also a place where I was able to avow being a witch and read some wild, witchy stuff, and it was cheered.

You would think the Dress would be inappropriate in such a setting, but I am feeling more and more at ease in it and would now wear it anywhere. It is so unique that it does not appear inappropriate in any setting. In fact this was the one place where nobody even remarked on it.

This was a venue where anything goes, people REALLY dig the poetry, and while there is lots of angry political poetry read, there is lots of warmth and love amongst the poets. Takes me back to the old Poets Union days!

And guess what? The young love me!'

That night was my first encounter with Rhie, a dynamic young performance poet with a big voice and wonderful words, whose power and passion fair blew me away.

Next day I completed Dorsey's Reiki I training, then she and Neil drove me back to San Antonio for a gig at the Barnes and Noble bookshop there. Fortuitously, they had a dinner engagement at an Italian restaurant nearby. The gig was one of the regular Sun Poets readings hosted by Rod Stryker, with an appreciative crowd – but no whistling and stomping; we were in a bookshop not a cafe – and some excellent performances including one clown-like, acrobatic young man who had me mesmerised.

My email to Andrew next day said:

'Last night Rupert and I appeared as featured poets at a regular reading in Barnes & Noble bookstore in San Antonio – one of about 6 Barnes & Nobles there, I'm told, and if they are all like this one San Antonio is indeed well supplied with books; it was huge.

I thought I might have a change of costume – I did bring other clothes – but nothing I tried on measured up to The Dress, so on it went again. It turned out to be a new audience so that was all right. Neil has this theory that it is The Dress that takes me to the gigs, and simply would not let me off the hook on this occasion. (Of course, it is not merely The Dress but also The Coat, making The Outfit. However, everyone remembers it as The Purple Dress.)

Rupert is having to cut short his tour as he has been asked to step in for someone else who got ill back in England, to teach media studies to kids coming up for exams. So in a few days he will go from here to New York, stay with friends and do some gigs there, and miss the Austin International Poetry Festival.

He is quite the intrepid traveller; has trekked mountains in Nepal, the Australian outback and many other places, on his own. He tells tales of emerging from the scrub on to one of those long, empty roads in central Australia, to the amazement of a lone aboriginal driving past; and of being on a snow-covered mountain in Nepal with no food or water but a haversack full of interesting rocks he was collecting – sustaining himself with mouthfuls of snow – and deciding with night coming on to trek back to his hotel instead of staying the night out there. He has wonderful blown-up photos with him of some of his travels, made up into big posters with haiku he wrote about the scenes depicted. He showed us on the photo of the mountain how far it was to trek back to his hotel that night – but probably the wiser decision all the same! He is a small, unassuming fellow of whom one would not at all expect such feats. Getting around Texas is of course no great challenge to him, and he went down to San Antonio by bus before our reading to have a good look around.

Afterwards one of the organisers dropped Rupert and me off at the restaurant where Neil and Dorsey were dining with Neil's lawyer and his wife. She was another of these Southern belles. She was in a denim jacket, and had spiky blonded hair – but it is the manner: they have a way of enfolding you with their graciousness and charm, and taking care of your comfort, your ego, whatever. We have seen it lampooned in movies, but the real thing is quite enchanting and disarming.

Now I am about to go out with a witchy woman called Jade.'

Jade Beaty
, author and counsellor, was one of the people Thom had put me in touch with before my tour. She arrived bearing gifts to welcome me, including a large piece of Celestite – a type of crystal I had long been yearning for, though she didn't know that. It has been on my bedside table ever since I brought it home. Jade took me to see the nearby Zilker Park, noted for its gardens. At that time Austin had experienced drought, but the flowers were doing their best. The roses seemed small to me, but colourful. I was intrigued by unfamiliar birds – tiny cardinals deep red all over, and big blue-black grackles that reminded me of our Aussie bower birds. I thought the grackles beautiful but learned they are considered a pest in Texas, for their harsh cries, scavenging ways and huge numbers.

Wednesday night Rupert and I were featured at Vinny's, which had a different flavour again.

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