Monday, January 10, 2022

On Dangerous Ground: Woman On the Run (Norman Foster, 1950), "One More Thing" (Apologies to Columbo).





















Woman On the Run (Norman Foster, 1950)


Who finds Playland sinister necessarily gumshoes 

fate, not unlike Pinocchio ogling the Fat Lady before 

dodging phallic double-parkers, bumper stickers 

decrying the benefits of spousal abuse. Payback hot 

wire exhaust fumes stodgily mashing suburban mush. 

They said it was over even before it was over, the song 

celebrating insinuation, or, better yet, the benefits of

capitalist degeneration. Those westward petit-bourgeois 

wankers, ensconced in ocean-side condominiums, 

wallowing in cryptic crossword clues and anxious 

evenings of cathode narcolepsy. Gawked while stuffing 

coupons into letterbox conspiracies. Others say only 

movies make it real, concentrating the mind on guilt 

rather than gelt. Leaving idle hands and loose ends to 

track some alienated dog walker, thrust into the numinous 

night. Witnessing shock and awe gangland murder not 

far from where Kid Schlemiel once shared a joint with 

Janis Joplin, who, for all I know, was in fact Daffy Duck 

in disguise. Or is that stating the obvious? One person's 

truth being another's collective amnesia. But, yes, the man 

on the leash, marriage on the rocks, would have been 

better off  had he allowed his mutt to simply crap on 

the carpet. Yet any deliberation over whose tail is wagging 

what dog can only be speculative. That mask of civility 

frozen at the seams, Mrs Dog Walker totes the medicine 

that might alleviate her husband's frozen heart. But loyalty 

only goes so far; it's not that she wants him dead, just out 

of the way. Even if the guy she confides in is not now, 

nor ever has been, a confirmed newshound. Still, he speaks 

in complete sentences and treats her as if she just might 

actually qualify as human. But tattoo this: never fully 

trust a man in a film, circa 1950, who purports to take 

a woman seriously. As for Foster, his bona fides are 

themselves slightly suspicious, from the Mercury Players 

to Mr Moto and Charlie Chan. Schlepped his puny budget 

from L.A. to San Francisco to hoover the city's crevices. 

Call it psycho-geography, but only if emphasising the prefix 

of that neologism. As if the gaffer might have been stealing 

glances at Schlemiel's tear-stained Baedeker, to give him

license to prowl the city like a wounded coyote woofing 

and warping at every pit stop. Either smart before its time 

or retrograde after the fact, its laws and stipulations bleed 

the Avenues to the zoo and ocean. Holy smokey eyes, 

what politics of inevitability do not decry le bon temps 

roulet remain forever contradictory, insisting the plot 

is not the story, the narrative barely the end of the matter.





















"One More Thing "


Adjectives like floating insects in a Hollywood swimming pool. 

So 1950s, larger than life, inflated by superlatives. Magnified to

billboard proportions. Though these days big would be biggest. 

Leading to the inevitable, if ambiguous: The Biggest Sleep: perhaps 

a euphemism for the most boring movie ever, or could it be a pill 

to get you through a troubled night? The Biggest Clock, a travelogue, 

or a typo in a porno ad? The Biggest Combo, a burger place on 

the Strip or the world’s largest aggregation of musicians. Back then 

big really did mean something. Like, before the first feature, a Big 

Boy to forget the Big One, before the final shrug, as in big fucking 

deal. Nodding out in sky scraping impeccable nonchalance. Framed 

by cigar-choking expressionist emigrés, their motto: I shot therefore 

I was. Time leading to paranoia, perversion to crime, and sleep, 

not orgasm, the little death. That coffee thrown in Gloria’s face a 

reality only when she clocks herself in the mirror. A woman with 

a scar, sister under the mink, more dangerous than a gun or an 

explosion. The mark so deep it becomes irredeemable. Which helps 

explain why it's always night in high-contrast simulacra. Why in 

the land of the minuscule, a less than average shyster can so easily 

become king. That is, if size matters, if modifiers have more import 

than that which they modify: Clock, Combo, Heat, Sleep, Steal, 

Night, Knife, Goodbye. This one goes out to who would remain 

anonymous, their ships lost at sea.  Continents long since absent, 

as insomniacs out of the past darkly. Falling adjectives like confetti  

between more frames per second than reality can ever hope to count.  






 




Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Long Half-Life of Proletarian Prose: On Michael Gold and Maxwell Bodenheim

 


PERHAPS IT’S NOSTALGIA that has allowed proletariat writing to enjoy a half-life that defies its poor reputation. Though few literary sophisticates read the likes of Jack Conroy, Meridel Le Sueur, Jim Tully, or Tom Kromer, the fallout from such writing, abundant and popular prior to and just after World War II, remains with us in various guises. There are elements of it in noir and hard-boiled fiction, past as well as present. It’s also an undercurrent in early Beat writing, even if the latter was in part a reaction to the sectarianism that proletariat writing produced. In fact, traces of it exist in any writing that comes from and speaks to those on the wrong end of the economic order.

From the Depression to the beginning of the Cold War, Michael Gold was arguably proletariat writing’s leading advocate, as well as one of its primary practitioners. As one learns from Patrick Chura’s excellent biography, Michael Gold: The People’s Writer, the tentacles of Gold’s influence, in his heyday, spread far and wide. Moreover, Chura, in what constitutes the first full-scale Gold biography, drives home the point that anyone who professes to represent a progressive point of view owes no small debt to Gold, who, since the early 1950s, has gone largely unrecognized.

Born Itzok Isaac Granich in 1894, Gold chose to assume the name of a Jewish abolitionist civil war veteran in the midst of the notorious 1919–’20 Palmer Raids. A lifelong communist, he is best known, if known at all, for Jews Without Money, a semi-autobiographical novel that lifted the lid on New York’s poverty-stricken Lower East Side Jewish immigrant community. The literary equivalent of Lewis Hine’s famous New York photographs, Jews Without Money remains a powerful work that, since its publication in 1930, has never been out of print.

My parents hated all this filth. But it was America, one had to accept it. And these were our neighbors. It’s impossible to live in a tenement without being mixed up with the tragedies and cockroaches of one’s neighbors. There’s no privacy in a tenement. So there was always some girl or other in our kitchen, pouring out a tale of wretchedness to my mother, drinking tea and warming herself at my mother’s wonderful heart. That’s how I came to know some of the stories of these girls.

At the time of the novel’s appearance, Gold was being called an American Gorky. Through a series of vignettes, based, for the most part, on his own impoverished family and their neighbors, Gold captured the lives of poor Jewish immigrants of the era in prose as unvarnished as that of the most hard-boiled of writers.

Jews Without Money would be Gold’s primary literary achievement, but he also wrote poems, plays, and stories, as well as fiery polemics that, for over 30 years, appeared in a variety of progressive periodicals. H. L. Mencken considered Gold’s stories hardcore enough to be published in his American Mercury, which, until the early 1930s, specialized in tough guy regional writing by the likes of James M. Cain, Edward Anderson, Jim Tully, and John Fante. However, Gold’s tenure as a Mencken protégé didn’t last long, mainly because he felt Mencken was coaxing working-class writers like Tully into highlighting their anti-social exploits without any ideological comment, critique, or context. Had Gold been more flexible and less politically conscious, he might have, with Mencken’s backing, been more widely read. Fortunately for leftists, Gold was too preoccupied with political matters, preferring to put his efforts into periodicals like The MassesNew Masses, the Daily Worker, and Liberator. Had he not done so, there’s no telling how many plays, stories, and poems Gold might have produced, or how far his literary star might have ascended.

(Click here to read the remainder of this L.A. Review of Books article, including the second part on poet and novelist Maxwell Bodenheim)

Friday, November 26, 2021

On Dangerous Ground: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), The Window (1949)

 











Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger, 1950)

"A cop is basically a criminal,”  

with “an instinct for...legalized 

violence.” Not so much symptomatic

as stating the obvious. Back before

the bald guy entered the picture.  

It's a daddy-thing, I guess. The old 

guy works for the man or 

the mob, or is there a difference? 

Reeking blood brother nemesis. 

“I didn’t know a guy could hate 

that much.” Say, what?  Blame 

the city, schmuck-face. All that 

neon moral ambiguity. Kills the 

soul as well as the robbery suspect. 

Who never hopped a red-eye 

heading for Dreamland. Dumped 

the body but not the soul. They 

say if you throw an egg from 

the Dead Zone nine times out 

of ten you'll hit a fucking Cartesian. 

Framing the question, not 

the cabbie- his high-flag 

drenched in sassafras, headlong 

towards an imperfect circle. 

Blissed-out rainwater and graveyard 

tips. Tight-wadded miracles 

frenetically enbedded in a father 

who falls for the murdered man’s 

wife. As watered down as  Luke 

the Drifter retching for redemption 

cralwing through a cookie jar 

delirium. Prompting the great 

man to feign ignorance: “I remember 

nothing.” Low box office, high 

impact, late night fodder, legalised-

something-or-other, without a 

man-oh-manifesto to fall back on.   

        

























The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949)



So many roads, so far to gawk,   

Yet, who, with any certainty, 

can claim a reliable narrator. 

If not imprisoned, witnessing a

crime, or living a lie, whether 

barnstorming in black and white 

or embeded in a complexity 

of claustrophobic tenements 

reeking of boiled tongue and 

rancid cabbage. Lower East Side 

gentrification dollars whinpering in 

the wind-up. Walls cackling, 

deaf to lack, lustre and rodents 

the size of small seizures. Told to play 

outside, the kid says “But there’s 

nowhere to go.” Who verifies ash 

can aesthetics, misty yet murky,  

and oh, so Naked City, if only 

from the waste down. Tinseltown 

slobbering. Dream now, die later, 

Woolrich. a fly in an overturned jar.  

As for the kid, age 31, on the outskirts

of the Factory, overdosed in the

remnants of his childhood. From 

Peter Pan to John Doe and a pauper’s 

grave. Said, “I was carried on a satin 

cushion, then dropped in a garbage 

can,” a singularity without mercy.    


Friday, November 12, 2021

Reading Lisa Jarnot on Robert Duncan

Reading over the past couple weeks Lisa Jarnot's excellent 2012 biography of Robert Duncan, I was particularly impressed by the way she was able to construct a linear narrative that, unlike many biographies, remained constantly interesting and engaging. This was due not only to her well-defined abilities as a writer, but to Duncan's always-interesting inner and gadfly outer life, all of which is supplemented by letters to his partner Jess and others, his journals, not to mention the effect of what some might describe as Duncan's mesmerising logorrhoea which so many who met him over the years could not help but comment upon.   

Another aspect of The Ambassador From Venus book was the way Jarnot is invariably able to locate the exact quote from Duncan's work to amplify her point and represent Duncan's life. Though she refrains from parsing the poems- this is, she points out, not a book of criticism- rather, she simply places  bits of poems in their appropriate context. No easy task given Duncan's reliance on metaphor and myth, and his  perambulations, which if not Olsonian- i.e., you talk all around the subject/I didn't know there was a subject- embedded somewhere between the esoteric and the imaginative. 

While Jarnot succeeds at capturing Duncan quotidian reality, she, of course, cannot possibly record every step taken by her subject, even in his public mode. Such as the astonished look on Duncan's face upon hearing a particularly off-the-wall image in an otherwise unremarkable poem by Richard Brautigan at a benefit against the war in Vietnam in 1969. Or  Jarnot does briefly mention a reading Duncan gave at UCLA in 1964. I was a teenager, and it must have been one of the first poetry readings I had occasion to attend. What I remember, and which Jarnot doesn't mention, was Duncan's response to a photographer who was moving around snapping photos during his reading. It prompted Duncan to stop and ask the photographer to stop. When the photographer continued taking photographs, Duncan asked him if he knew what a poet's curse was. However, I did come across towards the end of Jarnot's book, a similar incident in May, 1980, at a reading with Ed Dorn at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Duncan's words being similar to those he made some fifteen years earlier: "There are two things a poet can do: praise and curse." Going on to say his curse will take effect within six months. It made me wonder how many such curses Duncan issued over the years, and to what effect.

Duncan issuing a poet's curse?
His praises are, of course, another matter. They were many. Leading me to another memorable Duncan moment, also not cited by Jarnot. This time at a reading he, and others, gave at the San Francisco State student union in 1971. The reading, which I attended with Jack Gilbert and Linda Gregg, was sponsored by the college's Gay Liberation organisation. While Duncan was holding forth, it was hard not to notice a fair number of young women- some no more than  teenagers- who constituted much of the audience, making regular retreats, usually in pairs, to the toilets at the back of the room, then returning with smiling but flushed faces.  I don't remember what poems Duncan- never one who could be described as entirely monogamous- read, but I do recall what he talked about. It  was one of his extended monologues, this time on the subject of falling in and out of love, eros, and the metaphysics, if can call it that, of stable relationships. He did this in his usual, if slightly subdued, stream-of-consciousness manner, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. But he was also in some way subtly commenting on it, not at all criticising it, but giving it a foundation and field of possibility. It was both a  humorous and a very human interaction.  It could be that Duncan's poetry and talk went over the heads of many of the young women, but that was often the case with Duncan's public performances. Still, there was something very touching in Duncan trying and most likely failing to communicate with his young audience. It hardly mattered that they were interested in more tactile matters. While Jack and Linda and whoever else was with us were quick to comment on the  Sapphic aspect of the occasion, no one seemed to have taken into account Duncan's contribution. Yet it was a rare example, one that would have added  to Jarnot's book,  of Duncan engaging with those who, for the most part, weren't all that  interested in what this 50+ year old poet was saying or reading. Not that Duncan, always the teacher, talker, visionary poet and anarchist, was going to let that stop him. It was a rare kind of poet's praise. Leaving the poet's curse for those attempting to steal his soul with intrusive shots. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Sounding For Harry Smith- Early Pacific Northwest Influences by Bret Lunsford

I’ve always been amazed by the way some individuals can move so quickly from eccentric outsider, even untouchable, to national treasure. Film-maker, painter, collector, anthologiser, and raconteur, Harry Smith no doubt tried his best to resist that sort of  transformation, but his record of accomplishments and his sense of aesthetics, were against him, at least amongst a certain segment of the culture. But thanks to sheer insistence, and a cantankerous nature, he still, to some degree, managed to do so.

I began collecting Smith ephemera-  interviews, recordings, articles- sometime in the late 1960s. Initially there was little to be found, the odd interview with P. Adams in Film Culture (1965) and John Cohen in Sing Out (1969), as well as an article or two by likes of Jonas Mekas in Film Culture or the Village Voice. But my interest in Smith went back  further to first seeing  his  films in 1963 or 64 at John Fles’s ground-breaking  Movies Round Midnight at the Cinema Theater in Los Angeles. A couple years later I would be showing Smith's films, amongst others, at the Straight-Ashbury Viewing Society, and then at San Francisco State’s Experimental College where I was teaching a class called The New American Cinema. Though I  hadn't at first realised  the Harry Smith who so painstakingly put together these complex and beautiful  hand-painted films was the same Harry Smith who collated the Anthology of American Folk Music that I had spent so much time listening to in the basement of the Pasadena Public Library. Music that would influence those modern practitioners  I was listening to such as the New Lost City Ramblers and, to some extent, Dylan, not to mention those I was taking lessons from like Stu Jamieson and David Lindley.

Even though I read all those articles and interviews, I was never less than hungry for information about Harry Smith. Where could this guy have possibly come from?  He seemed to play with interviewers when it came to talking about background, which seemed to only add to his myth.  His movies hinted at a knowledge of be-bop, the Kabbala, the music of Kurt Weil, while his  collecting, from records to objects of various sorts, were clearly the work of someone with a deep knowledge of American music and indigenous life. Not to mention his work as a sound  engineer, recording Native American peyote ceremonies and music  by groups like the Fugs and his interaction with  Kabbalist Lionel Zirpin, and  recordings, for the most part unreleased, of Zirpin's grandfather, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia (according to Raymond Foye, due for release at some point, likewise Smith's Naropa lectures on Native American cosmology).

Gouache on black paper, circa 1975
Gouache on black paper, circa
1975
But in accordance with his elusive answers in interviews, the question  remained: where did Smith come from? I mean, really come from. What corner of the world and culture could have produced someone like Smith. Or was he just a one-off that could have come from anywhere? Albeit on some  level, he  could just as well  have come from another planet, perhaps in the same planetary system that produced  Sun Ra or that ranting genius down the road apiece. A planet populated by outsiders who travelled to earth to live amongst other aliens and alienated. Of course, Smith was a hurricane unto himself-  I won't say an American phenomenon, though I'm tempted to do so-  who grew up in the 1920 and early 1930s in the northwest, Anacortes and Bellingham to be precise, which is as geographically marginal as it gets, unless, of course that is where you come from, and even then. It helps to know that Smith comes from a world steeped in Native American culture, a fishing based community, whose survival depended on its utilitarianism.  

Thanks to Bret Lunsford’s beautifully put together and diligently researched Sounding For Harry Smith (see the trailer for the book below), we can now glimpse the world Smith comes from. Though it’s a world that has passed most of us by, Lunsford has managed to dig into the archives, to find the people who knew Smith, or the people who knew the people who knew Smith, to recreate the culture from which he emerged.  It's a world seemingly lost in time, but here substantiated by photographs and the historical record  Lunsford has uncovered. Of course, that past is not all that far off, which only illustrates how much has changed over the last hundred years. Which makes Sounding… partly a history and partly an  archeological study of sorts, reminiscent of another book I've recently come across, The Sea View Has Me Again by Patrick Wright, about the German novelist Uwe Johnson and his stay on the Isle of Sheppey, in the UK. Both books divide their narrative between person and place, no matter how incongruous that place might seem. Of course, such  books are, to some extent, cannot help but fail  if only because no such study can explain the likes of subjects such as Johnson or Smith.  However, both books come as close as one can get. To the degree that one comes away knowing not only a lot more about their subjects and their world.  A native of the region, Lunsford, regarding his locality, might at times venture a little too far into the weeds,  but that  doesn't matter- one could say the same about Wright's book, or, for that matter, Charles Olson's Maximus Poems- because it's the undercurrents that matter.  In the end Sounding... is a book born out of a love for both a place and a person, with enough photographs, maps, stories and ephemera to satisfy any true Smith obsessive.  

In combining historicity and biography, Lunsford has produced an exemplary piece of investigative writing.  In that way it complements the handful of other books on Smith, such as American Magus edited by Paola Igliori, and Rani Singh's collection of interviews, Think of the Self Speaking, not to mention Daniel Darrin's short but sharp Harry Smith- Fragments of a Northwest Life, which explores the intervening years between growing up in the Northwest and becoming the Harry Smith one knows today. The fact is, Smith for a growing handful of multi-disciplinarians a life sentence.  Anyone serving such a sentence, or even those seeking parole, will want to give this book their close attention.  It is, after all, not only about Smith but about an America, perhaps not so much lost as rarely found, not so much about the weird as about those ghosts who haunt the present.  In an increasingly homogenised world, where everything, even the likes of Harry Smith, can be turned into a commodity, that seems like an honest and important activity to pursue.  

For a concise overview of Harry Smith,  could do worse than check out Raymond Foye's on-line entry which can be found here.

Finally, here's a trailer of sorts for Lunsford's book preceded by what is for me a memorable extract  from John Cohen's 1969  interview, republished in Singh's Think of the Self Speaking, of Smith revealing something of his past, while, at the same time, revealing his puckish sense of humour. 

"John Cohen: Someone once told me that you were thinking for a while that your father might have been some English mystic who was travelling through.

Harry Smith: That was Aleister Crowley, and as a matter of fact, my mother did know Crowley at about that time. She saw him running naked down the beach, perhaps in 1913 or 1915. I wish I had gone more into the chronology of my antecedents.

JC: But he's not your father.

HS: I don't know.

JC: Oh, you mean there's a possibility?

HS: Sure. I suppose there's a possibility that President Coolidge was. Because of my father's and grandfather's interest in mysticism, the basement was full of books on whether Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, alchemy, and so forth. I had a whole blacksmith shop. I spent a lot of time trying to transmute lead into gold. My father was in the salmon fishing business, and during the war they fished the Fraser and Columbia rivers dry, so the canneries closed, and that was my playground as a child."  

               

Monday, July 05, 2021

The Big Spill-over: Recent books by William Gardner Smith, Lee Durkee, Billy Wilder, John Sanford, Paul Buck, Kirby Doyle, John Wieners, Anna Mendelssohn, Katherine Gogou


The books have been piling up again. So here are some short reviews of a few- fiction, journalism, poetry- that  have recently come my way. 


1) The Stone Face by William Gardner Smith. NYRB.  Simeon, an African-American journalist not similar from the  author, decides, after a confrontation with a group of sailors in his native Philadelphia, to exchange the racism of America for the racial tolerance of early 1960s Paris. This at a time when the city of lights was considered a sanctuary, particularly for many black American writers, painters and musicians. But Simeon discovers that Paris has  its own form of racism, in this case directed at the Algerian population. This at a time when the Algerian war for independence was reaching its final stage. Simeon discovers that, despite his skin colour,  he is considered the enemy, by default implicated in his country's foreign crimes. And that he and his fellow African Americans are only a step away from being thought of as white. Unlike most of his ex-pat friends, Simeon realises the contradiction that he, as an American, is entangled, and chooses to side  with the Algerians. According to Adam Shatz, in his informative introduction, The Stone Face was the first novel anywhere to address the 1961 Paris massacre in which the head of police, Papon, a Nazi collaborator and official in the Vichy government, sent scores  of Algerian demonstrators to their death. When it comes to addressing the politics of racism and America's place in the world, Smith's book compares favourably with the writing of any other ex-pat of that era, including the likes of Baldwin, Himes and Wright. 


2) The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee. No Exit Press/Tin House. As a former midnight shift Yellow Cab driver in San Francisco  in the late 1960s, I can attest to the veracity of Durkee's book, as well as  to the  humorous encounters which every cab driver experiences, not to mention the sideways  perspective that goes with the job.  I used to refer what my cab as my own personal theater of the absurd, but in Durkee's it might have transformed into a theater of cruelty. That's because the competition is greater, the stakes are higher and job protection hardly exists at all. Rather than nestling in the warm but corrupt arms of the Brotherhood of Teamsters which was the case in my day, Durkee portrays a world in which cab drivers, like so  many others, are without a union to protect them, and so easy prey as precariats in our current Uber world. As Durkee shows, no one who drives a cab escapes unscathed. I still have dreams about reporting at the Yellow Cab lot south of Market Street, flashing my Teamsters withdrawal card, only for the dispatcher to yell at me for not showing up for work for the last fifty years, then  reluctantly giving me  a cab the usual faulty brakes. Of course, Durkee's shift comes decades later. It’s the modern world, worse than ever, but every bit  as absurdly humourous.


3) Billy Wilder On Assignment, ed by Noah Isenberg, trans by Shelley Frisch.  Princeton University Press. A real eye opener not only when it comes to Weimar Berlin in the 1920s but to Wilder's uncanny ability as a journalist specialising in vignettes and short-form dispatches. From describing his days as a dancer for hire to his interviews with a variety of famous people, Wilder’s voice shines through, and will be familiar to anyone who loves the wit, sardonic take on the world and humour, of his films. In fact, many of these pieces read as though they could have been yesterday rather than nearly  a century ago. I  remember Andrew Sarris, in a lecture at the NFT in the 1970s, say that Wilder, not long after arriving in America, wrote to his mother in the old country, and told her that  he was doing well but had changed his first name to Thornton. I thought, at the time, that Sarris had been joking, and the story couldn't be true. But after reading Wilder On Assignement, I realise that Sarris was simply stating a biographical fact.        


4) The Old Man's Place by John Sanford. Brash Press. This along with the evocatively titled Make My Bed In Hell, both published recently by Brash, represent two pulp noir novels by a  writer, real name Julian Shapiro, perhaps best known for his proletariat novel, The People From Heaven and several volumes of autobiography.  Sanford, who was also a minor Hollywood screenwriter and friend of Nathaniel West’s, was married to the successful screenwriter Marguerite Roberts, with whom Sanford collaborated on the 1941 film Honky Tonk.  Both Sanford and Roberts were members of the Communist Party and victims of the blacklist. Make My Bed In Hell and The Old Man's Place, the latter loosely adapted for the screen by Edwin. Sherwin in 1971, as well as being evocative of a particular time and place, are good enough to be placed next to novels by such  writers as Jim Thompson, Erskine Caldwell, and James M. Cain. Moreover, they demonstrate the thin line that exists between early pulp noir and proletariat fiction.  One can’t help but wonder how Sanford, who ended up writing over twenty books, would have fared had he continued churning out novels in the vein of these two pulp novels, rather than pursue a Hollywood career or that of a memoirist.


5) Along the River Run by Paul Buck. Prototype Press.  Essential for anyone travelling to Lisbon, or, for that matter, anywhere in the EU. It centres on two Milwallian lads on the run from the authorities in London who have to negotiate the city with only Farage-like wide boy skills. This is a novel that doesn’t have to try too hard to portray the clash of cultures, as Brexit xenophobia rubs up, beer and testosterone fuelled, against European class values. At the same time, it's as evocative of the city  as anything by the likes of Pessoa. While reading Buck's novel, I was reminded of the time I was mugged at gunpoint after leaving a Fado cafe well after midnight in  the Alfama district. The muggers got away with whatever euros I had before scampering off into the night. I reluctantly made an insurance claim, but to do so the police insisted on taking me on a tour of various seedy bars in the criminal quarter to see if I could possibly point out the guilty party. Of course, I couldn't. But being the noirist that I am, I really did appreciate the guided tour. 


6) Happiness Bastard by Kirby Doyle. Another one from Tough Poets Press. This one from my old digger comrade, and arguably the most unread, if not under-appreciated poet to appear in  Don Allen's 1960s anthology New American Poetry. This is Kirby's only published novel that I know of. It's one of those works that borders between the unreadable and the unputdownable. Written in the manner of early Kerouac, which is to say on a single scroll of paper, it comes across as a work of debauched genius, and a must read for anyone interested in  Beat or Digger culture.  It's also unlike anything one is likely to come across. Less  like On the Road  than Dylan's Tarantula. I hadn’t realised that Kirby had taken  culinary classes  at San Francisco State. Maybe he should have teamed up with the poet Frank Lima and film-maker Peter Kubelka and opened an international haute-cuisine restaurant based on Digger principles.


7) Yours Presently, The Selected Letters of John Wieners, ed by Michael Seth Stewart. University of New Mexico Press. A wonderful collection of missives from Wieners to, for the most part, an assortment of mid-to-late 20th century writers, the likes of which include Creeley, Kyger, Olson, Dorn,  Duncan, and Blaser, Whalen, DiPrima, Levertov, Rumaker, Ginsberg, Irving Rosenthal, etc.. These  letters could be read as a cultural history stretching from the mid-1950s to the 1990s. For me, few surpass Wieners when it comes to writing lyrical poetry of such heart-wrenching beauty. And, of course, these letters, so revealing in themselves, whether having to do with poetry, drugs, or gay culture, have to  be read in conjunction with Wieners' work. Even so, they qualify as more than marginalia to that body of work, but illustrate what goes into the making of a poet, as well as the thin line between poet as victim/object and poet as activist, rather than that  dodgy concept of poet as some kind of  “antenna” (a Poundian concept that is, at best, suspect), derangé or as a necessarily damaged soul.


8) I'm Working Here, The Collected Poems of Anna Mendelssohn (Shearsman). There is something to be said for anyone with the courage, or should  that be audacity, to make poetry their life, and to do so without succumbing to bad faith or cynicism or reducing their work to the lowest common denominator. But Mendelssohn succeeded at doing just that.  By now Mendelssohn's  backstory is  familiar: as a member of the 1970s  militant Angry Brigade, she was imprisoned  for some four years for conspiracy to cause explosion. On her release, writing under the name Grace Lake, she began to devote herself exclusively to her poetry and  artwork. Even so, it seemed that during her lifetime she never showed more than a passing interest in seeing her work in print. The title, I'm Working Here, seems fitting, implying, as it does, a circumscribed space and poems unlike anyone else's, that ranged from the lyrical to the  expostulatory, from the  ecstatic to the subtly political and surreal,  from the linguistically dense to the playful and elusive. All with an intensity that sweeps her  lines across the page, less because she could not stop herself than seeking to include everything. Reading her, it’s possible to trace her hermetically sealed world as it migrates from the political to the personal and back again, in a lifetime's loop that becomes its own biography. 

9) Now Let's See What You're Gonna Do, Poems 1978-2002 (The Divers Collection, fmsbw) by Katerina Gogou. These poems are so full of fire, so human, so reckless and vulnerable, that they threaten to burn up in your hands. As personal as they are political, these poems, for the most part, do not make for easy reading, and are not for the faint hearted.  Nevertheless, they remain inspiriing. A well known Greek actor and leftist, Gogou killed herself in 1993, having reached the end of her tether emotionally as well as politically. Only for her writing  to be resurrected by such admirers as poets Sean Bonney, Jack Hirschman and Nanos Valaoritis. One wonders how Gogou would have responded, poetically and politically, had she lived to see recent events in her country, from the rise and fall of Syriza to the resurgence of fascists like those in Golden Dawn.  Hirschman says the Greek Communist Party is evoked in her poems like a lover who has betrayed her. And perhaps that is so. Certainly her  poems, like those of Pasolini,  move beyond the organised left, to the heart and soul of the marginalised, a call to arms to claim a space for the dispossessed and vulnerable that she hoped would emerge from the page. Who knows, perhaps one day her poems might succeed in doing just that.