Inspired by a Reading

Occasionally at a poetry reading I hear someone so surprising with language that I buy their book immediately to see how their poetry appears on the page. This happened to me recently at a poetry series called Sunset by the Bay held monthly at 333 Caledonia in Sausalito, California.

Four poets read that night with exuberance and performance flair, but the last reader was an unassuming short Jewish fellow with black curly hair and a breathy mesmerizing voice. He was not a performance poet, but a true wordsmith. Hugh Behm-Steinberg was reading from his book, The Opposite of Work.

So after buying his book, I found his signature style to be the spacing between phrases of words on the same line    so it     looks   like this.   Here are some lines from his poem, “Hopeful.”

Sure:                could have a resume.

The sexiest                  resume on the face of the earth: could have

The life of         feeling too,                  could be hopeful,

Could get                                 better at                     shaking

the maracas                  imagine everyone                   in the crowd shaking

their maracas           with their          sexiest resumes         tucked into

their vest        pockets: I don’t           do that anymore.

I need to            do that some


Much of his poetry stems from the dream world, from potent unconscious thought, yet he is able to construct these images in a way that makes sense to me. Here are some lines from the poem “Underwater.”

I lose my job                         I get a new job

laying ice tiles                  in the republic of snow.   I forget I’m made

out of water, I             have no papers              I ruined my papers              long ago-


But to keep my job

I have to forget there’s a crow in my mouth                making plans.

The crow is drawn to water.                        I am bathing in         your thoughts

she says,                      I’m adding fish to             my diet she says.”

I love his subject matter: the world of work versus the world of creativity, when creativity isn’t your work or marketing isn’t your real skill. I don’t want to analyze much of Hugh’s poetry to replicate his tricks. I only want his images to trigger my dream world to shake some of the dust out of my unconscious mind. But perhaps the dust is water     water I may drown in       if it doesn’t get on the page.





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