11 May 2010

Gods, Money, Jump-roping, Second Story

For Wooden Mouth, I took tap lessons, learning the basics and a few time steps, and now, for Salvage, I'm part of an improvised dance that includes some jump roping.  This part of the dance is set to found sounds pieced together by Stuart Brown, a mixing of voices from a distortion of a Southern Baptist-y oration on God's mercy to shouts of South African children at a playground.  Ever stretching, yet again.

And this morning, I've been thinking about money.  Right now, beyond our lanai--and here's a painful admission that we leave in a golf-course, gated community--workers are busily running an impressive array of tractors grooming, aerating, and fertilizing.  Here, in South Florida in May, the golf season is pretty much over, and so now begins the manic and loud tending of the greens.  To be a member of the golf club (which we are not), the initial dues are $50,000, and the annual fees are $12,000 with a round of golf being in the $200-500 range; I'm told that that's in the just above average in these parts.  It's staggering, especially seeing how few people actual play golf on the course itself. 

I'm also currently thinking about money and reading Walt Whitman.  I'm teaching a graduate seminar in June, yes, to make a little more money.  I am also thinking about the ticket price to the performance of Salvage, which is a pricey $35:  this figure was set by the director of the arts center where we will be performing, and while I've paid twice that for dance performances in Pittsburgh and Miami, it's really not what Alyce Bochette wanted for this particular performance.  One, all the artists are collaborating for free.  Two, we want a sizeable audience to see our work.  Three, we are hardly using any of the resources of the center beyond the space itself.  Four, the price will keep students away (no discount yet for students).  And it's not that this venue habitually has high-ish ticket prices, as it features finely produced theater for $20 per pop, routinely participates in free events for the monthly art walk.  Anyway, I'm thinking about the money here because I don't believe I've participated in an event with a $35 admission price.

Yes, $35 is nothing by so many other entertainment standards.  But I'm reading Whitman, whose biggest selling book in his lifetime was his temperance novel, Franklin Evans, which sold some 20,000 copies at one bit a pop (12.5 cents), and who made his serious money working furiously in journalism and later, after becoming the good gray poet, delivering the odd lecture/performance, cashing in about $600, which would keep him afloat for the year. 

And now I recollect the first poetry reading I participated in in which we decided to charge a cover fee.  This was in Bloomington, Indiana in 1982, and the reading featured myself, Dan Bourne, Tyler Fleeson (wonderful poet and editor, big spirited one, where are you?), and Robyn Wiegman (this was when Robyn was a kick-ass poet, well before she became a kick-ass uber-academic).  The reading took place at the music venue Second Story, which was above the gay bar Bullwinkles, both of which are defunct.  I recall the reading for two reasons:  one, it was the first and only reading where I flipped off an audience member (it was Robyn who was heckling me, for the record--we were pretty drunk); two, the reading had a $1.00 cover charge.  That was Dan's idea, and we plastered all the telephone posts with our flyer, set off by the famous Kenneth Patchen quote, "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap sons of bitches."

I remember walking with Dan, seeing one of our flyers defaced, with someone having scribbled, "What about art for art's sake?"  Dan said something like, "Yeah, we're whores now."  We actually had a good turnout for the reading, probably around 80 people (again, good, for a poetry reading), principally because it was at a bar.  Thus, we ended up each with about $10 haul, which gave us some bragging rights, I suppose among the I.U. MFA poetry crowd then.  We would get all cheery for each other, whether it was someone talking about getting $5.00 for a poem in the Hawai'i Review or $10.00 from Wisconsin Review.  Good for a round of pitchers of beer, and that seemed rather miraculous and happy.

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