A note about “Bacchanal”

/ Thursday, April 21st, 2011 / No Comments »

This poem has a fairly innocuous beginning. Jessica Wick, co-editor of Goblin Fruit, challenged me to write a poem about her favorite Greek god, Bacchus. Of course I accepted the challenge, and, pain in the ass that I am, since she made the mistake of telling me Bacchus was her favorite, I decided I would try to come up with the most mortifying incarnation of the old goat that I could imagine. My concept was fairly simple: update the god of wine and parties into the modern day deity of drug addiction.

Yet doing that threw a number of disturbing doors wide open. News accounts of crystal meth use in New York sex parties and addicts going into withdrawal after Hurricane Katrina are sautéed in with the fashion industry’s glamorization of “heroin chic.” And my own encounters with drug use, drug crime and its consequences while I was a courts reporter provide underpinnings for much of what happens in the poem — one story in particular that I worked on, of a teen who tried heroin for no better reason than alleviating boredom and irrevocably ruined his life, weighed heavily on me as I wrote this piece. There’s a reaction to my first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that surfaces, and thoughts of my own father’s terminal cancer and the painkillers he takes that act as firewalls against pain also float in that mix.

Bacchus becomes conflated with Pan and the satyrs and less than any of these, a chemist consumed by his own product, summoned everywhere someone uses, everywhere someone craves, hopping like the Jersey Devil, his untrimmed and neglected hooves leaving bloody footprints wherever he goes.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

(See a stage performance here.)

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