A Beat Poet…?
In some contexts, people know me as "Tony the Beat Poet" thanks to Don Miller’s bestselling books. Just last week I was sitting having lunch with a man who I had never met before, though had known of him for years and who you might recognize. Several times during the meal, while sharing the wonders of his life and community in an east coast city, this man referred to the importance of poetry. Each time he mentioned poetry, he gestured toward me. Once he even mentioned how much he would like to read some of my verse. I had none to show him.
When Don Miller wove his interactions with me through his books, he referred to me as Tony the Beat Poet. In Blue Like Jazz, he introduces me in this way, "I call Tony a beat poet because he is always wearing loose European shirts, the ones that lace up the chest with shoestring. His head is shaved, and he has a long soul patch that stretches a good inch beneath his chin. He isn’t actually a poet." I wish people could remember this important detail. (And, just for the record, I have never owned a shirt that laced up the front.)
Still, there is irony in Don’s often repeated and much loved nickname for me.
Each of us wants to know our role in the village (be it literal or figurative). We all have a role. We may not have the words, but we wonder about it all the same. Am I a warrior, a healer, a jester, a shepherd, a king, a match-maker, a teacher, a wanderer, an elder, a fool…? You get the idea. The role of the poet (or the bard) is a unique one. It is two-fold. First, he or she is responsible to say what no one else is willing to say, and say it in a way where people will be able "hear". They lived among and often between communities, observing, listening, reflecting and eventually speaking. They were responsible to speak in a different voice. The poet’s other responsibility to the community is to feel.
Maybe I am a poet after all… a poet with no verse.