‘Beat is a philosophy, not an era’
August 13, 2005
Seamas Navarro is proof that the Beat movement didn’t die in the ’50s and ’60s.Navarro is a traveling Beat poet in the style of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but he’s no stereotype. He has a scraggly beard and a ball cap instead of a goatee and a beret, and he recites his own poetry on the streets instead of in a smoky club backed up with jazz.He has been reciting his original works lately on the streets of Aspen to those who will listen and maybe pass him some money if they like what they hear. Navarro, 38, has been making a living as a traveling Beat poet for the past several years, having left Santa Barbara, Calif., in March 2002 without a penny in his pocket to see if he could live off his art, as he puts it.”I made $120 my first day in Berkeley,” he said. “I just say, ‘Excuse me, do you like poetry?’ and if the answer is yes, I offer to recite 10 to 30 seconds of original poetry.”
Navarro guesses that he has 50 or 60 of his own poems memorized, and offers listeners a choice of material by asking if they’d like to here “light, darkness, truth or artist’s choice.” He does tailor a recital to the audience at hand, but said even some of his more controversial “truth” poems have been praised by all sorts of people. His 2002 poem “Engrain the Salute” questions the military and leadership in the United States, but has been received favorably in front of many types of people.Navarro speaks quickly but his words are clear as he locks eyes with audience members while reciting his work. He conveys emotions with his own cadence and hand gestures, sometimes throwing up his arms and rolling his eyes during a particularly ironic phrase.”For me, it’s very important that people hear a recital,” he said. “Poetry is a spoken, performed art. I always say that if you can’t recite it, don’t write it.”He gave it a shot on Saturday afternoon after a torrential downpour, and asked about six different groups of people before a woman standing alone agreed to listen to some poetry. The secret to who will listen and who doesn’t is simple, he says – it’s in the shoes.
“That guy’s shoes,” he said, pointing to a man walking by in black dress shoes, “no way. And your shoes [flip flops] maybe. But anyone in Birkenstocks or Tevas, definitely. Hiking boots are a maybe.”Navarro then gestured to a couple of men wearing pastel-colored polo shirts tucked neatly into khakis. You wouldn’t think they’d be interested in hearing poetry from a performance artists, but Navarro said he’s found that nine times out of 10, that type of clean cut guy will listen to a poem and then pass him $5 or $10.But if someone doesn’t like Navarro’s poetry, he refuses to let them pay for the recital. He’s visited 16 states with his poetry, returning to many repeatedly. His poems have resulted in a black eye, a ride in a limo, meals, free concert tickets and romance.On Friday alone on the streets of Aspen he made $142 reciting poetry and selling his book, a collection of nine poems he’s written.”I live my life as a Beat poet – if people give me money or not, they can still hear poetry. It’s about hearing the art,” he said. “Someone told me that the Beat era is over, but I believe that Beat is a philosophy, not an era. My home is the road – I like traveling, seeing new things and being able to pick up and leave.”
At times, Navarro admits it can be a tiring life. After camping out around Aspen for the past few days, he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll stay around.”For the street makes me invalid in secret questions and mistrust,” he says in one of his poems about his profession. “I don’t expect miracles out here … you have to take what you can get.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org