Once upon a time....you've heard that line before, and I'm not one to take a trip down memory lane, but something just happened that not only makes me wince, but makes me damn angry. A fellow poet told me I can contribute to him, and that my contributions are "tax-deductible." Why does this make my blood boil?
Well, I started writing at age 9. At first, I wrote plays which I also directed, acted in, and had friends play different roles. My desire was to be an actress, and I didn't know that others had written plays before me, so I thought I had to invent the material also. My career as a theatrical producer came to a crashing halt when the star of a play I wrote, directed, and in which I had a major part, was a no-show on the night of performance.
So, as one who was always intrigued by poetry, and loved Walt Whitman, at age 12 I took up writing poetry. Granted, it was difficult work for me. Dialogue flowed naturally, and all I had to do was write it down, but I loved the process of writing poetry, too, and by my 17th birthday, a poem I wrote for Garcia Lorca was published and translated into Spanish. It was the first poem I ever sent out. Since then, my work has appeared in mopre than 20 journals, anthologies, and been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.
At about 19, I met, and became friends with poet Paul Blackburn who invited me to participate in poetry readings at the Basement Coffee House which never happened because I was dilatory and, sadly, because Paul Blackburn passed of throat cancer.
I was a big fan of Allen Ginsberg, went to several of his readings, sent him my poetry; "nice Rimbaud phrase" he wrote on a postcard about one of my poems to which I replied "some phase: it's lasted over a hundred years." This was back in 1968.
Gregory Corso and I met on a blind date, of all things, when I was a student at SUNY Buffalo. He wanted to make love, of course, and I said "that would be incest." I wanted him to take me seriously as a poet---which he did, so seriously that he even collaborated with me on a few poems (which I've since lost). Allen Ginsberg and I spoke on more than one occasion about Gregory. I was very concerned about him. Allen said "dig yourself." Good advice----Florence Nightingale I'm wasn't, nor am I now.
I hung out with Jack Micheline, and Jack Hirschman, and Andrei Codrescu in the 1970's in San Francisco. Micheline was a big fan of my work----he'd come to every poetry reading I gave.
In the mid-1980's, I moved to Los Angeles for work, mostly, and when I made the mistake of coming back to San Francisco in the early 2000's to do an event that spoke out against the USA Patriot Act, and tried to make it an issue in the 2004 campaign, I underwent the most devastating experience of my life. I became a complete pariah----nobody attended my poetry readings, and I was virtually driven out of town. Jack Hirschman said "I don't like what you became since you moved to L.A." The Poet Laureate of San Francisco decided I was no longer a poet.
Well, I thought, there's always the oven, but I didn't think I was quite ready yet to pull a Sylvia Plath which is why I decided writing essays---political essays. I wrote "political" poetry---whatever that is. I wrote poetry that dealt with the issues of our times, but when life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade.
It's been five years now, and I've never spoken publicly until now. Why? I don't want to embarrass myself or anyone else. I also don't want to cry. I did a lot of crying. This morning, when I got that e-mail from a "friend" who addressed me as a reader of his magazine, one that has published my poetry more than once in the past, and when he said he thanks me for his "support," and would accept a "tax deductible contribution," I blew my top.
From childhood, I thought of myself as a poet. I never thought anyone, or anything, would be strong enough to destroy the impulse to write poetry in me.
I still write poetry and, like Rimbaud, will continue to do so until my dying day, but I no longer identify myself as a poet, read publicly, nor will I try to have a book of my poetry published. I invite you to look at my poetry. It's as good, or better, than anything that has ever come out of San Francisco.
Congratulations to the poetry establishment in San Francisco-----you destroyed what J.M. Coetzee has called "one of the freshest voices in modern American poetry." You sure know how to silence the competition, and prove that poets go where wise men fear to roam.
Bitterness abides not. Vision is about overcoming, not wallowing in the half-emptied vanity of others.
As Allen Ginsberg would say, poet tasters still kiss the feet of Moloch, now more than ever. Still, as Allen might say, the forces of light will overcome those of darkness, and we are all poet rainbows in the face of eternity.