journal


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When the muse whispers in your ear, you must answer. I was going to do my nails, but I knew that if I delayed writing this for too long, I would forget. “I better go craft my words,” I thought to myself.

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I walked outside yesterday evening to do some errands. For whatever reason, I am too often locked away at home, inside, in my own world. Miracles have been in short supply, hereabouts.

When I stepped outside, I was nearly bowled over by a wave of the most delicious smell. It was sweet and intoxicating.

The rain had just begun to sprinkle down. As it hit the asphalt, the residual warmth of the day released a pent up sigh of scent. I love that smell! It brings back so many memories; whispers of  possibilities – the open road;  new vistas; the country; fresh, clean air. There’s an enchantment, a nostalgia; like a long-lost  friend or lover.

The grass, the leaves heavy on the trees and the many rhododendron blossoms joined in the sigh. The rhodies are coming into their fullest bloom – they’re all blooming together.

As I went on my way, the sweet smell was everywhere.

As I went down one of the roads in my neighborhood, there came the familiar annual cloud of cottonwood seed balls, drifting in that heavy, perfumed air. It’s a sight that fills the senses, heralding the arrival of summer. I remember with pleasure the cottonwoods of my youth; another time and place, so far away. What a blessing; what fulfillment.

I thought about that wonderful, sweet air. It is as if all the green things had been holding their breath, praying for just a littttle more rain – even the asphalt and concrete. In gratitude they all breathed a deep sigh of relief; one collective exhalation that filled the air, my thankful lungs and very soul.

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Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg by Michael Schumacher

I wrote this poem in 1994 to remember how I felt and what I thought – some impressions – after finishing the “Dharma Lion” biography. I was depressed from chemotherapy. Finishing the book seemed like a victory; recording and writing the poem was cathartic. It was a sort of  journal entry, so I wouldn’t forget all of the good stuff I’d just read.

I resisted the urge to try to send it to Ginsberg, which I had done with an earlier poem in 1976. He kindly replied to that… [See “poem sent to Allen Ginsberg, 1976” on this blog.] 

I saw Ginsberg up close once, standing in the aisle with Anne Waldman, after one of the nights of the Nova Convention honoring William Burroughs, in NYC. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday – Nov 30th , Dec 1st  & 2nd , 1978)

There’s an awesome link!! to the Giorno Poetry Systems recordings from the Nova Convention here.

I wish that I had taken the opportunity to go up to him to shake hands and say hi, but I was shy and didn’t really understand his greatness. Whatever… I met his gaze with admiration and seriousness.

It was quite an event, the Nova Convention. I attended Friday and Saturday nights. I was staying in a drafty dorm room in Brooklyn with a bunch of other guys as we upgraded our Seafarers’ Union status. I got a cold and a nasty cough, partly despatched with some penicillin. My new friend Glen and some of the others showed me how to use the subways in New York.

Anne Waldman read her poem “Skin Meat Bones” [also the title of a collection of her poetry, Coffee House Press, 1985.] It’s a very powerful piece.

From Publishers Weekly:  “The verse in this collection is meant to be read aloud. Alongside the title poem are pitch instructions: ‘skin,’ high soprano register; ‘Meat,’ tenor; ‘bones,’ basso profundo. As if they were notes, Waldman plays with words, with their sounds and rhythms, placing them in various configurations within the poetry…”

There’s a nice trancelike recitation by Waldman with accompaniment by Ambrose Bye here

Ginsberg performed one of his Blake poems set to music – “The Nurse’s Song” from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” – accompanying himself on the harmonium and with a young man on guitar [Steve Taylor?] as well.  That incredibly rich, deep mellifluous voice of his, rollling out, “All  of  the hillllssss   ech-ooo-edddd!”. What a wonderful memory, probably my favorite from the event.

Frank Zappa was there as a stand-in for Keith Richards, apparently; who was supposed to have been there discussing songwriting. I have a vague recollection of Frank reading Burroughs’ “Talking Asshole” bit, pretty straightforward if not deadpan– truly the perfect guy to do it. Perhaps the occasion was a source of inspiration for some of his later anti-censorship activism…

Certainly Ginsberg and Burroughs used language not for the squeamish, but it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me at the time. Listening back to some of the recordings at the link above, Ginsberg’s performance surprised me – I had only remembered the gentleness and serenity of his soul…

Laurie Anderson’s performance piece was playful, weird – changing her voice into a little girl’s voice, with electronics… I can’t remember if she played her electronic violin… it seems like she did… It was all pretty cool, definitely left an impression.

Patti Smith good-naturedly announced that Keith Richards hadn’t been able to make it, after all. (Did anyone really think he was going to be there? I think most of the crowd was pretty jazzed at the line-up of luminaries, anyway.) She recited a couple of poems with some singing thrown in for good measure, playing clarinet and accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. My most vivid memory is of her screeching abandonedly on her clarinet as a frantic-blonde haired female groupie in a leopard skin top beseeched her from rightinfront of the stage.

Yeah, I think Keith was having problems of his own then. Weird days, my memories of my time in NY… alone yet joyously independent… hazy drugsandsomethingevil in the air, like acrid smoke – stark,  slanted sunlight of winter though not too cold…  Sid Vicious  all over the news everywhere after the murder of Nancy…

Listening to a friend’s copy of the then radical, bonecrushing assault of the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” – it seemingly made inroads into the musical / cultural lexicon – what did it mean?… Well it was pretty gritty and tight rock and roll, for the times. A real revival.  [Recommended reading: “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain]

Burroughs concluded the event  on Saturday evening. It was just 2 weeks after Jonestown – it was InTheNews. My memories of Burroughs speaking are of his inimitable gross-out droll humor; my own struggle to control a nasty cough as he spoke about “virus infected shits”; and his solemn parting words, “Onward, to Jonestown!”

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Ted Joans, the Beat era poet, organized two vigils in Seattle when Ginsberg passed. I read my Ginsberg poem at both. I got to meet Ted. He gave me a photo of myself reading, when I saw him at the second one. So thoughtful…!

Ted Joans, along with LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka , was an important African-American voice in the Beat era. They of course got little of the limelight that their caucasian peers did.  Amiri Baraka went on to help initiate the Black Arts movement.  And the jazz that Kerouac and many others loved was largely played by people of color. His enthusiasm for the music –  very much a muse of and influence on Kerouac, who also wrote about jazz as a critic – I believe helped to serve as an example of greater tolerance within the larger confines of society.

When he spoke at the second vigil he urged us to ”Be kind” and said that our poems etc. were going to be compiled and put in some kind of book. I never heard any more about that, though I think I gave him a copy of my poem.

Ted was in the Seattle phone book at the time; he was living here. I wish that I would’ve taken the opportunity to invite him and his missus to dinner at my home – taken his “kindness ethic” to heart. But I was too uptight. Afraid he would try to mooch some money from me or something. How pathetic of me.

At the second vigil I wore a red chiffon scarf around my neck. I got up to read this poem. I tore off my shirt with a mad gleam in my eye, and asked no one in particular if I should continue to disrobe. I wanted to do something memorable in honor of Ginsberg; which incidentally, was something he was famous for. I’d invited along my sister and a friend. Joans kindly urged me not to, lol.

Some woman spoke about what a lecher Ginsberg was, he’d tried to seduce her or something. We all gasped inwardly; that musta been Ginsberg come back to smile on us…

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That  Long  Allen  Ginsberg  Biography  I  Read
( Dharma  Lion)

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Allen Ginsberg!
– lover of teeming humanity, your fellow fellow man
man’s actual human being!    …so warm
You’ve  given the world your very humanity
relaxed honest sexuality
Ahhhh, gift of brotherhood –
not weepy, shrinking –
forthright and direct –
Angry World – go love yourself!

Ginsberg –
in love with your persona –  a human fame
Perfect accomplishment!  Remarkable  life!
Energy, and driven –
Remarkable toiler, master of your art and intellect.
Ohhh, very wise one
your typical All-American Jewish success story
Real..  People’s..  Advocate!

In a disposable world,
they were unable to put your can out on the curb
shut you up or shut you down.
a hero to generations
in the void of America, you discovered…
the rest of the world!
Your amazing presence on earth
my poetic muse
Your gift – a gift to us all

Your human love – between all people a bond
warm humanity, in awe as I read.
Did you invent yourself ?
– The millennium of the moments of your life,
colorful, they appear before my eyes
you’ve showed me something
– gave birth to yourself!

O, very wise one
awesome vision, visionary
protector of the earth
observing, commenting on
American  society and its
bareballed naked hairy lies
defrocker of falsehood
and legislated morality

beat generation…

this legacy!…
borne  on  your  poetic  voice, as the wind

raised by it
was the only thing that caught my ear, anyhow
– made good sense
not that rhymey stuff!
Ahh, now I understand – unrhymey stuff!

Read your biography
– it was good!
you know lots about
what’s good about life

I’ve admired you for many years
now I read this  bio
Now I wrote this down so clean
Thanks and Thanks…

…to  the  Author  of  your  life

(1994)

see also:  The Beat Writers

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I went to an immigration rights rally this spring. I passed out a handbill of this article, pointing out that the proposed bills left a lot to be desired (you haveta read it through)… http://socialistworker.org/2010/01/21/gutierrez-bill-and-immigrants

…I thought I felt hostility (thru my fears/perceptions/emotions/own little narrow, racial/life-experience lens) towards me for being observably trans… I was overcome with grief, I was worried I’d have to walk off… I just kept moving in the crowd…  it may have been the dirty look this one guy was giving me. He thought I was against reform… I told him I was for “opening up the borders”…

I told a comrade/friend so that she could observe my grief… she reminded me that I was there to show solidarity… just what I needed to hear…

wow, yeah… I get it…

The moral is: 1. rememeber, you are fearful!  2. you only think it’s so… 3. be respectful of other people’s turf – I don’t even speak Spanish   4. misunderstandings and distrust arise, when it’s for the Cause  and 5. remember your Cause!   LOL   6. It’s only your emotions, not who you are or what it is.

Did I miss anything?    – “Give thanks!” (Jamaican blessing of appreciation)

It isn’t what it isn’t.