R: Directly behind the poetry scene of the 60s is the Berkeley Renaissance, which began in the 40s. Duncan probably felt partially responsible for the debacle.
D: He was involved in putting together the Conference in 1965. He felt that he had made a lot of this happen, and he felt bad about it. He told me, "Your line endings are terrible. You're all doing it. Like Creeley. 'As I said to my FRIEND because I am ALWAYS talking,—John, I SAID, which was not my name, the darkness surROUNDS us…" I can't remember what comes next.
R: ". . . . why not buy a goddamn big car, drive, he said, for Christ's sake, look out where you're going." The poem is full of surprises, surprised me all the way through. But there's only so much surprise poetry can accommodate.
D: And then, we have to go back to boring poetry.
R: In general, there's always been a rivalry between the poets in the San Francisco scene and those in the Berkeley scene. It seemed to me that Rexroth and later, Ferlinghetti, were at the center of the San Francisco scene, and Duncan, and to a great extent Spicer, were more representative of Berkeley.
D: And Josephine Miles.
R: During the conference, I walked across campus to the North Side with Allen, who said he had to visit Josephine Miles, and I asked why, and he said it was important for him to pay his respects. At the time, I didn't get it, but now I see that it is important to pay respect to your elders.
D: When we get older, we see things differently.
R: Bob Kaufman, who was on the street, I'd have coffee with him in the Med, and I didn't know who he was. One day, he told me he had a book coming out from New Directions. Wow, I thought, is this guy for real? I wish I could go up to him now and pay my respects. Trying to fit them into the street scene, I came across Digital Interview of Ken Kesey http://www.digitalinterviews.com/digitalinterviews/views/kesey.shtml (reads)
I can remember driving down to North Beach with my folks and seeing Bob Kaufman out there on the street. I didn't know he was Bob Kaufman at the time. He had little pieces of Band-Aid tape all over his face, about two inches wide, and little smaller ones like two inches long — and all of them made into crosses. He came up to the cars, and he was babbling poetry into these cars. He came up to the car I was riding in, and my folks, and started jabbering this stuff into the car. I knew that this was exceptional use of the human voice and the human mind.
And Brautigan. I ran into him coming out of Moe's once, and I asked him if he was buying or selling books, and he said, "I write books; I don't read them." I thought that was kind of weird.
D: After he got famous, he got weird.
R: I didn't know him after he got famous. I was surprised in 1972, when I was at the University of Alaska, and someone gave me a copy of Trout Fishing in America. What surprised me the most was that he was wearing my hat.
D: Why your hat?
R: Well, I knew it wasn't my exact hat, but I had two unblocked Stetsons around the time of the Berkeley Poetry Conference that I wore regularly, and this hat was a part of a style I had adopted— kind of the gunfighter look. I guess it was an archetype hippie look. I wonder what would have become of Richard if he hadn't died? He might never have been labeled a Beat poet.
D: He would have been a novelist, who at the beginning of his career had written some poems.
R: These were guys who didn't have to sell their books on the street; they had people selling their books for them. They became sucessful.
D: As for Brautigan, I think he had a growing dislike of himself as he became more and more successful.
R: And he took his life violently. Maybe Hemmingway's death affected him.
That had happened in the early 60s.
D: And, like Hemmingway, he was depressed. He drank too much.
R: Yeah, but what do we know? We're acting like a couple of armchair psychoanalysts.
D: Right. But one thing is for sure, you're either a happy drunk or a morose drunk. There's not a lot of ground in between, and when you're happy, why write? I once asked Duncan if he enjoyed writing, and he said, "No, it's very painful." For me, it's painful to start.
R: I'm writing all the time, so I don't notice. I write serially, and when I stop, I don't feel that's the end of anything. I just come back to it later. I don't have blocks. My writing overlaps into other things. I do collages, and when the writing stops, I do collages or work on my junk assemblages. If I could quit writing, I'd almost be relieved. Just about the time I give it up, I get a brain storm. I'm cursed. I don't feel the need to write as oppressive. For me, it's like food. I like to eat. I do it pretty well; I'm not the greatest; but I'm not the worst. The poems are fairly original; and I've got some good ideas on how to package them for our consumer oriented society. That's my contribution. Poetry as a package. I'll establish this in the piece I'm working on: The Berkeley Daze. D. a. z. e.
D: Could you leave the "the" off of it.
R: Right, Berkeley Daze. I'm putting it up on a free wiki space online.
D: Oh, the marmalade…what do they call it? The peanut butter space.
R: Where're the women?
D: They're off at the Laundromat. We need a new washing machine.
R: It's quieter in the house without.
R: Without machines running. Have you've been writing?
D: Lately, a piece called My Compensations?
R: You've been writing your compositions for fifty years.
D: Well, not steadily.
R: What's it about?
D: Books I've been reading. The way I talk about it is: In the Southern Sudan, one tribe attacks and despoils the land of another, and is driven into flight, if not killed, and has to survive in Central Sudan, in very different circumstances. This is all made very clear in this book by John Sinker. . . .
D: Quit making it up. . . John Sinker…and is highly recommended. And I do several of them.
R: Got another?
D: My mind is stuck in the desert of Sudan . . . . In the mountains of Tibet, he savagely usurped the rule of Tibetans. This is told with a great deal of sympathy by a Tibetan sympathizer…a notable Tibetan sympathizer . . .
R: . . . . who spent many years in a Chinese prison . . .
D: . . . who spent many years in a Chinese prison for his views. Well worth a look at.
R: Yes, I like it.
D: Books like that have been my compensation.
R: By compensation you mean they relieve you from the tedium of existence?
D: Exactly, they compensate me for being alive.
R: For having to suffer Life.
D: For having to suffer. Actually, anything fits.
R: That's right. I was standing on the corner of Highways 12 and 116 downtown, and all the Women in Black were there with signs to stop the war now, and the other people were across the street supporting the troops, and the sun was beating down; the cars were honking; and everyone was flipping peace signs. When I pushed the button to cross the street, a man with a sign that read Love Thy Neighbor, said "Nice day, how are you feeling?" And I said, "It's always nice to have another day to feel anything." And he said, "Somehow, I knew you'd say that."
D: Because you're a Buddhist, I suppose.
R: Pure optimism. I might have said, "It's a lovely day to have a mouthful of puke. I've got the constitution of a…of a…"
D: Door mouse.
R: Door mouse, yes.
D: Not like when we were young and had vitality and were first trying to find out what a poem was.
R: We had lots of strategies. Today, Belle Randall emailed and said she'd been reading the letters of Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan, and you were mentioned along with many friends, and Belle took deep pleasure in their talk about poetry."
re: Denny & Robert
D: I was at odds with it, too. I wouldn't stand up when they all stood up and applauded Charles Olson. He was drunk, and I didn't like it, although I hadn't given up drinking
myself, at that time. I thought it was a bad show by a man who knew better."
Denise's account of the Berkeley Poetry Conference and Olson's performance there is somewhat at odds with your own. I had to laugh. Maybe you were the guy who rushed to the stage after some woman's reading crying "I have but to touch her!"?
Cheers, Belle April Fool's Day, 2004
R:Yes, he should have known better. He was older. He should have known better, but it was late for him to change. He was changing, but his big problem was he was smoking a lot of my weed and drinking on top of it and verging on psychotic with his broken heart and near death, five years away, and lost in the fog of fame, being seen as a small-time operator, publishing in small mags, and the Beats kind of haul him up as The President of the Poets, was receiving his laurels, I would've been drunk and stoned and fucked up, too, if it was me. And he should of known better—a person of his genius, with his breath, could waste so much time ignoring so many small details."
D: Little things, like that little girl. Or big girl, rather. Not the one Belle mentioned, the other one. [Suzanne Mowatt]
R: You jumped up on the stage and said, "I didn't touch her."
D: No, it wasn't me. Well, I didn't touch her, but it wasn't for lack of wanting to.
R: Creeley said, "There will never be another poetry conference in Berkeley. Berkeley is too bizarre."
D: Well, he was right.
R: But after the conference was over, I felt as though I had been knighted.