Dollars

Cover to Bowery Poetry Books publication, "The Poetry Dollars" by Paul Mills aka Poez

Published by Bowery Poetry Books in 2007, featuring the poetry written out of the experience of making a living performing poetry in the streets and parks of Boston, Harvard Square, New York’s Greenwich Village and Upper Broadway. Plus some instruction on how to be a performing street poet, and memoirs. Mostly out of print, a few new and used copies are still available on Amazon. Excerpts on this page change from one week to the next. The selection for this week [April 15-22, 2018] is from My Date With Suzanne Vega at Tom’s Diner:

At that time, she and I both were prominent artists known and respected throughout an area of Greenwich Village about the size of a football field. She was the 23-year-old darling of the Songwriter’s Exchange, administrated by folksinger Jack Hardy at the Cornelia Street Café, on Cornelia near W. 4th Street, which met weekly in a cramped room with tables, chairs, many guitars, and what seemed like an even greater number of guitar cases, as well as of the relocated Folk City, on W. Third Street off Sixth Avenue.

At FC, a microphone, stage, and lights were made available to the stars of tomorrow on Monday open-mike “Hoot” nights, and on occasional “Dollar Nights” (cover: one dollar). Some were regularly tapped to open for headliners such as Odetta or Dave Van Ronk, but I think Suzanne had achieved that distinction no more than once or twice when we went on the date that I’m talking about. Her crowd-pleasers then were “Cracking,” and “The Queen and The Soldier,” as well as “Tom’s Diner.” The performers covering her work were principally The Roommates, a vocalist stage presence composed of three harmonizing young women about Suzanne’s age who rented an overheated apartment together in the East Village, one of whom, Lucy Kaplansky, was Suzanne’s especially close friend. But the truth is, we were all friends more or less. Friends who sniped at each other, and competed for bookings, of course; but a jittery group of mutually-admiring, mostly poor, all struggling, artists, going to school or working at part-time jobs, and sharing our incalculably scarce youthful days of hopeful glory in Greenwich Village. Everybody wanted to be totally cool about everything, but there were also tears, fists pounding on bathroom doors, and shrieks of laughter at midnight sailing off tenement fire escapes.

I recited poetry from memory in the streets and in Washington Square Park with a “Poetry Menu,” and was accepted by this group of songwriter-performers as offering something interesting to listen to without a guitar for a change. It did not hurt that I had a regular weekly showcase gig on Wednesday nights at Kenny’s Castaways, the intimidating, noisy rock bar a block south of FC on Bleecker, where professional recording artists like the Roche Sisters and Steve Forbert had taken off but nobody from Suzanne’s sensitive neo-folkie group at Folk City could get a break. There was a review in the Daily News describing me with approval as a “voice musician,” and on occasion I boldly took the stage at Folk City and won decent applause. …