Cover photography – Marcia Ward – From the Poets' Bridge
as always for Marcia
Many years ago, as a young artist, I was falsely tagged with the opprobrium, “street,” as if my talents were unschooled, like someone who sprays graffiti or writes in poor imitation of Kerouac. Hell, I went to Jesuit schools and I sometimes think in Latin, Quid agam, amicus meus? Bothersome also was the uglier implied characterization of “street:” thuggish. Now normally such mislabeling is of no consequence in the real world, but on occasion such innuendo can lead to violence.
In the early 80s I came into possession of a Panasonic video camera and immediately took up making short artworks, some poetic, some narrative, some simply eye dazzling, and some to accompany live music at stage shows. I had no editing equipment so most were multiple do-overs until I achieved what I was looking for in one take, an arduous and time-consuming task to say the least, but a process that demanded planning and an economy of concept. One of my “movieos” – as I called them - I was especially proud of, one in which my wife danced with an erotic quality and nonchalance that was both an intellectual and physical turn on. It aroused a haunting desire for knowledge of her whole being, not simply lust for her.
In 1987, at a literary festival and book fair where I had a booth, I was selling poetry chapbooks and my literary magazine, Passion Press. I knew dozens of attendees at the fair and many asked in English, “What’s up, my friend?” – Quid agam, amicus meus? I spoke of my video adventuring the last few years and everyone wanted a look-see. Because I had a number of poetic movieos with me on VHS tape and because there was a large television and VHS player in the lobby where my booth was, I arranged for an impromptu screening of my compilation. A dozen or so of my interested contemporaries gathered round and I began screening my work. First, a rapid cut take on the great Colorado poet, James Ryan Morris, then a documentary of my youngest son’s costumed third birthday party parade at Alamo Placitas Park, led by my wife, Marcia, wearing a feathered headdress and a dress-that-sings, and pounding out a march on a toy tom-tom. Marcia was literally at the height of her maternal beauty. I followed this with the one of Marcia dancing.
Well, a minute or so into my piece, “Dancing,” there is a piercing wail of a scream and a verbal protest from the event organizer’s wife. “Turn that porn off! There are woman and children here!” I look around the room to see if something “pornographic” is going on and seeing only attendees perusing the publisher’s wares, I come to realize that the distraught woman – a college professor, no less – is talking about my movieo. I ignore her and turn back to watching my video with my friends; however, without warning, the screen goes black and I realized a plug’s been pulled as I see the festival organizer, let’s call him “Mr. Censorium,” standing with a disconnected electrical extension cord in hand. If looks could kill I’d be dead, I think. Steam’s coming out of his ears, and he’s glaring like someone who’s been cuckolded. Rather than cause a scene or even ask Mrs. Censorium what she was so upset about, I leave the room with my friends and venture outside where we hold an impromptu poetry reading. Half the people at the fair join us outside, despite the fact that there are featured literary presenters - mostly academics and non-profit administrators - on stage in the auditorium talking about literature. Outside we are sharing literature, not talking about literature, with the likes of Larry Lake, Art Goodtimes, Woody Hill, Gregory Greyhawk, and Lucy McGrath riffing off each other. A couple of cases of beer also miraculously appear and add a lacking festivity to the otherwise staid festival.
Now I did have a little history with Mr. Censorium. He used to come poetry readings that I ran in the 70s, and I had sensed his animosity towards me, something I attributed to my never having asked him to be a featured poet at my readings. I knew he thought himself to be the cat’s meow when it came to poetics, but I found his writing, its style, to be derivative, a 3.2 take on Pablo Neruda, not my cup of tea, and certainly not the outside-the-box vernacular kind of poetry I was interested in featuring. I was producer and host, and I only featured poets I was truly interested in. Censorium told others my scene was clique-ish and “street,” that “Ed Ward wouldn’t know a poem if it bit him on the ass.” I guess he took my personal tastes personally. In fact, when the literary festival that the book fair was part of, had been organized, the book fair coordinator, Tom Parson, one of closest friends at the time, had given Censorium a list of the small press publishers in Colorado to invite, my self among them. But Censorium had excluded me and my friend and mentor, Larry Lake, Denver’s most polished small press publisher, from the invitation mailing. Only when I mentioned my lack of an invitation to Tom Parson was the omission righted and I was granted booth space.
Flash forward a couple of years. I had passed on the mandate I’d been given by Larry Lake, you must publish others as well as write, to John Macker, and my Passion Press literary magazine had been replaced with Macker’s Moravagine. John was also one of Denver’s alternative event producers, and to celebrate his latest edition of Moravagine, he rented a new restaurant bar on Blake Street, let’s call it “Spiritu.” Spiritu was closed on Mondays and John had arranged for a Monday night private party featuring some poets he was publishing, a painter by the name of Paris Butler, and myself. He guaranteed the owner, let’s call her Connie Candle, a full house. He’d turn her dark night into the most lucrative night of the month, a promise, as it turned out, he kept.
I was going to show the world premier of my latest and most ambitious video extravaganza, E the Movieo, that featured three separate takes playing simultaneously on three monitors of my narrative fiction, Early Light, The Sage the Sniff, and Conspired with an original score created by Denver’s most popular band at the time, the heavy-metal Gothic foursome, The Soul Merchants. I was as excited about E the Movieo as I had ever been.
I arrive at Spiritu early on the evening of the party to set up my gear: three VHS players, three large screen TVs that I had rented, a stand to pyramid-ize them, numerous patch, extension and sync cords, and a PA and speakers to broadcast the soundtrack, if you will, “a ton” of equipment. After bringing my gear into Spiritu’s main room, a youngish – in his late twenties – man bursts out of the swinging doors to the kitchen, approaches me threateningly, and asks “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I can’t imagine where he’s coming from; hence, I respond diplomatically, “Hello, I’m Ed Ward. I’m one of the featured artists at this evening’s private party that Moravagine magazine is sponsoring here at Spiritu; I’m here to set up these monitors for the world premier of my latest project, E the Movieo. Please tell me, what’s your name and who are you?”
His response is totally out of left field. “No way are you going to do that and ruin the ambiance of my dining room and chase away customers with these fucking TVs. No way.”
Looking for a win here, I remind El Ass – that’s the name I’ve given him as he never told me his – that one: Spiritu is not open to the public on Mondays and two: that I am the featured artist at tonight’s private party, adding “In two hours there are going to be over a hundred friends of mine here to spend money at Spiritu’s bar and enjoy my video installation, Paris’ paintings, and readings by Moravagine’s contributors. As far as I know: serving dinner is not part of the equation. Neither is being open to the public. John Macker made arrangements with Connie Candle.”
“Well as of tonight, we are open on Mondays, and there’s no fucking way you’re going to ruin my serving dinner.”
Needless to say, the tension in the room is thick as incense at a Catholic bishop’s installation. I can’t seem to assuage El Ass’s anger, understand his inhospitality, nor alter his unwarranted and implacable stance. He’s not even considering compromise. I do know that John Macker won’t be here until the party starts at 7, and I’m alone with El Ass in Spiritu. I realize it’s going to take an hour plus just to set up my gear, let alone doing a practice run-through, and that if I don’t get started soon, the magic of just turning on my movieo when it’s show time will be lost if I wait for John Macker to arrive and straighten things out with El Ass.
I study the interior of Spiritu. There’s a mezzanine where I might be able to set up and I offer this as a solution, reminding him there are going to be a hundred people here to see my show. He doesn’t say “Yes” and he doesn’t say “No,” he simply walks away and disappears back into the kitchen. So I do set up my gear on the mezzanine, even though I would have preferred the dining room wall where everyone could watch from the comfort of the bar and dining room seats. In years past, I would have never made such a compromise, but the evening was as much about Paris Butler and Moravagine as it was about me, and I felt it was not my place to jeopardize the party as a whole.
Well, when John arrived (at about the same time as fifty or so guests), not wanting to put a damper on things, I chose not to express to him my disappointment at being marginalized on the mezzanine. Soon the room is packed, Paris sells some paintings, poems and stories get read, and I premier E the Movieo (to a standing ovation, I might add). I had noted the absence of any general public, as I knew every person in the room, all one hundred and thirteen of them (I did a head count while people watched E). So when the lights came back up and the evening was winding down, I went to the bar that El Ass was tending, got right in his face, and asked with all the barbed sarcasm a Philly boy can muster: “How many fucking dinners did I ruin, Asshole?”
In a heartbeat, like a stuntman in a Kung Fu movie, El Ass leaps over the bar and pushes me through everyone behind me, knocking over tables and chairs, slams me up against the wall where my monitors should have been, and shoves me to the floor. During this assault I decide not to defend myself or strike back. I’ve been in confrontations with coked up club owners over the years and know if the police arrive it’ll be me, not El Ass, going downtown to Cherokee Street, because when it’s patron versus employee, the employee is always deemed innocent. Well, as I’m lying stunned on the floor, John Macker rushes over to find out what’s going on, and he’s strong-armed by the Spiritu staff, hustled to the door, and pushed outside, with the staff baring his reentry. El Ass backs away from me and announces, “The party’s over. We’re closed. Everyone out!” And the remaining party attendees, not having a clue as to what just went down, depart. And now again, it’s just me and El Ass, plus my wife, in Spiritu. He’s balling his fists and stewing in his anger. I know he’d like to clock me, but there are dozens of people outside watching us through the front window. “Get your shit and get out,” he barks before disappearing into the kitchen.”
And I do, break down my gear and load it into our van that Marcia has parked in the alley behind Spiritu. I’m still high on the reception E the Movieo had received while simultaneously trying to process the assault I’d just experienced. Granted, I’d pushed his buttons, but he’d been wrong, ignorant, thuggish, mean, and combative since the moment I’d walked into Spiritu, a stance the genesis of which was a mystery to me. To get some semblance of calm into my being, I smoke a joint, and upon reflection I realize I have not done a final check to make sure I’ve not left any gear behind. A lost sync cord would be a fifty-dollar hassle. So I return to the alley exit and attempt reentry, but the door is locked. I knock, wait, knock again a little louder, wait, and then pound on the door. It opens and through the doorway steps El Ass. He’s got a strange look on his face, something between flirtatious and solicitous. He tells me, “You’re the kind of person I admire. It’s artists like you keep things interesting. I love you, man” and then he embraces me in an uncomfortable hug and, and without warning, kisses me, attempting to insert his tongue in my mouth. I push him away and tell him, “Fuck you, Asshole. Twenty years from now, you’ll be gone, Spiritu will be gone, this Denver – as we now know it – will be gone, but I’ll still be making art despite the likes of Neanderthals like you.” And I get back into my van and head towards 16th Street.
Next day, Marcia and I, dealing with post show blues, are eating lunch at Green’s on Colfax Avenue. We’re on the long bench that spans the east dining room wall at a two top. And who should be seated at the two top to my right: no one other than Connie Candle, Spiritu’s owner. I can’t help myself and introduce myself. I tell her my take on what went down last night at her club. She listens but addresses none of my concerns. Never offering an apology, the only thing Connie Candle tells me is this: “El Ass, his name is Dean Diavolo. He’s married to my pastry chef. He’s not my employee. He was there last night because a man named Ray Censorium, who sometimes holds literary events at Spiritu, warned me and my chef that John Macker and his friends were street thugs who would wreck my club. Diavolo volunteered to be bouncer and make sure things did not get crazy.”
Flash forward another twenty years. Connie Candle comes to my studio to buy a painting of mine that she’d seen at Scum of the Earth Gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District. She has no memory of meeting me at Greens. She makes no connection between “Ed Ward, poet and filmmaker” and “Edwin Forrest Ward, watercolorist.” I don’t bring up my night at Spiritu. She buys two paintings and tells me she’ll be back again someday to buy some more. She kisses me on the cheek politely and asks, “Were you ever at my club, Spiritu?” I respond, “Yes, I once had an unforgettable night there.”
So, to close the circle of this story, the petty animosity of Censorium, combined with the violence of the sexually conflicted sadomasochistic Diavolo, resulted in a great patron for me. Connie’s spent a goodly sum on the purchase of my paintings and I expect to see her again. She told me, as did Diavolo, “You’re the kind of person I admire. It’s artists like you keep things interesting.”