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

Monday, July 08, 2013

Drunken Angel by Alan Kaufman

Alan Kaufman author of "Drunken Angel"

Drunken Angel by Alan Kaufman  (Viva editions. Berkeley, CA. 94710) $18.95

Review by Doug Holder

 I always tell my creative writing students not to be polite in their writing. If a girl steals your boyfriend you don't say: "How dare you-you offended my honor." It's more like " Hey bitch--get your slutty hands off my man."--or worse. To write, to really write, you must be willing to insult your mother as Philip Roth once said. Alan Kaufman, does exactly this with his new memoir "Drunken Angel." He writes about the self-absorbed, abusive monster he once was--fueled with high octane booze. He writes graphically and without apologies about his self-destructive urges, his blind, drunken ambition, his hitting rock bottom, sleeping in the gutters of New York--Tompkins Park in the East Village serving as his bedroom. He writes about being the Bronx child of Holocaust survivors. He portrays his damaged parents and the people in his life brutally and at times cruelly, and at times it was hard to take. Kaufman was a monster. He didn't undersatnd love--he used people as a means to an end--and that end was to drink himself to oblivion. By the finish of the book he comes full circle. He reunites with his estranged daughter, realizes his dream to become an accomplished and respected writer, and stops his drinking. In essence he becomes a human being.

 I was introduced to Alan Kaufman by a few anthologies he edited "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry," The Outlaw Bible of American Literature," and "The Outlaw Bible of American Essays." I have used these anthologies with good effect with my writing students at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. and Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. The work by these "outlaw" poets and writers like Henry Miller, Herbert Selby, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac, Patti Smith and others reaches these young readers. At a time of their lives where they are searching for identity, and often at odds with society, the works speaks to them in a way the mannered work of Henry James never will.

I have had the pleasure to interview Kaufman and conducted a sort of informal Q and A with him on Facebook. Although I am far less worldly than he, and have no where near his accomplishments--I could identify deeply with him in certain regards. Like him I have lived in gone-to-seed rooming houses, I am Jewish-- in my family there are Holocaust survivors, my father and mother are from the Bronx; I toured Israel as a guest of a literary organization, and I had my severe bouts of depression and serious flirtations with heavy drinking. Oh yes, like him I am a poet. Needless to say I was riveted by the book. Kaufman is a novelist, poet, and memoirist,who was instrumental in the development of the Spoken Word Movement in Literature. He is also the author of the celebrated memoir  "Jew Boy" and the novel "Matches."

On one level  "Drunken Angel" can be read as a delicious collection of anecdotes about the literary life and the folks who peopled it. There are portraits of I.B. Singer, (Kaufman was invited up to his apartment when he was a CCNY student) Bernard Malamud ( Who Kaufman dissed at a lecture at Columbia University- and Malamud dropped dead the next day), the ego of poet Jorie Grahm, Allen Ginsberg( Who Kaufman angered at a reading in Germany), Herbert Selby (A spiritual godfather of the writer) and so many more.

And on another level it can be read as a literary self-help book. The book is sort of like a big A.A. meeting with Kaufman in the center of it all. Kaufman is the guest speaker--tracing his rise and fall and his rise once again. There is a lot of stuff in here about the recovery process, perhaps at times a bit too much-- but then again this is a central concern of the book. Yes the Higher Power is mentioned often--but this is the author's mantra for survival.

Kaufman writes about the young man he once was. In short he was an animal. He threw away opportunities like Columbia Graduate school, editorships at prestigious lit mags, friendship and lovers with acts of astounding selfishness. He abandoned his young daughter for booze--his primal relationship. All this  was to block out his tortured childhood with his dysfunctional family--and the demons that psychically possessed him.

But in the end Kaufmman gets straight, not only through sponsors at A.A. but through the poetry scene of San Francisco (A city he moved to from New York). He frequented the poetry venues in North Beach, and walked in the steps of the poets of a generation before like Di Prima, Ginsberg, Michelene, etc... Kaufman was led to the real core of what he really was about by a wizened old A.A. sponsor by the name of Ray. In this excerpt Ray gives it to Kaufman straight with no chaser:

 " A writer is someone who writes. When you write, when your pens moves on the page, you're a writer. When you talk about writing without doing the work, it is called being a phony."  Ray adds: " The world has...more than enough phonies and critics. But there are too few writers. So why don't you be one?"

And with this clear-eyed insight , Kaufman writes.

As a literary work the book is hugely successful. The detail, whether about his paranoid delusions, his psychosis, his family, the people that made up his tortured milieu is stunning. He gets into the mind of a self-destructing alcoholic that he was and is never far from becoming again. The dialogue was sharp and authentic--for the most part the characters were fully fleshed. Sometimes however I thought his characterization of his female characters was thin--either stock raving mad, or sex addicts. But his description of his relationship with his first true love Ana was masterful.

In any piece of writing there should be universality. And I think all of us have a piece of Kaufman inside us--unless you want to bullshit yourself and deny it. Few of us could survived a life like this--few of us could write a memoir like this--and few us can create art like this.   Highly Recommended.

--Doug Holder/ Somerville, Mass./July 2013

Somerville Artist Jesa Damora Creates and Works in an ‘Asylum’

Somerville Artist Jesa Damora Creates and Works in an ‘Asylum’

By Doug Holder

 Jesa Damora works in an asylum. No, not in a psychiatric hospital like McLean Hospital, where I have labored for thirty or so years. She works in the Artisan's Asylum a huge open space for artists of all stripes, that is located here in Somerville. She is also a consultant for other artists, as well as creating her own acclaimed prints and drawings. Like many Somerville artists of my acquaintance Damora is a refuge from the Republic of Cambridge. She and her husband moved from the rarefied environs of Appian Way in Cambridge to the more egalitarian territory of Prospect Hill in Somerville. Now she owns a home, and has a small carriage house that acts as her art studio. Of our town Damora told me: “We moved from Cambridge because it was so expensive. I love the multicultural aspect of Somerville. I mean in Cambridge where we lived, it was all rich, white doctors and lawyers.” Damora is also excited by the subway coming to Union Square and the changes it will bring. She is a member of the Mystic Valley Task Force and feels that in the end this will help the creative economy in the Square. Damora, by her own description, is not a political animal but hopes that there will be advocacy for low income and moderate income housing so Union Square will not just be a home for high income young urban professionals. She wants Union Square to retain its unique flavor—a very hard task if you examine other neighborhoods that went through similar transformations.

Damora is known for her drawings and limited edition of flowers and seedpods.  Her work according to the website of the Somerville Open Studios consists of "vital, luminous immensely detailed drawings. They are about the wildness both in nature and ourselves, that we think we have tamed."But Damora is not only about flowers; she is also known for her drawings of men's testicles. Damora feels the penis has overshadowed the testicle--so to speak, and she has given it more...well...exposure. And after all, isn't the sacred sac a sort of seedpod...huh?

Damora attended Harvard University and majored in General Studies. She said Harvard was not a good place to study to be an artist because it was too traditional. But Damora came from a rather unconventional family. Her father was a noted architectural photographer, and was friends with Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus Art Movement. The house Damora lived in when she was a child was designed by Philip Johnson. Her life was filled with unconventional and creative people that has influenced her rather unconventional life.

Because of some physical problems Damora was unable to paint and draw as much as she would of liked. So after browsing Facebook she realized that a lot of artists do not really know how to market their work properly. So she started an artist consulting business titled FunnelCake. Because of her extensive background in the arts and the connections she has, she helps the artist to get the word out about their work, and teaches them how to connect to the markets that best serve them.

Damora is also involved with the Artisan's Asylum  located right outside of Union Square off of Somerville Ave. This is a huge open space that rents sections to any number of artists. Damora is the unofficial tour guide and is heavily involved in the promotion of the facility. She told me: “ We have 3D printers there, a jewelry school, glass work artists, plasma cutters, etc…There is a great cross- pollination of artists here.” The venue was founded by Gui Cavalcanti. Damora added: “There a lot of incredible but unassuming people here.”

Damora is married to John Bailes—a poet of some note, and a protege of the late bard Philip Whalen.  As Damora left the Bloc11, she seemed to be swept away by some creative breeze that graced Bow St- and then out to the wilds of the Paris of New England.  

To find out more about FunnelCake Marketing  contact Damora at