FROM NEW YORK TO MONTE RIO
Dick Gallup spent some time on the Russian River. He was associated with the New York School of Poets as well as being one of the “Tulsa triumvirate” which included Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett. Dick, family in tow, drove up from San Francisco, where he’d been staying, to visit Andrei one weekend. Fresh from the Big Apple, the idyllic spring weather and laid back California life style extended numerous possibilities for beginning life anew. Before long, Dick, Carol, and kids had moved up to the River, and the literary scene was notably enlivened. Andrei’s prediction that Monte Rio would soon become the next Bolinas was beginning to appear likely. A community of writers blossomed and a reading series was deemed necessary. A local café called Stone Soup obliged with the space. Jeff Miller was one of the first poets to read there, along with Dick. The series was quite successful until a grease fire burned the tiny wood frame diner to the ground. The community of writers rallied and soon another venue was found. Dick’s arrival also hastened the adoption of literary labels as designations for individual poets. It started off with the obvious tagging of Dick as “the New York poet.” Once that was established, everyone, in a fit of morbid self-consciousness, imagined what their own labels might be. Andrei was the “Transylvanian poet” of course, and Hunce Voelcker was “the Bridge poet” because of his obsession. Jeff was “the punk poet” because of his spiky hairdo. I was “the haiku poet” because I had just devoted an entire issue of my magazine, The End (& Variations Thereof), to western Haiku. And Michael-Sean Lazarchuk was “the LA poet” although he was merely from Southern California. As well, there were also the River Poets, the Just Awful Poets, the Poets of the Vineyard, the Women Poets, the Gay Poets, the Academic Poets, and the Crazy Poets. All the ingredients for a self-devouring microbic literary soup were mixing and coming to a boil in the little bowl of a valley of mist and redwoods watered by a winding narrow green river. One of the first things to boil over was Dick leaving Carol and moving back to San Francisco. After all those years, two kids, they were through. It happened as I was helping them move into the house I had just vacated. One moment I was lifting furniture and the next thing I knew I had emotional baggage on my hands. Those things happen and they’re hardly ever pleasant. Michael-Sean, up for another of his visits, was upset that he’d just missed meeting Dick. Dick had been featured in Ted’s poems and had shared the intimate details of Ted’s life. As a consolation, Gail took Sean over to meet Carol. Carol had known Ted, quite well in fact. And since nature abhors a vacuum, they were drawn to each other right away. It was a match made in poetry heaven. Gail wrote a funny account of how all that came about, and how she, as the Haiku Poet’s wife gave the New York Poet’s wife driving lessons in an old ‘64 VW with a stick shift. But that’s another story, full of stops and starts, jerks and stalls.
5/1/90 “American genius (in lit) cannot be distinguished by a casual glance from charlatanry. Purity of intention lies at the heart of American achievement.” –Hugh Kenner 5/2/90 fantasy doesn’t have to be real feed the disaster of apprehension I have become mediocre destitute imagination like fleeting thought never to return or be regained “I’ve forgotten more than I can remember” religion—organized sex with the best part left out feeble asides animate pliers
Mon Cher —
Already, bootleg tapes of your appearance on Nightline are on the black-market. I got mine through Voelcker Video Ventures, a video pirate down the road in Duncan Mills. You were brilliant, professional, larger than life though smaller than actual size. The piece was touching and you were its perfect expositor. There was much cheering in our living room when we saw your image appear in that familiar square to the left of Ted Koppel’s ear. The fact that we were seeing it “post-event,” so to speak, made no difference. Wish I’d been at the Pink (now since closed) knocking back a few when Nightline aired—I could have said, “Hey, I know that guy, me and him used to play eight ball at that very same table over there!” Anyway, amigo, congrats on being chosen to deliver a beautiful (poetic) piece (a near first on near prime time) on the liberation of your homeland.
I won’t bore you with the well-known details of my existence, but as you know, life continues, and as Seneca said, “destiny leads those who are willing and drags the rest.”
Rays of light enter my head brighten up some dark little corner revealing little more than what’s left of shadows everything that happens in the dark has scurried off I pare my nails in the meantime I’m using myself as bait (if you couldn’t tell) and wait for the gnaw on my nerves the better mousetrap isn’t used on mice it has a captive audience tonight’s full moon creeps up above the tree line (is it too early to take a bow?) planets surround it Venus’ white marble Mars’ red comma and some other dots in the pale glow of a hot nickel flipped up into the dark of night mantle of mist cuts the stark pointy silhouettes in two clear as day
—What do I expect from poetry, anyway?
—You have no idea. You really have no program or established plan. You never ask yourself if you should ever sell your writing or not. There’s no theoretical substratum. You live, you write, you’re a poet—it doesn’t mean anything, fundamentally. You’re a poet because you want a vague so-called freedom, but really you just don’t want to go to an office every morning.
—Do I credit any one writer, ancestor or contemporary, with a strong influence on my poetry?
—You read. Everyone and everything. That’s the prime requisite, you read extensively, and pretty soon your head gets packed with all kinds of stuff and then some of it leaks out of the end of your pen into what you’re writing in that the trivia comes out between the lines or as quotes—depending on how you feel about plagiarism—or whatever, as impossible paraphrases. So no one writer has a corner on influence and all are mixed nameless into the reflex of memory. There are writers you revere but they’re much the same ones that everyone else is in awe of, too. There are vast repositories of literature to draw from, ancient and contemporary, classical and popular. All writers offer you something even if it’s nothing more than the recognition that you would or could never write that way.
—How long does the writing of a poem take me?
—Sometimes you just write something in your notebook and turn the page and write something else and forget about it. And you continue to write in your notebook and days later during a pause in the action you leaf back through the pages and find what you’d written on one particular day and wonder “where did this come from?” Then you go back and reconstruct as best as you can remember to determine whether or not you wrote it or lifted it from someone else. Not that that would do anything to hamper its utility.
—Should I be troubled by this, that I rely so heavily on what I read to affect what I write?
—What you read has more of an effect on how you write than what you think. You are an information junkie, a detail demon. Trivia is like candy. What you write is determined by a subtle chemical interaction triggered by one or more of the senses which transports the assessment of those sensations into a realm beyond the physical. It is a suspension of belief that allows the imagination to color certain aspects of existence that are often hidden or unnoticed or invisible unless enhanced. Writing is a physical act, pick and shovel work. The best thing to do when digging a trench is to sing, it enforces your rhythm. Thinking would only hamper you so you don’t think. That’s what you do when you take a break to wipe your brow and swig from the canteen. You’re thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
—Alright, but what about thought? Profound thinking? Am I totally devoid of intellectual depth?
—You’re surprised that you have any thoughts at all no matter how banal and that’s why they get jotted down. Sometimes that’s all there is, and, after all, your pen is always ready no matter what. Then you go back and throw out the really leaden thoughts. Or some. Otherwise you keep them and make more banalities to go along with them. Something that seems no more than the sickening thud of hitting rock bottom can end up weeks later an airy lyric central to the mechanism of your latest creation. Though writing creatively is sometimes compared to fishing in the stream of consciousness, you don’t always throw back the little one. But to get back to the point, often what starts out as philosophy with you ends up as science fiction.
—Then, what is intelligence?
—The word “intelligence” is a rubber band of ambiguity. There’s the logical or Cartesian form of intelligence, but you mean something else, a freer form of the problem. For you intelligence is the penetration into what the average “normal” man finds incomprehensible or difficult to understand, the everyday mysteries that are the foundation of surrealism which in the latter part of the century have become nothing more than raw doses of reality TV shows. There is something like an explosion of meaning, something you aren’t likely to get from a dictionary. We are men of the same order, you and I share a community of vision which is why you understand this idea of intelligence, enlarged, drawn out, extended, inflated. . .
—In what sense have I enlarged, inflated, exploded the limits of creation, according to my own intelligence?
—Try to shy away from the word “creation.” In the ordinary, social meaning of the word, it’s very nice, but, fundamentally, you don’t believe in the creative function of the artist. You are a man just as any other. You have a job to do. The word “artist” was invented when the painter became an individual, first in monarchal society, and then in contemporary society where they’re supposed to be gentlemen, an archaic concept all its own. They don’t make things for people; people come to choose things from among their production. The artists’ revenge is that they are much less subject to concession as when they were craftsmen. Unfortunately like poets they deal almost exclusively in framed metaphor rather than in the thing. So angst can be expressed on the square canvas or the rectangle of the page. Let’s move on.
5/4/93 Affected by the negative worry’s sad anticipation frozen as a turd on the tundra the horrible awakening from the dream of life spend a lot of time looking for things I don’t need to find 5/9/89 fleeting sunset caught along the edge of a single cloud in the rearview mirror 5/10/90 Sudden California as opposed to Gradual California 5/12/89 ah, the four seasons of my discontent. . . The Guggenheim, the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, Book Circle Critic’s Award, After Columbus, Before Columbus, Best Unknown Poet Award, The Posthumorous Award, all of them will never be mine. Feelings of alienation so familiar10 and yet so alienating, push me further back into myself, to that self-comfort of self-knowing which is the same as asking “why do I care?” I care that I don’t care. Every day myriad new names are appended to the already long list of pretenders. Why am I any different? Should I ask that my name be removed from the list? It’s a thought. I am repulsed at the thought of being associated with such Sisyphean futility. Day in day out, though, I find myself caring to be in this mental place where what I do is what everyone else does. 5/15/89 what have you got to lose brilliant burning in anger but getting burnt out the acrobatics of memory what was once becomes now
Artifice of pen from which words dribble out a closed universe only a message in a bottle no deposit no return air struck wind feels good as it dips into heat of day and takes me out of my skin I spin with the world around me a cavalcade of clouds a carload of teenagers a covey of quail couple stray mutts kids crying close call I almost stepped in dog shit at the side of the road I may have thrown my back out I’m in for a big surprise “what’s the matter” refers to something entirely out of context a question frequently asked around here “no more electric trains” sinks in
5/26/87 we have abandoned the reader for the writing. “Know what? You’re not supposed to understand it!” “In this poetry business, there are rings of intrigue.” —Amy Lowell brains with stones already in them 5/27/89 “night’s magic seems to whisper and hush” I am the loud one exhaling I know these moods11 they will pass gray noon time molasses when you displease the goddess you become an insignificant worm 5/28/83 his face just flies apart when he cries there is no spiritual enlightenment only paychecks VIRGO: Break new ground with your writing skills or musical talent. Something you launch will create a ripple effect. Logic only goes so far where romance is concerned.
I may have bitten off more than I can chew which is why all this is so hard to swallow it’s gulp time immobilized by fantastic disgust conservative to the point of distraction when I come face to face with the great stuff I don’t even have an inkling of how to take and the fruitless impersonations I endure rot often surprised by how seriously I can be taken my moments of truth few the rest make-believe in one scenario I’m as brilliant as morning later on it’s revealed that I have jaundice end up spending some time on the funny farm not true of course I’m as sane as the next guy drawing the smoke of inspiration through a straw the grand scale of landscape doesn’t diminish at the horizon distance reduces vision where’s this stuff come from anyway grin and bear it quote unquote no matter what “there’s something fluent in the transparency” the words of the review continue “that stinks worse than a spoiled banana republic” and isn’t it about time a VW bus full of fans stops to pick me up they’re surprised to find I travel by thumb just like I said in my poems of course my life imitates my art
5/30/84 A large crowd came to hear Alice Notley read at New College. Rows of chairs had been set up in what once had been a mortuary chapel. To name the names of the literary set in attendance would leave open the opportunity of omitting someone or mentioning who was not there. Suffice it to say, a queue formed to have a word with Alice. She would read her sad poems tonight. She had read her “jokey” ones yesterday at the San Francisco State Poetry Center. She might even cry. Yesterday, also, she had gone to Berkeley with Philip Whalen. They had gone to a sculptor’s bronze foundry, and then she had hunted the bookstores for first editions of Ted’s books . . . . Tomorrow, she would go shopping for the boys, and Sunday return home to them in New York City. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” Long fingers touching her cheek, she gave half a smile. At the podium, in her purple blouse, she was a regal priestess. Her incantations, her witty digressions, her mood pieces were delivered with a rushed breathiness. She presented her works with an accomplished air that made obvious her practice and invention. Their integrity was solid, beautiful as well as modern. She read from her published works. And she read more recent poems that reflected the grief inflicted by the loss of her companion of many years, Ted Berrigan. It became quite evident that these two great poets had made quite a team. Through him, she had verified her strength. His invention had been the source of her inspiration. Her natural power and talent had been his affirmation. There was one image that depicted their union as a whirlwind that circled them like the stroke of a brush, blue in color. It sounded more permanent than a band of gold. In other works, she alluded to her children, and things taken from Mad Magazine and Star Wars. Throughout, she was constantly in touch with her everyday life, realizing through language, like a true artist, the opportunity presented by everything for poetry. And so it was. Alice made it so. 5/31/86 The story goes: this guy goes to see a psychiatrist and says, “It’s my brother, he thinks he’s a poet.” The doctor frowns (he’s a Frowndian). “This sounds serious,” he says. “Does he teach at a college or university?” “No.” “Has he received any government grants or awards from private foundations?” “No.” “Does he teach poetry in grade schools?” “No.” “Does he teach creative writing in adult education programs?” “No.” “Does he hold poetry workshops for seniors?” “No.” “Does he edit or publish a literary magazine?” “No.” “Does he publish literary criticism in literary periodicals?” “No.” “Is he claiming lineage with an acknowledged poet of the past?” “No.” Anyway, this goes on with the good doctor exhausting any avenue that would justify the brother’s claim of being a poet. Finally, he says, “This is indeed serious but . . . (pausing like a good Freudian) it isn’t untreatable. I believe we can work out a program of treatments that will, for all intents and purposes, eliminate this delusion.” “But that’s the problem, doc,” says the man, “we’d like to see him cured, but we can use the poetry.”
Pin to distraction pulled objective senses nullified by sweep of the beat what underlying flows out simple sentences the basic code to the strands that connect me to the sky “I’m your puppet” transmission clearly worded suspends superstition unhealthy interruption day warm enough to stray full tilt introspection spreading leaves scatter light on concrete shade of another year grown into place tons good weather seems to lifts off your back day’s pasture widens in a sudden green rush I find myself arms akimbo growing with it spinning through the eons stop to feel thick air of morning swift breeze of afternoon pale sprouts flash their tiny spears in the sun garden stronghold of regimented vegetation dart of salamander bug and bee among the leaves admiration for my choice of words comes from far away too far away to make any difference and too late a pirate edition sails away with the royalties despite my regards the gloved hand’s goodbye
 “Who needs the suckass scene? I scratch my own back and don’t need nobody kissing up like it’s gonna do them some good. Let’s keep our distance. That way I don’t owe you and you don’t owe me. There’s too much of politics in the world as it is. Ain’t gonna get the poetry any better and it’s gonna alienate the true hearts who don’t want no truck with those machinations in the first place. Why do we have to sell ourselves? Ain’t it enough what we distill into this imperfect medium of language? Why do we have to promote it any further than the edge of the page?”
 But if progress is not to come to a standstill, concepts of being and objects must remain plastic, must be modified, enlarged, limited, transformed, must separate and unite continually in the light of experience. If they become too rigid and turn into a system which claims to be self-sufficient, the mind engaged in such a system will go on working inside it forever and ever, cut off from any contact with reality which these very concepts are supposed to represent. They become the object of a hollow and useless dialectic and the source of deathly infatuation.
Undercover report: subject talks to himself. Complains of not being understood, being taken for granted, too little sexual activity, over-active imagination. Vain, examines his own image in the polish of his fingernails. Admits to having forgotten more than he can remember. Observed getting messages from the car radio. Finally noticing the lack of significant mail in the last several months. Beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Moods subject to change without notice. Continues to write poems throughout. Conclusion: obvious obsessive personality.
“ . . . Eurydice’s death by snake bite and Orpheus’s failure to bring her back into the day light figure only in later myth. This idea is mistakenly deduced from pictures on vases that depicted Orpheus’s welcome to Tartarus where his music charmed the chthonic snake-goddess Hecate into giving special privileges in the afterlife to those who had been initiated into the Orphic Mysteries—an affirmation of the poet’s efficacy on the serving vessels of the day. Eurydice’s victims die of snake bite, not her, whose name means “wide justice” or “all just” and as Hecate is the serpent-grasping ruler of the underworld to whom young men were sacrificed, their deaths caused by a vipers bite just above the heel. Orpheus chose not to submit. There’s more than one way to skin the cat . . .”