Sunday, February 17, 2013


I WAS in a tiny bookstore called Montford Books & More in downtown Asheville yesterday, Feb 16, to attend one of Caleb Beissert's several readings in town to promote his first book, “BEAUTIFUL: Poems of Federico García Lorca & Pablo Neruda.” The less than 100-pager book, published by Thomas Rain Crowe's New Native Press, contains Caleb's translations/adaptations of choice poems, originally written in Spanish, by Lorca and Neruda.

     I already read (or heard performed) many or most of Mr Beissert's poetry—translations and original pieces. We have been consistently working or performing together since I met him in late spring of 2011 as he sets up a Wednesday night open mic at Vanuatu Kava Bar when it was still housed in a building in north Lexington Avenue. He also briefly wrote for my on and off newsprint, The Indie.
     In one of those in between shows chats, I asked him: “Why Lorca?” My subtext was, of course, rife with an intrigued sense of surprise—and quiet elation—that a young man, as young as my son Duane (who's also a poet and artist), would take on a non-American poet who produced bulk of his masterpieces in the 1920s, around a sociopolitical environment that is centuries-old worlds different from current realities. I mean, if he mentions Allen Ginsberg (which he also adores) or Charles Bukowski, I wouldn't be surprised. But that would also mean, Mr Beissert could be just another kid, trying to sound cool and hip...
     He is not.
     Beyond the Lorca and Neruda fascination and earnest—Caleb Beissert is a 52 year old ascetic in the body of a 20-something hipster. This soft-spoken dude is a worker, a quiet and patient and focused community organizer, band musician and torch bearer of Asheville's gasping poetry scene. Amidst the inebriated stupor of downtown where the defiant sublimity of a poem is drowned out by a sea of beers and “commercialized” music, he labors on like a true journeyman: silently, unassumingly, consistently, certainly. He doesn't trash talk or brag about how many gigs he got or what the hell is an MFA or how come he already read with the best poets in town his senior three decades back, and he still relatively new in town? He doesn't blabber such self-aggrandizing bullshit. That's not his gig.
     Instead, he opts to spend his time and energy on keeping the fire of poetry burning in town in a very unconventional dive, the Vanuatu Kava Bar. One shot of kava-kava, you are done. No beers, I am sorry... But he's been hosting this midweek open mic for almost 4 years now, no reprieve. Well, I took over twice or thrice because he had to be at another community concert—not because he needed to give time to a girlfriend, which I am not even sure he had one. Obviously, to Caleb—his concentration and discipline revolve around his work and his personal shit should be tucked inside his laptop case. But that doesn't mean, he's not family. Among the many people that I met and collaborated with in this town, Caleb is one of the few who personally introduced me to his mother and brother. Not just once but several times—since they are always in his shows...
     And I like that in a young man—when most of the young seemed more into enumerating the faults of their folks than sharing how it is to be a son with a mother who's always there to support her boy's little sweet madnesses.

     Why is Caleb so different?
     Maybe it's about Lorca and Neruda? I wanted to solve that sweet puzzle in my head. I got so involved with Lorca and Neruda in my college years that I took it upon myself to restudy Spanish (despite the fact that Spanish is spoken in the Philippines where I was born) to get a deeper look at the man's native language, and visited places (Andalucia in Spain, Columbia Univ in New York City) where he spent time and produced work. Lorca's spirit consumed me like fire—in the same intensity and passion that Neruda's life and loves and poetry gifted me a template that until now, I am so fond of traversing.
     Caleb's soul looks back at a time that is almost forgotten, consigned to musty bookshelves and devoured by the claustrophobic age of Kindle Fires and electronic detachment. That searing sensitivity and journeyman earnest, these are missing in youths these days... He didn't just look back, he devoted a body of work—his first book—to translate and deliver an old man's truths and messages so the world today may understand. Caleb is a deliverer of yesterday's soul and magic. He may not be there yet, not arriving yet, but he's certainly working things out so positively.
     Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of `27. He was murdered by Nationalist forces during the Spanish War. I may have connected with Lorca and Neruda's lives by virtue of how it was in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship in the 80s (when I was Caleb's age), as a young poet and journalist—but how'd Mr Beissert cross that sociopolitical terrain that is not only dissociated by time but also alienated by cultural realities?
     Easy. Caleb Beissert listens to the wisdom of the past and then tries his best to bring that gift to his peers, no questions asked—he's gonna do it whether you like it or not. As a worker, friend and poet—this young man should be supported and revered. He's still got a long way to go and tread, but he's definitely looking good. Let's clear his path to glory.