by Charles Potts

from Berkeley Daze


I kept suggesting Joel to The Rabbi as a poet that he should include among the ones doing the readings at the Art Center, but he kept demurring. There had been the ridiculous flap over whether a person was a reader or a poet at the Shakespeare readings, a lot of low level bickering about who's any good, rather than solid attention from each onto each's shortcomings, noticeable or not. Joel didn't live far from the Fulton junction with Ashby and came over one night to rap. He was telling a story about a girl named Irma that he had met. Joel had incredibly expressive eyes, furtive, shifty, twinkling, he could embellish the dullest rap heavenly by increasing or decreasing the amount of lite he would let flash from his retinal cones. "I just stood there," he was saying, "I guess you could call it, residual super cool," at which there were loud guffaws. He had told me that this woman Susan who was living with him and who I had seen with a sandwich board trying to sell Litmus for us, had ran off, and not only had she ran off, she had taken the magazines with her. I wasn't very worried about it because she seemed to have an abiding interest in it, else why would she run off with them. At least maybe they would get to people who would give them a once over, maybe even read them. Joel was upset about it though, and had some money that she had made from a few she had sold, and one of the reasons for his visit was to lay this money on me. The last time I had seen him, I had told him about the switch of guts for the next two issues. To him it meant simply that his poems would be appearing in number ten instead of number nine. I had tried to explain to him why it was happening, ergo that maybe we could get color covers on each of them, and the color cover for the original ten came first in priority with the man who was paying for the color printing, Kepley's patron, and it went with the four poets issue, hence the switch. Joel gave me $20 for the books that Susan had sold and was very apologetic for the ones she had run off with. I could tell that something was eating him beyond the embarrassment of admitting that she had split, and after the traffic in the big room upstairs had thinned down to the two of us. Only Jan, who had turned Vanish's closet into his work room for the time being since Vanish had hi-tailed it for the tall grass of eastern Oregon until the COSMEP readings, was still around.

"Charlie," Joel began, then followed a huge pause. "Charlie," he said again, "give me the poems back."

"What poems?" I said not quite comprehending what he was talking about.

"My poems," he said with a hang dog look.

"Why?" I immediately wanted to know.

"I don't want you to publish them."

"Why?" I repeated my question, hoping to see what was going on in his head.

"Just give them back to me," he said resignedly, but I hadn't heard any reasons yet so I didn't act on his request.

"I want to publish them. What's the matter with you?"

"If you wanted to publish them they'd be in number nine, like you said."

"I can't put them in number nine, I told you man, that is the four poet's issue."

"Put them in number nine, or give them back to me."

"No, I'm not going to give them back to you, and in the first place, the copy for number nine is already at the printer's. I couldn't put them in number nine now if I wanted to. If I hadn't of wanted to publish them I would never have asked you for them."

"Why can't you put them in number nine?"

"Because the printer has the copy now. It mite already be printed."

"Why didn't you put them in number nine?"

"Because number nine is the old number ten, and I want to get color covers on the issues. Don't you want your poems to be in an issue with a color cover?"

"Yes, but how come they aren't in number nine? You said they would be."

The rap we were having was beginning to feed me up. "Because I had individual ideas for each number and your poems belong with the ones that are going into number ten, that's all. If everything was going ok, I wouldn't have had to switch the guts, but I'm barely going to have enough money to do one issue and then if we get the color cover on it, there will be enough money hopefully to do the other issue. If I do them in the reverse order, there won't be any money to do number ten with."

"Why can't you put the cover of number ten on the guts of number nine?" he said, still insisting.

"Because I chose the covers to go with the contents, and I wanted to switch the entire issues. I mean you're up tight about it, but I can't help you. There isn't any money left for them anyway, maybe I won't get either one of them out."

"Well, I've looked over your 'stable'," he said tersely, and pausing for effect, went on, "and except for Gino . . ."

"You ought to read more carefully," I said, beginning to be angry. Though I had gotten a lot of rave letters about number 8 from Blazek who had tried to send me poems for the subsequent issues, but I had sent them back. d.a. levy had invited me to send him the screened cover picture of 8 and he would run me a free ad in his paper, The Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle.

"Shot me full of poetry," he had written from Cleveland. I didn't have any illusions about it. Some people at least thought it was great and they were not quite wrong, and some people thought it was fucked and they were not quite rite.

"I'm not impressed with what you like and what you don't like. You come in here and try to give me the same kind of bad time you have been trying to give Ferlinghetti. Well I don't give a fuck." I was thinking then that I should shove his poems in his face and shove him right out of my life, but he was inadvertently, giving me a chance to ventilate on him. I thought, I don't give a fuck, I'm not going to return his poems to him. That'd be too easy. He's just going to have to understand this. "I mean there is a difference man, between the people who have money to publish and those of us who do it without money, except what we earn. I mean I worked for over a year in Seattle saving money, stacking tires so I could publish this shit in the first place, and I won't have you people who have never, have you by the way, ever done anything for any poets other than your self. All you people who aren't doing anything have all kinds of time to belly ache about The Rabbi and Krech and me because we don't do things exactly like you would like to have them done, and if you don't like the way we're trying to get this scene together, why the fuck don't you do something for it yourself. What the fuck do you do for the scene? I mean your girl friend tried to sell some Litmus for me, great, but, and you gave me the money, I mean when I took the Litmus up to Ben Hiatt's the other day, I spent my last bucks for gas to get home on, and the rest of the last of it for paper to print the issue on do you understand? I don't have any money and I'm not interested in changing my plans and I'm not going to give you your poems back. I intend to publish them when I get the tenth issue out."

"I ...I'm, sorry," Joel said, after quite a long pause ensuing when I ran out of breath.

"Don't be sorry, be careful. It's not your fault, but you should have a less precious attitude toward it all. It's just work that has to be done."

Kepley had heard the ruckus and had come in and was sitting down listening. Joel had become contrite in the extreme and I began to hope that I hadn't bruised him too badly, but for Christ sakes, it was pissing me off. We used to say in the old days in Pocatello about the Wild Dog boys in San Francisco, how they would get plagued to death with poets coming over and trying to get them to publish their work.

"Watch out for the San Francisco literary trot," Norm Sibum had written to me from his Canadian exile. Hence I had rented the post office box, which the inveterate Vanish had lost the extra key to, and now I had the only key, but it didn't keep the poets from coming by where I lived and giving me a hard time.

"Here, man, take this," Joel said, handing me a handful of money.

"What's this?" I said, not reaching out for it.

"Take it, it's money."

"I know it's money, but you need it as bad as I do."

"No, no, I don't really."

"I don't want your money man, I just wanted you to understand."

"I know that, but Susan took off with all your Litmus. I lost them."

"They probably wouldn't be selling anyway. Maybe she'll give them to people who'll dig them."

"But I feel responsible. Take it, it's another $80."

I began to consider the money. It would make it possible to mail some of the subscriber copies, some of the exchange and contributors copies. "But this is your paycheck," I protested. He had been working as had Andy Clausen on the BART project.

"I've got enough, take it," he said again, at which point I decided that maybe I should take it and reached out and counted three twenties a ten and two fives. I began to flash around for something I could give him in exchange for it, because I was feeling a little foolish and no longer full of righteous indignation and moral superiority as I had been. When I had first met Waldman I'd had premonitions about him. Later I had given him a copy of number 8. Then when I got the poems from him for the rag, I had laid on him a copy of number 5/6, the last one I had done in Seattle.

"Here man," I said, reaching into a box in the kitchen storage place and filching out an envelope with the other Litmus numbers 1 thru 4 in it. "Take these, they will make you a complete set. There aren't too many of them around." I thought of the trip trying to sell them to the Cal library. "They are probably worth a hundred dollars," I said hoping that it would sound convincing.

They pleased Joel a great deal. Whether they pleased him as much as the money he had given me pleased him, I couldn't say. Now he didn't have Susan, nor most of his money. All he had was a set of Litmus and his poetry. He must have thought I was trying to give him a fast shuffle with the switch of the guts, but as I had tried to tell him, there were at least ten other poets whose work got shifted also, and none of them gave me a hard time, why should he. I mean, try to understand. Apparently he had, and had taken a giant step backward. He was into dealing these days with the notorious Richard, their poems began to fill up with knives and guns and kilos and ripoffs. Joel kept on working at the BART project until he got hit in the head one night at work with a pulley and then was off work for a long time.

A couple days later when I came home from rummaging around on the avenue, Jerry Burns was at my place with some young man whose name I didn't hear when Jerry introduced us, and since I was hoping to minimize my relationship with Burns, I didn't inquire who it was. "They've come through with Dwinelle Hall for sure but were worried about the unorganized nature of the readings."

"They're not unorganized, they are open," I said.

"Well, I've been talking to some people and we think that at least some of the readings should be scheduled so that there will be something happening for sure."

"Oh, there will be all kinds of things going to happen."

"Let's go talk about it with Richard," Jerry suggested.

"Ok," I shrugged. Richard only lived a couple blocks up Russell, and as we walked over there, I wondered if Richard would be home. He was and offered everybody a toke, as he had a piano bench full of the shit, and I got loaded but Jerry Burns nor his friend didn't take any of it.

"They want the readings to not be open," I blurted out after a toke in the direction of Richard as we got rite down to the business at hand in the haze.


"Because," Jerry began, "there are some people who think they are too loose, and if we don't get some organization into them, they won't let us on the campus with them."

"They are organized," Richard said.

"I mean for purposes of PR and stuff like that."

"We can make PR" I interrupted. "We have a pretty good idea of who will be reading, I mean at least some of the poets."

"Then why not schedule them?"

"Because then everybody will think, 'Why wasn't I scheduled?"'

"Well you can handle that."

"Of course we can handle that. I'd prefer not to. It seems unnecessary."

"Well, maybe we could have the open readings. Like Simon could have an open reading at the Art Center, right. . ." Richard went on with his suggestions. "Because that's not on campus and anything that happens there is none of the university's business, and we can have the open reading just like always at Shakespeare's. Maybe we could organize the readings only at Dwinelle?"

"Now that makes sense," Jerry offered. There are a couple people coming that I want to make sure get to read."

"Who are they, give us their names."

"Well, there's Paul Mariah, who's a local poet, and Marilyn Cadogan, also local, and Jau Billera, who's coming in from Cleveland."

"Did you send rjs money to come?" Richard wanted to know.

"Yes," Burns said, "He got a ticket."

"How about d.a. levy?"

"He didn't want to come."

"Why not?"

"He didn't say."

I would have preferred not to make the concession, not to get into the "formless calm of compromise," which phrase of Le Roi Jones' had led me around some bad shit, but it seemed like it was ok with Richard, and I didn't know how serious Burns was about the notion that if they weren't scheduled, they wouldn't let us on campus with them. Worse still, I didn't have time, nor any notion of where to begin to check it. So I said all right. We walked back over to my place. On the way, I finally got it straight that the guy with Burns was none other than Tom Kryss, the best poet from Cleveland and once a co-worker with levy and rjs.

"Oh, you'll come and read wont you," I said, wishing I had been more alert.

"I don't know," Kryss said, "I'll see."

When I put it to the people at the house that the readings would be only semi open, and semi closed, that the scheduled readings would involve only twenty-four poets, everyone wanted to make sure that he was reading. I included a place for Vanish. The next morning I went through the streets to Joel's house and asked him for sure did he want to read. He said yeah, and I sat there drinking tea with him for a while, looking out his window.

"I mean vision, of a more ordinary kind. How far out that window can we really see?"


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