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
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
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.''