THE ROSE LEE CAFÉ YEARS: A MEMOIR CELEBRATING THE 25th
ANNIVERSARY OF SASQUATCH
BY PHIL MADER
Hello from the Kootenays. First things first. My heartfelt salute to all Sasquatchis who , in the end, are really the ones who make or break a Reading; then , my hats off to the Sasquatch Board of Directors whose laborious attention to nuts and bolts have permitted Sasquatch to continue on the chosen path. Finally, "un abrazo grande de felicitaciones" to Sasquatch's founder and my old buddy, Juan O'Neill.
This memoir is limited by the colour of my glasses, meaning, by the way I, personally, saw it all happen, and by my fondness and devotion to a particular era. Perhaps for the reason only that we were all younger and more vital. In fact, you may say to me, the Sasquatch you speak of is exactly what we have now, and maybe you are right. Secondly, it's limited by my not so great memory – hopefully, Juan, whose memory is considerable will fill in the blanks. Yes, it focuses on samples of a specific era of Sasquatch, the one that followed the period of The Wildflower Café where it made its very first home -. So now a quarter of a century has gone bye – a remarkable life span for a populist poetry reading. Finally, it is impossible for me to speak of Sasquatch without explaining how I met Juan back in 1977.
So I begin this memoir with a
scene. The scene is a print shop cum
bookstore in 1977
I do remember our first meeting. He
was dressed in a very handsome dark suit and had the gentility of a
diplomat. We were at fellow poet, Rob
Craig's place in
I don't remember attending the first
Sasquatch ever at the Wildflower Café but I believe I showed up that first
month. And I would continue attending
Sasquatch readings regularly ( I mean for almost every reading) for the next
fifteen years. I was even hired by Juan
when he became owner of the Wildflower Café to serve coffees from the gigantic,
brass, locomotive –like coffee machine.
There was enough steam clouding the atmosphere when I pressed the lever
to electrify a small village. The Wildflower Café was a
I now jump to the Rose Lee Café
years. Rosie Lee Café was Iocated in the
premises next to the
Why, of all the epochs of Sasquatch, am I most attached to the Rosie Lee Café years? My reply: The Passion, The Anarchy The Bad The Sweet and The Beautiful, in concentrated doses.
First the bad: there was a character, whose name I forget
with beady spectacled Himmleresque eyes,
whose very presence produced anxiety and fear in me. I remember him speaking
but gibberish over a glass of gin. He
never did anything; he just radiated evil.
Then there was a poet named Maviglio (I think). He had a scar down his
face that made Al Capone look like Bambi.
He once threatened a local politician if
Anarchy? Passion? Yep, you never
knew what could pop up …a fabulous poem, a weirdo, a particularly acrimonious
exchange between Juan and Marty Flomen.
Poets came there to tell it like it was, perhaps with the spirit of
Tolstoy who claimed the role of the writer is to tell the truth. For me Sasquatch was diametrically and
happily opposed to my day to day grind at the National Archives, a shamelessly
elitist but "nice" Department
in those days whose workplace ethic was best exemplified by the habits of the
Othello character, Iago and where telling the truth was invited with the same
glee as swallowing a cup of poison. Sasquatch, on the other hand, was a populist poetry venue with an authentic
sense of connection, solidarity and
community. Jane Jordan pulled no punches
in her feminist challenges to society.
Juan dramatized his brilliant poem, Junkie's Prayer, a rail against
consumerism, with gesture and a gut full
of fire. Parts of Patrick White's epic
poem , Homage to Victor Jara about the murder of the Chilean poet
singer(translated into Spanish by Juan), sent chills down my spine. Allison Boston , a former
There was room for the innocent and the sweet. A fellow named Richard produced an epic story about Little Richard..which went on and on and on, but , for me, here was an endearing innocence backed by a fertile imagination. I hardly think there was any solid narrative to speak of but for me it was a fragile, magical flower that could not be disturbed.
As for the beautiful, one of the constants of Sasquatch in those days was the presence of music. I remember a very lovely evening of operatic singing by a singer named, Klimowska. I remember a fiddler playing sprite Norwegian tunes that got us toe tapping. A very friendly but also masterful African drummer whose name I forget came a few times to entrance us with his rhythms.
Of course this is a walk down memory
lane but it's also meant as a warm tribute to the perseverance and dedication
of Juan, who enlisted his energies and inspiration to help poets share their
work with their fellows in a spirit of community. Between the Rosie Lee and
So, Happy Birthday and many happy returns to ALL Sasquatchis. And as the title of one of the poems I first read at the Rosie Lee Café years ago exhorts: BE THANKFUL.
Kootenay Phil - formerly Phil Mader aka The Consul for Sasquatch in the Kootenays.