Monday, September 21, 2015

Ketan Ben Caesar

Ketan Ben Caesar has died.  (News of his passing came to me here in London, England, via Mbali Umoja's facebook post and group photo with Ketan on her site.)

For 40 years he organized poetry readings in Philadelphia, more by far than any other poet in the history of my old home town, and in a great variety of Goodisville places like McGlinchey's, Bacchanal (with Chris Peditto), and Fairmount's London pub.

Ketan was a highly spiritual man, beloved and respected by many (although not by the pseudo-avant-garde academics and their circle at the U. of Pennsylvania who never would have dreamed of offering a street-poet like him a reading at their claustrophic venues).  This despite the fact that, in my opinion, his Black Hand was the finest (even the most frightening and profound) and wildest performance poem-piece I have ever heard!

Like Bunting, Ketan believed that the human voice was the instrument which brought the score, the notes and rhythms of the poem, to life, and he consistently (even obstinately) refused hard-copy publication, so deep and even courageous his belief in the oral tradition.

He was a physical man with a powerful ego, but a kind-hearted and sensitive person behind the sometimes gruff exterior of his Tuscan birth and South Philly upbringing. 

I had the pleasure of doing an Afterword to his eccentric long reading in Ocean City, New Jersey, in 2011, to commemorate Human Rights Day, sponsored by Amnesty International.  It was clear when I collected him at the Atlantic City train station, that he was in pain from his arthritis, but he carried on without complaint nevertheless, and his humanity was such that he secretly donated his $100 reading fee to Amnesty, saying to Georgina Shanley, head of South Jersey Amnesty, that he had lost the cheque and just to forget about replacing it.

Ben Caesar's strong and passionate voice is one I dearly miss tonight.  He was a good and true friend, and he dedicated his life to poetry.  


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