by Gail Chiarello


We are not ourselves.
Who are we then?
We are all one another.

Richard Denner has asked me to write an introduction to Berkeley Daze. He asks me to step back to look at the group of writers whose work is collected here and to describe what I see.

Nineteen writers and two graphic artists writers appear in the Daze. Of this group, I personally know about half, but the others are friends of these friends. We met in Berkeley and the Bay Area in the 1960s, all of us then in our twenties. Our lives have continued to cross, re-cross, criss-cross, delicate filaments, threads which entwined, unraveled, and then stitched back up again. Our shifting and reforming connections form a group portrait, a tapestry of the underworld of our past, here revealed. Luis Garcia says we were "the invisible circle"—known to one another, and essential to each another as friends, lovers, extended family, readers, fans and critics—but invisible to those who had come before, and perhaps, were it not for this book, invisible to those who will come after.

As you read our stories, you will see various characters entering and exiting the stories. Luis Garcia—in some ways the "Grand Magister" of our little group wanders through the stories of Belle Randall, Gene Fowler, Richard Denner, and myself. Doug Palmer, who as "Facino" spoke his poems on the street to and for whomever was in his face at that moment, appears in many reminiscences; and Doug in turn pays homage to the influence of Jim Thurber. Richard Denner slips in and out of these pages, in his incarnation as the "Berkeley Barb poet," a hauntingly handsome outlaw poet, as the rough-and-ready Alaskan printer/fisherman/poet, as the D-Press impresario, and other seemingly contradictory personae all of them Richard, or, as he is sometimes called, Rychard.

This group, this circle, presented here by Richard Denner, is a collection of poets who occupy a specific place in time and in geography. We knew one another as students at UC Berkeley or San Francisco State or the San Francisco Zen Center; or we met for the first time at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference; or we met on "the Av," Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, or on Fell Street in San Francisco. We were changed by the Free Speech Movement. We walked in antiwar marches and read in antiwar poetry readings often one and the same event. Some of us are hyper-educated, others have rambled and roamed; their learning has been on the fly, on the sly, in the hoosegow. And this highly uneven group, of all of us, this "motley crew" of storytellers, is part of a literary tradition, going all the way back to the Canterbury Tales. We are an uneven lot, a motley crew, and each with a tale to tell.

Some writers have never given up Richard Denner, Charlie Potts, Belle Randall, Gene Fowler, John Oliver Simon, David Bromige, Julia Vinograd and face their seventies with a body of work written over a lifetime. The I Ching says of them, "The superior man stands firm, And does not change direction." Others have come back to writing after a rupture, sometimes of decades. Luis Garcia is one, Richard Krech, Jim Thurber, and I are others. Events in our twenties, thirties, forties and beyond led to a wide detour around the city of poetry.

I tease Richard by referring to this collection as "Minor Berkeley Poets of the Mid-Sixties." None of us has achieved the worldwide renown of a Ferlinghetti or a Ginsberg, although we have our Poet Laureates of Sonoma County, our Directors of California Poets-in-the-Schools, our Idaho State Distinguished Alumnae; even our James Joyce, since Charlie Potts' Valga Krusa is known as the "Ulysses" of the Walla Walla School of North American Writers. We are not without recognition. But none of us are truly "major."

Why did we do it then? With so much good and great poetry already written, why did we not simply read and reread Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Creeley, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare—masters of the language—and stop there? and call it good?

There is nothing new under the sun—and yet each generation has to re-invent its art. A unique awareness looks out from behind our eyes. We experience ourselves as immediate in a way we cannot experience anyone else. Each ego, psyche, soul, self—each kernel of immediacy—needs to explain "what is" to itself, make some sense of this one-time-only experience of being "me," answer its own dark questions; sing out its song, put forth its design, its view of things. And yet the "me" is an illusion. And so, like a group of springtime peeper frogs, we are all singing at once, putting out our song, our design, our view of things.

The older art, the better art, the other art, the more accomplished art—which came before—can never speak in this voice which is my voice, and ours.

In the most immediate sense, this book is written by us, for one another.

So we do it for ourselves. To make sense of ourselves.

We are writing for one another—and for you.

This book expands our salons, the living room on San Antonio Road in Berkeley or the pad on Fulton Street in Berkeley, where many of us came together in the sixties to begin telling one another our stories. Like Dante, we will journey through an underworld; and, following Robert Duncan's suggestion, let us take someone with us as our guide, as the master poet, Virgil, leads Dante through the circles of his underworld. I propose our guide tonight should be Luis Garcia, whose impeccable elegance and good manners will protect us from any dark spirits still agitating within these pages. Our invisible host tonight, the secret and unseen Master of Ceremonies, is Luis.

And now, please open the pages which lie ahead of you, and join our conversation, because as our host for the evening, Monsieur Luis Garcia, announces,

"The hour is getting late."

                                                                            November 1, 2007



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