The Literary 12-Step: Poet Charles Kruger Attended 90 Arts Events in 90 Days

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Evan Karp
Charles Kruger reads at Vetted Word.
100 Profiles: SF Weekly interviews 100 people in San Francisco arts and culture.

No. 97:
Charles Kruger Maybe you ascribe to the idea of art for art's sake. But what about art for life's sake? Such is the credo of Charles Kruger. He's a 54-year-old queer poet, painter, and educator who last June decided to attend 90 arts and culture events in 90 days.

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Evan Karp
The Storming Bohemian
Why? Charles had been separated from his job as a high school English teacher. For more information about that, see the economy.

More urgent than the imminent threat of zero funds, Charles decided, was that of a different kind of bankruptcy. As he puts it, being fired flung him "into an abyss. I was 53 years old and feeling that the creative life I had always hoped to live was stillborn. And without a teaching job, I looked in the mirror and saw ... empty eyes and an empty heart."

Through a chance encounter, Charles got hip to the literary community, and although he had not written a single poem in 10 years, he was inspired to become involved. Confession: Charles and I became friends. He was starving for life, I mean really almost desperate for it--hanging about with "a bunch of hipsters," as he would say, despite how uncomfortable that sometimes made him (being so much older and, on top of that, 20 years off booze).

When Charles decided to go sober, he was advised to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. As it worked, and seeing the potential for a parallel rebirth, it dawned on Charles to try the same tactic on a cultural level. He called his project Storming Bohemia and started the whirlwind that would--only eight months later--get him mentioned in a New York Times story about Litquake.

What's especially interesting is how Charles seemed to just turn on the poetry faucet when he hadn't been writing for so long. He found that there was indeed spark inside of him, and with that rekindling a sense of purpose emerged. People began to recognize Charles and to love him for his enthusiasm. He was infectious, at times bouncing around events in small circles like a one-man mosh-pit. Some people were put off by this; some people are always put off by unchecked zest, zing and zoom.

The reason Charles was able to dash out poems is because they weren't important to him. Art, for him, is "born out of a need to justify myself. To feel like my life is meaningful." This vision of art as catharsis produces art as a secondary function; the main goal is health. With his life on the mend, with a purpose reinstated, all he had to do was put a pen in his hand. Poetry--it's just like riding a bicycle.

Charles always has something to say. Read an extended interview with him here.

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