I first met Ken Brown soon after we both came out of the poetry closet and started meeting other poets. We were hitting open mics, giving readings, and generally trying to “do something.” I was sitting in the back of Loudmouth (a legendary open mic sponsored by the Writers Guild and billed as rather risque, run by wonderful boozy Katie S.). I was sitting in the very bar my dad used to call his second home, but I didn’t yet know anyone when I saw this long-haired guy with a whisky and soda come in from the bar. He seemed to know everyone. I liked that right away (I am an old-time talkative drunk too; I just happen to be sober now).
This guy seemed to have a sort of south-side demeanor that I knew and felt comfortable with. I figured somebody at the bar told him there was a poetry thing going on and, well, he was a poet too, right? What clenched my impression of Ken right away was that he simply walked out. That was his attitude; he knew he was an awesome poet and didn’t need any bullshit.
And yet we both came back and met and started liking the other readers. Ken would often have to ask me to remind him of everyone’s name. We both seemed to suffer from the feeling that everyone was mad at us, but of course that wasn’t true. Underneath Ken’s no-compromise attitude was a very sweet little boy who everyone wanted to help or befriend.
It’s sort of hard to talk about now, but I guess I should say that Ken and I had an agreement: he would never try to get me back on the bottle as long as I never tried to get him off it. Was that a mistake? I might have tried harder for some type of intervention, but looking back it seems that Ken was just on this journey which was inexorable. That is tough.
We will always love him. To me, he was a figure from another time. He had this air of being a sixties guy, a guy for whom the Beatles and Dylan were brand new. We sang songs in harmony all the time in his car. We played air guitar like kids. Would Ken go to a poetry workshop? Hell, no. But, he was pretty cool with me going back to academia and all that. We were good friends. We were proud of each other. And, don’t compare him to Bukowski!! Ken had this lyrical sing-song quality to his work that made it singular poetry and NOT split prose. He had these sonic rhythms that grew out of his wild experience travelling the world. “How did you DO that?” my sister once asked him, but he stayed mute and mysterious on the subject.
Ken was a little like my dad. He had his south-side routes and drove steadily. He knew everybody at the bar and was a character. He was almost always fun to be around. Oh, he could be hard on you, but a minute later would put his arm around you and make you feel okay. Like my dad, he did his things his own way and wouldn’t tolerate falsity or pretentious airs. I was almost always comfortable around him. We clicked. I understood him. He made sense to me, and it felt good to know that he worried about me, too. He will not be forgotten.
Read more about Ken Brown from Thomas Crone in the STLBeacon.
From Flood Stage:
“Oedipus Rex Had a Complex Complex”
Be careful not to cover
of life’s contradictions…
You’ll wind up
on the sheets
your dead mom