One night, late at night, in Tampa’s Mermaid Tavern, a poet who I will not incriminate here, after quite a lot of good wine, announced to me and several others, “A hundred years from now, people will talk about Florida in the 2010’s like we talk about Paris in the 1920’s.”
I don’t know I’d go that far, at least not without quite a lot of good wine. But in some ways, it’s getting a lot harder to argue with. When every open-mic gathering of poets, songwriters, and storytellers seems to be standing room only, when every bartender or barista or teacher you meet seems to really be an artist, actor, dancer, activist, organizer; it’s difficult to pretend that something isn’t happening.
This strange peninsula has always been a refuge, a hideout for those who just can’t live anywhere else. I’ve always joked that we seem to attract both long tails of the bell curve, the truly brilliant and the dangerously mad. It isn’t for the weak or the faint of heart. Anything that sits still too long is quickly overgrown, riddled with stray bullets, washed away, eaten alive. The landscape is inhospitable, poisonous, haunted, constantly in conflict, and unbelievably beautiful. The state is a front line trench, the point where the American South crashes head-on into the Caribbean, a churning mixture of identities and influences, a land of constant political and environmental turmoil. In other words, there are a lot of stories here. So, artists and writers, home grown or transplanted, have a lot to work with; they also have a lot to lose. The risks far outweigh any possible reward, nobody ‘makes it big’ but, for reasons of madness or whatever, they all seem to keep going. What I see when I wander through the cafes, galleries and classrooms of my city, are people of incredible passion, people who seem to have a lot more talent than good sense, who seem to keep ramming their heads against the wall in hopes that their splattering brains will be beautiful.
The Floridian Bestiary is thick with those who create because they can’t help themselves, people whose lives would probably be easier and more pleasant if they gave up and kept their heads down. And that’s the secret, that’s the beauty, that’s Romance with a capital R. This blog will be something of a safari through the literary and artistic weirdness of Florida’s Gulf Coast. I intend to report regularly on various gatherings and happenings, as well as share some musings on the development of this unique and vibrant artistic ecosystem. Sure, maybe it isn’t the Paris of Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, and Fitzgerald, but why the hell not? What’s stopping us? Yes, it’s a lofty goal, but as a Zen archery master once said: “I always aim for the rabbit’s left eye. Sometimes I miss and hit the rabbit’s right eye.”