“There’s a bunch of poets who meet down a back alley at midnight when there’s a full moon to read poems,” said Sarah.
“No, there’s not,” I said.
“Yeah, there is. I’ve been to it.”
I’d not really been up to Boulder very often. There was maybe one time when I was almost 21 when I found myself drinking vodka and playing strip Monopoly on CU Campus and as cool as that sounds, it really wasn’t. I didn’t have any idea about Boulder really. I had this vivid daydream as a teenager of me in maybe my late 20s riding a bike around Boulder working some sort of get-you-by job, a barista or something. I don’t even really know where it came from. It was just kind of a fun thing to think about. But for me, I thought Boulder would probably be a lot more rundown than it is. I pictured a kind of Denver deal but with more patchouli and tea shops. What I didn’t expect was so many Targets and Starbucks. I also had no idea what didn’t know what a trustafarian was. I also didn’t know how quickly you could get desensitized to Whole Foods. I guess what I’m saying is I didn’t realize the bohemian lifestyle was so marketable, but Boulder set me straight on that.
Sarah was working late, babysitting. I don’t really remember what I was doing, but it was getting close to midnight and I was waiting to hear back from Sarah where she was.
“Sorry. I’m working late, but you should still go.”
I didn’t really do things alone at that point. Especially go down back alleys in Boulder. That sounded dangerous. Okay, I mean, not really, but still. Poets, like any group of people, range from completely elitist assholes to the kindest of folks. I was a little worried I was going to find myself down a back alley listening to two hours of holier than thou poetry. I was a little worried about being the outsider. Not welcomed in the closed off ranks of the back alley poetry dynasty.
It also was cold as hell. I almost didn’t go.
But I did. I threw on my beanie and my hoodie and I trekked towards downtown Boulder to the spot [Morrison Alley between Biergarten and ex-Boulder Cafe]. I turned the corner and there before me was a group of three goofy motherfuckers. I’d later find out it was Matt “Cliff” Clifford, Eric Fischman and Natalie Doerre. They welcomed me over to their small huddle that on that cold night seemed more designed for warmth than for performance. There was a Jeep in the back alley, lit up by a single light buzzing flies. The group welcomed me.
Cliff extra welcomed me with a Diet Coke bottle filled with whiskey, maybe a hint of Diet Coke. On a cold enough night, whiskey doesn’t really seem optional. I took a swig and Fischman started howling out a poem, some clever twist on his Jewish upbringing. Cliff read a political rant. I read something about America. That was that. It was cold as balls.
These guys complimented me on my Mutiny Info Cafe hoodie and said “wait, did you come up from Denver?” I told them “yeah.” They were impressed, but really it was all just circumstance.
“Wanna come back to my place to drink whiskey and talk about poetry?” asked Cliff.
“Uh, yeah,” I’m sure I said and we made our way to his and Natalie’s place.
The apartment itself had a lot of magic to it. The kitchen was basically a triangle, the turquoise blue old school fridge resting on the one flat wall. Natalie offered me a beer. Everyone was talking and talking like it was 9 at night but at this point it must have been 1 or 2 in the morning. We settled into the living room on some old furniture and we got to talking about poetry.
I don’t remember what we said honestly. I do remember Cliff or Fischman asking me about my process when I write poetry. I was taken back though. People talked about this? Someone gave a shit about my process in writing poetry?
I wasn’t brand new to the poetry world at the time. I’d gone to the Mercury Café (the Merc) in Denver on an occasional Sunday night and hit up random poetry events here and there, but no one had ever asked me about my process in writing poetry. Cliff passed me a bowl and the Diet Coke as I told him how most of the times I just walked around thinking about the poem throughout the day and then just let it out when I think it’s time.
Then they pulled out Taxis and Shit as the mild debauchery continued. I was surrounded by old friends that I’d just met. Now I understood why it wasn’t Boulder Poetry Community or Boulder Poetry Group. It was a Boulder Poetry Tribe. Taxis and Shit was great. Fischman and Clifford took turns reading the poems staging their best Jonathan Montgomery imitation. Cliff gave me a copy and insisted I take it with me. He then gave me a copy of his book, The Rantodance of Anonymous from Necropolis and his Machine. Holy shit that was a title. I think I said that out loud. He just handed me this fierce cup of literary coffee insistent that I take it for free. We walked downstairs and after a brief awkward moment we all acknowledged that hugs were in order, because of course they were. This was the Boulder that younger me wanted to believe in.
Something inside me came alive that night, and since then poetry has made a whole lot more sense to me. There’s a reason it’s damn near impossible to make a living off of poetry. It’s something so much more than that. It wasn’t about having the best poem. What the hell is a best poem anyways? It is about finding your tribe. “Not having to hide your inner moonlight,” to quote Allen. It’s about going down a back alley on a cold night in Boulder, because you believe you’ll find something there.
Brice Maiurro is a poet out of Denver, Colorado. He runs a poetry series out of Boulder Writers Warehouse and Mutiny Info Cafe called Punch Drunk Poetry. His debut poetry collection, Stupid Flowers, will be out this summer. Currently, he is spending all his free time reading Miranda July and pretending his apartment isn’t dirty.