Thursday, April 09, 2009
(Ray Bremser, Charles Plymell and Grant Hart in front of Allen Ginsberg's
farmhouse at the Committee on Poetry, Cherry Valley, NY, August 1998.
Photo by Betsy Kirschbaum. © 1998 Water Row Books.)
Review of POEMS OF MADNESS & ANGEL By Ray Bremser. Published by Water Row Press Sudbury, Mass.
The Back Beat of Bremser. — Charles Plymell
Post War America grooved on the big band era. (Krupa was no slouch). The golden age of sound was hitting every major city. Charley Parker practiced his sax in a shack across the tracks in Kansas City. The great sub-culture was growing from hep to hip to bebop tossing seeds to hip hop. The great Lord Buckley laid down the word riff when scat was pre-natal rap. Jazz heads and Benzedrine made the scene while ageless rounders, pimps, whores, ex-cons, street-wise youth and creative kids ventured toward the iconic “angry fix” and things illegal. Ray Bremser was already a member of that bohemian sub-culture. His Hoboken nose broken profile and Jersey flat land rasp was the perfect voice and look for Hollywood casting. He was proud of his presence.
Naturally, he uses the vernacular of the time to begin a philosophical soliloquy, “So let me lay it to you gently, Mr. Gone!” And, continues sarcastically, in his poetic brilliance, to explore his humanity, his history; and ends with, “It is a little / let us say, too much, man too much!” The language here needs to be appreciated in it own flavor, its own freshness, to savor its import and save it from cliché. In that setting, the familiar jive is literary ... yes, Shakespearean. It would probably take an actor now to restore the familiar charm and sound of a Bremser or a Huncke in their day. To etymologize further… the words and jazz in the culture of that time. When Huncke hitchhiked into town and repeated a common refrain: ”Man I’m beat,” it was quickly picked up by alert middle-class students of the avant-guard to define a generation of poets and writers. When people talk of the veracity and authenticity of figures like Ray Bremser and Herbert Huncke in the Beat Generation, I think of them as having been entrenched in a rudimentary sub-culture from which whole generations could derive and be named.
In this respect, I think Bremser adopted the beat influence and lifestyle as a later and much welcomed shelter from the street to which he could contribute his provenance. It is obvious in his Poems of Madness that he spent a great deal of scholarly time alone with the poetry of Hart Crane, Pound, and Shakespeare. He doesn’t try to disguise them as his own, but writes as an equal with a healthy influence one can detect; for instance, from the surreal inspiration of Hart Crane:
For I have strung up streamers
and inhaled a wild unpatriotic rebel attitude
of position out of the air where life begins/
confetti and cascades of violent pure-bred hair!
If Shakespeare were to appear, he would thoroughly enjoy the figure here, as would Chaucer. The image/idiom is timeless as well as the philosophical inquiry:
Shit up a rope, for all I care,
But watch how
sometimes, when the horizontal dreams
of a little life gone hither come to bear
dualities of weight over the head.
Bremser can uncannily tweak the prosody and myth a bit to go from Pound to perfect pitch:
saw Anubis & terror
saw motion of witchery there,
saw bone of filthy embalmer
saw seven league boots on the feet of those birds
more soarey than Bela Lugosi
And if the academic mainstream non-poets of numb nuts and nothingness don’t like it, he leaves them with something less absurd:
take your museums, marijuana!!!
stick them in high & go haywire....
*Ray Bremser (February 22, 1934 – 1998) was an American poet.
Bremser was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. When he was 17 he went AWOL from the United States Air Force and was briefly imprisoned. The next year he was sent to Bordenstown Reformatory for 6 years for armed robbery. He began writing poetry there and sent copies to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and LeRoi Jones who published his poems in "Yugen" and threw a big party for him when he got out of jail in 1958.
He had five books of his poetry published and featured in a film, The Beat Generation: An American Dream (1987) IMDb.
He died in 1998 of lung cancer.
As part of the Beat Generation, Bremser was strongly influenced and mentored by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, as he illustrates with his catchy language and rhythmic motion in Poems of Madness."
He was the best reader of his own work I ever heard and taught me much more than the Iowa Writers Workshop. I let him sleep on our couch when he was temporarily homeless, but this upset my wife as he didn't bathe. He had no teeth and said he could eat everything but a peanut. He didn't drive. When I put on Soft Machine 6, he hated it. He preferred Be-Bop and claimed McCoy Tyner would "play" his poems on the piano. Will Schmitz