A bad breakup can do a lot for one's creativity. That seemed to be the take away message of Thursday's Jonathan Ames emceed, Anti-Valentine's Day celebration -- an evening of stories, poetry and music celebrating the heartbreak and the joy of emotional pain.
Ames opened the show, which took place at the powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, with an rollicking story about his own memory of pre-pubescent heartbreak.
The author of eight books and creator of HBO's Bored to Death incorporated a male corset, an elevated testicle and tree-humping into the tale of his love and loss of a middle school girlfriend.
"She had everything you look for in a girl: blonde, dismissive, arrogant," said Ames.
Following his story, Ames introduced Jerry Williams, poet and editor of the collection It's Not You, It's Me: The Poetry of Breakup. Williams read selections of his own work from the book, which also includes contributors such as Kim Addonizio, Denis Johnson and Mark Strand.
After reading a pair of raw poems, Williams joked, "I've gotta find something funny here."
Williams did hit a few funny notes in relating a story about he and Ames taking a road trip across the southwest years ago (the two have been friends for 20 years), as Williams was working up the courage to break up with the girl he had been seeing at the time.
Following the pattern of most of the stories that evening, the tale ended in humiliation as the poet somehow ended up with a case of diaper rash and had to call his soon-to-be-ex for pharmacological tips.
"Most great art comes from pain because it's boring, for the most part, to write about a great experience," Ames said over email prior to the event. "Also, people need to read about pain. They don't want to be alone with it. They don't mind being alone with pleasure, but they need to know from fiction, poetry, film, music, what-have-you, that they're not alone with being in pain, lessens it somehow.
Poet Donna Masini demonstrated this point as she took the microphone after Williams.
"I want everybody who has ever written a poem, story, letter or piece in a journal about a breakup to raise their hand," she asked to a full show of hands. "Okay, the playing field is leveled," Masini said, commenting on the Coliseum-like layout of the powerHouse's event space.
Masini read a selection of descriptive poems, incorporating images of a rabbit being swallowed by a snake and the desire for both the "juice and the flesh" of a grapefruit.
Following the readings, Ames entertained the audience as the final act -- the band Lunker, fronted by Williams -- got set up. He made some discursive (and mildly intoxicated) closing comments that were both hilarious and introspective. A line of Masini's poetry got him thinking about how ephemeral relationships are, especially in New York.
"Love and relationships have changed so much. My parents have been together nearly 60 years, but that's so different from my experience," said Ames. "You have these brief but incredible loves."
After further reflections on love and breakups, the band was ready and closed out the night and the crowd dispersed.