Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

This shout is about a whisper – about a reading I participated in last Friday in the Free State of Christiania to which four other poets and myself had been invited to whisper poems for eight minutes to five small groups of listeners seated at five tables in Christiania's Galloperiet.

If any reading this has never heard of or been to Christiania, then I urge you to come at the earliest moment to Copenhagen to enrich yourself with this experience. In brief, Christiania was an abandoned military fort, formerly guarding the Christianshavn approach to the once fortified city of Copenhagen. The fort was taken over by squatters nearly 40 years ago, and in the free spirit of those times approved by the Danish parliament as a social experiment. The squatters seceded from Danish society as well as from the European Union and established their own social order, building homes in this beautiful canal-ringed preserve – both new homes and extensions of the old military buildings. One of my favorites was the House of Doors – a domicile built exclusively of salvaged doors. Peopled by artists, writers, artisans, dopers, and other freaks, the Free State – which resembles a cross between a wild-west town and an ancient dilapidated city – grew with the addition of jerry-built restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, studios, child care facilities, markets, concert halls and jazz clubs where some great musicians have played, including, to name but one, Bob Dylan.

It even, until recently, included a market known as Pusher Street where anyone so inclined could purchase a variety of more or less soft smoke able drugs, quality guaranteed. Pusher Street was torn down at the behest of a new right-wing government a couple of years ago, resulting in a real drug problem spread about the surrounding city, complete with street shootings and knifings.

But Christiania is still here.

When you enter this tiny city within a city (population approximately 1,000), you become acutely aware of departing from the everyday world. If you enter it at night, as I did last Friday, the first thing you notice is the absence of streetlights, the graphitized brick and wood buildings, the rutted dirt streets, the leash less wandering dogs who sniff about in wonder, doing you no harm.

Into the dystopian-looking, post-apocalyptic building which houses Galloperiet, I climbed two narrow flights to find Lennox Raphael, the American-Trinidadian multi-artist (poet, writer, artist, vegetarian chef, social activist, arts arranger) who organized the night of whispering poets under the auspices of an organization known as Des Arts which he helps run and which sponsors a multitude of events and exhibitions around the ancient capital of Copenhagen.

Some readers might remember Lennox Raphael as the author, director and producer of the first all-nude play ever staged, entitled Ché. It included three characters – Lyndon B. Johnson, Chè Guevara, and a nun, all nude. It opened in 1969, closed the next day, was reopened by popular demand the day after and ran for two consecutive years.

The Whispering Poets was only one of several features of this Des Arts evening in the Free State of Christiania's Galloperiet. The evening began with Monkey Rat (, consisting of Anna Iachino, a Sicilian-Canadian woman from Montreal, doing original romantic rap vocals accompanied by her partner on electric bass, Arnold Ludvig of the Faro Islands. Quote of the evening is from Anna Iachino, a delightfully voluptuous 47-year-old with a head of curls that would make an Egyptian princess envious, who told the audience, "As my 80-year-old grandmother always said, 'Remember to be good to each other and have a lot of sex.'"

Then came the Whispering Poets, five of us: Lennox Raphael, Jens Magnussen, Nancy Wakabari, Alan Hammerlund, and myself. The way the Whispering Poets went was that the lights went off, candles were lit, the audience was distributed amongst five tables throughout the room, and each of the poets joined a table to whisper poetry for eight minutes, at the end of which Jens Magnussen did a brief interlude on transverse flute and the poets changed tables until each had read at each table.

The experience was eerie, to be in a large dark room lit only by flickering candles, the only sound the whispering voices of five poets. At each table, the four to eight listeners leaned toward you as you whispered, a mask of candlelight about each set of eyes as you made eye contact to emphasize a line: I saw you naked/rape the sphinx – or Listen, I will teach you to kill – or See me. Smell me. Listen…

Of the perhaps 300 readings I have done over the years, I don't know that I ever felt such an intimate connection to my audience.

When the Whispering Poets had whispered their last, the evening had only begun: Kent Helm gave a demonstration of ergo touch – repositioning the body, de-activating the self – with a half naked lovely woman model; Michael Dyst did a demonstration of music, noise and words, and the famous skeleton man, veteran of many Burning Man festivals, Michael Wolf, spoke about the Black Rock City, Nevada Festival, following which Martin Eisler continued with a few enchanting songs, some Cuban boleros, and guitar, followed by open scene until three or four in the morning.

Being an old dude, however, I withdrew at half-past eleven and rode the metro home to my east side pad, delighted with the evening, floating on Christmas beer, regretting only that I had not asked Anna Iachino whether she has an older, unmarried sister.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

No comments: