(Chapter 2 of
Dreaming As One
Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas, California
1967 - 1980

by Kevin Opstedal


In the late sixties Bolinas was still more of a place to get away to from the city, than an ultimate destination. In 1968 poet Tom Clark's ultimate destination was San Francisco. Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1941, Clark had relocated to New York City in the late sixties after spending two years in England on a Fulbright scholarship. While in England he landed the position of poetry editor on The Paris Review. It was in this capacity that he began to form what would turn out to be important friendships with the young poets who were often referred to as members of the Second Generation New York School—poets such as Ron Padgett, Bill Berkson, Lewis Warsh, Anne Waldman, Dick Gallup and Ted Berrigan. Living in New York provided an opportunity to be in close contact with these poets on a daily basis and take part in the vibrant poetry community on the lower east side.

Shortly after marrying Angelica Heinegg in 1968, Clark decided to make his way to the west coast. The newlyweds were joined by poet Lewis MacAdams and his wife Phoebe on a cross country drive to San Francisco. They were drawn by The Summer of Love and the underground scene there as portrayed in such publications as the wildly psychedelic San Francisco Oracle. As MacAdams recalls, ''We read this psychedelic paper, the Oracle, with all these colors jumping out of it, and we said, fuck, man, let's move to San Francisco!''

The journey west was interrupted by a car wreck in Ohio. The Volvo driven by Phoebe had a blow-out at seventy miles-per-hour and rolled across the turnpike. Clark broke his collarbone but no one else was seriously injured. The trip continued via train to Denver where MacAdams got the news that the draft board in Texas was calling him. He and Phoebe headed to Dallas to deal with that, while the Clarks hopped on a plane to San Francisco. They were met at the airport by poet Joanne Kyger and her husband, the painter, Jack Boyce. Since Clark was still experiencing considerable discomfort from his broken collarbone, Kyger and Boyce summoned John Doss to have a look at him. After examining Clark, Doss advised ''Go with the pain''.

The Clarks found that the rosy picture of a thriving hippie paradise in San Francisco, conjured by reports of the Summer of Love, was sadly no longer real. The Haight was full of burn-outs, cops were everywhere, and there was no place to hide.

At the suggestion of poet David Schaff, the Clarks headed up to Bolinas. They were just looking for a place to lay out for a while, but the beauty of Bolinas hooked them immediately. Compared to the lower east side of New York, and the Haight in San Francisco, Bolinas was Paradise. John and Margot Doss graciously offered to let the Clarks stay in their Bolinas vacation house while they searched for a place of their own. Shortly thereafter they found a small house on the mesa above Agate Beach, situated at the corner of Nymph and Cherry Roads. ''It seemed like a totally symbolic location,'' said Clark.

Angelica was pregnant.

One poet already in the Bolinas when the Clarks arrived was John Thorpe. The son of a Princeton professor, who later became the curator of the Huntington Library, Thorpe was briefly enrolled at Princeton. It was there that he met another future poet, Lewis MacAdams, who would also live for a considerable length of time in Bolinas. As MacAdams recalls, the floor of Thorpe's dorm room at Princeton was covered in dirt, soil, with which he was attempting to cultivate an experimental indoor garden.

Thorpe was known to most people in Bolinas as Shao, a name that was given to him by one of his professors at Princeton. ''Shao'' in Chinese means young, or new. As Tom Clarks says, ''I never heard a person in town call him John or Thorpe. To the outside world he was John Thorpe, in Bolinas it was Shao.'' Shao has been characterized by Clark as the poetic spirit of the town, ''like a pixie spirit''. He had a big friendly paleolithic beard and would reel about the mesa in the middle of the night to be found in a ditch with a bottle of wine at 3:00 a.m. staring at the stars.

While this characterization may hold some truth, it distracts from the fact that Thorpe was, and is, a powerful poet. ''Shao's learning is incredible,'' said MacAdams, ''God knows what he thinks of his own poetry, but to me he is the true poet of Bolinas.''

Thorpe lived in the most amazing circumstances with his wife Renee and their children, the house teeming with rabbits, chickens, children, dogs, etc. ''He told me,'' MacAdams recalls, ''that the reason he wound up in Bolinas was because the welfare benefits were better in Marin county than they were in San Francisco.'' Kyger remembers that Renee's practicality really held things together. She knew how to work the welfare system and keep things afloat. Thorpe found odd jobs around town from time to time, did some farming, hustled up what money he could, and continued his own intensive self-driven course of study and writing. A lifestyle that was to be very familiar one in Bolinas.

Also in Bolinas early on was the poet and musician Max Crosley. Crosley and his wife Ruth had drifted into town in the late sixties, following their friend, and Ruth's former husband, Philo T. Farnsworth III, the son of Philo T. Farnsworth II, the inventor of television. Farnsworth, like his father, was a wild genius. He had spent years working on various inventions and experimental music, and was busy in Bolinas working over blueprints for a modified kind of geodesic dome (designed to be built from the inside out) which he would later build for himself on the mesa and dub the Yantra House.

Crosley lived on the mesa as well and was developing an early form of performance art, which evolved from the jazz/poetry performances of the Beats. These early ''happenings'' which Crosley would call ''Rituals'', involved a group Bolinas jazz musicians who played, as an early collaborator and friend of Crosley, writer Hammond Guthrie, wrote ''a unique blend of original composition and jazz standard medleys played around a creatively structured, though to the uneducated ear, chaotic set of improvisations which formed the basic vocabulary of ideas for us to work around.'' The instruments of this eclectic group included saxes, pianos, trombones, flutes, vibraphones, and an experimental percussion instrument referred to as ''The Eternal Machine'', which consisted of two picnic tables covered with pocket combs, serving spoons, ten penny nails, castanets, noise-making wind-up toys and ''a variety of woodwind reeds attached to industrial grade garden hoses.'' Crosley, sometimes along with Guthrie, would create texts to be recited as an integral accompaniment to the music.

Joanne Kyger was born in Vallejo, California in 1934. Her father was a career Navy officer and the family lived for various periods in China, Washington, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois. They settled permanently in Santa Barbara, California in 1949 when her father retired. Kyger attended UC Santa Barbara from 1952 to 1956, then moved to San Francisco, where she fell in with the North Beach poetry scene - John Wieners, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer were all there at that time. She began to attend the Sunday poetry sessions presided over by Spicer and Duncan, circa 1957 to 1959 in North Beach.

As Kyger remembers, ''They (Duncan and Spicer) would read what they had written, and everybody else would read what they had written. And you would be severely criticized. A lot of people would be so heavily criticized that they wouldn't come back.''

She also met Lew Welch, Richard Brautigan, Philip Whalen, Ebbe Borregaard and Gary Snyder during this time. Kyger and Snyder were married in 1960, while they were both in Japan. But the marriage didn't work and after divorcing in 1964 Kyger said, ''I just took off on this big energy cruise. I had lots to say to everybody, and it wasn't like playing second fiddle anymore.'' In 1965 Donald Allen published her first book The Tapestry and The Web under his Four Seasons Foundation imprint. The frontispiece to this book was a painting by Jack Boyce. In a letter dated 1 February 1963, Lew Welch wrote from his hideaway in the Siskiyous to Gary Snyder' ''I met a fine fellow, a painter named Jack Boyce. He is intelligent, hip & disgusted with everything and a great lush. Also he can afford to buy good booze. So every week or so I drive 20 miles to his place, or he drives 20 to mine, and we get plastered and talk all night long . . . Jack is one of those artists who spends all his time trying not to be a painter, and who fails nevertheless. He is stuck with it & only needs a small nudge from or into the right direction & he'll blow like crazy. I intend to take him to S.F. in February to see if a tour of our beautiful friends will help.''

Lew Welch introduced Boyce to Kyger. The two were married in 1966 and spent 9 months traveling in Europe. When they returned to the U.S., Boyce wanted to try living in New York City for a while because his teacher Richards Rubin, from Claremont College in California, was living there. The couple found a space to rent on the corner of Grand and Green in the garment district. Boyce partitioned it off with giant timbers and put in a woodburning stove and sleeping loft.

In New York, Kyger and Boyce had a chance to get to know the poets that circulated around the St. Mark's Poetry Project, spending considerable time with Ted Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Jim Brodey, Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, and others. They attended the Waldman/Warsh wedding, which was held at St. Mark's Church. But neither of them were comfortable with the big city life and eventually returned to San Francisco.

By 1969 Joanne Kyger and Jack Boyce were ready to escape to a more rural setting. They moved briefly north of Point Reyes to Bodega Bay, but soon moved to Bolinas to be near their friends. They bought property on the mesa and lived in a tent while Jack set about building a house.

''It was this immense house,'' remembers Lewis MacAdams, ''He got all these old beams from the Bay Bridge when they had a railroad level, and they tore all that down, and Jack got some of it. God knows how he got it over the hill to Bolinas. Jack was one of these wild guys, the guys that felt they could live outside of the culture and just start it over, even if it meant hauling wood down the coast in a fucking rowboat. Jack was one of those kind of guys.''


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