by John Oliver Simon
from Berkeley Daze
I began publishing a poetry magazine entitled Aldebaran Review in Berkeley in the fall of 1967, when I was twenty-five years old. I had started to meet the young East Bay poets about a year previously, beginning with Doug Palmer, who wrote street poetry at Sather Gate under the name of Facino. Doug's hand-lettered sign said he would make up a poem for a flower or a smile or any donation. Such was the spirit of the times. I am Facino, his sign read, I do not speak well, a statement which excused him from taking part in tirades characteristic of those threatened by the notion of spontaneous composition, though as Doug he talked about as well as anyone.
Ah the full wealth
Aldebaran Review was not my first editorial post. At the Putney School in Vermont, a progressive arts-oriented coeducational boarding school on a working dairy farm above the Connecticut River, I was tapped by English teacher Jeffrey Campbell to edit the literary magazine in my senior year, 1959-60. Jeff was an African-American Unitarian Universalist minister from New Hampshire who spent his conscientious objector years during World War II organizing the coal-mines of Wales, and often launched into a rendition of the Welsh national anthem in a stirring baritone. Putney had nurtured the naļve Beat poet Ebbe Borregaard a few years ahead of me, and would produce the language poet Bob Perelman as well as the eminent translator Eliot Weinberger a few years behind me.
of the day is
at us and we turn
the other cheek
—Doug Palmer, Peace & Gladness, 1966
I cannot kill a king in spring.
I was a newcomer to the Bay Area, having arrived in Berkeley in September 1964 in time to sit down in the crowd on Sproul Plaza surrounding the police car which was holding Jack Weinberg prisoner in the back seat in the first act of what would become the Free Speech Movement. I came west three months after graduating from Swarthmore College, planning to get my Ph.D in English at Cal since I had not been accepted to graduate school at Harvard, and because my mother's forebears had arrived in San Francisco a hundred ten years before that and California was my terrain of legend.
And if you say: a cloud
Can be a shroud
I'll tell you—
Not in spring.
And if you say it still—
I'll tell you—you may think to kill
And that the world can die—in Spring
Cannot imagine death to be
Anything but fantasy
—Sally Thrun [Silver],
Putney Magazine, June 1960
My great-great-grandfather Henry Perrin Coon was mayor of San Francisco in the 1860's, my great-grandfather Emil Kehrlein was busted in 1899 for operating the largest whorehouse on the Barbary Coast, and my grandfather Oliver Kehrlein was a mountain climber with a Minaret in the Sierra Nevada named after him. My mother, born Frances Cassandra Kehrlein in San Francisco in 1908, rebelled against her conservative Catholic upbringing, married a Jewish theatrical press agent, lived in Greenwich Village, joined the Communist Party, and got exiled from Orange County, New York for her vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. On her deathbed in Berkeley in 1991, Frances revealed that her first husband had not in fact been my father. That's another story, and that's how I came to grow up back east.
Doug Palmer kindly included a few of my poems in a handsome 1966 anthology, Poems in the Spirit of Peace & Gladness, although I hadn't studied, as had many of the young contributors, with Gary Snyder when he was a visiting professor at Cal in 1964-65. Buried in my books at Cal, I had known nothing about the big reading at the I.W.W. Hall on Minna Street featuring Lew Welch, George Stanley and many of the younger poets in the Peace & Gladness project. I was still out of the loop when Philip Whalen, John Logan, Robin Blaser and Stan Persky read in a benefit series for the publication at Walden School.
I am standing
In the summer of 1965, as I began to climb the mountains of California in my grandfather's footsteps illuminated by my first reading of Snyder, I continued to be oblivious while Charles Olson rambled on ingloriously up the street at the Berkeley Poetry Conference. The only event in that historic venue which I managed to get to was Jack Spicer's reading. Spicer looked like an old man to me; he was barely forty. Tired, nondescript, he read all the way through the seven poems in each of the seven books of The Holy Grail. I was mesmerized. I noticed the Grail book in the window of Cody's Bookstore as I headed up Telegraph Avenue, and I thought to myself that if it was any good I would buy a copy on my way home. When I returned down the Ave the Grail was gone. Within a month of his reading Jack Spicer was dead of cirrhosis of the liver, occupational disorder of poets.
far out in space
on a moonlit hill
—Luis García, Peace & Gladness
A grail, a real grail. Snark-hungry.
These great names more or less define the ambient poetics of Berkeley as I first knew it in the mid-sixties: post-Beat, pre-hippie, with something pastoral and fey remaining from the Berkeley Renaissance. Other poets I sharply remember from Peace & Gladness include James Koller, Lowell Levant, Eileen Adams, Thanasis Maskaleris, Luis García, Robert Lax, Lennart Bruce, Sister Mary Norbert Körte, O.P., and Gail Dusenbery, who as Gail Chiarello was running an activist candidacy for the Seattle City Council in 2005. Each of them would be more than worthy of an understated paragraph of praise, but the smartest of all of us was probably an okie kid named Sam Thomas, who proceeded to blow his mind on multiple hits of acid and spent Easter morning of 1967 in Doug Palmer's blue-painted bathtub deeply saddened by the absence of tangible evidence of the Second Coming. Sam appeared again in Berkeley around the time of People's Park after a profound barrage of electroshock, doing numerology with empty eyes. Not much later, disappointed by the failure of his sharp mind to come back, Sam Thomas put a bullet through his head.
The Grail hung there with the seagulls circling round it and the pain
of my existence soothed.
"Fool," they sang in voices more like angels watching
—Jack Spicer, The Holy Grail
At a time like this, when color's no distinction,
By my second year in grad school I was only in staying in school for the student deferment, which I lost anyway after taking the Berkeley program's vestigial M.A., because my draft board, back in a town where I had never lived in upstate New York, rightly concluded that if they were sending their dear high school boys to the meat grinder of Vietnam one graduate degree was enough for any man, so I had to go down to the induction center in Oakland and impress the shrink with my dysfunctional attitude. Deferred, I saved up money from driving Yellow Cab in Oakland and flew off to backpack around Europe and the Middle East, twenty countries in seven months, coming up with enough work, plus my California mountain poems, to fill up what would be my first book, Roads to Dawn Lake, published by Oyez in June, 1968.
how can you possibly tell your wife you've
been to the doctor who says
you've got clap?
—Sam Thomas, Peace & Gladness
Returning to Berkeley I hooked up with a young divorcee out of a bad marriage in suburban San Lorenzo named Alta Bosserman, who already had a three-year-old, Lorelei. Our daughter Kia would be born in July 1969. I was casting about almost randomly, reassured by instant family, but Alta, who shortly dropped all male-oriented last names, knew exactly what she wanted: as a certified poet, I could provide an entry into a literary world where she would have a chance to grow. The post office hired me and I began to look for somewhere to publish. In the fall of 1967, Robert Parker (married at the time to a young African-American poet named Pat Parker, later known as a lesbian poet before her early death from cancer) included me in a beautifully spare mimeo mag he called Centering, along with Doug Palmer, Sister Mary, Luis García and Sam Thomas.
In the fall of 1967 I decided to start a magazine of my own, and I asked Bob Parker and Murray Schwartz, a brilliant psychoanalytically oriented English grad student at Cal, to be my co-editors. Alta, whom we all would have taken a lot more seriously if she had been a guy, elbowed her way onto the masthead. When Alta got up the courage to submit her poems for the first time to the mag, she did so anonymously. "These are pretty good," said Pat Parker, who had by then replaced her erstwhile hubby on the editorial board. "Who wrote them?" I did, Alta asserted in a small voice. "Oh, you did not!" scoffed Pat, the future lesbian feminist separatist.
I named our venture for the the bright orange star in the Hyades, the eye of Taurus, and printed the first two issues typing directly onto paper masters which I ran off on an AB Dick offset press in the attic of Holmes Bookstore in Oakland under the tutelage of Graham Mackintosh and with the kind sponsorship of Robert Hawley, publisher of Oyez. Physically, the first number was 8 1/2 x 11 upright with a purple construction paper cover and three staples. Print run was 500 copies, a ream per page minus copious wastage, collated and stapled by hand by friends over a gallon of rotgut red wine in the upstairs apartment where Alta, Lorelei and I lived near Grove and Ashby in South Berkeley.
For three months I debated,
When my grandfather Oliver Kehrlein died, I came into a small inheritance which today would last about a month, but which I used to quit the post office, buy an ex-Sears International Harvester panel truck which people's carpenter Dick Coulter kindly fitted out with a floor and storage so we could live in it, and I went in on the purchase of a used AB Dick 360 press with young Berkeley poet Richard Krech, editor of Avalanche. Krech and I went into business as job printers to the revolution, operating as a union shop affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, in the Boneyard, a liberated industrial zone at Fifth and Delaware in West Berkeley, now replaced by tasteful boutiques. Eventually, our press passed into the custody of Alta, to become the eponymous Shameless Hussy Press.
When I discovered it was my mother's nip
I was already in the womb.
—Michael Attie, Aldebaran Review 1
The first issue of AR included Larry Eigner and Sister Mary Norbert, as well as Doug Palmer, Krech, Gene Fowler and the charismatic Charles Potts, who had recently blown into town. Bob Parker resigned as co-editor after I unilaterally included Potts after hearing him read at Shakespeare & Co. on Telegraph. Charlie had studied with Ed Dorn at Idaho State and began to publish his magazine Litmus in Seattle. That first time through he was on the way from the Northwest to Oaxaca. By early 1968 Potts had settled in Berkeley and the local poetry scene, reflecting the overheated culture as a whole, began to take on a distinctly messianic fervor.
lemon in my tea
I squashed another cockroach
—Alta, Aldebaran Review 2
The Spirit of Rebellion! Old maps
The second issue of AR reflects how the Berkeley poetry scene began to revolve around the weekly Sunday night poetry readings at Shakespeare & Co. at Dwight and Telegraph. I was blown away by the oratorical legerdemain of an exquisite rant entitled "I Smile with My Teeth but Not with My Purty Eyes" by Peter Koch, later to become a legendary fine printer, and the poem promptly popped up in the mag. Krech and Fowler were back, plus Alta, seeing print for the first time. Also David Meltzer, along with Yale Younger Poet James Tate, D.r. Wagner who later became a well-known visual artist in Sacramento, John (Poet) Thomson and small-press legend Judson Crews. I met Al Young in my day job as a postman, knocking on his door with the mail to ask, "are you Al Young the poet?"
chart the boundaries,
the finger tracings
of a blind man.
in the accumulation
—Richard Krech, Aldebaran Review 1
All beginnings atart right here.
By our third issue in the summer of 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated, political comedy was on in the streets of Chicago, and AR began to take on a decidedly revolutionary tone. Charlie Potts was on the cover of the mag grinning in manic glory at the Conference of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers (COSMEP). Krech and I edited an anthology of the COSMEP readings featuring Andy Clausen on the cover clad in nothing whatsoever but his poetry and an American flag tie. We were in a moment when getting undressed to present your poetry seemed a transcendent revolutionary aesthetic statement.
the suns & moons of our spirits
I look out the windows of rain
& listen casually to latest developments
of the apocalypse
over the radio
—Al Young, Aldebaran Review 2
Yet I am naked
Pat Parker (Charles Potts's lover by spring 1968, although her adoring lesbian constituency later on never wanted to hear about her heterosexual history) and Alta were in the third issue, along with Al Young and Larry Eigner and small-press heavies Doug Blazek and Ron Koertge. Lowell Levant represented the Peace and Gladness crowd, while Joel Waldman and Vanish (aka David Hiatt) came out of the Shakespeare readings. I printed one poem by Khoi Phuc, a briefly employed pseudonym of Edward Smith. Ed Smith, a tragically neglected poet (1941-2003), wasted thirty years abstaining from poetry as a fundamentalist Christian pastor and came to visit me in the summer of 2003, ranting against what he saw as the pernicious influence of Theodore Roethke, which is how far out of touch three decades of not writing will put you. A few months later he was dead of the flu.
underneath my clothes
I conceal nothing . . .
I can't go on, I say
with what I am saying . . .
—Peter Koch, Aldebaran Review 2
charlie potts is dead
AR 4 was a mini-issue featuring Doug Blazek, Lyn Lyfshin and Gerald Locklin, but I don't seem to be able to locate a copy. AR 5 was Alta's first chapbook of poems, Freedom's In Sight. AR 7 was Charles Potts's Little Lord Shiva, with Charlie grinning from the surface of the moon, which had just been walked on for the first time. That volume was been reissued in 1999 by Glass Eye Books in Northampton, Massachusetts as Little Lord Shiva: The Berkeley Poems. Glass Eye called it "one of the era's defining documents of personal and social apocalypse."
and I wonder if I shd
be opening his mail
just as tho it had
been addressed to me
from all his friends
—Charles Potts, Aldebaran Review 3
Another publishing venture in February 1969 which bears no trace of our personal imprint was a free pirate edition of The Holy Grail. It had been three years since Jack Spicer's death and since the last copy disappeared from Cody's on the night of his reading it had become impossible to find a copy of his masterwork. Robin Blaser was reportedly blocking on the introduction to what would become The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (Black Sparrow, 1975). Finally one copy of the Grail passed through the hands of Julia Newman, a San Francisco rare-book dealer who incorporated herself as the Tenth Muse. Julia allowed me to sit down at her IBM selectric typewriter and copy the text. Richard Krech and I printed it up with each of the seven books on a different color paper (Gwinevere on pink, of course), with the admonition that "anyone selling this book for money will be drawn and quartered."
The following month, I carried pregnant Alta over an outcrop along the trail to Muir Beach for a mussel feast in which the Bay Area literary community planned to welcome Gary Snyder and his new wife Masa back from Japan. I climbed up on a surfside boulder with Lew Welch, who told me, "this is Wobbly Rock." I'm a Wobbly myself, I replied, thinking of our underground printshop. Upon arrival at the deck where the grand spread was laid out, an older man I didn't know called me over and grilled me about my reasons for pirating Spicer. Apparently my answers satisfied Donald Allen of my fierce poetic purity; he had no further questions.
By AR 6 in the summer of 1969, Richard and I had thrown tear-gas canisters back at the forces of the law in the riotous aftermath to People's Park, and Alta had given birth to our daughter Kia. Krech and I mastered the AB Dick so that rainbows of color ran behind the words. I printed a poem by not-yet language-poet Ron Silliman (after I rejected his first submission he sent a letter of protest dropping a total of 29 names across two and a half millennia, which I really should have printed instead). A Canadian yogi named David-Dougald had a front-row account of the massacre in Tlaltelolco entitled "Mexico City Sutras" which we printed with photos smuggled out of the Mexico City morgue in orange on yellow behind the verse. Margaret Randall was in there, along with the Canadian concrete poet bill bissett and posthumously, two "Konkret Assays" by the first poetic martyr of our generation, Cleveland's d.a. levy. Also Potts, Thomson and Alta.
the whole thing is silly . young kids with pancho villa moustaches playing
pancho villa . little libertad signs and phrases when the shooting starts
it's all controlled by wallstreet someone says . . . someone has a lot
to say : siva in a purple dhoti investigating the effect that
Alta edited Aldebaran Review 8, in January 1970, most of it while she lay in bed "pregnant & bleeding & fearful" and hoping to keep the baby who 37 years later has become a prize-winning filmmaker. This was the last issue in our upright 8 1/2 x 11 three-staple format and included Paul Mariah, John Gill, Art Cuelho, and Julia Vinograd. Alta wrote "the first 6 months I worked on this mag there was nothing in it. from jan to june I rejected. finally in june some poems came in the mail that hit what I wanted hit and so it went — nearly a whole issue compiled from poems by poets I never met."
heart transfusions have
on the anahata chakra
—David-Dougald, Aldebaran Review 6
SHORT HISTORY OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
AR 9, in August 1970, had work by Gary Snyder, Alta, Blazek, Eigner, Meltzer and Susan Griffin, with some nice stuff out of the mail. I am particularly taken at this distance with a long poem entitled "The Soldiers" by an unprepossessing young fellow named Stafford Leland, who has since dropped completely out of sight, and I am also glad to have published a fine short story entitled "Ingrid" by my late stepbrother, Cyrus L. Adler, a reminiscence of his days as a soldier in West Berlin in a doomed affair with a German girl, perhaps Cy's only published writing.
—John Thomson (John Poet),
Aldebaran Review 8
this man bending to tie his shoe falls over,
Our last issue which was really a magazine per se was AR 11, in December, 1971. An almost-square 7 x 8 1/2 format based on saddle-stapled legal replaced the upright 8 1/2 x 11. We published one short poem by the late great Frank Stanford, while Lifshyn, Young, Potts, Eigner, Alta and Krech were familiar names, and there was a lot of nice work over the transom plus some lovely woodcuts by Mady Sklar. There was a centerfold chapbook printed on goldenrod, a 20-page poem entitled Looking for th Llamas by bill bissett. And that was the last of us for submissions and rejections — everything afterwards under the Aldebaran imprint would either be a chapbook or some kind of anthology with a specific focus.
that one falls over like a wheel,
this one collapses like a sense of order,
this one falls head over heels from the cliff,
this one falls reaching for a flower,
that one falls like the flower
—Stafford Leland, Aldebaran Review 9
On Jesus Highway
Why did it become harder and harder for me to publish the magazine? At first it was just a question of asking friends for poems and slaving over the press with ink up to my elbows. Then submissions started to come in from all and sundry and it was hard to reject those which were sort of okay, or to respond to people, like Silliman, who would get their noses out of joint. The momentary community which Aldebaran had briefly represented in Berkeley before and around People's Park pinwheeled apart. Alta and I broke up and continued to raise the kids turn and turn about. Charlie Potts had a schizophrenic breakdown and painstakingly put his life back together in Salt Lake City and then Walla Walla.
When the rain hits the snake in the head
he closes his eyes and wishes he were
asleep in a tire on the side of the road.
so young boys could roll him over, forever.
—Frank Stanford, Aldebaran Review 11
For years, my main mode of distribution was to peddle the rag on Telegraph Avenue, bending over unwary diners with a suave, "Could I interest you in a magazine of poetry?" When she was little, I carried Kia in a blue canvas sling over my shoulder, with the poetry books in my backpack. One great day I made $50 pushing poetry from noon to midnight. Julia Vinograd has certainly taken up that torch over the last thirty years, but for me it was physically and psychically wearing to expose my poems and the poetry I loved to so many strangers, most of whom would turn it down.
so many faces the repetitions wear me
One evening in the spring of 1973 I tromped down late to Spats' bar on Shattuck feeling done in. "How you doing, John?" asked a local character known as Sister Mary, not Mary Körte the tough ex-nun poet who had flown the coop of the convent with William Everson's help and landed in the eponymous refuge of Sanctuary Station down in the canyon of the Skunk Train out of Fort Bragg, but a blonde of mysterious provenance who dressed up in full nun drag with bright red lipstick and ministered to the down and out. Not so good, I confessed to her, I'm so tired of selling poetry on the street . . .
"could I interest you in a book of my own poetry"
. . . my spirit
given out half-open to so many
almost like a rock star.
concrete & junkies,
a small crinkle of dollars in my pocket.
—John Oliver Simon, Animal
Sister Mary put both hands on my head. "Dear Lord," she witnessed, "please find this good man a right livelihood which will support his family and allow him to pursue his art and keep his life together, we ask in Jesus' name, Amen." Within 36 hours I got a call from California Poets In The Schools offering a ten-session residency at Martin Luther King Junior Junior High School in North Berkeley which led to an ongoing teen poetry workshop and then a teaching credential program, after awhile an area coordinator gig and finally a real job running the statewide program and more grants and many hundreds of classrooms later . . . a life work. I never had to sell poetry on the street again.
Most of the later numbered issues of AR were poetry chapbooks. Several of these titles were my own work, which always sold pretty well on the street, inscribed on the spot and by now those holographed apocrypha would be worth serious money. The Woodchuck Who Lives on Top of Mount Ritter, in November 1970, was issued as Aldebran Review 10. Another one of my own, A Ten Days' Journey from Badwater to Lone Pine, a true account of an extreme desert backpack adventure, came out in 1971 from Galactic Approximation Press (GAP), another one of my nommes du jour, but wasn't numbered as an AR, while Animal, in 1973, was perhaps similarly a non-issue, but Snake's Tooth, a series of poems to my father, Bernard Simon, who turned out in the end not to have been my father (but that's another story) was published in 1974 as AR 16. Finally, The Panamint City Badman Ballad, my long poem overlaying the colorful history of a Death Valley ghost town in the 1870's (a pair of bandits named Small and MacDonald terrorized the mining community) and the 1970's (a pair of narcs named Little and Muldoon hassled the hippie squatters), after appearing in E.V. Griffiths' seminal poetry tabloid out of Eureka, Poetry Now, was issued in 1976 as AR 23.
AR 18 was Theme & Variations, a sequence of 120 short poems by Alta. AR 19 was dial artemis, a selection of short poems by the unjustly forgotten Beat outsider Charles Foster (1922-1967). AR 22 was a thin, beautifully designed chapbook by Steve Sanfield entitled A Fall from Grace. David-Dougald's Mexico City poems were issued belatedly as an unnumbered AR in 1984. The last straw may have been number 28, printed in January 1978, A Month of Shits by Ralph Pred, which wasn't a bad idea at all, as writing assignments go.
"words have meaning."
I got the idea for Aldebaran Review 25 from a submission by Richard Denner of three poems set beautifully on Acton Way. But I really couldn't stand the notion of another general issue, so I sent out a call for Berkeley poems, and the results became a joyful 1977 collection of poetry about my home town entitled City of Buds and Flowers: A Poets' Eye View of Berkeley. Many veteran Aldebaran contributors such as Alta, Gene Fowler, Luis Garcķa, Richard Krech and Al Young were on hand, along with famous folks including Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Josephine Miles, lots of poems by Julia Vinograd, and a rich scattering of anyone who had anything to say about my bizarre home town. Philip Whalen was the only one I approached who crankily opted out. The title came from a haiku Snyder sent me, all in caps:
—is that why we do not
understand each other?
heart flutters, jumps, skips beats
there is meeting without words
spirit-threads marking streetroutes
and soaring to cries & flame
—Charles Foster, dial artemis
In 1975 I heard Max Schwartz preaching about a creative writing workshop which was taking shape within the maximum-security confines of Folsom Prison. I had to see for myself, so I went up to Folsom and read my work to a room full of some very tough hombres. They read their strong and vital work back to me, and asked me about my imprint. Could I publish something by them? AR duly put out an anthology of Folsom writing, Latitude Pain, Longitude Anger, which came out I believe in January 1976, but I no longer seem to have a copy, although several are advertised on-line. I co-edited LP,LA with a very articulate prisoner named Gordon Kirkwood-Yates, who now lives with his family in the Sierra foothills and writes cranky right-wing letters to the editor of local papers.
CITY OF BUDS & FLOWERS
WHERE ARE YOUR ROOTS
WHERE ARE YOUR FRUITS
—Gary Snyder, City of Buds & Flowers
Inevitably, the prisoners' work was over the top, uncensored, apocalyptic, revolutionary. We were only a year or two down the road from the Patty Hearst kidnapping, wherein a charismatic ex-con convinced a bunch of naļve student lefties that the country was ready to follow their lead into apocalypse. Inevitably, the outside poets visiting the workshop reached for the moon. Max Schawrtz bellowed "Strike! Strike!" at a poetry reading in the prison yard, and the inmates duly went on strike, which did not endear the poets to the warden. Jack Hirschman sent letters of protest to Corrections which were a visionary blend of Russian, English, utopian hyperbole and Stalinist dogma. On February 27, 1977, the authorities shut down the workshop, claiming that a tea-bag brought in by a San Francisco poet contained marijuana. Several prison poets were thrown in the hole. The Folsom Prison Creative Writers' Workshop became a cause celebre.
AR brought out three more Folsom-related publications. The Caged Collective was an anthology focusing on the workshop shutdown, with poems of protest from near and far, including a three-page telegram from Max Schwartz and a dryly worded justification from Corrections. Van Purcell's Ain't Got No Country in My Face was a posthumous chapbook from a young prisoner-poet who took a shank between the ribs. And finally, Anti-gravity was a series of visionary poems by a young Nicaraguan-American raised in the Mission who was by all odds the workshop's most talented writer, Pancho Aguila. Aguila had been convicted of first-degree murder for shooting a Loomis Armored Car guard in 1969 during the commission of a robbery. Pancho was soft-spoken, friendly, a prolific writer and a quick learner. His poems soared. Anti-gravity was one of four chapbooks of Pancho's poems published by small Bay Area presses in the late seventies. It was obvious to me, as to most observers of the workshop, that one steel door was all that stood between Pancho Aguila and a brilliant literary career.
I wonder of the nexus of fear
It turns out that Pancho Aguila's real name (but who did Corrections think they were holding?) is Roberto Ignacio Solis. By the early nineties, Pancho — or Roberto — was paroled in San Francisco, and hooked up with a twenty-one-year-old Seneca Indian woman with a history of drug abuse named Heather Tallchief who was angry at her father and ready to fall for a little poetic charisma. Pancho, or Roberto, impressed Heather with shamanic rituals: he had an altar with skulls, chalices full of milk and blood. He hypnotized her, she later claimed, with sexual magic; they ate peyote in the desert in Mexico, and he instructed her to sew a wizard's cloak covered with owl feathers for him and a plain cloak for herself.
The seeds of a bitter lemon
Eager mad flies
Inside an asylum of terror
So much fear between strangers
A vast continent
Never kissed by the sun
A rugged terrain
Feeling only the sweep
Of guntower lights
Of light years
—Pancho Aguila, Anti-gravity
Pancho and Heather moved to Las Vegas. He suggested that she take a job with Loomis Armored Cars. Do you see where this is going? On the morning of October 21, 1993, Heather drove away from the Circus Circus casino with $3.15 million in cash. Within an hour, she and Roberto were on a rented private jet bound for Denver. Their trail led to Miami and then went cold. The police figured they were on a beach in Central America. Or somewhere. Their mug shots decorated America's Most Wanted.
In September, 2005, Heather Tallchief returned to Las Vegas to turn herself in, telling a tale which cast herself as the easily-manipulated accomplice of Roberto's dark magic. She had been living in Amsterdam as a soccer mom with a phony British passport, with her eleven-year-old son, Dylan, Pancho's son. She left Roberto when the baby was two months old and hid from him awhile, fearing his vengeance. Either he couldn't find her or didn't bother going after her. Heather finally became tired of living on the lam. She cast herself on the mercy of the court and got sixty-three months in jail. Pancho would now be sixty-two years old. He's still out there somewhere, with the money. Antonio Banderas plays him in the movie, while Scarlett Johansson might be a little too blonde to play Heather. Pancho, if you're still writing poetry, send me your latest opus in a plain brown envelope.
When prison writing made a comeback, it would be with better boundaries and guidelines, as in the wonderful work of Judith Tannenbaum at San Quentin. I decided that I wanted to take poetry to young people who had more of a shot at a life. As I began to explore the poet-teaching vocation which Sister Mary had beseeched for me, some of the Aldebaran non-issues began to disseminate the work of my students. Numbers 15 and 17 represented the poems of an amazing teen-age poetry workshop which came out of the gig at King Junior High which had been bestowed on me by the power of prayer. One of these kids, Edith Hodgkinson, later had a chapbook published by Hanging Loose. Another, Sarah Kennedy, learned to print on the AB Dick and started her own magazine, Velvet Wings, and her own imprint, Paradoxical Press.
Number 20 was Toddler, the selected poems of Kia Simon ages three to six, while number 12 was The Loving Elephant Book, poetry and prose from People's Community School, the parent cooperative free school which provided my first poet-teaching venue. Number 29, the last numbered issue, in June, 1978, was A Raindrop Has to Do Her Work, an anthology of poetry from California Poets In The Schools, which had just hired me as Statewide Coordinator, an all-consuming missionary incarnation which gave me the nudge I needed to drop my publisher's hat entirely and formally lay down the imprint which had not really been a magazine of poetry for quite some time. Succeeding statewide student anthologies would be published under CPITS' own auspices.
my mom goes on
I informed the Canadian yogi-traveller-poet David-Dougald I would publish his Mexico City poems as a chapbook, then decided I was overloaded with CPITS work and sent the manuscript back with an apology; my envelope returned from Sault Ste. Marie, address unknown. I threw up my hands and decided to publish the chapbook anyway to clear my own karma. Mexico City Sutras appeared as an unnumbered edition of Aldebaran Review in 1984, just as I was plunging into Spanish, beginning to travel intensively in Latin America and starting to translate contemporary Latin American poets.
but i have
done something she hasn't
I have slept
on the sides
of her womb
—Leesa Feliz (age 14),
Between the Survivors and the Stars
Aldebaran Review: a checklist of publications
1. (December?), 1967. Eigner, Körte, Fowler, Palmer, Krech, Potts, Simon, etc.
2. (March?), 1968. Young, Meltzer, Tate, Wagner, Thomson, Alta, Krech, Fowler, etc.
3. July, 1968. Young, Eigner, Parker, Alta, Potts, Blazek, Koertge, Smith, etc.
4. (December?), 1968, Blazek, Lifshin, Locklin.
n/n. February, 1969, Jack Spicer, The Holy Grail (pirate edition).
5. (March?), 1969, Alta, Freedom's In Sight
6. August, 1969. Randall, bissett, levy, Potts, Thomson, Alta, Silliman, etc.
7. May, 1969. Charles Potts, Little Lord Shiva.
8. January, 1970. Edited by Alta. Mariah, Vinograd, Cuelho, Gill, etc.
9. August, 1970. Snyder, Griffin, Blazek, Alta, Eigner, Meltzer, Leland, etc.
10. November, 1970. Simon, The Woodchuck who Lives on Top of Mount Ritter.
11. December, 1971. Stanford, Krech, Crews, Lifshin, Alta, Young, Potts, Eigner, etc.
12. August, 1972, The Loving Elephant Book, writing from People's Community School
13. June, 1973, Simon, Animal. (I'm guessing. The time frame is right but Animal is not actually numbered as an issue of AR).
14. I'm sure someone will be able to find this missing piece of the puzzle.
15. June, 1974, Between the Survivors and the Stars, five young (age 14-15) poets
16. July, 1974. Simon, Snake's Tooth.
17. March, 1975. The Skins of Change, fourteen young poets from the same workshop featured in #15.
18. August, 1975. Alta, Theme & Variations
19. September, 1975, Charles Foster, Dial Artemis.
20. December, 1975, Kia Simon, Toddler.
21. (January?), 1976, Latitude Pain, Longitude Anger, writings from the Folsom Prison Creative Writers' Workshop
22. March 1976, Steve Sanfield, A Fall From Grace.
23. June ,1976, Simon, A Panamint City Badman Ballad.
24. March, 1977, Pancho Aguila, Anti-Gravity.
25. May, 1977. City of Buds & Flowers: A Poets'Eye View of Berkeley. Snyder, Ginsberg, Spicer, Miles, Vinograd, Denner, Krech, etc.
26. (June?) ,1977, Van Purcell, Ain't No Country in My Face.
27. February, 1978, Ralph Pred, A Month of Shits.
28. (April?), 1978. The Caged Collective: The Life & Death of the Folsom Prison Creative Writers' Workshop
29. June, 1978, A Rainbow Has to Do Her Work, Statewide Anthology of California Poets In The Schools
n/n. (June?), 1984. David-Dougald, Mexico City Sutras
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