Will Bowen | SDDN Reporter
The Beat Generation of yesteryear – that literary, rough, other-side-of-the-tracks movement, associated with San Francisco and Big Sur, and included the likes of Jack Kerouac (“On The Road”), Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”) and William S. Burroughs (“Nova Express”), to name a few – is alive and well in San Diego.
The movement flourishes in local coffee houses, youth hostels, and art galleries, where once or twice a month, street poets come out of the woodwork to assume the stage. They rant and rave, and point fingers at a desensitized society and its social ills, just as their forbearers once did.
Their gesture is a mix of performance prose poetry and storytelling. It’s theatrical, lyrical, satiric, serious, dark, edgy, and confrontational.
Chris Vannoy, recognized by his squinched-up face, piercing eyes and trademark black cowboy fedora, is their leader. He’s also the emcee for their readings and their unofficial poet laureate.
Vannoy’s sidekick is Alex Bosworth, known for telling non-stop stories and being blessed with the energy of Kerouac’s hyped-up character Jack Cassidy. Together they steward a new Beat movement of social and artistic provocateurs that has put San Diego on the poet’s map.
“It’s a calling,” Vannoy said. “I like performance. I like poetry. I like being on stage because it frees me. I am generally shy but when I go on stage I come alive, like going on automatic pilot.”
Something wounded me with a poet’s scar
Like a werewolf’s bite half healed – Chris Vannoy
“I am a cross between Shakespeare, Poe, and Carl Sandburg, and there are a lot of Biblical references in my work,” he said.
But it isn’t all about the art of performance for Vannoy. He has a social agenda, too.
“I want people to hear me,” he said. “I want them to react. I want to make people think. There are a lot of things wrong with our society that we need to change.”
Vannoy’s chief concern is the homeless. He talks about them often in his poetry and even invites them to stay at his home in South Park, because, “We are supposed to help others.”
Vannoy has been recognized for his writing efforts, winning a San Diego Book Award for best book of poetry one year and he took second place another year. He has read for Quincy Troupe’s events and won many poetry contests, including a $500 prize for one at the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas. He was even a vocalist at one time for the band Wormhole.
“I have been famous,” Vannoy said. “But fame is fleeting. I’d be even better but I started 20 years too late!”
He is also interested in personal relationships – the pangs and pains and joys of love – and had his own personal muse for a time. The woman encouraged him to write and even saved and compiled the poetry he wrote about her over the years. She recently died and he said her passing has caused his inspiration to write to dry up, so he’s been switching to the visual arts more and more.
Born in Kansas, Vannoy grew up in National City and studied theater and puppetry but later went into computer science. Today he is an inspector for Solar Turbines by day, a beat poet by night. Raised in the First Baptist Church, he believes that everyone is redeemable.
“I try to listen to people,” he said. “I try not to judge them. I try to see the good in them and not just what is wrong with them.”
Bosworth’s main concern is “man’s fall from grace in the natural world.” He likes to write about how we all have become alienated and disenfranchised from our once deep connection with nature.
Bosworth grew up in San Carlos and later studied literature, film and media in college. The “cultureless” neighborhood of his childhood is the topic of his current book project, “The Mayonnaise Jungle.” He’s also published a book of short stories and amusing antedotes called “Chip Chip Chaw.”
For many years Bosworth said he drank a bottle of bourbon a day. It finally caught up to him, and after a nine-month hospital stay and a liver transplant, he now takes 22 pills per day to keep his body from rejecting the new liver.
“I am lucky to be alive and grateful that I am,” he said.
While Vannoy is generally serious and more of a poet, his co-conspirator is quite talkative and funny and more of a storyteller. Bosworth almost always has a story going and will tell them to whoever will listen, but is known to go off on tangents in a hundred different directions.
“I like confabulation,” Bosworth said. “Sure I will take you off track but we will end up in some interesting places! … I love to get high off laughter. I used to get high off booze but since I stopped drinking it’s laughter that keeps me sane.”
Two years ago Bosworth met his wife Tracy on Facebook.
“Alex is incredibly brilliant,” Tracy said. “He’s on stage 24/7. He is always creating and it’s contagious. If you spend time with him and you will become a better writer.”
You can hear these two characters and a whole cast of like-minded others at the following monthly poetry readings: First Sunday of the month from 5–7 p.m. at the Youth Hostel located at 521 Market St., Downtown. Third Tuesday of the month 7–8:30 p.m. at Rebecca’s Coffee House, located at 3015 Juniper in South Park.
Will Bowen writes about arts and culture. You can reach him at email@example.com