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Sunday, October 17, 2004

THE POLITICS OF POETRY 

NASHVILLE LOSES A LEGACY
By Jack Random

It is often said but rarely taken to heart: Everything is politics. Buying groceries at the neighborhood market is politics. Taking in a film at the multiplex is politics. Hurricanes and tornadoes are politics. Choosing to watch Fox News or Link TV is politics. Supporting your local theater is politics. Driving a Humvee or a hybrid is politics. Obsessing on Laci, Kobe or The Survivors is politics. Reading Arundhati Roy, Michael Mann or Stephen King is politics. And yes, poetry is politics as well.

The Beatlicks, patron saints of the Nashville poetry society, have recently announced their departure from the dense forests of Tennessee to the arid expanses of New Mexico, “leaving the green and wet and moving to the brown and dry.”

I first met Pamela Hirst and Joe Speer when the wZ (AKA, Jim Wisniewski) and I crashed the Nashville poetry scene with a wild, futuristic version of GB Shaw’s Joan of Ark. We were without doubt the fringe radicals of what seemed a tightly knit community, greeted with gaping mouths and only slightly muffled derision, but we were welcomed with open arms by Nashville’s King and Queen of the spoken word. To paraphrase the words of Richard Blane, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

We are all intellectually aware of the interconnectedness of all things. We accept that a tragic event in September 2001 altered our vision of the world but we rather doubt that a fluttering butterfly in Kuala Lumpur can change the course of history in Tallahassee or Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, the power of the word, written or spoken, is surely underrated. The power of poetry is that it speaks both to the mind and to the heart. The most poignant and powerful message against the war that is now spreading its dark wings over much of the world was delivered by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Speak Out) in verse.

Come November 2nd, if the pundits are wrong and Tennessee breaks from the column of red states, it may well be the legacy of two Nashville poets. Transformation is a strange and fundamentally unpredictable phenomenon, springing from the convergence of seemingly unrelated, random events. The word reaches out to a handful of malleable souls, who in turn reach out to a handful of others and so on until a trickle becomes a stream, becomes a river, becomes a tidal wave of change.

Those of us who have lived in the south are acutely aware that some of the most enlightened minds and most powerful voices for change reside there. Among them were Joe Speer and Pamela Hirst. In this season of electoral politics, we reflect on the living legacy of two individuals who have dedicated their lives to their chosen art form. We sense that they have left an indelible impression on the Nashville skyline.

What Nashville has lost, New Mexico has gained. With the power of the internet, perhaps it no longer matters where one resides – except for the electoral college. We wish them many more years of fruitful creative endeavor.

The legacy lives on.

Jazz.


Beatlicks leaving, but not without a legacy
By K. DANIELLE EDWARDS, The Tennessean (October 2004)

When you think about celebrated institutions coming to an end, you might think about the destruction of historic buildings. Or the closing of that community bakery after generations of decadent aromas wafting through the neighborhood.

Seldom do you think of the everyday people who help bring a little sunshine into the life of the community. Joe Speer and Pamela Hirst, aka The Beatlicks, are an institution in Nashville poetry circles. This week they are leaving Nashville for Speer's native New Mexico.

''I'll be leaving the green and wet and moving to the brown and dry,'' Speer says with a laugh. ''We've been phasing out of the Nashville scene for the past few years anyway because we've been traveling, and Pamela decided a few months ago that we needed a change.''

Speer moved here from New Mexico in 1988 to stay with his brother and mother, who was ill with cancer. After his mother died, Speer met Hirst, who offered him a ''new connection'' and a new reason to stay.

''The first place I knew about (doing poetry) was Windows on the Cumberland in the late '80s,'' Speer says. ''There weren't that many venues, and we thought it was important to have at least one venue so poets could get together at least once a month.''

The Beatlicks had open-mike poetry nights at Douglas Corner Cafe, Woodstock Cafe, Bookstar, Asylum, Bean Central and other venues.

Through connections in other cities, they helped bring a new form of poetic recitation to Nashville: the poetry slam, a verbal duel of verse and emotion.

''We brought the slam concept below the Mason-Dixon line in 1990. The first slam was at Douglas Corner,'' Speer says.

The Beatlicks also produced a regular show on Nashville's Community Access Television. Speer's proudest moment was performing at the now-defunct Summer Lights Festival.

''It wasn't like some little dingy club or a small room in the back of the bookstore. It felt like we were big time,'' he says.

Speer thinks poetry will always be an underground fixture. ''I don't see it as being a mainstream thing. There's always poetry there, but it always has a back seat. We're always in the balcony.

''Mostly I see it as an event that is hosted by people who love poetry. They do it not for the money or for the recognition, but because they have to do it. People need a place to share their works. I see it continuing as a little stream. It's an ancient and beloved art.''

Speer and Hirst, both in the their mid-50s, are looking forward to the tranquility of the more subdued New Mexico scene, which has pockets of poetic movement.

To keep up with The Beatlicks in New Mexico, visit www.beatlick.com.

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