Left to Right - Robert Sward, Mort Marcus, Gary Young
It seemed an utterly natural thing to do, to be dying of cancer, to have suffered a year or two of agony, and yet to agree to give one last poetry reading. Still, with Mort Marcus you can never be too sure. I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere down the line he managed to do another. And of course he has two new books coming out and, once he has actual copies in hand, they'll need to be properly launched, though he did a decent enough job of reading poems from both and alerting his audience at last night's reading (Tues., Sept. 1, 41st Street Book Cafe, Capitola, CA).
Mort is an impressive storyteller, a teacher and a performer... an actor... and he knows how to make an dramatic entrance and, as he proved at last night's reading , he knows how to make an exit. Yeah, I'm thinking "exit," as in "exit dying..." And he looked good doing it. "Mort looks like he's already gone to heaven," said my wife, a woman not given to exaggeration.
I don't know many people who could carry it off, attracting an overflow audience, and delivering, 'bringing it on home,' reaching deep and giving an all-out reading, a reading answered by a standing ovation... 30 years of teaching in a really good community college, years of hosting what is said to be this country's longest running Poetry Show (KUSP-FM radio), and serving as a film reviewer for radio and TV...
My friend, poet Gary Young said afterward, "Robert, we're lucky to be here, even to have bad luck..."
If you're gonna have bad luck, well, it's better to have bad luck in some places than in others. I somehow left the reading feeling grateful as much as anything else. Grateful for a place that values its writers and artists. .
Wallace Baine in a moving front page tribute to Mort Marcus in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Aug. 30, 2009), concludes by saying,
"Yet the struggle to maintain his lifestyle in the face of painful treatments has taught him a few things about the emotional strength it takes to face the stiff headwinds of mortal illness. Reflecting on his life-long love of film, Marcus turns to the memorable climactic scene of the classic 1954 film On the Waterfront.
"There's the scene on the waterfront when Lee J. Cobb and his goons get Marlon Brando down in the meeting house there and just beat the hell out of him and leave him there. Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint jump down in there and say, 'You all right? We got to get you an ambulance.' And Brando says, 'No, no. Just stand me up.' And they lift him up into a standing position, and he says, 'Am I standing?'
"Marcus added, his voice thick with emotion, 'Yeah, I know what that's like.'"