jeff winke | in the soup

17 03 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.174 | March 17, 2009

The Literature of the Ordinary Day

[Lessons from The Writing Life…Continued]

Writers fall into this zone quite easily. Those who have trained themselves with journals, daily diaries, notes (these days, ‘blogs’) know the territory.

For more than twenty-five years I religiously began my writing day, my ‘practice’, with a handwritten, typewritten, or watercolor-inspired/written letter to friends. This often set the mood, set the pace. The only danger, sometimes the feelings rushed forth with such fire (ala’ Henry Miller’s 100 mph epistles) that hours later you came up for air only to discover you lost your most productive time, a whole morning putting down thousands of words to friends and strangers.

E-mail has replaced much of this ritual. Though e-mail seldom calls forth the same fervor—for me. We’ve sacrificed so much with the loss of the hand-written, typewritten, (water-colored inspired) letter…sealed in an envelope, stamped, carried to the local post office, dispatched with love all over the country, the world.

I won’t even go into how the spark, the smoke, the small-fires some of us set off in correspondence grew in heat and light to become something larger, later. That same day, night. Weeks, months, even years later. How a poem a story, a novel, a book, a painting actually took its first breath in something we set down in a letter-like exchange. If only we could call all those words and images back! What a wealth of material we would have on hand. Most of it, no doubt trivial, embarrassing. Yet some of it—gold never mined.

All this came to me when I received a short e-mail from Milwaukee poet and friend, Jeff Winke the other day. I think I was still in the state of savoring the Ray Foreman piece I had posted on Poetry Dispatch (#273, MARCH 11, 2009) just a day before that. All the good mail that was coming in from readers everywhere who fell in love with Foreman and his love of stories, old city diners–especially Chicago ones. Which stirred my own memories as well. The fact I have nothing quite like the life and people and excitement of an old Chicago diner here in the rural, where I have lived in a state of self-exile for more years than even I can imagine.

Then this perfect little email note/story/poem from Jeff, landed on my screen, and set everything in motion again.

I want a cup of soup. I want to meet Jeff in “SOUPS’S ON” in Milwaukee. I want to read the paper, take notes, listen, watch, bullshit the day away, surrounded by kitchen clatter, the aroma of food, the look and jabber of total strangers…

I want to talk to that lady with a parrot on her shoulder. —Norbert Blei


In the Soup

by Jeff Winke

One of the three part-time jobs that Carol, my hard-working wife, has in her effort to patchwork-quilt together some scratch for us is this wonderful place called Soup’s On Located south of the Ale House on Water Street in Milwaukee, they serve great breakfast items and sandwiches too. Mary — the old hippie owner—has figured out how to make incredible soups.

So, anyway… Carol calls me yesterday and says all the soups that Mary made today are incredible, so get over here before they sell out. They apparently see around150 customers over the lunch hour that buy between 1 and 4 bowls of soup each. The 4-bowlers are bringing lunch back to their offices.

So, I hot-foot it over there and sample all the soups and go for Perky Squash, which barely won out over the Mushroom Wild Rice. I grab my bowl, that Mary had added a heap of cilantro, Parmesan and cabbage, and wander over to the table with the window view of the fog-draped, rain dappled, slow-moving Milwaukee River taking its sorry-ass time through the warehouse district on its way to Lake Michigan. Since Mary’s husband is an artist, the walls are filled with consignment art from local artists and photographers – many of them graduates of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, which is located a few blocks away.

The place attracts a very interesting bunch of customers, which includes the truly eccentric. Last week, Carol had rung up a woman’s order and while handing back the change noticed a colorful small parrot on the woman’s shoulder — so she asked, “where did the bird come from?” She was in my purse, the response came. The week before I was at Soup’s On, and Carol introduced me to a regular — a gnarly, toothless guy that has some exquisite photos displayed of a nude young pregnant woman who is “painted” with patterns of light and shadow.

All I want to do is to hang out there with the parrot woman…the toothless photographer…and the writer from Georgia who selected Milwaukee as the place where he can hide out to finish writing his book. I can wear my black fedora (especially since I christened it with my finger wet with bourbon at smoky Caroline’s Jazz Club last weekend). I’ll never smile and occasionally cackle out loud and say something profound like “Can’t drive a double-wide through an Amish outhouse.” Mary will occasionally slip me a wedge of crusty bread and I’ll have the best view of the islands of ice and random trash floating down the river.