The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words



Outside The Narrow Garden      — Paulie Lipman

On an episode of “The Green Room With Paul Provenza” (a comic’s roundtable of sorts), the comedian Franklin Ajaye made a statement that really hit me where I live: He said that the majority of modern comedians wouldn’t inspire him to be one now, that they lacked the intellectual acumen of George Carlin and Richard Pryor (his two main inspirations). He criticized modern comedians for talking about the same broad things in the same mass pop culture language.

He went on to say that what was so revolutionary about Pryor and Carlin is that they could speak on topics that we all experience, but from their own unique and personal perspectives.

As a long time appreciator of stand up comedy, I tend to agree. As a writer and poet, I often feel the same way when reading/listening to poetry.

The kind of work that has always hit home for me is when the writer invites me into theirs.

The “house” sometimes is literal (their childhood/adult home or city), a time in their lives, or places we’ve all been. We’ve just never seen the same shadows, rooms, or angles that they do.

There are a few different pieces that first pried my eyes open and made me look directly into…elsewhere. The first was “This Is Madness” by The Last Poets.

“All my dreams have been turned into psychedelic nightmares, with Rosemary’s baby pissing in my face…”

This…was a Bosch tryptic translated through every death of the Black Power Movement and waking up high and broken in the 70’s.

The next piece pulled my compass in a completely different direction: “Screenwriter’s Blues” by the band Soul Coughing.

“The sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us…and painted the smoke over our heads an imperial violet.”

With this, came a summation of every vague idea I’d ever had about Los Angeles, as skewered through every pulp crime novel I’d never read.

Another, would be the song “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll.

“Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old

Fell from the roof on East Two-nine

Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug

On 26 reds and a bottle of wine”

While I thought my typical junior high ostracism and After School Specials were pure hell, these words, smacked me upside the head with the true inferno.
All of these pieces shouted to me from outside my insular focus and demanded I come a lookin’. When they let me go back to my own narrow garden, I was inspired to describe it in my own way. This is what real art is to me.
Some houses are brightly lit and smell of mother’s cooking comfort. Others, are boarded up and reek of neglect. A few, are so familiar that we often miss the one tragic difference that sets them apart. They are all unique. Their exteriors draw the eye and challenge your expectations of their insides. They all invite exploration.
You just have to go find them.


Paulie Lipman is a Jewish/Queer/Writer out of Denver, CO. He has toured the U.S. extensively (and a little bit of Canada) performing poetry, is the voice of Neal Cassady in the documentary ‘Neal Cassidy: The Denver Years’, and has had work appear in The Legendary, Radius, Borderline, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, and The Write Bloody Publishing anthologies ‘The Good Things About America’ and ‘We Will Be Shelter’.

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

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