The Famous Poet's Society

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 8 of 8

An Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.26.10

Now, the conclusion of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores now. [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4 | Read Part 5 | Read Part 6 | Read Part 7]

My plane did not leave until the following morning. I spent Tuesday night in the casino. The Nugget is not actually as big as I’d thought at first—a trick of mirrors—and most of my time was passed at the Aquarium Bar. The musical entertainment came in the form of a well-oiled duo known as Bobby and Ricky, whose engagement was listed as “indefinite.” Bobby was a sax player with a genial smile; Ricky, a guitarist in a leisure suit with curly gray hair. When I arrived Bobby was tying up the last few bars of “Secret Agent Man.” When the song was through he grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Have some more tequila!” pronouncing the last word with a lascivious sneer. The mostly geriatric crowd responded with a lusty yell. I noticed a table of famous poets, all wearing their medallions and drinking heavily. Bobby and Ricky started into “Unchained Melody.” Dancers crowded the floor. An elderly couple stood in the center, barely swaying, locked in an embrace. A man wearing a cowboy hat and a shirt patterned with the American flag asked one of the poets to dance. I knew her. She had bent my ear the night before, telling me all about her unhappy marriage that fell apart a few years back and the poetry that had helped her through it. Her first poem had come to her on her birthday at the exact hour of her birth. Smiling, she gazed up at the cowboy and laid her hand on his outstretched forearm. Some of us began to sing along with Bobby. The din of the slots died away. Out of the fake thatched roof descended Apollo, god of song. The waitress stood and watched, her tray full of tequila shots, limes, salt. The muse of the lyre visited Ricky, and he strummed a lovely chord. Time and loss for us seemed distant, made-up things. At the center of the world were Bobby’s lips, singing the immortal verses, and in these verses our hearts were gladdened. This was poetry.

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 7 of 8

An Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.22.10

Now, Part 7 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores now. [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4 | Read Part 5 | Read Part 6]

The Famous Poet’s Society had impressed upon us throughout the convention that we were all winners: that as far back as the first night when we had put pen to paper we had ceased to lose. But some would leave Reno with less than others. This fact was underscored by the $6,000 in door prizes that greeted our return to the Rose Ballroom.

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 6 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.19.10

Now, Part 6 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores today! [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4 | Read Part 5.]

That night at the Shakespeare banquet we hashed out the odds on the twenty-five grand. From the open field a few favorites had emerged. At my table a dental hygienist from Dallas advised that the smart money liked a man from her class. “His name is James Stelly,” she said, “and he’s given his whole life to going around and telling what drugs did to him. He can bring tears to anyone’s eye that hears him.”

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 5 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.15.10

Now, Part 5 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores on April 19th. [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4.]

The judged readings had been going on since eight a.m. in the Celebrity Showroom, an old dinner theater with heavy tables and plush cocktail booths. This was the Nugget’s swankiest venue. The railings were dark polished mahogany. Red velvet covered the walls. A gold lamé curtain bordered the stage, bunched in dazzling symmetrical folds around the proscenium. Tiny Tivoli lights outlined the aisles and the steps and the ample round lip of a stage that had been trod by the likes of Dick Dale, Pasquale Esposito, and Gordon Lightfoot.

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 4 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.12.10

Now, Part 4 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores on April 19th. [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3.]

On Monday morning I woke in a tangle of sheets and lay there turning things over in my head. The confidence I’d felt after the first homeroom session was shaken. Clearly I needed to be dramatizing my poem if I wanted to win the $25,000. This kid with the Ricky Martin routine was going to walk all over me. How would it feel to come all this way and lose to a dance routine? I ran over my poem a few times, looking for places where I might go down on a knee, but my poem did not seem to lend itself to that kind of theater. The clock was ticking. Class Six was scheduled to read before the judges at three p.m. I threw on some clothes and headed downstairs for Joel’s morning lecture, “How to Be a Poet on Your Feet.”

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 3 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.08.10

Now, Part 3 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did, in stores on April 19th. [Need to catch up? Read Part 1 | Read Part 2.]

After a short break, we reconvened for the Master Workshop, presented by Al D’Andrea. Al affected a professorial demeanor, repeatedly snatching off his reading glasses and gesturing philosophically with his hands. He ranged over a number of poets, from William Carlos Williams to Lucille Clifton, each one serving the overall point of his address, which was called “Saying Yes: Embracing the Life Force of Your Poem.” He closed with a poem by James Scully entitled “What Is Poetry?” Having just witnessed the dramatic opposition of Rigg’s experimental soundscape and Joel’s corny baseball rhymes, and with $25,000 hanging somewhere in the balance, I found the question pertinent. Unfortunately, Scully offered no definitive answers. He posed instead a series of odd counter-questions, such as “if it were a crib / would you trust your baby to sleep in it?” Al added to the weight of these quandaries by chewing on his glasses.

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 2 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.05.10

Now, Part 2 of the serialized excerpt from Jake Silverstein’s Nothing Happened and Then It Did in stores on April 19th. [Miss Part 1? Read it here.]

Five days before the convention was to begin, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans and plunging the country headlong into the age of terror, but the Famous Poets Society decided to push ahead with its program as planned. It was felt that poetry was needed now more than ever. It was also felt that there would be no full refund of the $495 registration fee, in the event of a canceled flight or a distraught flier or a sinking sensation that the timing was bad for big bets. I flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and took Interstate 80 up into the Sierra Nevadas, over Donner Pass, to John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Reno.

continue reading »

The Famous Poet’s Society, Part 1 of 8

A Serialized Excerpt from Nothing Happened and Then It Did

By Jake Silverstein on 4.01.10

Editor’s Note: On April 19th, W. W. Norton will publish Nothing Happened and Then It Did, the first book by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein. Sherman Alexie has called it “hilarious, poetic, lovely, and disturbing.” Annie Dillard calls it “a masterful literary debut.” Like Alexie and Dillard, the Poems Out Loud team has fallen in love with the book. One chapter in particular, about an unforgettable poetry competition in Reno, Nevada, has secured my personal lifetime membership in the Silverstein Forever Fan Club. To help us celebrate National Poetry Month, Jake Silverstein has generously agreed to let Poems Out Loud share this chapter with you, dear readers. So throughout the month of April, in eight parts, we’ll be serializing the story of the Famous Poet’s Society from Nothing Happened and Then It Did. Read along with us and there will be a few opportunities throughout the month to snag a free copy of the book. So now, I turn you over to Jake and Part 1 of the Famous Poet’s Society. Enjoy!

continue reading »