(Chapter 4 of
Dreaming As One
Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas, California
1967 - 1980

by Kevin Opstedal


''There are so many poets it's hard to see the trees''
- Tom Clark in a letter to Clark Coolidge, 1970

In the fall of 1969, with his marriage to Anne Waldman essentially over, Lewis Warsh lit out west from New York City. He stayed for a while in Ann Arbor, where Ted Berrigan was teaching, and in Iowa City, then made his way to San Francisco. At the urging of Tom Clark, Warsh settled in at Bolinas, staying initially with the Clarks, then with the Beckmans, and later at the Doss house.

For Lewis Warsh, as for many of the poets who were to live there, Bolinas was a transitional place. Having been so deeply involved in the east side poetry scene in New York, editing the magazine Angel Hair and publishing a series of Angel Hair books with Waldman, Warsh often felt out of synch in California. He was never sure that he wanted to stay in Bolinas, but didn't really know where else he could go. He spent most of his time with Tom Clark. The two wrote several collaborations, notably a set of poems that was published under the title Chicago – which was the first Angel Hair Book out of Bolinas, and was printed by Andrew Hoyem in San Francisco in 1969.

During this time Warsh was writing letters, sometimes daily, to Bill Berkson in New York. These letters form an interesting real time commentary on life in Bolinas:

Everyone here works very hard during the day, building houses, that seems like the big male trip everyone's on, though the consciousness behind it can't be put down, it just isn't mine. Left with long hours to fill pleasurably with Tom, Joanne & myself (Jack, J's husband, is one of the house-builders mentioned above) [ . . . ] Life at Tom's very quiet. Play with the baby, eat home made Angelica cookies, radio, TV, records, lots of dope. The Bolinas social scene as I see it consists of lots of people who for various reasons wish to be here in Bolinas at this moment in time & that's what brings them together, that's their base. What they do in real life is another thing altogether. I haven't gone into it very deeply but both Tom & Joanne are involved with ''it''—have to live with it—to various degrees. A very weird sort of community & definitely a scene, though traveling has made me realize that there are millions of different scenes going on all over every minute with dope & music & one hopes poetry moving in circles around the center which is everyone's inter relations.

                                      (Letter to Bill Berkson
                                      November 3 Monday [1969])

Much of Warsh's book Part of My History (Coach House Press 1971) deals with his time in Bolinas. Once piece in this book, in particular, evokes a day in the Bolinasian life - entitled ''California Diary,1969'', the piece describes a typical day, wandering about the mesa, dropping acid, meeting people, listening to music, writing poetry, drinking wine and smoking grass.

Joanne Kyger had separated from Jack Boyce during the winter of 1969- 1970. Warsh and Kyger had a brief romance and lived together in a house on the mesa above Agate Beach from March until August of 1970. In his book Long Distance (Ferry Press, 1971), Lewis Warsh asks the particularly Bolinasian question ''Can poets live together?'' :

         . . . To break down the walls
         which separate each other's houses. To open the doors
         of the rooms in which we sit, privately, contemplating
         our works, each other's works, the works of the gods of
         the past, present & future, to exist as if there were
         only one room & fill it with all the poets you like

Warsh sees it as ''just another typical domestic scene'' only with a difference that lends a ''fragility to our acts, as if we were participants in a / softer sense of ourselves.''

          . . . If I resemble
          you, well, that's an accident - I didn't mean to be mistaken
          for anyone, not even myself.

Bill Berkson first visited Bolinas briefly during Christmas and New Year, 1969-70. Gordon Baldwin was out of town at the time, and Tom Clark and Lewis Warsh had arranged for Berkson to stay at Baldwin's apartment. Also visiting over the holidays was Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. There was a group reading on the mesa at Mary Coleman's house—a house where, as local legend has it, Isadora Duncan had danced. The reading included Berkson, Berrigan, Ebbe Borregaard, Tom Clark, Joanne Kyger, John Thorpe and Lewis Warsh.

Berkson remembers being greatly impressed, ''bowled over, really'', by the coastal landscape and the ''dramatic scale human relations seemed to take on within it''. He returned to New York, but by the early spring of 1970 had decided to pack up and move to California.

In June of 1970 Berkson rented a car and drove cross country with Jim Carroll and Devereaux Carson (Carroll's then girlfriend). On the way they stopped at Allen Ginsberg's farm in Cherry Valley, and then at Niagara Falls. In Mount Gilead, Ohio, they picked up their friend Jayne Nodland who accompanied them on the rest of the trip. The rental car died at Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, where they visited poet Harris Schiff, who was living in a commune there. They got a replacement rental car in Santa Fe and drove headlong to California. Carroll was sick with heroin withdrawal and complained constantly so they drove nonstop from New Mexico to San Francisco, where they stayed for a night in a Portrero Hill house shared by the Lewis and Phoebe MacAdams and Bill and Nancy Presson. The next day Berkson, Carroll and Carson drove up to Bolinas. The junk-sick version of the cross country trip can be found in Carroll's poem ''Withdrawal Letter'' in his book Living at the Movies (Grossman, 1973).

Berkson began to make arrangements to stay indefinitely in Bolinas, while Carroll, still sick, was all too eager to hop a plane and get back to New York. Carroll wasn't impressed by Bolinas, as Berkson recalls he said it was ''too white''. His ''California Poem'', also printed in Living at the Movies, would seem to summarize his impression of Bolinas. It ends with the following lines:

         and out here poets sleep beaches all day
         with fears of Japan where bronze children
         start landslides on their brains

The week that Berkson relocated he was surprised to find out that he was to take part in a reading of ''Nine Bolinas Poets'' organized by Andrew Hoyem at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The nine poets included Joanne Kyger, John Thorpe, Tom Clark, Lewis Warsh, Ebbe Borregaard, Lawrence Kearney and Michael Bond.

Berkson initially stayed with Warsh in the house near Agate Beach. There was some jealousy and uneasiness on Kyger's part regarding Berkson's arrival, but once that was resolved (in what Berkson describes as a ''memorable meeting'' in a driveway in town), the two became close friends and soon rented the Waring House on Wharf Road in downtown Bolinas.

Warsh left Bolinas in September for a brief trip to New York. He returned to California in the spring of 1971, staying in San Francisco until the summer when he moved to Stinson Beach, sharing a house with underground cartoonist Greg Irons and his wife Evan, just down the street from where poet Tom Veitch and his wife Martha were living.

Berkson and Kyger eventually shared the Waring house, later to be known as the Grand Hotel, with Peter Warshall (who initially came to Bolinas to visit the Creeleys who lived down the street) and Keith Lampe (a former Yippie, who went by the name Ponderosa Pine). The house became a kind of social center, a place where primarily poets would drop by, and hang out, and where many parties and readings took place. When the property was sold in 1971, Kyger and Berkson each bought a house on the mesa, within a block of each other.

After dealing with the draft board in Texas, Lewis MacAdams and his wife Phoebe eventually made their way to San Francisco in 1968. Although they had visited several times, the couple didn't have any interest in moving to Bolinas at the time. ''It just seemed too far in the country,'' MacAdams said. They moved back to New York and didn't return to California until 1970. This time their destination was Bolinas.

They moved into ''this incredible, funky house'', just down the road from Tom Clark's house on the mesa overlooking Duxbury Reef and the vast Pacific. ''I had never lived outside a city in my life,'' MacAdams said, ''and it was like, oh, God, I was hypnotized. We were having a baby, and having this disastrous emotional life, and all I really wanted to do was just sit and stare out the window - which I did a lot, actually''

In late 1970, poet Robert Creeley, who had just landed a visiting professor's position at San Francisco State University, moved his wife, the writer Bobbie Louise Hawkins, and their daughters, out to Bolinas. He chose Bolinas because of the friends that were living there—Arthur Okamura and Joanne Kyger, in particular. The Creeley's lived at first in the Dowd House on Brighton Ave, then moved to a big New England style house on Terrace Avenue.

Creeley was widely respected by a number of the poets in Bolinas and his arrival was eagerly anticipated.

Poet John Clarke, who had spent time in Bolinas during the summer of 1968 and again during the summer of 1970, wrote an intriguing book that dealt with Bolinas, and the impending arrival of Robert Creeley. The poets of Bolinas were the principals in this book, a Blakean masque, that Clarke wrote as part of the Curriculum of the Soul series. In 1968 Charles Olson composed ''A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul'' which was subsequently published in The Magazine of Further Studies. After Olson's death in 1970, Clarke assigned topics from Olson's plan to selected poets and these were published as fascicles in the Curriculum of the Soul series. Clarke's own assignment was:

         ''Poets as such, that is disciplined lives not
              history or for any 'art' reasons example
                        the same, say, medicine man''

Taking Blake's life as ''order'', arranged in 21 movements, including ''textual and speech event as well as chronological sequence of his life'' , Clarke let the poets of Bolinas act it out, as he said, ''so that if they had not 'disciplined lives' in the Blake sense Olson means it individually, they could have it all together, that is, collectively, each satisfying some aspect of the whole 'form', and speaking the Blake quotes appropriate to that progressive movement (interspersed with contemporary talk), which I then thought could perhaps activate both ways, both Blake and Bolinas, through play, life to the level of 'medicine'.''

Crucial then to the plot of this play was the anticipation of Creeley's arrival in town. The climax of which was the transformation of Creeley as Ulro into Eden - Blake's lowest to highest condition - corresponding to a moment in Blake's prophetic poem, Jerusalem.

Published in 1973, John Clarke's Blake: A Mask (dedicated to Jack Boyce) is a wildly ''visionary'' take on the poets of Bolinas, often very funny, especially as the lofty Blakean prophetic language bumps up against the colloquial, but also insightful in it's careful portrayal of the relationships between the poets there.

Darrel DeVore was a musician, composer and experimental instrument maker. He was playing jazz piano in Missouri before moving to San Francisco in the sixties and helping to form the psychedelic band The Charlatans. The Charlatans recorded for Mercury Records but dissolved soon after. DeVore meanwhile was offered a contract with a pop recording label but walked out in the middle of negotiations. He'd had enough of the commercial music scene and began to focus upon his own compositions and the making of strange new experimental musical instruments, such as the wind-wand, the bamboo xylophone and the circular violin. He married Robert Creeley's daughter Kirsten, in a ceremony conducted by Lewis MacAdams. ''He was a huge influence on my way of seeing and hearing and doing,'' MacAdams said of DeVore, ''He was an inspired soul. I learned a lot from him.''

DeVore promoted a kind of radical free music which he called Universal Music . He described it as ''The fusing of primitive Aboriginal spirit with modern technology and synthesis derived from all the world music cultures, results in 'Universal Music.' '' It was in this spirit that DeVore and Tom Veitch came up with the idea of the Poet's Orchestra. The announcement for their first performance is vintage Bolinas:


A most unusual occasion figures to be this coming Sunday, JANUARY 17 at the clock of 8:30 PM or thereabouts behind the restful doors of THE BOLINAS COMMUNITY CENTER when strange blast of sunshine and moon music be erupting for a couple of hours or so, strange love gut notes of POEM and NOISE upon unusual and rare flame performance of

! ! !

To enter the magic dimension will cost a smear of coin, 35˘ or 50˘ at the door to be exact. A few will be allowed to join the backhanded craziness if they can by waving a little yellow flag and running up on the stage and doing three eskimo handstands. Many FAMOUS POETS and MUSIC DOCTORS will pe4m together for the first time in 2,000 years of Western Sadness. I sat smoking a cigarette and watching out of the upper window as the cops chased a nude girl through the park. Later I went to the doctor and was alarmed to find out that my blood pressure was very low. I hope this won't spoil my summer trip to pan for gold . . .

plus John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, and many more . . .

The Poets Orchestra, which only performed a couple of times, was a loose amalgam of musicians and poets, including Berkson, Kyger, MacAdams, and Tom Clark, all of whom played or toyed with various instruments ranging from guitars and saxes to assorted percussion ding- dongs and pieces of kelp. While similar in spirit to Max Crosley's ''Rituals'', The Poets Orchestra was an exercise in free music, with virtually no underlying structure at all. Tom Clark described the first performance in a letter to Clark Coolidge as ''Periods of unison dotting huge seas of cacophony!'' ''The idea was,'' Clark said later, ''to build up this din wherein the individual faults and graces of the instrumentalists would never be noticed.''

The Poets Orchestra performed at the Bolinas Community Center and at the Hansen Fuller Gallery in San Francisco.

One of the members of The Poets Orchestra was the poet and musician David Meltzer. Meltzer was an accomplished guitarist, having played with the group Serpent Power in the sixties. He had close ties to Wallace Berman and his influential Beat underground magazine Semina and was a force on the San Francisco poetry scene. Meltzer, his wife Tina and their three daughters moved to Bolinas in 1969. Tina worked as a teacher at the Bolinas school. Joanne Kyger remembers the warm, hospitable scene at the Meltzer home, ''There were singing parties. David would play guitar and Tina would sing. She had a beautiful voice.''

Joel Weishaus, a poet who first visited Bolinas in early 1969, then later that year stayed at the Doss house on Brighton, decided in 1970 that the literary scene in Bolinas was so rich it deserved an anthology. He went door to door, poet to poet, asking for manuscripts and soon had the makings for a modest anthology. Since he was at that time working for an outfit in San Francisco called The Company & Sons, an underground comics publisher that was looking to branch out into publishing books, he first thought that they could publish the anthology. Unfortunately, the owners of The Company & Sons were, as Weishaus put it, ''so freaky and paranoid'', that he became worried about the ''safety'' of the manuscript. He quit the company, taking the manuscript with him and offered it to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights. Ferlinghetti wasn't very enthusiastic about the project, but Weishaus was persistent, and Ferlinghetti finally agreed to print the book.

On the Mesa: An Anthology of Bolinas Writing was published in 1971 by City Lights. The book included work by Michael Bond, David Meltzer, Max Crosley, Robert Creeley, Ebbe Borregaard, Joanne Kyger, Tom Clark, Bill Berkson, John Doss, Keith Lampe, Bill Brown, John Thorpe, Lawrence Kearney, and Lewis Warsh, with a frontispiece drawn by Arthur Okamura and including a drawing by Gordon Baldwin. A note on the back of the book reads:

This is a gathering of poets and writers and artists living in or around the mesa in Bolinas, California. Not so much a school of poets as a meeting of those who happen to be at this geographical location at this point in wobbly time, several divergent movements in American poetry of the past 20 years (Black Mountain, San Francisco Beat, ''New York School'' of poets) have come together with new Western and mystic elements at the unpaved crossroads of Bolinas.

While there were several magazines and journals that were devoted to Bolinas writing, On the Mesa was the first, and only, anthology of Bolinas writers.

Also printed on the back cover is this quote from poet Daniel Moore (who had lived in Bolinas for a brief time in the late sixties):

Like those Rabelaisian characters who took to the mountaintops during the plague and caroused and told stories completely unharmed by the plague while the plague went on below them, like those in Noah's boat who took to high ground during the flood, like those who ''hold back the edges of [their] gowns . . . for we are going through Hell,'' so these poets have taken to the Bolinas Mesa, high ground, while the world goes awash around them, practicing a little ''Black Mountainery,'' a little ''New York Schoolery,'' and a little Tom Foolery. All part of America's vital poetic machinery, high on the Mesa.

Moore is somewhat over romantic here, but that sense of Bolinas as refuge was very real.

''The first few years I lived in Bolinas I did not want to go into the City,'' MacAdams said, ''I really wanted to root myself in Bolinas . . . I didn't even like to look at San Francisco across the water!'' This sentiment was shared not only by the poets but most people living in Bolinas. A sentiment that was soon to become a cause in itself.


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