Paul Corman-Roberts (L) and Richard Loranger (R) by Victor James Smith

Displaced poetry readings landed at Babar

One literary organizer said to another: “Can you get a couple of Babar people to come in and read at the Octopus?” The resulting reading series, Babar in Exile, celebrates one year of quarterly shows this Thursday.

Paul Corman-Roberts, poet and founder of the Beast Crawl festival, asked the question of poet Richard Loranger, who, in his 20s, moved from Michigan to San Francisco in the 1980s and became involved in the reading scene.

“The Spaghetti Factory readings, which were sort of the last of the Beat readings in North Beach — when they shut down in the beginning of 1984, they left a kind of void,” Loranger recalled. “For a couple years, there were several other readings around San Francisco that had a similar feel and some of the same people coming to them.”

One of those was the Meat Market readings in Noe Valley, run by poets Joie Cook and Laura Conway. One day, “Meat Market Cafe closed without telling anybody,” Loranger said, “and a friend of mine who worked there called me and said, ‘Meat Market closed and the reading is tonight — what should we do?’”

Loranger had been hanging out at Cafe Babar, and got permission to have the reading there — near the intersection of 23rd and Guerrero streets. They hung a sign on the old Meat Market door, and people walked down the hill to the first of what turned out to be more than a decade of weekly readings at Cafe Babar.

“It was in a tiny back room, and that had a lot to do with the intense energy of the series,” Loranger said. “There was a corrugated aluminum wall against one side, and the poets took to pounding on that for emphasis, because that’s where they stood to read.”

“It was loud,” he said. “A few of the people who went there, primarily a few of the women, were sex workers … and people were a lot more brash and crass, in some ways; there was also a lot of beauty in the work. But it was also sort of an unforgiving crowd; if somebody got up and they didn’t like their work, they would heckle them. And boo them off the stage.”

The scene that developed at Cafe Babar gave birth to Zeitgeist-Press, started by two of the original organizers, David Lerner and Bruce Isaacson, to publish work by the Babar poets. It spilled into the readings Jennifer Joseph hosted above the Paradise Lounge, from which she started Manic D Press. Both publishing houses continue to this day.

“The Babar derived a lot of its energy from being an open mike, as well,” Corman-Roberts said. “In a way, with Babar in Exile, we’re honoring the artists from that time, but we’re also wanting to include a wider, diverse range, including younger writers who have that edge, who bring that punk energy.”

Features for this show are Jon Longhi (The Rise and Fall of Third Leg, Wake Up and Smell the Beer), musician Dawn Oberg and “Honorary Babarian” Joel Landmine (Yeah, Well).


Babar in Exile #8. 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4. Free. The Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster St. #170, Oakland.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Victor James Smith

Other book events

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