c. David Grim (taken 8/19/08)
A week ago I did something I rarely ever do- I went to a poetry reading. I am a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, but I rarely take the time to read poems. I suppose if I put the time into it I could find several poets worth reading, but I haven't made much of an effort. Besides Russell Edson and Charles Bukowski, I've never found any favorites. The former is 75 years old and the latter is dead. I don't see anyone on the horizon that is likely to assume their respective places in my interests. Still I suppose it's possible.
Even up to the last moment I wasn't certain I was going to make it out to the reading. It was at Hemingway's Cafe in Oakland, and I hadn't been down to that part of the city for a night out in a long time. Hell, the last time I was at Hemingway's was probably 15 years ago. I once saw Lewis Nordan read some of his stuff there. But I had it in my head that the place had closed up. I certainly didn't realize they still had their reading series going. Besides, trips to Oakland are always confounded by parking hassles.
Ultimately I felt obligated to go see Jimmy Cvetic do his thing because a friend of mine had recently put together a concise collection of his work, and he was making some efforts to publicize it. I had the chance to skim over some of the guy's poems in rough draft form. I was intrigued enough by the working class realism of the writing to impulsively agree to buy a copy of the book whenever it came out. Cvetic 's long career with the Allegheny Police in Pittsburgh included a substantial stint as a homicide detective. He's seen a lot of the grittier side of local humanity, and has an ear for the street argot of the urban environment.
Cvetic has recently had hip surgery, but that didn't keep him from soldiering through a pained reading of a good chunk of material from "Secret Society of Dog". The title refers to his professional handle, given to him as he worked to keep our streets safe from killers. He didn't shy away from including some of the more extreme experiences he had in the pursuit of criminals. Sure, there was a healthy dose of irreverence in his tone and a fair amount of humor to leaven the darker themes... but Cvetic included some notes of intense melancholy as well. He's a genuine tough guy whose not afraid to share his heart with his audience.
It's amazing that a guy as active in his community as Cvetic can remain relatively anonymous on the local scene. Along with hosting the reading series at Hemingway's for several years, he has invested much of his post-retirement efforts and energies in working with young at-risk men in the boxing ring (with the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League) . Indeed he's promoted a number of fight events and mentored local celebrities including Paul Spadafora and Monty Meza Clay. Yet he still finds time to drop the street smarts on the page. I enjoyed his writing enough to purchase a copy of his poetry collection, just as promised.
And I had enough fun to consider attending poetry readings in the future.