Reminiscences of the former enfant terrible of the New Orleans poetry scene

The Dragon’s Den is, of course, the best club in New Orleans. It’s fallen off a little since Katrina, but, when I was there, you could be guaranteed to hear fabulous music and drink excellent drinks served by the way awesome bartender* a solid six days of the week. At the time, the seventh day — in this case, Tuesday — was poetry night. In technically “open mic” format, it was really dominated by a crowd of regulars that comprised maybe half a dozen slam poets, an equal number of mainline non-slam modern poet types, and two or three satirists. Anyone who has ever met me or read more than three posts on this blog will know which of those groups I was in. I frequently wouldn’t have anything prepared, so I would sign up for a late slot, and then use it to read witty haiku that I’d composed on site as commentary on the poems of others. (Basho was undoubtedly doing loop-de-loops in hell.)

The reading was nominally sponsored by an outfit called Think Tank Press, which billed itself as a publisher of poetry, short fiction, etc. — in reality, it was a woman named Heidi Peite who printed things written by her friends and hoped they sold. Heidi was one of my very favorite people — she was this cute nerdy girl who had followed a boyfriend to New Orleans and gone to Tulane to major in astrophysics. Shortly thereafter, the boyfriend dumped her and Tulane closed down the astrophysics program, and Think Tank Press was born. I doubt it ever made any money, and suspect the whole enterprise got by on free goods and services offered by suitors of Heidi and the two equally attractive women who worked for them (one of whom spent an entertaining evening flirting outrageously with me in some too-hip bar in the CBD in order to try and get me to draft some contact for them before I fled town). I, of course, had a gigantic crush on Heidi, but she had a boyfriend pretty much the whole time I was there, and I was, at the time, sensible enough to not try my hand at home-wrecking. (Oh, if only I’d remained that sensible in the future.) As for the “sponsorship,” no way in hell was any money involved — and I’m pretty sure the Den ran a loss on those nights when the place was filled with broke-ass poets.** As far as I can tell, the bar permitted it to exist simply for the sake of the coolness.

Several strange publications came out of the Dragon’s Den poetry readings and the Heidi empire. At one point, there was an anthology called “Words of Fire.” Heidi of course solicited something of mine for that book (a copy of which I still have lying around somewhere). I sent her the one slam poem I ever wrote, which was (naturally) an outpouring of rage&menace at the pig (Bryan Lampard) who falsely arrested me. She said she’d print it, but then turned around and surprised me by instead printing something else. The “something else” was possibly the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever wrote — an extended comic metaphor about not getting, you know, any. I swear to god it was called “the clouds are not wet for me,” and it included the couplet “no nookie, no cookie.” When I expressed my shock and horror at her choice of my work to represent, and how in holy hell had she gotten a copy of the no-sex poem anyway?!, she simply explained that the other was too long. Sadly, this was before “that’s what she said.”

Anyway. Anyway. Why am I posting all this? Because I recently rediscovered a relic of my days as l’enfant terrible in the Dragon’s Den.*** At one point around wintertime, a couple of the regulars decided that what they really needed was a parody collection of Gothic (and hence New Orleansey) Christmas carols. Naturally, they turned to the leader of the satirist’s faction, yours truly. And naturally, I provided on demand.

Well, I recently found the little pamphlet that Heidi designed to hold them (which she grandiosely called a “book” in the credits at the back). And so I scanned it, and now you can download a PDF of the 2003 Dragon’s Den Gothic Christmas Carols, written by me. They’re mostly quite terrible, actually, but I like one or two. Frosty the No-Man is probably my favorite…

Here’s a teaser, from the Jingle Bells medley:

Dashing down the path
of darkness and despair
we come upon at last
out high lord Satan’s lair!
Souls in bondage cry
Causing us delight
oh what fun it is to die
tormented souls tonight! Hey!

You know you want to download the whole thing. DO IT. Or I’ll sic SantaSatan on you.

In other news, today, I spent much of the late afternoon DJing at a coffeehouse in Palo Alto — I was dissatisfied with the music on offer, so I insisted they let me plug my phone in and lay out the funk. I of course played a little music from the NOLA period — Michael Ray’s Champions just had to happen, obv. Yesterday, I bought both Iceberg Slim’s autobiography of his life as a pimp and an illustrated biography of the Marquis de Sade, then went to a flea market and chatted with an angry rich Hungarian who hates Palo Alto, and, apart from being a tad racist, was quite delightful. This is my life. Are you jealous?

* She also had the best Mardi Gras costume I saw — it involved lots and lots of peacock feathers, and not much else, as I recall. I approved.

** I tried to track Heidi down after Katrina, but Think Tank Press seems to have ceased existing, and tracking down Heidi herself is stymied by the fact that Peite wasn’t actually, you know, her real name, just the name she used in poetry/publishing. I did know her real name, at one point. And, of course, that just made her that much more attractive to me. Who can resist a woman who operates under an alias? Not Paul Gowder, that’s who. That’s just so so so very Short Skirt/Long Jacket.

*** As I get into the icky decade, I wonder how long I’ll be able to get away with playing this role in everything.


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