erbert Blau had waited four years to use me as a stage designer. He told me on the phone at the picture framer's where I was then working, that he was preparing Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Get a copy and tell him what I thought of the play; would I be interested to design it. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I loved the play, seeing it at first from the perspective of my Jesuit education which Sam Beckett would soon help me get over. The inner workings of my mind were easily adaptable to the conceptual part of theatrical design, as was my inclination to construct visions in some kind of carpentry shop in my head. Herb and I collaborated well, our interests in literature corresponding and intelligent and we developed a close collaborative spirit that worked its way out into other parts of the theatre world.
by Samuel Beckett
Encore Theater, San Francisco
Dave Haselwood hatches the Mad Monster Poetry Reading to raise money for his Auerhahn Press. I'm to make assemblages that can be carried in a parade. They are to decorate the upstairs balcony at Garibaldi Hall on Broadway where On-Broadway Theater is now. The late, beautiful Ima Mahin did lighting. Kenneth Tynan taped it for BBC. Most of the poets did a wonderfully warm and spontaneous non-academic paper-rattliers' reading. A couple wannabe stars demanded solos, one asking, from the stage, for the lighting to be changed.
Philip Lamantia comes home to a glove nailed to his door. It is accompanied by a note challenging him on Sunday, to a Poetry Duel at Leo Krickorian's Enigma. I make him twelve-inch kathurni and a wide black cape that reaches the ground. He wears a huge solar deity mask, silver with serpent rays and a vellum mouth that magnified his voice. We approached, Mad Monster Poetry reading assemblages and banners aloft, on foot around a white convertible where Philip sat atop the back seatback, an straggly procession becoming electrifyingly ikonic as Philip dismounts, enters the cafe, pulls A Touch of the Marvelous from his priestly sleeve and reads his first recorded poem.
The difficulty for him, had been, how to respond to such a challenge from an upstart. Surely, he was not about to sit and trade the recitation of poems with a less serious artist than himself. But, like all straights, he could never ignore any challenge however unpoetic it may be.
Lady Day dies. At long last, we are permitted by the Censors of 1930 to 1960 ("too sad to be on the radio. It made people kill themselves"), to hear her sing on the radio, Strange Fruit.
STRANGE FRUIT Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
As a descendant of O'Donellon bards, I knew somewhere deep in my cells, the power of poetry, how battles are won and lost at the arc of a line, how ideas burrow and shake the earth to rout an army. Little did I know how its power would alter history during my lifetime. How we've been gifted with the incarnation of Allen Ginsberg to our twentieth century.