The poet Scott Wannberg left us this week and I’m truly at a loss. He wasn’t a close friend but he was a connection to my past that holds a special place in my heart. I understood his language. Some native Angeleno’s might remember him from Dutton’s Bookstore in Brentwood as he was an important fixture there for many years.
I heard him read last year at some hipster bookstore on Vermont Blvd and then at the goofy Beyond Baroque. Beyond Baroque is a Venice institution, a literary arts center stuck in time, and I’m glad for its preservation. It smelled like an old book store and held people who really have a love of word play.
Scott had a musical quality in his words that always made me think of dancing a jig, something dark and impish but with profound hope and romance. Before he read his work out loud he sang his favorite John Prine song…now how many men do you know that would do that? How many men do you know that wear their heart on their sleeves, and wear it proudly?
I sat at the back of the room feeling utterly out-of-place, almost as though I had snuck into a secret meeting of Elks or Masons. By the time I left my heart was uplifted and I wanted to write again, I was re-energized as an artist. Not a lot of people have that effect on me: Scott did.
I was looking forward to hearing him read again next month but his body gave out and he decided to fly. I hope his lungs are open and full, and that he is dancing on a star somewhere.
I’m re-posting my favorite poem of his and hope you will read it. When I think of Scott I think of Lee Child, Whit Bissell, westerns, love, and scat, not rap, scat.
Recently I told him about our mutual friend who had brought me Mr. Mump’s (Ouija Madness Press) back in 1982. In high school my friend was ahead of his time; was sipping espresso and listening to Coltrane as a teenager. Without him I would never have met Scott.
Scott’s reply: “Listening to Coltrane means never having to say you are sorry.”
Doorstop Of Love
By Scott Wannberg/ Strange Movie Full Of Death
Put the cold wind in your back pocket
it wont be necessary for our little chat
humorous men and women are disappearing with alacrity
the parking tickets keep going up
the next dance supposedly was ours
but the bandleader gave us a very odd look
the doorstop of love allows the sun to enter
inhale that fresh air if it doesn’t make you sick
the cold mornings come and inevitably go
two strangers sharing body heat beneath the floodlights
what little it takes to upend the applecart
down here in the street everyone claims to be casanova
the way you enter a room
the way you sing those awful songs you bought into
makes my cantankerous ears actually listen
does anyone truly ever know anyone else?
every home is a potential missing persons office
the homeless orchestra sees us coming they pull their instruments out of the gutter
and begin to cut loose
in the deaf new morning of still one more day
that may or may not be kind to us
don’t hurt me, you say, i don’t want any more hurt
i’m no doctor, i say, but i will go slow
the statute of liberties eventually runs out
bring me your wounded and torn
the hearts pumping in the pawnshop windows
they will be redeemed soon
a lucid-enough idea man once claimed
the human race was an amphorous mess
we row our leaky canoe back and forth
across the life-sustaining water
there’s an island with our name on it
somewhere hidden in this fog
we’re damaged goods
in some kind of hootenanny rehab
when i touch you
the locked gate blows wide open
when you touch me
i remember how to move
the city is crowded with emergency rooms
full of lovers who slipped over each other’s feet
the nurses begin to sing our names
they must have been in on the rehearsal
put the war back in its box
it won’t need to sit in
we are nothing more than imperfect human beings
searching for the not-alone
it takes a long time sometimes to get there
sometimes alone is very persuasive
pour a shot of good single malt scotch
toast all infections leaving office
the king and queen of hope
will be coming downstairs soon
in this bed-and-breakfast of the soul
it’s table stakes from here on end.
Thank you Scott.
- Scott Wannberg, poet of Dutton’s was 58 (laobserved.com)
- Scott Wannberg LA Times Article
- Couple more nice tributes to Scott Wannberg (laobserved.com)
- Longtime LA beat poet Scott Wannberg dead at 58 (today.msnbc.msn.com)
- Longtime LA Beat Poet Scott Wannberg Dead at 58 (abcnews.go.com)
Another poet down. What a loss indeed. Thanks for sharing the poem.
You would have enjoyed him Joerg. He was so special. I’m quite sad about it.
I’m heart broken over this.
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Thanks for posting this. As a Southern Californian for the first 35 years of my life, I can really relate to Scott’s style. Thanks also for the links to articles remembering this important poet.
The more time passes the more I realize how much influence Scott had on me as a teen. Rediscovering him as an adult reminded me of the person I had lost inside myself. He was truly unique as a writer and more so as a man.
Walter, could you please message me asap. I am editing Scott’s new book on Perceval and we are using ‘Official Language of Yes’ as the title so that Scott gets to name his own book. Also would like to use his own script for the cover but would like to scan from the original if at all possible. Found this right after Scott passed away and knew immediately this was the title of his next big book.
Of course. Can I email you?
I sent David Smith my email if that helps.