Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Poem: The New York City Animal Scene

When I was still very young
(my adult feathers had just become permanent)
I heard that there were a lot of animals like me
in big New York City.

NYC became some kind of magic kingdom for me then
and I knew I had to go.
It took me a few years to get there
I was still learning how to survive
I couldn't read or write
I could scratch around for bugs in the dirt
but getting a straight meal wasn't so easy

but I finally found my way to the Big Apple.

It was winter and New York is cold in the winter
I had a thin coat and puffed up my feathers
but I was freezing.
I found the little strip in the Village
where the signs said "Animals Welcome"
and I stepped inside a small bar.

For the first time ever, nobody seemed to give a crap
that I'd just walked into a bar.

There were some dogs drinking beers at a table
and a doe was sitting at the bar.
There was a human with the doe
and it looked like he was trying to pick her up.
He bought her a drink,
which the bartender, a lynx or some kind of wild cat
wearing a bow tie
served to her in a small bowl
because her hooves had no thumbs to lift a glass.

The bartender looked like her wanted to kill the man
who had slicked back hair and a thin mustache
and he looked like he wanted to kill the deer too
and maybe the dogs
and when he looked at me
I thought he wanted to kill me too.

Maybe it was just the look on his face.

I sat at the bar and counted out my nickels for a beer.
The cat didn't talk to me except to serve my beer.

Other animals came and went
A few humans too
and nobody talked to me
and I didn't see anyone I wanted to talk to.

I thought when I got there I would feel
like I was with my people
like I belonged
but I felt just as alone there as ever
maybe more so

I counted out a few more nickels
and had another beer
and then I left

and just like any other night
in any other city

I tried to figure out where I was going to sleep.

Jerry the Bird, 1973.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Poem: "What Are These Things"

Poetry is pulling your hair out trying to create the line

Unsure of everything unable to tell the good from the bad

Poetry is sifting through wasted time looking for a sign of worth

It is struggle and wanting and trying to remember

Poetry dies in the absence of understanding and contact

Pain and wondering confusion and grasping for a sign

Poetry is fragments broken thoughts unconnected dots

Occasional rejoicing that perhaps a breakthrough has been made

Prose is having without reaching

Prose is being receiving without begging

Prose is comfort

Poetry is pain

With you, prose

Without you, poetry
Jerry the Bird, 1976.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jerry's Paintings

Self-Portrait in Bedroom, Jerry the Bird, 1975 (approx.).

Jerry the Bird came to painting late in his life. His interest in art was inspired by his relationship with the human woman who inspired the Penelope character in his famous memoir, Among the Humans. "Penelope" was an artist, who painted a portrait of Jerry, and involved him in a few of her art projects during their brief relationship.

After they parted ways, Jerry began to draw and paint. Like his poetry, he drew his subject matter from his own life, creating many self-portraits and painting his friends, including those who appear in Among the Humans: Carter J. Lizardman, Tank the Goalie, Penelope, and others.

One of Jerry's notable painting projects was a series of water color paintings he created to accompany his prose poem "The Bird." The poem is an early, extremely simplified version of what would eventually become his memoir. The tragi-comic poem and painting series chillingly foreshadows his eventual death. Jerry also worked on paintings intended to accompany Among The Humans, but a complete illustrated version of the memoir never saw publication.

Few of Jerry's paintings have been seen by the public, except on this website. As more paintings are made available they will be posted here. Check back often.

Jerry's Poetry

Self-Portrait with Writer's Block, Jerry the Bird, 1975 (approx.).

Although Jerry earned his living writing pulp mysteries under a variety of pen names, he began writing poetry late in his life, and during his last few years he was able to write several hundred. Only a few dozen of these were ever published during his lifetime, mostly in small magazines of limited circulation.

Jerry acknowledged that he wrote mysteries for money, and did not put much emotional investment into them. He described them as technical exercises where he tried to imitate human behavior. In his poetry, however, Jerry was able to explore his own feelings and experiences. He wrote about his early life, his many years as a drifter, and about the difficulty he had in finding his way in human society. We can speculate that writing about this personal subject matter led him to try his hand at memoir, which led to the him writng Among The Humans, the one book for which he is remembered.

According to Among The Humans, Jerry was inspired to try writing poetry after meeting and falling in love with a human woman. The woman, named "Penelope" in the book, tells him that she read poetry, and he began studying the form in hopes of impressing her. But even after that relationship failed, Jerry continued writing poetry, and wrote them almost every day until his eventual death.

Few of Jerry's poems are still available. Original copies of the magazines in which they were published are incredibly rare, and there has not yet been a serious attempt to collect and republish them. This website is attempting to bring some of them back to the reading public, and new poems are published as they are found. Check back often to see more.

The Book: Among The Humans

Self-Portrait with Determination, Jerry the Bird, 1975 (approx.).

Among The Humans was published in 1974. A memoir about Jerry's failed relationship with a young human woman, it was a brief success. The book sold well and was nationally reviewed, but was out of print within a few years of Jerry's death in 1977.

There is a growing movement to bring Among The Humans back into print, either on paper or electronically. It is the hope of this website's staff that it will be available to the reading public sometime in 2014. Check back for updates on the book's availability.

Intro: Who Was Jerry the Bird?

Self-Portrait on the phone, Jerry the Bird, 1975 (approx.).

Jerry, commonly known as Jerry the Bird, was an author, painter and poet, best know for his memoir Among The Humans. The book was a minor hit when it was published in 1974, and briefly made Jerry a minor celebrity. Among The Humans was especially important to the several thousand birds and animals trying to live in human society as equals, as it detailed the frustrations and prejudice often felt by non-humans trying to adapt to human life.

Not much is known about Jerry's early life, although it has been estimated he was probably hatched around 1944, likely to normal bird parents. Like many animals who have chosen to live in human society, Jerry determined at a young age that he didn't "fit in" in the natural world, and started hanging around small towns. He learned to speak English and spent most of the 1950s and early '60s as a bum, crossing back and forth across the United States, as well as travelling in Canada and Mexico.

During his time "on the bum" as he called it, he was encouraged by a fellow traveller to learn how to read and write. After that, Jerry began to visit the libraries in whatever towns he passed through. With the help of other transients he learned to read and became a voracious reader, trying to gain insight into aspects of human life that were otherwise inaccessible to him.

As he settled into his twenties, Jerry realised that he wanted a more stable life than the homeless road. He also recognised the need to earn a steady income. Animals and birds were not welcome members of American society in the early sixties, and employment for non-humans was hard to come by. He decided to try his hand at writing for pulp magazines to earn cash. He read widely, but found the clockwork nature of detective and mystery stories the easiest to imitate, and after a long period of trial and error, he began making sales.

Encouraged by his first successes, Jerry tried his hand at writing novels, and began producing dime-store paperbacks under a variety of pen names. These cheap thrill books did not earn him much, but after a life of destitution, the small checks seemed like a fortune. For the first time he was able to rent a place of his own. He lived in a variety of small apartments, moving often, always looking for a place where he felt like he fit.

The turning point in his life came when he met and fell in love with a young woman. She became his friend, but never quite returned his love. Despite this, she had a profound effect on him, and after meeting her, he tried his hand at both poetry and painting. These artistic outlets would become important parts of his life. He later recounted this period in Among The Humans.

Among The Humans was published by a small press in 1974 and was reviewed by several national papers. It sold well, and Jerry was finacially stable for the first time. He was interviewed by magazines and briefly became an important spokesbird for animals like himself.

He did not wear the success easily. Like many outsiders and transients, Jerry dealt with loneliness, depression, and substance abuse. The attention he recieved made him feel more isolated than ever, and he dealt with his negative feeling through heavier and heavier drinking.

Jerry the Bird died in 1977.