New American Underground Poetry Vol. 1:
The Babarians of San Francisco - Poets from Hell
Context, talent and emerging form are the co-parents of art movements. When these three aspects of great art collide (as they seldom do) a child is conceived. A creative voice so unique in its character that when it is seen, heard, or read it guides the reader unmistakenly back to its place of origin.
As I read the thirty-two poets whose works comprise this expansive anthology entitled, New American Underground Poetry Vol. 1: The Barbarians of San Francisco - Poets from Hell, I welcomed the raw honest energy I found in these long narrative poems. I felt as if I was there with them, listening to them. They called themselves the Barbarians. Every Thursday night from the mid-late 80's through about 1994, their home was a tiny wine and beer tavern located on twenty-second and Guerrero in the Mission District of San Francisco. For just under ten years it was the home of a perfect storm - a Thunder Dome in which spoken word poetry of high emotion, insight, and humor was delivered and refined. This excerpt from David Lerner's "Mein Kampf" addresses the objective of their collective efforts, "all I want to do / is make poetry famous // all I want to do is / burn my initials into the sun // all I want to do is / read poetry from the middle of a / burning building / standing in the fast lane of the / freeway / falling from the top of the / Empire State Building // the literary world / sucks dead dog dick // I'd rather be Richard Speck / than Gary Snyder / I'd rather ride a rocket ship to hell / than a Volvo to Bolinas." And indeed this desire to raise poetry above its lost status as a mainstream literary art colors many of the poems in this collection. These writers wrote and spoke words that could not be confused. They were metaphor lit and smash mouth rich.
Context: The back room at Cafe Babar. A tiny performance space of ony about 30' x 30', with wood bleachers and corugated aluminium siding stretched over the walls. At critical points, the poet could hit the walls and the entire small room would vibrate. Often, there were 75-100 people stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder, crowding the halls and every spare inch of space, hungry for what the poet could do. "The Babar crowd was pretty merciless," says Zietgeist Press Co-Founder and Cafe Babar regular, Bruce Isaacson. "There was no polite applause or lukewarm response. If they loved you, they let you know, and if they didn't, they really let you know: hoots, whistles, heckling. Even beer glassses would sometimes get tossed at the stage."