Local Legend Of The Week: Poet and Criminal Janey Smith
We here at BrokeAssStuart.com like to show love to the people who make cities like San Francisco and New York special. That’s why we’ve begun doing a new series called Local Legend of the Week. This is our chance to hip you to some of the strange, brilliant, and unique folks who populate these towns and give them the character that people from around the world have come to love.
Janey Smith is a poet and, according to Broke-Ass Stuart and others, already a part of San Francisco Literary history. Janey plays host to some of the most important writers in the country when they come through town like Melissa Broder, Michael Kimball, Kate Durbin, & Gabriel Blackwell and local writers like Dodie Bellamy, Robert Gluck, & Michelle Tea also support the scene. I don’t mean Janey lends these heavy weights a futon, I mean he throws them parties. And he throws these parties in an abandoned apartment that the cops are now calling a ” writers salon”.
I heard these parties were chalk full of poetry and hedonism. Janey describes the abandoned apartment as the “Studio 54 for the literary avant-garde”, he’s even writing a book about the experience (coming out some day on Civil Coping Mechanisms). These are not your feel-good, backyard, bay-area poetry readings, Janey explains, which are typically “full of innocuous boring trash”. . .”the kind of stuff that fortifies a poet’s needy confidence but that nobody wants to take home with them”. At Janey’s events, besides amazing oratory, other things happen like; sex, drugs, broken skulls, world class authors, publishers, fans and of course the police on any given night.
Studio 54 aside, Janey Smith is a trip. Well-spoken, opinionated, bizarre, he believes in a society where daydreamers are held in the same high regard as bankers, a place where our social hierarchy is leveled, because he says, “human progress happens when people have the free time to dream.” He’ll discuss Nietzche and Derrida (his prof at Stanford) in depth one moment, and during the next moment he’ll say something like, “I know it’s not popular to fuck and take drugs without crying about it, but we should, we should fuck and take drugs.” He continuously made me laugh and think and question, in short, he did the job of a poet. He loves both men and woman, romanticizes both criminals and saints, fantasizes about both harmony and decadence, and can now be called our Local Legend of the Week. I sat down with Janey Smith at his home in the Lower Haight, we sipped bourbon, talked poetry, and I asked him about his love affair with San Francisco.
Year arrived in SF: 1992
First Job: The Love Project, a thrift store in the Tenderloin, pay was $5/hour
First Apartment: On Eureka Street in the Castro, rent was $250/month
Favorite Job: Stock person at Banana Republic Flagship store in the 90’s because it was like a soap opera, and everyone was sleeping with each-other
Favorite place you lived in San Francisco: Haight Street between Ashbury and Masonic. It was a place where everyone got high and made out all the time and nobody had a job. We just broke into cars and had lovers who worked in food service.
If you could live in SF in any year: Late 60’s, lose the hippies, keep the upheaval, Late 70’s, photos of punk as it happened here looked really fun.
Favorite politician: Chris Daly, because he was bold and funny. (Chris Daly was acting mayor for 2 days in 2003, When Willie Brown was out of town he used the time to appoint his own choices to the Public Utilities Commission. A move called “opportunism without parallel in modern political times”)
Favorite eats: the kitchen in my apartment or Marcello’s Pizza in the Castro.
Favorite Bar: Aunt Charlies’ Lounge in the Tenderloin.
Best Place to Meet People: the street
Who you should read? Kate Durbin, Robert Gluck, Dorothea Lasky, Kevin Killian, Joshua Mohr, Gabriel Blackwell, Suzanne Scanlon, Mike Young, Tupelo Hassman, Alex Dimitrov, Travis Jeppesen
Poets you wish were alive today: Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, any of various criminal dandies
What makes poetry cool? Not giving a fuck in a very careful way.
How has SF changed? “When I arrived here in the early 90’s it was cool to parade your tragedies and differences and what made you distinctive, now it’s cool to parade how you’re the same, how you already know about that ‘cool restaurant’ or how you ‘already know about that cool app”, the common things are more celebrated than the differences. Also money had its place back then, and that place was downtown, and maybe Pacific Heights, that’s where money went. And that meant the rest of the city was explorable and weird, and cultivated by a bunch of losers. Now the money is everywhere, and it’s everyone’s priority and it’s all anyone talks about.”
Janey has two prose poetry books under his belt (find ‘Animals’ here).
Janey Laughing with Dennis Cooper