Monday, March 16, 2015
Dead Lions by A.D. Winans (Punk Hostage Press) $16.95
Review by Doug Holder
A.D. Winans, founder of the ground-breaking San Francisco-based Second Coming Press and doyen of the San Francisco poetry scene for the past 40 or 50 years, has a new book of essays out titled: Dead Lions. Winans throws his focus on four writers: screenwriter Alvah Bessie (Bessie was one of the Hollywood Ten, who appeared in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s), Jack Micheline, the poet and Whitmanesque wanderer, Charles Bukowski, the dirty old man of poetry, and Bob Kaufman, one of the great Beat poets to come out of the North Beach scene in San Francisco.
Since I am primarily a poet, I am most interested in Winans’ accounts of Micheline, Bukowski, and Kaufman. Winans aptly starts with Micheline’s death on a San Francisco subway. A Poetic death in transit, like Lowell’s in the back of the cab— unlike most of men who die undignified deaths from straining on the toilet, or drowning in cancer and heart disease. Winans recounts Micheline’s wanderlust, his prolific trips across the country, and his outrageous behavior fueled by booze. .Micheline, although he published 20 books, was spurned by the City Lights Press, Black Sparrow and other notable publishers because of his “offensive” behavior. But Micheline never changed his ways. Winans writes:
“He refused to bow to anyone, choosing to write for the people, hookers, drug addicts, blue collar workers and the dispossessed, and he did it from deep inside the heart.”
Micheline was befriended by Bukowski, but Bukowski did not share the religious fervor he brought to his poetry. Yet Bukowki respected the man. Winans quotes from a letter Bukowski sent to him:
“ Micheline is all right—he’s one third bull shit, but he’s got a special divinity and special strength. He’s got perhaps a little too much of a POET sign pasted to his forehead, but more often than not he says good things—in speech and poem—power-flame, laughing things. I like the way his poems flow and roll. His poems are total feelings beating their heads on barroom floors.”
Much has been written about Charles Bukowski, and in fact Winans has written a memoir published by Dustbooks: The Holy Grail: Charles Bukowski and The Second Coming that I reviewed years ago for the Small Press Review. Still--it is interesting to hear Winans’ take on things, even though we might have heard it before. Winans met Bukowski when he was publishing his Second Coming magazine in San Francisco. He even had an issue dedicated to Bukowski. Winans sees many admirable qualities in the BUK—but—he gives us the full view of this man with the pockmarked face:
“Hank was a man of many virtues, but to see him (as many do) as a man whose motive and actions were in the best interests of the down and out, simply ignores the fact he betrayed and tore apart many former friends, both in short stories, and in vindictive poems, frequently breaking off friendships whenever someone got to close to him, and often on brutal terms.”
Winans points out that besides his poetic acumen Bukowski was a great entertainer. Here,Winans describes Bukowski on stage, before his reading:
“Once on stage, he wasted no time in opening the refrigerator door and popping open a can of beer to the sound of wild cheers. I watched him survey the crowd for several seconds before tilting his head back and drinking half the contents from the beer can. Again this simple act was met with rousing cheers.”
The North Beach section of San Francisco is now more of a tourist destination, as gentrification of the city has forced out many of the poets and writers with astronomical rents. I recently saw some footage from a documentary with Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Founder of City Lights Book), who talked about the high tech sector coming in and gutting the city—to where he barely recognizes it. But in the 50s and 60s this was a hotbed of creative energy. North Beach is a six block area from lower Grant Ave. to upper Grant Ave. in the city. Poet Bob Kaufman, known as the “American Rimbaud” was a prime player here. He co-edited the well-known lit mag Beatitude with William Margolis. Kaufman was the son of an Orthodox Jew and an African-American mother, brought up in New Orleans. His best known book was published by the noted Avant-Garde Press, New Directions. The book titled: Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness created quite a stir in the local literary community. Winans hung out with Kaufman in the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, a happening spot at the time and he recalls a very dramatic poet:
“Kaufman entered the establishment, climbing on top of the tables, and reciting a newly written poem…The audience hung on his every word.” Later Kaufman got into difficulty with the police and was often hauled to the city prison after he wrote on its walls of the bagel shop: “Adolf Hitler, growing tired of Eva Braun, and burning Jews, moved to San Francisco and became a cop.”
The book is chock full of Winans’fly on the wall accounts of these renegade poets and writers. This is not a scholarly book, there is no real intensive analysis of their work, but it is a lively introduction to these men—and well-worth the read. The book should whet the readers' interest and hopefully they will want to explore these men further. I also wonder about the women poets of this era— but perhaps that is meant for another book.