The Character Under the Characterless Character

It’s intriguing–how the inner life of a person can be so rich, while their outer life might seem wizened and shabby…I was quite struck by something last night.

First I should tell you, I don’t often go to open mike poetry readings. They tend to make me wince (though there are good poets among those who are essentially vanity poets) and the hard chairs hurt my rump. I took my wife to a reading in San Francisco’s Haight last night because our friend Harry Scifres Robins was reading, and I had some of my new Weird Poetry along (written for ST Joshi’s SPECTRAL REALMS); Hal Robins always gives a fine performance. He recited classics including a favorite of mine by Thomas Hardy.

Most others read their own material, including a chunky older gentleman wearing a tall knit winter hat shaped like the cap of an ink pen. He mumbled–as so many do at these things; his intonation was especially feeble, and despite a microphone he was nearly inaudible. He had little outer affect of any kind. I pictured him talking to people out in the world, imagined their eyes glazing over as his general external blurriness smudged him out of their attention. Struggling to hear him, I made out a line here, a couplet there–several about love, and others evoking various sides of the human condition…and the words were strongly wrought, incisive, fairly original; his lines were the product of sharp observation, of compassion, and a genuinely poetic sensibility. But everything about his outer person and his manner was a blur, without distinction. His self expression seemed numbed. There was an incapacity for projecting to other people…

Thinking about it, I’m sorry I didn’t tell him that I liked his poetry; and I’m interested in the fact that *externally* he was a kind of caricature of the characterless; that he was the personification of blandness and poor speaking skills…I heard him say a few words offstage to others; it was the same–and their eyes glazed. . .and yet his poetry (when audible) reveals that his *inner life* is rich, energetic, vigorous…

And it reminds me that everyone we see has an outer life, and an inner life. And the inner life is another world entirely.

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