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Penny Arcade reads some poems at Zinc Bar, NYC, 11/24/18

I was looking forward to hearing Penny Arcade at Zinc Bar because I’ve been seeing and hearing her since I arrived in New York some forty years ago, and she never disappoints. If anyone were to ask, “Who is your favorite performer?” I’d answer, “Penny Arcade.” I saw her do a one woman show at PS 122 in 1990 called Invisible On The Street where she did uncanny impressions of East Village writers, artists and characters that was one of the funniest right on inspiring honest performances I’ve ever seen, and because her work is always in progress, the show she is doing now, Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore! flows like a stream from its essential spring, completely new when you see it, yet always going back to where it begins, Penny Arcade, the essence.

By the way, Penny will be at Joe’s Pub in January from the 3rd to the 13th, so if you are in New York, check her out, and if you miss her there, the ubiquitous Ms. Arcade will be performing somewhere sometime near you—in Sydney or Edinburgh or Portland or Rome—wherever you happen to be in the world. Just look for Penny, and chances are, she’ll be a stone’s throw.

At Zinc Bar, last week, Penny understood where she was and presented herself accordingly. She says everything she does comes from poetry, and it is what she does here without a backdrop of nearly naked dancers or Taylor Mead’s giant head projected on the wall, just Penny herself holding everyone’s attention even when she simply talks.

I asked Penny to e-mail me the poem she was going to read at Zinc, and I include it here, a poem about Ira Cohen and Jack Smith. In the e-mail, she wrote a note for some context:

I saved the artist Jack Smith’s entire work and formed The Jack Smith Archive in 1989 with J. Hoberman, film critic for the Village Voice. I gave his homophobic sister $50,000 in bearer bonds that Jack gave me so she would not destroy his work. After 20 years of working to insure Jack’s legacy, we were taken to court by a consortium of saboteurs that I do not have time to go into here although we were vindicated by All Things Considered and a huge article in the Village Voice by C. Carr

Ira, You Are Gone Now

Ira, you are gone now
No more the Urge
No more Desire
No more your refrigerator of stolen meat
No more, no more
The epic poems
You are full now Ira
No more hunger
No more emptiness
“A non psychedelic can never enlighten a psychedelic”
you always said
And of course that is true
as you were true
True to yourself if to no one else
except maybe Lakshmi
your red headed daughter
Ira I walk the Lower East Side
and everywhere
There is you
You were not the best father
You were not the best friend
You betrayed my trust with that psycho bitch
I always knew that when you turned your back on me
it was in the hope of pussy
Nothing meaner at work really
When I said “How could you Ira?
I stuck up for you to Ginsberg”
You just shrugged your shoulders
Majoun and mylar blurred your boundaries
What a fool for pussy you were
what a cunt collar you had Ira
Ever the hustler, ever the shoplifter
Your desires were so strong
Books, poetry, photos, steak, pussy
And something to smoke,
pussy and the hope of pussy
love and the hope of love
poetry and the hope of poetry
You were that criminal Sadhu, Ira
in the tradition of Villon, Rimbaud, Genet
No mendicant
You shoplifted thousand of books and thousands of steaks
Ira and you read them all,
And you ate them all Ira
You read all the steaks and ate all the books
didn’t you Ira?
You ate them all Ira
One extraordinary person after another
One adventure out on a limb after another
You were so hungry, your appetite for life so big Ira
You out ran death for a good, long time Ira
your death was always with you, as it is with us all Ira
But you made deals with yours, Ira didn’t you?
You borrowed from your death
It was your pimp and your lover
And you owed her big time
At court for Jack Smith’s estate, you sat with the psycho bitch
And when I confronted you
You said “I don’t think that shows I’m on her side”
You just sat there to be close to the pussy
She was never gonna give you
But you didn’t believe that did you Ira?
And when their side won and their lawyer came to you
Me there standing in front of you
And the crooked lawyer said
“We couldn’t have done it without you Ira“
You looked so confused
you looked up at me so sadly
and said, “I didn’t do anything.”
But I understood. I really did.
You were just there hoping for the pussy Ira
Hoping maybe
For a taste of the fame that eluded you
till the last second
just after you died
You never understood you couldn’t play both sides Ira
The mylar and the majoun they blurred those boundaries
See how they played you Ira?
The New York Times Obit
You didn’t expect
So respectful and so grand
They gave you your rightful place in history Ira
And now your photos will be worth money
But you won’t be there
To pay your rent with it
Or to buy a dinner or pack of smokes
That’s the catch
The New York Times never mentioned your poverty
Or how it hurt you to be so unrecognized,
They didn’t mention your skill at shoplifting
A skill, you said, every poet should have
Later when the psycho bitch cut you from the Jack Smith
movie except for one line
You were angry and disappointed
When I told you she was a trust fund cunt with a million bucks
You said “A million dollars? She told me she was starving!
I bought her a sandwich with my last $5.00 bucks!”
Oh Ira you got played
And I didn’t talk to you for two years
but at The Pink Pony one night
Lucien said ,”It’s Ira’s birthday
I felt your sorrow from across the room
And I came to you and kissed your head
I didn’t say anything
But you knew I forgave you

Ira I could listen to you for years but you never let me get a word in
Years of living in a silent world
insured you would have to talk uninterrupted for decades
But now I hear you Ira, I really do, and you can talk uninterrupted in my ear forever
I always wanted to hear every word you said Ira
I remember your mother in the hallway
Of 106th St. and Broadway
The deaf people clustered in the doorway
And I entered the silent, magic world you grew up in
Your mother’s sweet, laughter echoed in yours
And Ira we laughed so much
I remember that Ira
I really do
All those days with Jack Smith
When you first called me to say he was dying
And sent me to ring his bell
And asked me after
“Now that Jack knows he’s dying, do you think he will be easier to deal with?
And I replied laughing
“No Ira, he is more difficult then ever but so what?
And you said, “Yes, I guess”
You at Jack’s bedside, in Beth Israel
you gave him the little ball of opium he craved
It can be said now
No one will think you killed him
AIDS did that
But remember when Jack turned to me and said
“Thank God Ira is here. No one knows how to talk anymore”
and how happy that made you
Oh Ira
All that long night as Jack died
We massaged him and spoke lovingly to him
You and Mikki, Mitch and I
And when he died in my arms
You anointed his body with the special perfume
From Marrakesh’s master perfumer
And I said “Photograph Jack, Ira”
And you hesitated
And I said
“Get on the chair Ira
Shoot from above
It is Jack’s best angle
Jack wants this. It is his death portrait”
And I never saw you hesitate before
Oh Ira
They never let you read at St Marks
The cruelty of Ginsberg and Burroughs
At the Pen reading
How they cut you out
You said
“Ginsberg wants to be the only beard”
You wanted their approval Ira
But it was you who were the time traveler
You Who sat in dirt with the Nagas
You Who stood in the Atlas with the Berbers
They could only write about it
They never lived it
And they knew it Ira
Oh Ira
You always had one foot in the astral
I know you are at home there
With Ginsberg, Burroughs, Julian and Don,
Brion and Paul, Jack, Marty and Corso
With Lionel, Roger, and Hunke,
With Louis and Tuli and Vali
The Sweet Return
And we will all be there together
in the sweet bye and bye
I know that
and I feel you there,
and I feel you here
now with me and I know
I always will Ira
You will never go away again.

If you want to know more about Penny and her upcoming shows, check her out here:


Penny Arcade by Scott Heiser.

Penny Arcade by Bobby Miller.

With Steve Dalachinsky, Paris, 2017

With Marianne Faithful, 2017

An addendum

I will be archival here and add the New York Times obituaries of both Ira Cohen and Jack Smith in case you want to know more about them.

Ira Cohen:


Jack Smith:


Photo of Jimi Hendrix in the Mylar chamber, 1969 by Ira Cohen.

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