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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
is Caleb so different?
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.
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.
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?
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.