For the past 40 years Neeli Cherkovski has been living in San Francisco, where he’s put out 16 books and developed an international reputation as a person of letters. He reads from his latest, “The Crow and I,” at theBeat Museum on Friday, Jan. 22.
“These are shorter poems, and they’re pretty much about aging: the aging of the world, of my neighborhood and of myself,” he said by phone. “I venture into a lot of musings on my situation at the present time, both geographically and spiritually.”
Cherkovski, who has written major biographies of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman and his longtime friend Charles Bukowski, typically writes long, lyrical poems prone to flights of fervor. He spends much of his time in the back garden of his Bernal Heights home, where he’s lived since 1984, drinking espressos, sometimes reading aloud to friends or to the lemon and avocado trees. On any given day he’s likely to be disheveled, excitable and sporting a fresh coffee stain.
“I want a gutsier city, a gutsier town,” he said, “and I want stakes for people who can survive as genuine people.” He bemoans how “the Google bus mentality” has affected “the genuine spirit of what had once been a working-class, earthy, down-to-earth city, as if the people who run the city want a cordon sanitaire — a sanitary zone where nothing is out of place.”
When asked to explain the significance of the crow in his book title, he said, “The crow is a scamp, like a Huck Finn or aTom Sawyer: It’s sitting on a fence and it’s squawking and it’s mocking, and then all of a sudden it’s in the sky.
“A couple of years ago in North Beach in front of the Caffe Trieste, I saw hundreds of crows in the sky, and everybody looked up, and you have to wonder: What kind of collective mind is going on there? What is happening? They know something; they know how to go this way or that way; it isn’t just instinct; there’s something going on, and just like the eagle, they’re flying and then they’re soaring and they look magnificent, and maybe they’re saying, ‘We can do something you can’t do. We can fly; you have to build these damn machines to come up, but we can actually do it. We can be on the fence, and then we can fly.’
“I got it off of comic books and TV, too — the crow in a little jacket with a little cane, and being a funny little character that pulls tricks on people or on other birds. So when I say the crow, I really identify as if I want to be a person from elder age in a crow outfit, you know, dancing around the fire.” He laughs. “That kind of thing.”
Out of respect for his inner crow, perhaps, Cherkovski celebrates his new book by reading with poets of a younger generation: Paul Corman-Roberts, Cassandra Dallett, William Taylor Jr. and SB Stokes.
IF YOU GO
Neeli Cherkovski: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. Free. Beat Museum, 540 Broadway, S.F.
Photo by Ben Sykes
Other book events this weekend
The second installment of the Bloody Mary reading series features Kelly Egan, Melissa Burke, Nick Vulpes,Raina Leon and Jacob Minasian (7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, Alley Cat Books, 3036 24th St., S.F., free).
The S.F. Center for the Book hosts an opening reception for its new exhibition “Without Type: The Dynamism of Handmade Letters,” which culls from the extensive collections of the new Potrero Hill design library Letterform Archive (6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island St., free).
David Ulin, Elizabeth Tallent and Anthony Marra join contributors Heather Altfeld and Dan Alter to celebrate the new issue of Zyzzyva (7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, Diesel, A Bookstore, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, free).
Small Press Traffic hosts its 14th annual Poets Theater, a two-night festival of collaborations among writers, filmmakers and visual artists (7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23, California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., S.F., $20-$25).
Porchlight storytelling’s annual show with Sketchfest this year features Jon Daly, Moshe Kasher, Jackie Kashian, Aparna Nancheria, Kyle Mizono and Iris Haas-Bie (10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., S.F., $20).
Sarah Kobrinsky, Vernon Keeve III and Todd Melicker read at the debut of a new series hosted by Tiff Dressen called Curiosity Poetry Series (noon Sunday, Jan. 24, Scarlet City, 3960 Adeline St., Emeryville, free).