Because poets tend to live as outsiders, poetry communities can be a vital part of our lives and an essential part of American poetics. My questions relate to poetry communities I have known.
How did you get introduced to the world of poetry?
When I was young, a friend introduced me to the poets that gathered around St. Mark’s Church in New York City during the 60’s and 70’s – Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Ed Sanders, etc. Nothing in my sheltered life prepared me for the life of the poets on the Lower East Side. America loves its outlaws and the poets of the Lower East Side were poetry outlaws. They did not have regular jobs. They chose not to be plugged into the mainstream American life. They were not university professors or even teachers. They lived in 4th or 5th floor walkup apartments with bathtubs in the kitchen. They had almost no furniture, slept on mattresses on the floor. They lived outside of any American life that I knew anything about. When I read poems and books with such titles as “Bean Spasms”, “Things to do in Providence,” or “Great Balls of Fire.” I thought What is this and who would name a magazine “Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts”? What are they doing?
What they were doing was living in the unfettered world of the imagination, the world of amazing and endless conversations that started in apartments, then went down to the street to get an egg cream, back up to someone else’s apartment – the glorious adventure of talk. The apartments were full of books and artwork. This life outside the mainstream was lived on the edge, a life of poetry and poetry readings, of art galleries and art museums, of new ideas, a life of incredible energy and excitement, and always full of words. It was rule breaking and free, full of humor, grace, and daring.
I thought it was the most wonderful way to live that I could imagine. I was hooked forever on the world of poetry.
What other poetry communities have you lived in?
In the 70’s some of the poets on the Lower East Side moved to Boulder to start the poetics department of Naropa Institute, founded by Chogyam Trungpa. Ann Waldman and Allen Ginsberg ran the department. Ann still runs it. A lot of the Lower East Side poets, along with many others, cycled in and out of the program. The poetics of the Lower East Side grew and absorbed the ideas of Tibetan Buddhism a la Trungpa, a tremendously fascinating and controversial figure. Whatever one thought of him, it was gathering place for poets who worked, collaborated, and now meditated together. It created a home for poets who didn’t easily find a home in world, and out of this came books and magazines galore It was a heady, exciting place to be.
Another community of poets that I have been fortunate to have been a part of is that of Bolinas, California. Bolinas is a small town on the coast about an hour north of San Francisco. It had been many things: a Miwok Indian village, a logging community, but when I lived there in the late 1970’s, it was a home to a community of hippies and poets who had moved there to “live off the land”. The poets who lived there moved to Bolinas to get away from the city and raise families. We lived in relative peace until the big Bolinas oil spill of 1971, which galvanized the town to save itself, as well as the birds in the lagoon. Out of that came a deep sense of community .The poets of Bolinas wrote a newspaper The Bolinas Hearsay News (also still going), published books and magazines and created the town together. Bolinas gave a community to a whole generation of poets and to their children. It allowed them to feel that they belonged in this world, and belonged to the earth.
Why has Beyond Baroque been so important to LA poets?
LA is a difficult place for poetry. We live many miles from each other – no walking to the corner to see what poets are up to. How to find each other? One way is to go to Beyond Baroque. It is a home and a nurturing space for poets; it is a place to be inspired, to be outrageous, to remember who we are. Beyond Baroque recognizes us. It honors us. In this city that is so much about money, ego and publicity, it is a place which pays tribute to the least commercial art, the art that has little to sell, that is spirit incarnate. Here we gather, reading in the big black room, now with comfortable chairs. Here we are appreciated and respected; the walls are covered with photos of poets, bookshelves filled with poetry books. Here is a poetry home. Thank you to Beyond Baroque and to all the people who make it work.