Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sixty-Seven Poems For Downtrodden Saints. Jack Micheline. Editor: Matt Gonzalez.

Sixty-Seven Poems For Downtrodden Saints. Jack Micheline. Editor: Matt Gonzalez.  (FMSBW, 1999 Dist. by The Jack Micheline Foundation for the Arts.  POBOX 30153 Tuscon, AZ.  85751 No
Price.  238pages.

I guess I am privileged. I know, have published, have interviewed and exchanged letters with a well-known North Beach poet, who harks back to the days of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and others of that ilk, A.D. Winans. Winans, poet and friend to the late, great Beat poet, Jack Micheline, sent me a collection of Micheline's poems, "Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints." Charles Bukowski said of Micheline in a letter to A.D. Winans:

" Jack loves the sun...and the horse and the streets, and he loves the strong and the common people. Jack is the last of the holy preachers sailing down Broadway singing the song...He's fought hard...sleeping on people's rugs, sponging, playing the clown for a night's sleep, a piece of stale bacon..."
From reading Micheline's work it seemed that the Buk hit it right on the head. His work is generously laced with booze, "broads", the horses and hounds, the down-and-out, the gone-to-seed, the neer-do-well, the wail of the sax and sex, in short, a long funny/mournful  Blues song.
Micheline was concerned with the plight of the common man. He was in the tradition of Kerouac, living as the vagabond-bohemian bard. He never pandered to the academics, and his poetry lacked any hint of pretense.

Jack Micheline (aka Harvey Martin Silver)  was born on Nov. 6, 1929 in the Bronx, N.Y.  During the 1950's he spent years traversing the country and working Blue Collar jobs.

He was everything from a dishwasher to a street singer. His first poem published under the Micheline name was STEPS in Le Roi Jones' magazine YUGEN (1958). He was included in two early Beat anthologies, THE BEATS by Seymour Krim and THE BEAT SCENE edited by Elias Wilentz. He had several collections of poetry published including: I KISS ANGELS (1964) and NORTH OF MANHATTAN: 1954-1975. He self-published his first collection of stories: IN THE BRONX AND OTHER STORIES in 1965. In June of 1997, Micheline's book, SIXTY-SEVEN POEMS... was published by FMSPW in San Francisco, his home for many years. In 1998 Micheline died from a heart attack on a Subway in the same city.
The poems in this collection have a stong sense of setting. They take place in mostly urban settings, where the working-stiff and the marginal characters tend to hang. Micheline constantly celebrates the outsider looking in at the absurdities of the mainstream. In POEM TO THE FREAKS, he writes: " To live as I have done is surely absurd,/ in cheap hotels and furnished rooms,/to walk up side streets and down back alleys,/talking to oneself/ and screaming to the sky obscenities.../ Drink to wonder/Drink to me/ Drink to madness and all the stars..."
Contrary to popular notions, Micheline raises a defiant cup and embraces the life of an often-indigent poet. IN CHASING KEROUAC'S SHADOW, Micheline again sets himself up as a downtrodden bum, only to come back and celebrate the fact: 
" I am the gray Fox some schmuck
The old pro chasing the mad dream
The crazy Jew himself,
I only know when the cock rises and the crow howls,
To eat, to drink, to take a leak,...
Let's sing a song,
For those who chase the night
For those that dance with light...
The road
The vagabond
The dreamers,
the dancers,
the unsung,
Fuck the Gung Ho!"
It seems evident in every poem that Micheline knew where he was from, and would not let the reader forget it. He was a street kid from the Bronx, a stumble bum from 'Frisco, and a snake oil salesman. In SOUTH STREET PIERS, the poet describes the setting in where he hopes to have his ashes scattered to the wind:  

"...the red brick warehouse stands
the stevedores haul the rigs to the masts
the kids fight in the streets...
the cleaning girls are scrubbing Maiden Lane,
the smoke pours stacks from the Brooklyn shore--
the fog horn tickles my belly
I hear the drums beat
throw my ashes from the pier when I die."
This collection of poems (many of them unpublished before), are not all stellar. Often they are raw, violent and vulgar. Yet, they are a fitting tribute to a man who represented a vanishing breed of poets. Throughout the book are photos of the poet and his friends, and samples of his prolific body of artwork. It is also an important historical and artistic document of an era and a movement, that will be a great interest to scholars, students, and readers in years to come.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/Somerville, Ma./Oct. 2002

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