"...I told Charles in Austria, he is reading like Iggy Pop is singing.."
Sprachsalz Literary Festival photo & wry observation : Florian Thiele
HALL TYROL, Sept 08, Journals Subtext to be buried deep in the vault, Sprachsalz
One thing struck me was how young people gave such importance to literary history and wanted to hear about my role in it. In the U.S., I could scarcely find a young person interested at all in what happened when, and if so, it would usually be in an academic setting. To converse openly at the bar or hallways about such things is no longer a part U.S. culture.
Due to language limitations, I could not communicate with them on the sub-text: Yes, I was associated with the Beats. I felt very close to Huncke, Burroughs and Bremser.
WSB's inscription to Charles Plymell
in the first Olympia Press publication
of Naked Lunch
Ray Bremser, Charley Plymell & Grant Hart at Ginsberg's old farm in Cherry Valley
The one-time Beat, Dr. Ferlinghetti (as he told the student to introduce him and not to mention him as beat....) was, to me, establishment. A naval officer, multimillionaire, etc. His poetry was of protest, yet within safe academic perimeters that others under that label also succumbed to. Though he was no Populist, his poetry became very popular. (His artwork deplorable).
In my case it wasn’t worth grappling with the definition. Better to be known as part of a label than not be known at all, I thought.. But as always, the sub-texts, what was going on in and around the scene from which the labels formed, was always my interest. I, the outsider of everything.
And I was there when the Hippies and the Beats happened together in San Francisco, 1963. I was still the outsider, living in the Tenderloin, an old whore district, working on the docks when Peter Orlovsky came by to drive me to Joan Baez’s ranch in Carmel. My work as a printer and being involved in the drug culture happening at the time gave me an insider’s vantage point. I participated to some extent. Nothing became my lifestyle. I wasn’t committed to fads and movements. My reality belonged to the outsider, an observer.
So the definition is always problematic, and as the years passed, it was simpler to let the labels do the work of language. I kept active, in touch with the factions that evolved from that period. For instance, to this day, I receive books from various poets who have excelled in their texts, cut-ups, concrete poetry, etc. Books from those who have become smug academic, obedient sycophants with their lucrative government awards, in their politically correctness, do good for the oppressed, eastern religious devotees, boy scouts, the Gary Snyders, the Ann Waldmans..politicians, Woodstock casualties, back to earthers, organic cranks, goatfuckers, etc. They learned to play the games. Their sycophancy rings in my ears today if I sit at their tables. But really, fuck ‘em all. Do they remember me when I printed their poetry and they begged me to write about them?
Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady outside the shared (w/Charley) Apartment 1403 Gough St. San Francisco 1963 photo by CP
I liked Ginsberg when he was in bed with poets (and publishers) rather than in bed with officials and gurus who control the institutions, but maybe that’s what he always needed. We remained cordial to the end. The Hippies? There is an ad on T.V. that depicts baby boomers from the Woodstock era now working on their IRA’s and 401K’s insurance forms. It pans from “we were there” to what they are doing now, basically squares, working the system until death. That’s that’s how it is.
I went to Woodstock to hear my old friend, the “woman of the Beat generation,” Janine Pommy-Vega. Robert Bly was on the program, too. He was the only one getting paid! I tried to listen to his poetry. Godawful! Janine’s friend, Andy, asked me what was the least I would take to come to Woodstock to read my poetry. I answered whatever it is, I’d be happy to pay that not to come.
My creativity did not attract the good fortunes of prizes and awards that advance the political correctness of fraternity, fellowship, sycophancy and inclusiveness. Part of my ancestry is Cherokee/Wyandotte and my realities lay again in the sub-text, outside of even the subculture itself, let alone the academic cronyism or new age of let’s do it all together where great amounts of money were thrown at mediocre poets. Prestige itself was awarded to C.K. Williams at Princeton. The part of me that is from the decimated native saw a phoney picture. By this time mainstream hacks like John Barth had not taken over writings programs in colleges to create an audience of workshop poets. In that writing of the mainstream and its supportive journalism good writers do sometimes appear.
Do not get me wrong. I admire great scholarship. To me, that is what the academic institutions are for. But they soon gave way to creative writing programs to build audiences. In so doing, the fluff of the workshop poem dominated. The germ of the end in itself. I worked in writing programs and English programs in the prisons until the subtexts became too horrible. I was given courses in local universities in creative writing, but the shock was too great....so I opted to be a tutor, to help students write their idiotic assignments for stupid professors. One university ask me to teach whatever I wanted, to design my own course. I said it was too late. Instead, I helped students write. That was at a college know for its education majors. As it turns out, the tutors had to help them write their job application letters. Thinking skills had vanished and we in turn elected idiots for leaders. The education system failed like futures in the economy. The subtext remained intact. The mainstream novels, academic workshop poetry supported by the journalism of the day, rules. Dust gathers on the pages of history.
Robert Crumb/Charles Bukowski inscription to their publisher/printer Charley
I then became more involved in the work of underground cartoonists, bringing S. Clay Wilson’s work into print and printing Robert Crumb’s first ZAP comics. My role in that movement is throughout the book, REBEL VISIONS - The Underground Comix Revolution, 1963-1975 by Patrick Rosenkrantz. I had an affinity to the graphic and visual arts and had a successful collage exhibit at the Batman Gallery in San Francisco in 1963 during the time of the beat and hippie intersection. While much of the poetry explored the Eastern religions, new age, and acceptable protest, “organic farming” at The Committee on Poetry in Cherry Valley, I found the subtext again in the Comix Revolution.
The 1st ever edition of Crumb's Zap Comix printed by Charley
I had written what I later called “The First Collage Novel” from that period after having quit working on the docks to accept a teaching fellowship at Johns Hopkins. Later, I realized I had given up a good job on the docks for the academe. I was given an opportunity to make use of my poetry in this situation but was shocked to find academic poetry dead in its arts programs and government outreach that preyed on timid, ego-laden souls who eventually help shaped the phony culture with the same power money and politics. What else is new. I don’t know what to do with the pile of books, from those whose poetry I dutifully brought into print, who list their awards and fellowships below their smug photos on their book covers that litter my room. Cronyism rules.
The Last Of the Moccasins,
the "first collage novel"
Rebellion in music began the New Wave. Patty Smith loved William Burroughs, their progeny found poetry and punk music in the likes of Mike Watt, Thurston Moore and Grant Hart and I found poetry there, and they in turn, like S. Clay Wilson of the Comix fame, helped me along.
Charley & Thurston Moore
Byron Coley organized tours in Montreal, Amherst, NYC, Philadelphia and Baltimore that include me reading my poetry to respectful young audiences.
I was given an advance by Random House to write a book on Kansas, where I was born and spent some of my youth. My son and I set out for a part of the state high into the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains where Plains Indians had gathered at the north and south trails. It was near the farthest point north for the Navajo. On that vast plains, geological formations stood upright. Remnants from the time it was a sea. They called them Monument Rocks. As we stood in the sunset with only these outcrops on the horizon we heard a great voice, neither human or animal. It was as if from the White Buffalo itself. It sent chills through us. It was very evident that we should leave this area to the spirits who lived there for thousands of years. I later heard through the great palaeontologist and seer, Loren Eiseley, that other reports of “this strange melange” of wisdom of religious life of nature peoples had been witnessed. In his book, “The Star Thower, ” I found “Moreover, I had come to know something of the strange similarities of the ‘shaking tent rite’ to the phenomena of the modern medium’s cabinet.” We left that wilderness of the plains where the white man had decimated its peoples and buffalo as far as the eye could see and drove to what was familiar. I threw away my manuscript. Sometimes silence is the best compliment to other sacred sounds in time and space.
My writing is not under a label. It came, like with others, from traditional 1920's ex-patriot influences, Surrealism, Existentialism, etc., into the 50's while the Beats became famous ....in the popular coffee houses that produced such poets as Rexroth, Patchen and Rod McKuen. My creativity extended into collage, printing, graphic arts, avant garde magazines, comix, writing the first collage novel... my poetry and prose were translated into other languages, my recent poetry mixed with the poetry and music of punk. I find myself at the world’s foremost literary festival, Sprachalz, 08 trying to answer intelligent questions from an appreciative audience with an interest in what I’ve done. My only regret is that I didn’t spent more of my wasted youth studying languages. So how can I tell them that there are no sequels, that I lived the subtext. In the U.S. you have to get it when it’s good, ride it when it’s hot. Take the money and let history turn its own pages.