The West-Coast writers I chose for this issue all have different backgrounds and writing
styles, but I believe they often share a common theme—keeping poetry socially relevant
while never finding it necessary to be overtly political. Though it is certainly hard to
generalize, since among this California group of writers are teachers, social workers,
performance artists, community activists, linguists, film makers, playwrights, musicians,
actors, crafts makers (and the list goes on), as a community, we are determined to make
our voices heard (in a society that has relegated poetry to the lowest form of art), and we
possess the open-mindedness to share criticism as well as ink: editing, writing reviews,
In 2003, Nicole Henares, a San Francisco high school English teacher and writer of short
stories and poetry, introduced me to many of these writers, though as synchronicity
would have it, a few of us had known each other through the mail for many years prior to
this. In the summer of 2004, she chose a group of us to read at the North Beach Festival
in San Francisco, on the poetry stage that had been in existence there for nearly fifty
years. Though there were many established and well-known poets performing that day,
many of us, myself included, had never performed on stage before. On the second day of
performances, the microphone was unexpectedly cut off by the police due to complaints
from nearby vendors over “obscenity” (probably in part due to some very graphic and
comedic poems about the human experience by Oakland poet Joe Pachinko and some
incendiary anti-war poems by local poet Jack Hirschman). Needless to say, even without
the public address system, our group of Santa Cruz and Bay Area poets continued to read
to a fired-up crowd. It was then I realized that poetry in the twenty-first century can still
be a relevant, threatening, and enlightening tool for speaking the truth about our
neighborhoods, the ongoing war, and our economic struggles.
Later that year, along with Brian Morrisey (a Santa Cruz transplant from the East Coast,
and the publisher of Poesy), I started a weekly reading called the Wired Wash Open Mic
in a local coffeehouse/laundromat. He and I invited poets from Santa Cruz, as well as
from the Bay Area, to feature once a month. Eventually, poets came from as far away as
the East Coast and the Midwest for the paltry sum of twenty dollars for gas money, an
opportunity to sell their books, and all the wine they could drink at either my house or
Over the years, the Wired Wash venue became a haven for street people, musicians,
academics, storytellers, college students, punk rockers, and local characters; and our
patrons ranged in age from seven to eighty-nine. Through technical difficulties, the
cacophony of espresso making and spinning washing machines, unexpected closings,
police patrols, blackouts, fist fights, high staff turnover, chaos, and magic, the Wired
Wash persevered for four years until it closed in June 2008 (when someone allegedly ran
off with the rent money).
Over the last five years, many of us have lectured on zines and small magazines in
schools, attended small press festivals, hosted and performed in readings in San
Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Los Angeles, New Mexico, and even Las Vegas, been
featured on cable access TV and pirate radio, and produced spoken word CDs and poetry
DVDs, all the while sharing resources from Northern to Southern California and keeping
the news of our efforts alive through email, snail mail, telephone, and chance meetings in
downtown Santa Cruz.
I hope you enjoy the following selection of poetry and visual work from the underground
poets of California’s west coast…–Christopher Robin/Zen Baby
Daydreaming Past the Exits
Those days cold and bitter in the city
when they cut off my dental
and she couldn’t get a job
those days of nicotine relief and huge belly laughs….
knowin’ our kid was probably retarded----
when my sis was in & out depressed---maybe on meth
when our favorite potheads nearly killed our cats-
when Pam died and I woke up at the Kern River
that was magic
I cried in the tent all night
not because of the ants----
I obsessed about the country/any country but mine/anything but this apartment
full of shimmering toys/ electrical excess /skull lights/clowns that went off
with no prompting/fart machines/the illusions/distractions/consume/consume….
I worried about scabies, staph infections, the swine flu, mental retardation…..
solar showers….composting toilets, did I have enough flashlights?
I played endless internet games, I played the anarchist fake
I stayed in bed----A LOT
I helped mother, played Scrabble on Saturday nights with my girlfriend
and ailing father
those were the days when we couldn’t tell the ruse or the fascism or the legit
is this it, the big one, martial law? what are we still doing in the city? why are you planning
a degree? do we have a future? are they closing the borders? why are we still here?
her: head buried in calculus book
me: head buried in internet games, lawsuits, lottery tickets
him: couldn’t shower couldn’t focus couldn’t learn
on the porch with cigarettes on a rare warm evening: “what’re we gonna do?! the kid’s a total liability!!!!”
oh precious laughter & vhs movies & country drives/abandoned houses/ghost towns/our trips south/our trips north/oh precious kisses/I didn’t know when I’d met her/she’d be my steady/my thinker/my rock/
unlovable criminal country/beautiful/beautiful girl
flooded with ideas but no concrete plans
endless stream of daily drama, letters and phone calls-
no real salvation
I want to make soap! I want you to whittle! how can invisible numbers carry us through a swine flu epidemic?
I want a dog/I want real weather/I want to be too cold/too hot/anything to feel
I knew I needed wheels & a lot of propane
I knew my camping skills would someday surpass my skills
at paying credit cards on time….
and that Starbucks was laying off workers
and it could only mean the end of civilization…..
the gunshots in my neighborhood real and the southern borders tight
I didn’t want to raise an astronaut
but a gang member either
I wanted to do more than sleep/ happy to get by/in a comfortable ruse…..
I surrounded myself in foolishness
all my business was suspect
but so were the headlines…..
as they raced to prophecy….
the animals evolving from benign creatures
into genetically engineered super-germ-monstersI daydreamed past the last exit…. my coffee and bath running cold…