Janine Pommy Vega & the Black Sparrow

Kitchen Dream

In my room over the kitchen
in Barranco, the shadow of incense
curls across the wooden floor
I lean over the kingdom
of my possessions, and just like that
one day
the smoke will stop

A pigeon lands outside my door
and coos coming in and
out of silence
like a life
lit up for a moment
like someone at the mouth of a river
rushing out to sea.

--Barranco, Lima, Peru, September 1993

This is another reason I love being a poet.

Last weekend I was cleaning my office at home--always a long process because I start picking up books, especially poetry books, and opening them up to random pages and reading. So I picked up Janine Pommy Vega’s book The Mad Dogs of Trieste and opened to that little poem above. I was enchanted with the poem. Sad. Wise. Joyful. All at the same time. I forgot my cleaning-up tasks and spent an hour or so with Janine's poems. She’s a good friend and a wonderful poet. I’ve known her work a long time through Bob and Susan Arnold’s Longhouse Books. She came to El Paso twice, both times performing her poetry at the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art and we became good friends. She’s a great storyteller, and she told us about leaving her New Jersey home at the age of 15 and moving to NYC to be a poet. Like so many of us she had read Kerouac's On the Road and was, well, persuaded. She took up with the Beats and began being a poet. All those legendary times with Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Ray Bremser…you can read about it in the many books about the Beats. But like all the other poets of those times, NYC was only a jumping off place for her journeys into the world. She loved following her nose for life and vision--intellectually, figuratively, spiritually—as the poems in Mad Dogs testify. And she’s a wonderful performer. A wild and excited voice, especially when collaborating with musicians. Janine is also a teacher of the writing of poetry, and she’s done much work in the prisons. I took the photograph above on April 14th, 2004, so, if I remember rightly, Lee, Janine and I were celebrating my birthday (I would be 62 the next day--Janine also was born in 1942 but a few months before me) in the backyard. A bottle of wine, good food, good talk. She and Lee became good friends, talking all the woman stuff that is a mystery to me. I was honored they let me listen.

It was then that Janine gave us our copy of Mad Dogs. It’s a Black Sparrow book (2000). Black Sparrow books--John Martin the editor, his wife Barbara the cover designer, the nice rough feeling cover, the colored end sheets, the generous typography inside. You could always pick out the Black Sparrow titles on the poetry shelves. A long time ago (the 70s, 80s?) I had sent John Martin a manuscript for consideration. He wrote me back a generous letter. He had thought seriously about publishing it, but in the end had to decide against it. I was honored. Janine’s Mad Dogs was probably one of the last before John and Barbara Martin sold the rights in 2002 to Harper Collins (Bukowski, Paul Bowles and John Fante) and the rest to David Godine. Oh well. All good things end. It’s the law of change. That’s okay. I still love those books. I have bunches here and there.

I’m so happy I picked up The Mad Dogs of Trieste. Such a good book of poems by a good friend. It’d be great to see her again. Saturday I start cleaning my office again.


larry goodell said...

when Janine Pommy Vega read and chanted here accompanied by her brother and his musician friends, it was a high point in our Duende Poetry Series, thanks Bobby for your thoughts here . . .

Ed Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Nice...But, I doubt you were born in '62

Bobby Byrd said...

Ha! Joshua, you could get a job as a copy editor. I'll leave the mistake right there and see who else catches it. Certainly both Janine and I wish we were 48 years old right now. Hope you guys are well. Thanks. bb

Anonymous said...

hey uncle bobby,
I know its months later but just happened to stumble along your blog... I didn't realise that you and I are only 7 years apart, that Aunt Lee really robbed the cradle with you. Cindy

Bobby Byrd said...

Boy, my life is full of copy editors. So I made the correction (1962 is now 1942), and I give thanks to all those who read my posts with such precision. It makes me feel good.

Chuck Taylor, Poet said...

Thanks for posting this, Bobby. I am just about to go to an extra writing session for my Beat lit class, and will pass this around. Such an amazing spirit she was.

Ed Baker said...


there is a terrific section in Brenda Knight's WOMEN OF THE BEAT GENERATION devoted to Janine Pommey Vega

(and many others included You just might enjoy this book and take off from what is there-in pointed towards

there is also a photo of her drinking/holding a Budweiser with my Uncle Al Silver's dads nephew

(on page 229) with who Uncle All once introduced me to "this is your crazy cousin (the poet) from New York, Harvey Silver "