New American Underground Poetry, Vol 1
(2005) Cafe Babar (named after the storybook elephant) is a little Cafe on 22nd and Guerrero behind the Mission District in San Francisco. From there on the West Coast from the mid-late '80s up through about 1994, a unique group of poets gathered on Thursday nights for a feature, followed by an open mike. The poets performing or reading their work there became known across the United States and in Central and Eastern Europe as some of the best poets in the U.S. They valued emotional honesty and their poems captured it. They found academic writing boring. Regarded the bohemian beatnik poets of North Beach as 'puffed-up', has-been, even geriatric. Counterparts in New York seemed somehow to make commercialized poetry, won grants, performed for money, and worst of all influenced the Madison Avenue slop shops who with second-rate hearts start caricaturing poetry in tv commercials. The Babarian poets were broke. Won the west-coast slams but couldn't afford the tickets to go East to compete. Lived only to write, to perform, to read. Many were without jobs (with notable exceptions), or disabled, or addicted, or worked in the sex industry. Most struggled to pay the rent, or eat well, wore thriftshop clothes. IQ's were the highest, hearts the biggest, poems what mattered most. Was all about feeling in their voices, their words, their lines, their lives. Co-editor Julia Vinograd: Throughout the early-to-mid '80s the Spaghetti Factory was a central collecting spot for North Beach 'beat' poets. Then it closed. We bounced uneasily from one place to another: Banan Place, On Broadway; Peters' Pub, etc. We were glared at suspiciously by everyone from elderly dart players to rock bands who thought we had no business wasting their warm-up time. Gradually the people changed. The poetry changed - we definitely weren't 'beats'. A genre of new, impatient Babarian voices emerged: personal, vivid, very much in the modern world from tv to mtv to the sex clubs - a voice influenced by the L.A. slums of Bukowski and the NY slums of Jim Carroll - but undeniably San Francisco, the San Francisco tourists never see. Modern Maturity – "[Poets] meeting at Cafe Babar are the 'Babarians'. [These] new San Francisco poets love to attack the established social order, [they] are the incursion of poetry into popular culture!" Der Speigel – "Subversive!" San Francisco Chronicle – "They join the ranks of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso!" San Francisco Bay Guardian – "Best poets in America today! ... crucible of spoken-word! ... cradle of American avant-garde! ... keepers of the flame! – poets doing poetry before it caught the public eye! " San Francisco Examiner – Danielle Willis – "... as normal as the kid next door – if your neighbor happens to be a vampire-identified dominatrix lesbian Satanist stripper who loves transvestite men –[she] drips with venom." Poetry Flash – Eli Coppola – "Tender; Fierce honesty; Intimate." Laura Conway – "Prophetic." Bana Witt – "Flamboyant." David Lerner – "Clever-savage rap" & FACT SHEET 5 –"Ezra Pound of the Babar scene." San Francisco Chronicle – "Nancy Depper is "a showstopper." Der Speigel– His [Alan Kaufman's] work is like mixing echoes of Angela Davis with subversive pop music." San Francisco Weekly – Maura O'Connor – "The fragile spirit of William Butler Yeats with an ability to finesse great emotional rawness; impressive." Bruce Isaacson – "Blends intellectual precision with intuitive grasp and the mysteries of emotion." Mel C. Thompson – "Skews our fears and ruthlessly scrapes away at them to expose a layer of stark horror & keeps scraping." Bucky Sinister – "Punkish ... mischief & unpretentiousness." San Francisco Bay Guardian – Julia Vinograd – "Embodies the spirit & constancy of the poetic heart; contemplative & consistent, a solid spiritual conscience." Daniel Higgs – "Drives language to the cliff of pure song – other-worldly lines that defy linguistic gravity." Vampyre Mike Kassell – "Heavy metal magick & punk style; enormously entertaining." Dominique Lowell – "The Janis Joplin of spoken-word." Alan Kaufman – "Avatar of Lenny Bruce, Walt Whitman & Jackie Gleason." San Francisco Examiner – Danielle Willis – "... as normal as the kid next door – if your neighbor happens to be a vampire-identified dominatrix lesbian Satanist stripper who loves transvestite men –[she] drips with venom."
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This is the best overview of the great Café Babar scene of the early 1990s. No other book captures it so succinctly and richly. Alan Allen did a heroic job of getting this out back when print-on-demand was not any easy thing to master, and back when it wasn't cheap. Although he lived on a pensioner's wage, he put nearly a decade of sweat into seeing this thing to completion. He is often not remembered now by the few of us who remain from that era. But he needs to be remembered. Many folks rolled through town saying they were going to do such an anthology, but only he did it. Other anthologies exist which include Babarians, but this is the only great anthology to focus almost exclusively on them in this kind of depth. Please support this book and its struggling publisher, and support this book in memory of all those poets within its covers who have passed on. And too, keeping this book alive helps those of us who remain, but are aging and are hoping the world remembers us. Three cheers to Alan Allen for bringing this book out!