Prose | Andy Clausen

Book Excerpt 
(From Andy Clausen's forthcoming book 'The Latter Days Of The Beat Generation, A First Hand Account'.)
Artwork by Divya Adusumilli 

Gregory could be merciless with other poets.

H. D. Moe, David Moe, was a poetry activist, running readings, popping up all over California, delivering his “neo-constructivist” verse.

He had a book called Plug in the Electric Dictionary. It seemed to me to be random imagery, unfamiliar syntax, and concept leaping. Many critics and Moe fans saw genius in the subconscious unconscious hyperconscious odd and rare juxtapositions, the spontaneity of it, an avant-garde argonaut heard in the interior subtext seeds of a hypercontexted lexicon, poetry of the highest order.
In the seventies he had a newspaper called Love Lights. He’d sell it in the newspaper coin machines next to the SF Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, Bay Guardian, East Bay Express, Penny Saver, and the omnipresent porno, hot date, newsprint periodicals the Internet has largely replaced.

Well, Love Lights always had nudity and sexuality on the cover. Folded in half through the news box window one could see only the nakedness and the Love Lights masthead. In the lower unseen half, maybe a TV set or toaster would cover the genitals. The bottom half informed one—lo and behold—inside it was all boho Bay Area poetry and illustrations. He’d sell maybe four thousand an issue. A lot of paper racks sustained damage.

Moe was a personable, often charming fellow exuding sincerity. He carried a toothbrush in his breast pocket like it was a pen or nosegay. It reminded me of the Berkeley rock music writer J. Poet, who for months had a rubber pacifier around his neck on a string, sucking on it if he wasn’t eating or speaking. I think it was some kind of therapy.

I decided to obtain a trademark accessory, so I clipped one of those little round makeup mirrors on a front belt loop. It would send little bolts and sheets of light about a room, it bounced sunbeams and neon, and some folks even squatted low or knelt to see their reflections.

In the late eighties, in the cities, I carried a ball peen in a wire holster. Accessories might as well have practical purpose, never know when you might need a hammer. Anyway, Moe carried a toothbrush.
One evening a group of us, Corso included, headed for a gala event; I’m pretty sure Allen was reading. We were warming up. I believe Gregory’s confidant and translator George Scrivani was there, eight or nine of us, in a well-appointed apartment near Civic Center with real plaster walls, well done ogees, oak floor, large paisley pillows, sturdy wooden chairs and plush sink-in couches, and a chesterfield from the days of the Maltese Falcon. Out the cracked for air kitchen window one could hear the big bassoon boats and oboe tugs, big notes expanding, shaking the potato fog as Karl Malden’s 400-horse interceptor engine roars hopping an asphalt mogul and the eye poultice crisp blue drinkability of the Hamm’s Beer sign, hear the tom-toms, “from the land of sky blue waters, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s Beer,” and the Chinese sounds like Mozart midst Slavic proverbs as new money staggers into dark limos and  Spanglish and Calexico blasts from boombox sidewalks dancing and wall shaking lowriders with the street-side boo wafting and David Moe wants us all to stop our attempts at humor and parsing of the day’s news and listen to his new poem.

He stands and delivers.  I can only approximate and I’m trying to do him justice, but it was something like: “Vast vasectomy pungent King James cobra oscillating pregnant bungalow sake Elvis Sargon II electric kitty penal orangutan rain over under where moon celery platonic plutonium Aquinas virtual illusion footdrop Neo-platonic platoons’ harmonica convergence ingrown hypothalamus bladder Satan.“

There are maybe eight of us in the room; obviously David had wanted to make sure Gregory Corso really had a chance to appreciate his verse.

Gregory blurts out, “The worst. Bank robbing is noble compared to that! That is the worst!  The worst, the worst I’ve ever heard!”

David, crestfallen, whispers a stunned, “Oh.”

And Gregory the merciless turns to us all, “See even his Oh is weak-willed.”

Corso often said, “A poet who can’t hear his poetry sucks is not a poet.”

Makes sense to me. If you have something to say and have put in the effort to be competent with the tools of your trade or fancy, then if someone tells you it sucks it should be like water on a rock, like spit in the ocean.

Anyway, this episode didn’t deter Moe from publishing and promoting his work till the day he left. All artists to accomplish must rise above the praise and criticism of their friends, their enemies, the money, the ones they admire, even the ones they love and especially mothers who wanted them to be a doctor or lawyer and to have a large family. One must be ever vigilant of the appraisals of one’s parents.

Gregory asked me, before our big “Corso Returns to San Fran in North Beach High School Auditorium Poetry Event” (which L. and I were promoting; Gregory said don’t call it a reading use “event”—he knew his stuff), “What if they don’t like your poesy tomorrow? The critics, publishers, the real smart ones will be there. What if they say you just don’t have it?”

I answered, “Well, will I still have a job on Monday? I’ll still be able to go to work, right?”

He smiled. I think sometimes I even surprised him. When I picked him up at Oakland International he had the clothes he was wearing (rumpled, once expensive suit coat, white shoes with no socks, seersucker slacks, I think he had a shirt), his year-and-a-half-old son Max Orphe, a box of pampers, a banana, and a suitcase that rattled with one book, Louis Beretti (He said it was the first book he read when as a teen he went to prison. I read it, a page turner about a kid who rises from Little Italy through the Mafia and beyond to a noble Tale of Two Cities–type ending . . .), and three letters.

The old beat suitcase rattled. He didn’t even have any copies of his books. There might have been a small notebook.

Yes, sometimes I surprised Gregory, such as after a star-studded reading in NYC, Allen got Gregory and me into the hundred-dollar after-party. Gregory called me aside informing me where we were, to wit, with the elite: “Do you know where we are? This is it.”

I said, “This? This aint shit.”

At first he appeared incredulous as he repeated, “This aint shit?”

Then a smile, a head tilt, and he had to laugh. We went for the champagne and petit fours.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Exerpt! i can't Wait to read the entire book!