(Chapter 7 of
Dreaming As One
Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas, California
1967 - 1980

by Kevin Opstedal


Berrigan's longtime friend, the artist Joe Brainard, also visited Bolinas in 1971. Bolinas Journal, (Big Sky Books, 1971), Brainard's account of his visit, offers a brilliant, perceptive, often very funny, portrait of the place:

Bolinas is more like I thought Jamaica would be than Jamaica was. (So lush). And fantastic flowers everywhere. A lot of talk about things I don't know much about. Like eastern religions. Ecology. And local problems. Sewer problems in particular.

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A lot of being inside your own head here. A lot of talk about it. And a lot of talk about being inside other people's heads too.

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Bolinas dogs are so funny. Running around all over town. In and out of stores. Alone or in packs. Plain dogs most of them. Mutts. They seem to have a little Bolinas all their own. With rules and regulations I'm sure I couldn't begin to fathom.

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Lots of dogs.
Lots of dope.

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Bolinas is such a basic place. The land being so important. Survival seems to be the main issue.

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The impossibility of living here strikes again. (Night)

Brainard notes, ''Living in Bolinas is turning out to be very like living in New York City.''

Bolinas certainly had more than it's share of transplanted New Yorkers. As Philip Whalen noted in his book-length poem Scenes of Life at the Capital (Grey Fox Press, 1971), ''Who is there to see in New York anyway / Everybody's moved to Bolinas.''

During part of his stay in Bolinas, Brainard shared a house with Philip Whalen, who had recently returned from a year in Japan. Whalen had written to Margot Doss from Japan, hoping to stay at the Doss house in Bolinas upon his return. The Doss house was spoken for at that time, but Margot found a room for him at the Webber house which was near the Creeley's home on Terrace Avenue. Later in 1971, Donald Allen, the editor of the landmark anthology The New American Poetry, bought a house on Kale Road on the mesa, and Whalen rented the ''guest wing'' there until the middle of February 1972.

In the poems that Whalen wrote during his several stays in Bolinas the place often infiltrates the poems. In an early Bolinas poem, ''America inside & outside Bill Brown's House in Bolinas'' (from Severance Pay 1970), Whalen deftly interweaves a description of the landscape of the mesa with a prevalent Bolinas attitude in a few lines:

Flowers thick and various, fuchsias all over everything
Houses all scattered, all different, unrelated to the ground
or to each other except by road and waterpipe
Each person isolated, carefully watching for some guy
to make some funny move & then let him have it POW
Right on the beezer

In the same book, this little vignette, from a poem titled ''Life at Bolinas. The Last of California. For Margot & John Doss'':

At Duxbury Point, a few thousand feet from here
The wind blows heavy 35 miles an hour all night long
Big lights at the post office illuminate Brighton Avenue
The raccoons can see to get across

The Bolinas dogs were a problem. Packs of dogs roamed the downtown area, the beach and the mesa. Whalen said the dogs were ''pests''. In his poem ''The Turn'' (in The Kindness of Strangers, 1976) he describes an encounter with some Bolinas dogs:

Walking along Elm Road
Handful of nasturtiums, butter, some kind of bread
75˘ the loaf no advertising included
Bread and air and a price tag wrapped in plastic
The dogs come out as usual to roar at me
I find myself screeching wildly in reply
Fed up with suppressing my rage and fear
I bellow and roar
The dogs are scared and their people scandalized
''What are you trying to do? HAY! What are you trying to do?''
I had nothing to tell them' I was talking to their dogs.

Like Berrigan and Clark, Whalen shows some impatience with living in Bolinas:

All these people out here (i.e. Bolinas)
All of them shouting
(They are ''in the country'')

A head full of discontented screams,
Roars, motor noises, rockets,
Extraterrestrial ray guns, dogs,
Chickens, carpenters, noon whistle (all the way from Stinson
                      population 84, an air-raid siren, just imagine!)
The blue sky clabbering up to rain?

        (from ''Weather Odes'' in The Kindness of Strangers, 1976)

Whalen said that his reasons for leaving Bolinas in 1972 were ''too many parties, too many tourists and the difficulty of getting to and from the City''. In ''A Letter, to Bill Berkson'' (in The Kindness of Strangers, 1976) Whalen gives this farewell to Bolinas:

There are no poems today.
Bolinas: too many people
                 not enough
                 W A T E R
No solitude where too many
cars, telephones, dogs—
No see no hear nothing.
Too bad! I go away.
All the trails overgrown with bushes
          vines and kookaburrs.
          Dead beaches. Ripped-out heads.
          G O O D B Y E.


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