The Night of Two Moons: Dispatches from SWP by Eric Raanan Fischman

Any opinions reflected here do not represent those of Naropa University or the Jack Kerouac School.

And it came to pass in the 11th year of Their Holy Majestrix the Moon that a miracle descended upon the Alley.

I had been working as an assistant event coordinator at the Summer Writing Program at Naropa when the Full Moon fell on the second day of the Jack Kerouac School’s three week-long literary festival. We made two flyers which I made two copies of and posted in two places on campus, then announced the reading at two of the day’s events: a cine-poetics artist talk by Andrea Abi-Karam and that evening’s faculty reading featuring Karam, Brenda Coultas, and the unstoppable Steven Dunn. (Seriously, this man’s career is a freight train.)

The Full Moon Reading, which was founded in 2011 by Alan Mudd, Toodles Methuselah, and Cliff (that’s Craig Collyer, Joe Braun, and Matt Clifford, for the archive), takes place every full moon at midnight in Morrison Alley on 13th St in the alcove opposite the Bohemian Bier Garten. There is no microphone, no list, and no host. Poets read when they feel like it, if they feel like it, as much as they want, or not at all. On this particular night, Cliff and I crashed (…hey wait, I’m staff!) the faculty/staff after-party at the Base Camp Hotel next door to Naropa having wine and laughs with Karam, Coultas, Raquel Salas Rivera, Orlando White, Anne Waldman, Jeffrey Pethybridge, the incomparable Swanee, a Venetian student poet, a Martian student poet, oracles, cyborgs, and other post-human hybrid variations.

Orlando complemented Cliff’s t-shirt and Brenda told me not to worry about my toothache, it could take months for a root canal to settle down. Raquel regaled us with the many delicious ways to prepare platanos on their home island of Puerto Rico. And Anne took photos with an 8-foot tall 17 year-old who plainly had no idea of the magnitude of the personage he was hovering over. But great poets can only do ordinary things for so long, and the hotel ultimately kicked us off their balcony around 10:45pm and sent us out swarming into the moony night.

It was a Strawberry Supermoon, an Algonquin title indicating that the strawberries were ripe to be plucked (the strawberry part), while also saying that it would be enormous and transcendent (the super part). Cliff and I met up with local poet, professor and non-profit organizer Lee FG on Pearl St and recruited two more poets for the cause in front of Lolita’s Market: JD, one of this year’s SWP faculty liaisons, and a guy named Yoni, who just seemed cool. Finally, it was midnight.

Marcus If at Full Moon Reading (photo by Garrett Okenka)

The first hour was magic. Marcus If, founder of the Beyond Academia Free Skool (BAFS) out of Nederland, read an uncharacteristically clean sensitive love poem, which was stunning. Tom Peters, creator of the “So, You’re a Poet” open mic which has run every Monday for 35 years and currently operates out of Wesley Chapel (830pm), read a soul-wrenching poem about his mother’s passing. Phil Me Brightly, who had officiated a wedding earlier that day, performed the opening and closing of that ceremony, complete with drum, podium, well-dressed married couple, and tutu-wearing dog of honor.

Though only 3 of this week’s SWP students had come, they brought the heat and dug their toes deep into the small, sharp stones of the alley. Sean O’Connor shared a highly personal invitation into the cracking cages of his heart, while Sara Caldiero taught us “A New ABC’s” intoning how the word vagina might sound if it had started with every other letter of the alphabet, one at a time, in order. Poetry was gonna be alright. No slouches here. Just festival ethos. Just luna-tics. Just poets.

Second Alley Reading (photo by Beautiful Existence)

At about 1am, the reading devolved into a naturally occurring intermission, at which point JD asked me if I had been to the other reading yet. “What other reading?” I answered, mystified, and he led me two alcoves over in the same alley where some more SWP students, including Dax Carswell, AD Kellerhals, Beautiful Existence (founder of, Huck Shine, and Andy Riley, among others, were having a very different kind of reading, quietly sharing with each other the work of the poets they loved most. When I walked up, they were reading James Wright, Mark Strand, and C. P. Cavafy. I stayed with them a while, listening, and then shared a poem I love by Allan Kornblum from The Actualist Anthology, published in 1977.

O Light

we understand
how you show us
to the door

but how
do you turn
the handle?
AD Kellerhals at 2nd Alley Reading (photo by Beautiful Existence)

Their alcove had a Moon too, and it looked just like ours. What on earth was happening? How could there be two Moons in a single alley?! Had this ever happened before? Did NASA need to be alerted? Our Moon showered on the howlers, the misfits, the punk rockers, and the alumni, while theirs illuminated the travelers, the introverts, the mystics, and the MFAs.

It was unprecedented. Even legendary. Two simultaneous Full Moon Readings, less than 100 feet away from each other, with completely different vibes. Twin Moons. Gemini Moons. If you wanted to scream, go here. If you wanted to recite, go there. I could hardly contain my joy, and yet I was also miserable at the fact that I couldn’t be at both readings at once and hear all of the poems. When the howls flared back up from the other alcove, I knew the intermission had ended, and I made my apologies and my exit, inviting them all to join us in the bigger space. “Maybe in a little while,” they said. “We’ve got our own thing going.”

Huck Shine at 2nd Alley Reading (photo by Beautiful Existence)

Well a little while went by fast once the other poets from my alcove learned what was happening in theirs, and it was not long before everyone in the 2nd Alley had moseyed on over. Their quieter reading enjambed into the inexorable, unquenchable noise of ours, and given the lateness of the hour too, some opted to go home, but a few more stayed behind. Their poems burned and hailed. “Fire fire fire fire burn burn burn burn!” (Andy Riley). “YEAH 2ND ALLEY POETS!” we all shouted. “GIVE US MORE OF THOSE JUICY POEMS!!!” Then, after hanging for a time and sharing some of their work, they turned to leave.

Then there was one poet who shattered the moonlight like a sage (I will let go of names at this point to protect them because they really do know better and feel super fucking bad about it). I heard them shout the famous words spoken by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to Allen Ginsberg when Allen was too scared to get up on stage and recite spontaneous poems himself: “DON’T YOU TRUST YOUR OWN MIND?” And suddenly a spontaneous poem full of passionate appeal and the pain of 3 years of human and cultural loss admonished them for leaving. “THIS IS THE ALLEY! THIS IS YOUR MIND! YOU ARE IN BOULDER! ARE YOU AFRAID OF YOUR MIND?” For real y’all, the poet felt really bad about this. That doesn’t make it okay, and they know that. But there were extenuating circumstances.

Like so many other institutions, the Kerouac School had been feeling the weight of budget crunch and sheer human exhaustion ever since the pandemic began. Folks like Jeffrey and Swanee were doing everything imaginable, but students had only recently begun returning to campus, and due to a combination of circumstances, there hadn’t been an issue of Bombay Gin, the university’s prestigious avant-garde literary journal, in about 3 years. With so much of of our work and study lives having moved into the home, we hadn’t heard of any new reading series’ starting up for us busy older poets to attend, new small presses and journals for us to submit to, or zine and chapbook release parties for us to support with our old people day-job cash. Boulder was experiencing what felt like a poetry drought. After the days of IN BOULDER, COLORADO YOU CAN GO TO A POETRY READING SEVEN NIGHTS A WEEK! it was an unripe strawberry to swallow.

Phil Me Brightly at Full Moon Reading (photo by Eric Fischman)

Ok, so there’s still “So, You’re A Poet” every Monday night at Wesley Chapel, and the Writers’ Block poetry writing circle at Mi Chantli (formerly Block 1750) Wednesday nights at 1750 30th St. #22, not to mention the Queer Art Organics poetry open mic every 3rd Thursday in the open seating/stage area in back of the Trident Bookstore, BAFS free monthly poetry workshops every 2nd Sunday at the Boulder Public Library, Jazzetry which just happened two weeks before SWP also in the back of the Trident, Queer Asterisk’s Sunday online poetry workshops hosted by JKS alum and small press publisher Jona Fine, and of course SWP itself, and the Full Moon Reading which we’ve been talking about this entire time (that’s everything I know about right now, I swear!)

But there was still another core wound that hadn’t healed. We’d lost Innisfree. Founded in 2011 by Brian Buckley, Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe was one of just three all-poetry bookstores to exist in America. Their grand opening was on January 15th, the day before I moved from NYC to Boulder. It felt like a personal gift to me. In addition to holding a weekly open mic on Tuesday nights, Brian maintained a thorough selection of poetry books, journals, and anthologies by local writers, and he was always happy to add your own book to the shelf. He also regularly offered the space for whatever weird shit we felt like doing, like when we transformed the store into an interactive poetic performance art experience for several hours one night called Eucacophanyny. Most of my friends had had book releases there, including myself. We must have read on that stage 500 times.

When the pandemic took Innisfree in September of 2020, one of the chambers of Boulder’s poetry heart collapsed. There was a beautiful goodbye ceremony, and JKS alum and Boulder Poetry Tribe founder Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery wrote a loving article entitled, “In the Deep (Broken) Heart’s Core: Innisfree Poetry Bookstore&Cafe Will Arise and Go Now” which served the community as a collective eulogy. To this day, the space remains empty.

Yet here was this luscious pearl. The entire actual moon. It was strawberry. It was super. We want to share it all with you. We want to hear your holy words and put thimbles in your heads. We want to love you, inspire and be inspired by you, to cheer you on with our diaphragms. But perhaps the Alley could not always be for everyone, not that night at least. So you made your own – The Sagittarius Strawberry Super Full Moon Second Reading (gratitude to Beautiful Existence for this name). We love that! We applaud and celebrate that. What could be more Moon than that? Perhaps the next alley would be a lakeshore, or a roof. Perhaps it would be a warehouse in North Boulder, like in the early days of Drunk Poets’ Society.

Ken Rowell at Full Moon Reading (photo by Maggie Saunders)

Anyway, that wasn’t the end of the reading. A couple more poets performed, including Ken Rowell, local pre-school teacher and vampire puppy, who read us a spontaneous poem off of a completely blank sheet of paper. Then we all got into a human puppy pile for a few minutes of compassionate interconnection, after which we said our goodbyes and parted. We had Mooned until 3am.

After convincing a Denver police officer that I was driving the wrong way down a one way street with no headlights on because I was a simple Longmontster unused to Boulder’s confused and weirding ways and not because I was slightly emotionally wrecked by the night I had left behind me, I headed home. On the way, I thought, perhaps the time of the Moon had come to an end. 10 years is a spectacular run, and so many of our original cohort had moved away, raised children, started other lives. What more could we ask for? We had our turn, I said aloud to my empty Prius. Now it’s yours. And we can’t wait to see what you’re gonna do with it.

Just kidding (I just thought it might sound dramatic to end the article that way)… we’re gonna make readings and events and journals and presses and punk shows and jazz halls and free skools too, and most especially, Moons. Just how old do you think we are?? The point is, let’s make shit together.

Eric Raanan Fischman, MFA graduate from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, and author of “Mordy Gets Enlightened,” has been a longtime contributor to Boulder Poetry Tribe.