Edgar Henry was a wild, wild man. He was born shortly after the beat generation. His idols were Ginsburg, Burroughs, and Baraki. Just before he came to Japan, in the 1980’s, he worked as a banker in San Francisco, until he got fired for going into the office high on acid. Soon after, he took Walt Whitman’s advice to heart and sounded his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of Tokyo. Wine, words, laughter, and conflict were the pillars of his religion. He was loved and hated by many. His poetry was complex because he did not believe in plain language. To Edgar, poetry was a code to be cracked by the writer and the reader. For that reason, his critics saw his work as being overly contrived. Those people usually thought the same of his character. I, on the other hand, loved Edgar and his poetry. He taught me that creativity needed imagination, a twisted sense of seeing the world, and, above all else, fire.
Edgar had decided to turn me into his disciple. He saw something in my work that I had not seen in myself. As a naturally shy person I can be a bit of a recluse. I found Edgar’s attention on me to be exhausting, but he kept pulling me into events and poetry happenings until I finally began to believe in my own power. Up to that point, I felt like and imposter. Poets were the far away white men we read about in the dusty pages of textbooks. We were told by our teachers that they were the masters of their craft. I thought it was delusional to think of myself as a poet. How could I? I would never be Yeats, Whitman, Elliot, Owens, or Pound. If I couldn’t be great, then I foolishly thought it was not worth doing. However, my spirit did not agree with my ego. I felt a strong pull to poetic expression. I have felt it since I was 8 years old. I remember having a book of poetry under my desk when I was in third grade. Mrs. Billingsly took it from me because I was reading it instead of some story about Plymouth Rock. She never gave it back.
Most of my life has been spent between worlds of reality and imagination. It’s how my brain is wired. I think that’s why poetry was so appealing to me. It almost feels like I can open a portal to another dimension if I can arrange the words in just the right order. Edgar was my sage mentor to this other worldly thinking. He taught me how to manipulate words. He also taught me how to love words and not be afraid of them. Although I never quite reached the level of mastery as my teacher, I could reach a new height because of him, and was very grateful to him for that. Eventually, however, I became restless. The poetry scene that I once loved began to lose its appeal. The legions of readers who took the microphone captive seemed to be lacking in the essential element, the spark of life, the howling mad madness that I needed more of. Worst of all, everyone had the poetry voice. I hated it so much. Everyone read with the same cadence and tone. I wanted to scream, “Where is YOUR voice, YOUR rhythm.”
I hated most of all the “woke” poets. They irked me to no end until I realized I was turning into an arrogant twat who looked down on others. That’s something I regret. I know now that each person must experience their own process and the reward was in the doing and not the result. Besides, who decided that a poet like, Walt Whitman was the best of his day. Maybe he just happened to resonate best with his peers. If history had remained in tact, we might have known about the great voices of Senegal, for example, or other lands where greatness is measure by a different criteria. When I was looking down on things that I had labeled as trivial or beneath me, I was becoming one of those pious pricks of the canon who defined “good” by their own limited tastes. Years had passed before I finally had that realization. It hit me in the middle of a concert when a woman in the front row burst into tears at the start of one of our numbers. Those tears told loud and clear that I was the biggest idiot in the stadium. I will tell you all about it soon enough but first I have to get back to Edgar. He is important in the story because he played a key role in helping me to transform myself.
Before I met Edgar, I was a lowly and unfortunate poor kid who had made his way from the heart of ghetto darkness down the river of life to Japan. Misfortune was my mindset because I had not found my power source. Actually, I didn’t totally believe misfortune was my destiny. I have always been insanely optimistic. No matter how bad things get, I believe there will always be a break in the darkness. Still, my connection to my past poverty was too strong. The effect of it is a belief that greatness is for others. That kind of thinking will always keep you at arm’s length away from realizing your dreams. Despite having come a long way from the projects on 65th and Scoville, I still struggle with a limited self-actualization.
Edgar showed me, by his example, that the power of poetry could overcome the power of poverty. I watched him crackle in the summer air like fireworks and I was in awe of his brightness. “You’ve got it in you Marcellus. You just have to let it out. LET IT OUT!!!!” He used to say that to me constantly. I took his advice and I unleashed the full beam of my power. For a time, it was bedazzling.
I found the Youtube Video of Edgar from 1997