Sunday, April 15, 2018

Main Street

Middle Street, Gloucester. Paul Cornoyer (1864-1923)

During the many years I used to meet her, she seemed unchanged, a little old lady full of energy: gray-haired, walking jauntily on Main Street, coming over to me in the post office to say she liked a column I’d recently published, or gently disagreeing with my argument.  She never offered her name, and I never asked because she seemed so much a part of my daily life.  A brown pillbox on her head, along with brown Oxford walkers; what our mothers referred to as “sensible shoes.”  Opaque nylon stockings, a short, light, cloth coat in spring, quilted parka in winter, both brown.  Lovely Yankee voice, pure Gloucester—“’’Twas” for “it was”—“’’Tis,’” for “it is”— locutions that have persisted in local speech.

One day I saw her, as I had during all the years past, and the next day I didn’t.  Had she died?  Was she suddenly in a nursing home or hospital?  At her age she couldn’t simply have moved away; not her, with the sense she projected of continually having been rooted here.

Was she a retired teacher?  She looked like one, had the rimless bifocals Miss Harris and most of our teachers once wore, hair in a bun.  Had she been a secretary in a law office?  There were many, women who hadn’t married, but who, like my mother, had gone to work out of school with typing, shorthand and bookkeeping skills they’d amply acquired in the former Commercial Course at Gloucester High School.  They staffed the banks, or they clerked in the gas and electric company, as my Aunt Harriette had done all her life.  They became operators in the Bell Telephone Company office building on Elm Street that later became National Marine Fisheries, where my mother also worked and is now the Cape Ann Museum’s library.

For weeks I agonized over her disappearance.  I could have asked my friends in the post office who knew everybody in town.  But it didn’t occur to me to ask.  It didn’t occur to me to do anything but remark her absence.  It didn’t even occur to me to check the obituaries in the Gloucester Daily Times, even though I didn’t know who she really was.

It got to be that way as I lived my life on Main Street during the thirty years I spent working at the city’s anti-poverty agency.  Two trips daily to the post office, one to pick up my own mail at 10:30 each morning, and a second in the afternoon to post the agency’s, but more to get out of the office during coffee break, when I could afford a few minutes for a walk around town:  Dale Avenue from the post office, City Hall and the library to Middle Street, then down to the Joan of Arc statue in front of the American Legion Building.  Around the corner to Main Street, through the West End, and all the way back to the office on Elm Street. Soon I began to think of myself as an old Gloucester dog, making his habitual rounds; that is, before the city instituted a leash law.

On those daily strolls I came to know dozens of people by sight, men, women, natives I’d recognized since childhood, having seen them every day in Woolworth’s, Sterling Drug, the Waiting Station, all of them gone now, the people along with the places themselves: Sears & Roebuck, W. T. Grant, Gorins, W. G. Brown.  Dr. Benno Broder’s dental office on Pleasant Street, with a human skull in a glass-doored bookcase; the old Western Union’s tiny dark storefront from which you could telegraph a message anywhere around the world.  Willie Alexander’s father’s Baptist Church across the street from City Hall and the Museum, torn down for parking.  Elks Lodge, now condos; Knights of Columbus, likewise; Red Men’s Hall vanished; Masons moved to Eastern Avenue.  Bradford Building burned down, the fire in which E. E. Cummings’ Harvard classmate, painter Winslow Wilson, lost the manuscript of his autobiography.  Hotel Gloucester, on Main across from Elm, where, in a small rented top floor room, I worked on my second novel—gone in urban renewal, along with the old police station and the Fishermen’s Institute, a bethel for retired mariners, who gathered to swap stories in front of the bank on the corner of Main and Duncan, or in the sun across the street at Sterling Drug.

One by one they’d disappear, like the little old lady in brown—the fishermen, the retired letter carriers, the women who sold us toys in Woolworth; those who drew the chilled root beer out of the casks at Kresge’s or measured out the penny candy.

Jake’s on Granite Street, where we bought bubble gum on the way to Hovey School, now an apartment house; Cher Ami’s ice cream parlor on Washington converted into a barbershop.  Bart’s Variety on Pine and Washington streets, where we went for Italian ice, a driving school today.  Captain Bill’s on Main and Washington, once Frank Barkas’ restaurant and pool room, now the Blackburn building with Giuseppe’s on the ground floor, until it, too, closed, to be replaced by a tonier Tonno.

I could see the old clapboard or redbrick buildings as they were abandoned or torn down, residents displaced. I watched them emptied of what they sold, windows gone blank.  Though devoid of human habitation, the places themselves had a lingering presence; even their smells persisted—yeast from the Sunnyside Bakery, burnt almonds at Mike’s Pastry, sawdust in front of the National Butchers.  But the people, like my little old lady in brown, had an equal vitality, which, as they too disappeared, slowly ebbed out of the city itself, along with the local dialect and the natives’ slouching walk, draining the city of its uniqueness and spirit, except for the young people I run into today on Middle Street.  They’ll be heading home from high school, pierced and tattooed, their hair in dreadlocks, often speaking Spanish, a language I never heard until I went to Europe, or Brazilian Portuguese.  Or they’re African-American.  It wasn’t until I moved to Rocky Neck in 1951, and started sneaking over to the Hawthorne Inn Casino to hear jazz, that I actually saw a black person.

What would these teenagers in 50 Cent T-shirts and slashed jeans think of the skinny kid in the maroon and silver sateen Mighty-Mac baseball jacket, coming toward them from Central Grammar as he headed home down the Cut?  He’s hatless and his hair, slicked down even in the autumn wind, has been cut at Bill Maciel’s barbershop on Duncan Street, next to the Fishermen’s Institute.  Theirs goes wild and they wear hooded sweatshirts against the cold.  They talk on cell phones, get their music from iPods, living in a digitized world that was imagined only in the science fiction novels I read at their age.

I find it remarkable that sixty-eight years later I’m taking the same route I took home from school, the route that led past the old “Y”, the Solomon-Davis house, and C. F. Tompkins’ furniture store, all since disappeared; past the Lorraine Apartments that managed to survive condo mania only to be destroyed in a fire that took the synagogue next door with it; past Pike’s Funeral Home, where my father’s and my brother’s memorial services were held and my mother’s ashes reposed before her grandchildren and I scattered them at sea; past Trinity Congregational Church, rebuilt after the fire in 1979 that destroyed the original structure, where my brother and I attended Sunday school during the war because the gas ration prohibited travel to the Greek Orthodox Church in Ipswich.  When I was twelve or thirteen, had anyone predicted that I’d be walking on Middle Street, balding and gray-bearded, or told me I’d still be in Gloucester in 2018, I would have been incredulous.

But it’s not myself as I appeared then I miss, it’s the old people I grew up knowing with their sense of correctness in what they wore and how the men still tipped their hats to women on the street, asking each time, “And how’s your mutha?”   Live in a place long enough and its entire history replays itself in your head.  You come to know where everyone’s house is, even in childhood, where their parents came from, their grandparents.  You saw their little sisters in strollers on the Boulevard or at St. Peter’s Fiesta.  You went to Hovey School or Forbes with their brothers and cousins.  You could tell from anyone’s face who he was, who his father was.  Each beautiful blond Finnish girl in school had a beautiful blond Finnish mother who’d gone to school with your mother or your aunts.  The minute you met the mother you knew who her daughter was, or her sister.  Visiting Gloucester High School today, I see the great-granddaughters of my classmates and know exactly who they are, even though I can no longer remember their mothers’ names.

Live in a place long enough and it enters your dreams.  There was another woman I saw one day on Middle Street, getting out of her car in such a way that I felt I was reliving a dream.  She’s tiny, like my mother, and she’s Lebanese, probably related to Freddie Kyrouz, who used to run the shoeshine parlor on Main Street before he became city clerk.  I know this woman from city hall, from the bank, from the post office, yet, like the lady in brown, I don’t remember her name.  We always say hello and smile.  And the other day when I caught the lovely clear expectant look in her eyes, her smallness like my mother’s and my aunts’, I was overwhelmed by impending loss because I realized she will become one of those people I may no longer see, one of the many who are ebbing away just as the city itself is being erased by strip mall commercial complexes, proliferating donut franchises, cheap modular houses jammed into pocket-sized lots, imposed upon us by those, as Charles Olson wrote, “who take away and do not have as good to offer.”

A bitterly contested retail complex with a mega supermarket was recently completed near the Route 128 entrance to the city.  Called Gloucester Crossing and billing itself as “the premiere shopping destination on Cape Ann,” the center is competing with downtown businesses that have been struggling for years to stay afloat.  Soon it will be accompanied by a 200-unit “market rate” housing complex with added retail space and a new YMCA.   And on the Fort, one of the last remaining ethnic enclaves in the maritime heart of the city, a billionaire developer has built a 94-room “boutique” hotel and function center in a neighborhood where a delicate balance has long existed between residents and a thriving marine industry.

I walked sadly away after I met the Lebanese woman getting out of her car across the street from St. John’s Church, in front of the house that used to be Dr. Doyle’s office, where my brother and I were taken when we got sick or had poison ivy infections.  In her persistence in my daily life, her smile of recognition, she embodies for me what my life here has meant, a connection to a single place and a sense of duration I never expected to experience when I was younger.

I don’t have to ask anyone in my generation who Pat Maranhas is, or if they remember that he played tenor sax in the Modernaires, or that his grandfather was a fisherman named Captain Green.  We take people like Pat, with whom we went to kindergarten or worked with at Gorton’s or see at the bank or walking his dog in Magnolia, for granted, just as we understand why a house covered by aluminum siding should never have been put up where our junior high school shop teacher Tom Brophy’s graceful 19th century white frame house once stood on the corner of Pleasant and Shepherd streets, or why it was unthinkable to tear apart the lovely wooded, granite-bouldered, hill above Brightside Avenue and wedge a bunch of houses into it that look like they were made from kits you’d buy at Wal-Mart.

And unless they happened to be born here, who will ever know what it felt like to walk home from high school every day along the waterfront, smelling the gurry and the rendered mink food, the codfish cakes at Gorton’s cannery, and the tar and oakum caulking from the railways; listening to the screech of gulls and the idling engines of the boats at dock.  Or returning home from Hovey School through the sumac bushes clustered high on Rider’s Rocks, the entire harbor spreading out beneath you, all the way to Boston.  Or even Middle Street, on the way home from Central Grammar, day after day, knowing the Solomon Davis house like one’s own, the two sisters who lived as recluses in it, apparitions from the 19th century, or that the YMCA bought it for a mere $25,000 and tore it down, the city’s stateliest example of Greek Revival architecture, for a concrete basketball court that was never built.  Or the Parsons-Morse house on Western Avenue, another of the North Shore’s endangered First Period houses, which Olson fought to save but couldn’t, torn down by the state to widen the highway that never got widened.

They wouldn’t know that if you walk to the post office through the parking lot behind City Hall, even on the hottest day in July, there is always a cool breeze; and if you choose the same route in the dead of winter, an icy wind hits you in the face and makes you shiver even in your warmest fleece jacket.
What about sitting in the Miami Pastry Shop, later Mike’s, among the fishermen speaking Sicilian, sipping the first espresso that was sold in town and eating a ricotta pie that one could not find the equal of in the bakeries of Boston’s North End?

And what of the smells and tastes that Proust insists are primary?  There were the strips of salt cod we pulled off the big fish drying on the clotheslines outside my grandmother’s house and ate like potato chips, and the taste of anise cookies our Italian friends’ mothers baked at Christmas.  There was the smell of the grass on the river bank after it had been mowed and the sickly sweet perfume of clethra, or the flowering locusts in June, which the fishermen could smell offshore, on their way in from a trip: When the locusts are in bloom the fish come home.  And always in Gloucester, the smell of fish—fish cooking and fish rotting—and the salt air off the ocean often combined with the rank smell of kelp.

In remembering these things I don’t intend to be nostalgic.  I mistrust nostalgia because it’s usually not about things that no longer exist—lost people, customs, ways of being—but about yearning for those things we thought we possessed but only imagined we had; and everyone will have a Gloucester of his own, no matter when they came or left.  I’m only recording what I remember of daily rhythms, of the names of people who still come to me in my dreams, of the ways these people who inhabited each neighborhood, even their dogs and cats, become so deeply embedded in our consciousnesses we can’t even articulate them, we just feel them in our blood.

There are expectations, or there were, of how each day would be, who you’d meet, who would tell you a story about whom, who would have lived next door or down the street at a time when hardly anyone ever moved, when moving was a momentous event; who would have gotten sick or died and was laid out in the family parlor, like Barry Clark’s grandmother, or little Joey Nicastro, who died in second grade from “ammonia,” and was one day in the neighborhood, reading Superman comics with us on my back porch, and the next in Addison Gilbert Hospital and then, when we saw the ribbon of black cloth pinned to his front door, lying with a suit on in a small coffin in his living room with the women in black all around him saying the Rosary and the men, home from fishing, consoling his father in the kitchen.

Don’t believe for one minute that having grown up and lived in a small town we had seen nothing of life.  We came upon rotting carcasses of deer that lay dead in the woods; saw our friends’ sisters naked in their bedroom windows; watched half-dressed couples making love under the bleachers at Newell Stadium; heard neighbors screaming at each other in the dead of night; saw a sailor who had been beaten nearly to death along the Boulevard, where his blood remained for days drying in the cracks of pavement; knew the drunken sea captain, who always came into my grandfather’s shoe repair shop on Stoddart Lane, speaking perfect Greek even though he was Portuguese, because he loved the tarama Papouli prepared from fish row in the back room, packing it in small wooden casks to sell to the Hellenic markets in Boston.  Yes, and we heard from our mothers talking together about the fisherman who strangled his wife, cut her body into pieces and ate her liver after frying it in a skillet; about the daughter who beat her mother to death with a hammer; the son who drowned his father in the bathtub; and the other son who killed his mother, cut her head off and tried to shred it in the Dispose-all.

We heard and saw these things, and more: the sutured wounds in Irving Morris’s head after he’d been attacked and robbed one night on Middle Street, while returning home with the day’s earnings from his First National grocery store; the blood all over the snow on Main Street after the city worker had his leg torn off by the snow removal machine; the body of a five-year-old Sicilian girl, who was run over by a trailer truck on Commercial Street (I wrote that story as a young reporter for the Gloucester Times), her tiny foot with its little red sneaker sticking out from under a tarpaulin the workers at a nearby fish plant had gently covered her with.

And I think we also came to understand certain moments of human vulnerability—the eager look I caught on a boy’s face as he approached the toy store on Pleasant Street with his father one Saturday morning, his excitement propelling him just ahead of his father, who was straining to catch up with him; or the other boy on his bike in Riverdale, shyly taking orders for Christmas cards door-to-door one August afternoon, who reminded me of my son Ben, who once sold them himself, and it made me think of my three children away at summer camp in Maine, missing them so much that I rushed home from my walk to sit alone in the darkened house on Vine Street counting the days until I would see them again.

Small events and moments—a teacher’s sharp rebuke, a neighbor’s reprimand if you stepped on her marigolds while on the run in war games—that stayed for years, returning again and again in the vacuum left by loss or abandonment.  Comments we made that hurt people’s feelings, stupid remarks in school, pain inflicted: the Irish kid who called me “Pinocchio Nose” and pushed me off the sidewalk in front of the “Y.”  And when I went home crying and asked my mother why he’d done it, she said I shouldn’t have been at the “Y” anyway with all those ruffians.  I was so terrified it would happen again, not so much the shove as his remarks about my nose, which I was sensitive about, that I never went back to the “Y” until high school, when I played piano there at Saturday night dances with the Modernaires.  And even when I saw that kid for years afterwards, still a bully—he was the son of a patrolman in Gloucester—long after he’d obviously forgotten what he’d said and done to me, maybe even forgotten me as I got older, my body would stiffen and I would find ways of avoiding him.  I can still see his pinched face, can tell what the beanie he was wearing looked like the day he pushed me off the sidewalk; can even remember the sound of his voice, the humiliation has stayed with me that much.  Why didn’t my mother comfort me, explaining to me why certain kids bullied or threatened us, instead of telling me not to go back to the “Y?”

der why I ever came back, or why I still love the place of my birth; and maybe it is about masochism, or the fear of new or unknown cities, which my children appear never to have experienced—Jonathan, at seventeen, on the road with his hardcore punk rock band—that kept me in Gloucester; or the inability to let go of family, of the place itself.  We often speak of an “island mentality,” which natives seem to share, the sense of innate comfort we take in remaining in one place, a house, a street, a certain neighborhood (I’ve only lived at the Cut, in East Gloucester and Riverdale during all my years in the city), and the inability ultimately to leave Gloucester.  Older people once boasted of never having “crossed the bridge,” when we only had one bridge out of town.  I knew some of those people.  They had never seen Boston and they apparently hadn’t needed to, their lives were that sufficient; though my mother took us often to the city on the train for shopping or to visit the museums.  We drove to the Witch City Candy Company in Salem to pick up the chocolate bars my father sold in his corner store, walking its then dark streets and visiting the Peabody Museum, full of artifacts from the city’s East India trade.  And we even ventured farther out to Newburyport, to Plum Island and the beaches of the New Hampshire coast.  So, slowly, I began to leave Gloucester, though, as the years go by now, I want less and less to do so.

In the end, it comes down to this.  In a shrinking world, when every place has either been destroyed or homogenized, when the culture, the national intelligence, has been reduced to the lowest common denominator; when the young hope only to consume the world’s goods, not yearn to know the world itself in all its particulars, or to embrace its arts and its languages, the books that beckon to be read, paintings to be seen, monuments to visit, cities to wander in at night, as I once did in Florence; in a shrinking world, we must have something, some place, to hold onto, and an ethos, related to that place, its history, and our own in it.  We must have such a thing or die from the lack of it.

So that little old lady in brown I knew without even learning her name is even more precious to me now.  For a long time I could count on her presence in Gloucester, in my own life, just as I could count on the presence of my father, my mother and my brother, who are dead now; or Charles Olson, who showed me how to know the place we inhabit through an immersion in its history; Vincent Ferrini, who first taught me about poetry; or John Rowe, the eighty-year-old carpenter on Perkins Road, who, as a child, I watched as he slowly rebuilt our front porch, hour by hour, day by day, plank by plank; patiently, carefully, purposefully, and not without delight, addressing the task, as I myself have finally learned how to write.

Now, I fear, we have come to an end of rhythms, of traditions and folkways, at least as I’ve known them; an end, too, of expectations, though the ocean remains and the seasons return, however more unpredictably.  Toward the end of his life, Olson said that a writer has two choices: you either oppose the destruction of the things you love or you describe the tragedy of their loss.  I’ve tried to do both, often with mixed results, but in the end, it is the loss that has remained with me, touching every aspect of my thought and being.  The only Gloucester that exists for me now is the city of my mind.

(This is the first chapter of Peter Anastas’ recently completed memoir From Gloucester Out)

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

                                  Schloss Brunnenburg

Ezra Pound in the Bughouse, by Peter Anastas

The Poetry, Politics and Madness of Ezra Pound

By Daniel Swift
302 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27

For Gerrit Lansing (1928-2018)

“American poetry in the twentieth century is a cycle of encounters with Ezra Pound.”—Daniel Swift

“Shall we learn from his line and not answer his life?”—Charles Olson

The turrets of Schloss Brunnenburg rose through a swirl of mist that enveloped the valley lying between the 13th century castle and the Italian Alpine town of Merano.   Standing above the valley, you could make out the vineyards and apple orchards that surrounded the castle.  When we arrived in early October of 1960 to visit Ezra Pound, who had been living in the castle owned by his daughter Mary and her husband Boris de Rachewiltz since his release in 1958 from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., the vendemmia, or grape harvest, was in progress.   Wagons loaded with clusters of dusky-green grapes that would become the region’s prized Pinot Grigio were drawn by pairs of white oxen.  Slowly they advanced toward us through the mist, as we stood overlooking the valley, marveling at the wonder of the castle, the yellow farm houses that surrounded it, and the oxen as they moved at a stately pace.

Leaving Florence at dawn, my friend Peter Denzer and I had arrived in Merano after a five hour drive through Bologna, Verona, Trento and Bolzano.  It was early fall and the leaves were still on the trees, the grapes and olives ripe for harvest.   The countryside was bathed in golden light.  There was a Roman amphitheater in Verona, and the great paintings of Mantegna.  Yet we deferred those visits because our destination was Merano.  We had an appointment with Pound the next day and we did not want to be late for it.

Peter, who was writing a novel based on Pound’s years in Italy and hoped to interview the aging poet, had received a letter of introduction from Pound’s publisher James Laughlin.   Laughlin warned Peter that Pound had not been well, so that any visit might be abbreviated.

Nevertheless, the Pound we met when we presented ourselves the following day at the castle after an arduous descent on foot down into the valley and up to the imposing structure that Pound’s daughter and her husband were still in the process of restoring, seemed alert, if intermittently silent.  We were greeted by Noel Stock, an Australian writer and journalist, who was engaged in cataloging Pound‘s vast store of papers, while also writing a biography of the poet that would be published in 1970 by Pantheon.

Stock, who we later realized was also Pound’s gatekeeper, led us to an unostentatiously furnished room where we awaited the poet’s arrival.  It was not a long wait, enough for us to observe the contents of the bookshelves and the art on the walls, transporting the visitor back to the London and Paris of Pound’s early years of expatriation.

Expatriation was the subject of the novel for which Peter had received an advance from St. Martin’s Press, ample enough to enable him to bring his family to Italy while he researched and wrote the book.   They settled on Florence because I was completing graduate work there at the University and the city’s centrality in Italy seemed a perfect base for any travels Peter might need to embark on for his work.

Peter and I had met in 1957 in Brunswick, Maine, while I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin.  He and his painter wife Anne Sayre Wiseman had moved to Maine with their two sons, Piet and Kiko, to escape the urban chaos of New York, part of a growing migration of artists and writers who sought the relaxed pace of country life. Meeting in the town’s only bookstore, Peter, Anne and I hit it off immediately. Consequently, I ended up spending more time in their 19th century farmhouse than in the student dining halls and lounges of the college I was beginning to tire of.  As soon as they arrived in Italy, we found a small villa to rent in the Florentine hill town of Settignano and moved in en famille.

Peter, a former foreign correspondent for UPI and the author of three novels, did not want to write about Pound; rather, he hoped to understand how Pound’s years in Italy, specifically in isolation during the war, might help him to recreate the atmosphere of expatriate life.  Our visit to Pound was not only to see the long-time expatriate face to face, but also hopefully to talk with him about his experiences of exile.

That this might be problematic was apparent as soon as we met the frail poet, who we later learned had spent time in an Italian hospital being treated for depression shortly after his arrival back in Italy, in July of 1958.  Pound moved slowly, walking with a cane.  His hair and grizzled beard were white, his voice low, phrases often difficult to understand.  Stock helped from time to time as Peter, presenting Laughlin’s letter, gently asked Pound how it felt to be back in Italy after his incarceration in the US.  “All America is an insane asylum,” Pound had told the first reporters to interview him after his release from St. Elizabeth’s.

Pound gossiped about his publisher, whom Peter also knew; and he turned to me with a nod.  When Peter explained that I was studying Medieval Literature in Florence, his eyes lit up: “Ah, Philologia  Romanza,” he said, using the Italian terminology for the discipline.

“I wouldn’t be in Italy if I hadn’t read The Spirit of Romance,” I said.

Then I remained silent because I knew that Peter had much to ask Pound.

Intuiting this, Stock motioned to me to follow him out of the room, which I did, but not before touching the mottled skin of Pound’s trembling hand and telling him how much his poetry had meant to me; in effect, reaching back to that boy of 18, who, reading the Cantos for the first time, did not understand much about the poetry, except that he knew, or had intuited, that what he was reading in his cold Maine dormitory room was magical.  (The experience was not unlike my first reading of a Maximus Poem, in Vincent Ferrini’s Four Winds, in 1952).

After Stock retuned to the room where Peter and Pound sat talking quietly, I stood in a corridor of unadorned walls and small windows feeling the silence of the vast stone edifice around me, not a footfall or human voice, until Peter joined me.  Pound was tired, he said, but he had been granted another visit the following day.

I remained in the comfortable Gasthaus, where we were staying while Peter returned to the castle the next morning.   Dinner the night before had been memorable, with delicately prepared veal cutlets, pasta in a rich cream sauce, a nice change from the tomato sauces of Florence, and Pinot Grigio to accompany our meal, a wine I’d never tasted before.  I also experienced the warmth of an Alpine comforter in bed, especially welcome because we discovered that nights in the mountains were cold.   The natives of the Alto Adige region of Alpine Italy spoke both Italian and German.  Peter, who had spent several years in Germany after the war as editor of an English language newspaper, was happy to be speaking German again.

Peter returned to report that his talk with Pound, though briefer than he had hoped for due to the poet’s lingering fatigue, had been fruitful.  He had also met Pound’s daughter, who had warmly welcomed him to the castle, offering tea.  At first there had been a moment of potential conflict, Peter said.  The poet had asked Peter what kind of name “Denzer” was.  Knowing of Pound’s anti-Semitism, Peter, who was Jewish, said, “It’s German from Tanzer,” avoiding further discussion with a question about Pound’s choice of Italy as a place to live during the 1920s, specifically Rapallo.   It was cheaper than Paris, Pound said, and warmer in the winter.

Pound had worn the same loose clothing we met him in the day before, a pair of soft gray trousers and a wrinkled faded blue shirt that fell below his belt.  On his feet were sandals.  Peter, who had read the transcripts of some of Pound’s controversial wartime broadcasts from Rome, had decided not to discuss politics with the poet, though the protagonist of Peter’s novel, an American poet named Zeno, would have similar conflicts and an idealized sympathy for Fascism, which Peter, who had been one of the first reporters to enter Dachau, would explore in his novel, whose working title was “The Alien.”

“There wasn’t enough time,” Peter reported after he returned to the Gasthaus for a walk through the town’s cobblestone streets.  “I managed to get him talking about how those who stayed on in Italy after the declaration of war managed to survive —‘It was brutal,’ he said, ‘food shortages, but we had friends.’” (We did not know that Pound had been paid by the Ministry of Popular Culture of the Fascist regime for his broadcasts, the money helping to support his family in Rapallo, including his aging parents, who had left America to be near their adored son.)

The discussion I had dreamed of having with Pound about his early work on Dante, about the genesis of the Cantos, which I had started reading in 1955 and which had been the impetus for my continued study of Latin and Greek, followed by Italian; indeed, for my decision to live in Florence in order to read Dante on his home ground, did not occur.   But I did see Pound.  I stepped into the magnificent 13th century castle.  I sat in the same room with the great poet.  I heard his voice, though the Pound I met was not the handsome dark-haired poet whose photograph appeared in dramatic profile in the 1948 edition of the Cantos I bought and read like a Bible when I should have been reading poets like Wordsworth, who were assigned to us in class.  Pound also inscribed my copy of Personae, which Peter had carried with him on his second visit to the castle.

It was not what we imagined, either for me or for Peter, as we discussed the visit on our way from Merano to Venice before returning to Florence.

“I don’t regret it,” Peter mused, stroking his graying beard.  “It was like visiting a monument.  Jim Laughlin warned me it might be disappointing.  He said that Pound wasn’t talking much, that he seemed often in a state of dissociation after his release from St. Elizabeth’s.  What’s important is that I got to meet him.  I got to see the ravages of St. Elisabeth’s.”

It was those ravages we knew nothing about then, that long ordeal of incarceration in an insane asylum, that British scholar and critic Daniel Swift writes about in his gripping new study of Pound in “the Bughouse.”

Much has been written about the twelve and a half years Pound spent at St. Elizabeth’s, from his admission on December 21, 1945 until his discharge on May 7, 1958, following a Washington District Court hearing on April 18, during which the federal indictment against him for treason was dismissed.  From Charles Norman’s 1960 biography, Ezra Pound, the first to appear after Pound’s release, to the most recent third and final volume of A. David Moody’s definitive Ezra Pound: Poet (2007-2015), Pound’s years in “the bughouse,” as he himself called it, have been documented in increasing detail.  But not until Swift’s study have we had a view that encompasses an analysis of the complexities of the indictment against Pound, an account of his daily life in the asylum, including the numerous visits he received from family and friends, and especially from poets, the work he was able to achieve during his incarceration, and, most crucially, the psychiatric treatment (or non-treatment, as Swift discovers) that the poet, who was judged incompetent to stand trial, received.  In addition—and this may be one of the book’s most important facets—a history of the government asylum, its architecture, including floor plans of the wards, opened in 1855 as the first federally established psychiatric facility and effectively shut down in 2003, with its buildings either demolished or rededicated to other governmental uses.

A good deal of what Swift offers was newly made possible by the release of public records concerning the workings of the hospital, its staff during Pound’s years of incarceration, Patient Case Files obtained under the FOA, and accounts of those still living, who either worked at St. Elizabeth’s, visited patients, or were themselves incarcerated.

For the purposes of this review, I will confine my attention to the poets who visited Pound, most prominently Charles Olson, and to Pound’s diagnosis and treatment, neither of which have been documented as well or as extensively as Swift has been able to do.

Olson, living in 1946 in a small apartment on the outskirts of the city with his first wife Constance, was Pound’s first literary visitor, initiating his visits on January 4th of that year.  Olson knew Pound far better than Pound may have known him, though Pound pleased Olson by asking if he had not previously seen his visitor’s name in print.   It was a transitional time for the tall poet, freed from political employment, first at the Office of War Information and then by the Democratic Party, a year away from the publication of his ground-breaking prose study of Melville, Call Me Ishmael, and seeking a form for an ambitious long poem he hoped to write about the history of Western man, then America, and finally his adoptive home town of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Swift convincingly contends that it was the visits with Pound and Olson’s opportunity both to discuss Pound’s ongoing work on the Cantos with him and to read the corrected galleys for The Pisan Cantos that formed the basis of Olson’s magnum opus, The Maximus Poems, which Swift characterizes as “a remarkable cycle: huge, avid, hungry for change, and most of all marked by vast ambition.”  Taking the galleys home with him with the promise to forward them to James Laughlin, not before copying out relevant passages, Olson writes, “I should like to keep this for my own.”

Beginning with his first visit, Olson saw Pound regularly for two months, bringing with him an occasional bottle of wine, journals and books Pound had requested, and other items the poet needed for his Spartan life, initially in Howard Hall, where Pound continually heard the screams of the insane, and later to the more peaceful quarters of Cedar and Chestnut wards, where he spent the greater part of his stay and was able to enjoy time outside in the hospital’s well maintained gardens and even to play tennis.

Olson’s visits became less frequent when the poet and former New Dealer felt he could no longer countenance what he considered to be Pound’s unregenerate fascist politics and his anti-Semitism, which Olson thought of as “his sickest and most evil moments.”  And yet, Olson continued to describe Pound as a “man of exquisite sensibility…the ear of an era.  He has such charm!”  Olson equally notes that in his own hearing Pound blurted out in court: “I never did believe in Fascism, God damn it!”

In discussing his own ambivalence, Olson early on put his finger on the “Pound problem,” as described by Katherine Seeley in her essential Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St. Elizabeth’s, published in 1975, three years after Pound’s death and five years after Olson’s:

“Two poems, one sympathetic and the other savage, on the subject of Pound’s post-war troubles…clearly reflect Olson’s ambivalence concerning Pound, which never quite left him: on the one hand, an abhorrence of the ‘fascist and traitor,’ and on the other, an enormous admiration for a great poet…”  This is also the ambivalence that many of us who came to admire Pound the poet before we were aware of the extent of his troubling politics have long felt.

Other significant poets who visited Pound included Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Donald Hall and Frederick Seidel.   The chapters on their visits, the poems often reflective of them, and the comments publicly made by the poet-visitors form a multi-faceted view of Pound himself at St. Elizabeth’s and, more importantly, what Swift presciently describes as “a knot of reverence and self-invention, of worship met with use.”

“A whole generation of American poets underwent this ritual,” Swift continues. “They became themselves by visiting Pound and then writing about it.  This was their graduation.”  And yet it was Olson’s visits that were the most crucial for both the older and the younger poet.  “Olson saved my life,” Pound told Hugh Kenner, while Olson came away with the inspiration and the methodology for one of the singular poems of our literature.  Among the several gifts of this capacious book are Swift’s description of the roots of Olson’s epic and his meticulous analysis of the elements that went into the composition of the Cantos, which shared with the The Maximus Poems a drive to document and recover history, an acute sense of place, and a profound understanding of the loss of both that connects the two poems.

As for Pound’s purported “mental illness,” in his painstaking examination of records, Swift appears to have punctured many myths, primary among them that the poet was insane at the time of his indictment and incarceration.

Olson begins the account by stating directly in his notes after an early visit to Pound in the hospital: “You and I know Pound is not crazy… You and I know he is as gifted and trained and skillful a poet as any man who has written the English language in these years of our century.”

The first doctor to have examined Pound was an Army psychiatrist in Pisa, where Pound was placed in detention after his capture—“the gorilla cage,” as Pound called it.  “There is no evidence of psychosis, neurosis, or psychopathy,” the psychiatrist reported on June 15, 1945. “He is of superior intelligence, is friendly, affable and cooperative.”  Yet soon after his imprisonment in an open cage under the broiling sun of summer, Pound suffered a nervous breakdown.

Upon his return to America Pound was examined by a team of army medical experts and civilian psychiatrists, under the direction of Dr. Winfred Overholser, Superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s.
“On 21 December 1945,” Swift writes, their joint report was presented to the court.  “He is now suffering from a paranoid state, which renders him medically unfit to advise properly with counsel or to participate intelligently and reasonably in his own defense,” the examiners concluded. “He is, in other words, insane and mentally unfit for trial.”   Pound was taken directly from the courtroom to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Swift adds.  “He was kept there for the following twelve and a half years.”
Julian Cornell, Pound’s lead attorney, retained by James Laughlin, told the New York Times on November 27, 1945, “Mr. Pound is not sufficiently in possession of judgment and perhaps mentality to plead;” thus the defense that Pound was not competent to stand trial.  Yet Dr. Marion King, director of prison medical services, found that “Pound was not a psychotic or insane person,” and Dr. Addison Duval, an additional consulting psychiatrist, wrote at the end of December 1945 that he “could not elicit any symptoms of psychosis at all.  There were no delusions, no thought disorder and no disturbance or disorientation. He definitely did not seem to be insane.”

The insanity plea, with which Pound concurred, saved his life, though sentencing him to incarceration and ultimately depriving him of his bodily freedom and his right to manage his own affairs.
Examining the records of Pound’s stay in the hospital, especially Pound’s Patient Case File, which had previously been sequestered, Swift found no record whatsoever of any treatment that Pound underwent for his presumed mental illness—no electroshock treatments, no drug therapy, not even a tranquillizer; and no psychotherapy during the entire length of Pound’s stay.  Early on, Pound had been administered a Rorschach test, which he failed due to “lack of imagination,” according to the tester.

Among previous biographers, E. Fuller Torrey, a former psychiatrist at St. Elizabeth’s, contends that while Pound’s insanity plea saved him from potential execution as a traitor, his incarceration allowed him to continue living and writing pretty much as he had while free.  Torrey further argues that it was with the complicity of Dr. Overholser, who greatly admired Pound’s poetry, and Pound’s “literary allies in New York” that Pound was able to “fake the symptoms of madness to escape the treason charge and relished his years” at St. Elizabeth’s.

Swift enters no final judgment as to Pound’s sanity.  What he offers instead is a conclusion that adds to the importance and originality of his study.  “Pound in the insane asylum,” he writes, “is the central question about art, politics and poetry of the twentieth century.  These are questions about what madness is, and what makes genius; about the connection between experimental art and extreme, often illiberal political sentiments; about the consequences of the Second World War, and specifically about America’s post-war ascendance; and about the modern world’s relation with its immediate past. Pound at St. Elizabeth’s is the riddle at the heart of the twentieth century.”

This is a major book about one of our greatest poets.  It is an equally rich and suggestive inquiry into the role of poetry in our personal, social and political lives, more threatened now than possibly ever before in the nation’s history.

Leaving Merano, Peter and I set out on the three hour drive to Venice, stopping in Padova  to see the frescoes by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel.  One had a sense from these stunning 1305 depictions of the Creation, the Nativity, the Passion of Christ, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and the Last Judgment of being immersed in the visualization of an epic like Pound’s Cantos, in one of the very regions of Italy that had inspired the great poem.

We parked Peter’s Morris Minor at the railroad station in Venice and took the vaporetto to the Zattere, a water-side promenade near which was a monastery where I had stayed during the previous summer.   The rooms were comfortable and reasonably priced.  For dinner we were given an excellent three-course meal with a quarter-liter of local red wine each for only 500 lire, less than an American dollar at the time.
During the night we heard rain on the roof tiles of the monastery.  When we woke up to a breakfast of excellent coffee and freshly baked brioche, one of the monks announced that the canal-side calli, or alleys, were beginning to flood and we ought to catch the boat as soon as we could.  Rolling our pants up and carrying our shoes and backpacks, we waded from the monastery to the Zattere, where the vaporetti were beginning to fill up with passengers headed for the mainland.

It was fitting that we ended our journey to Pound in Venice.  Pound had spent his final years there with the violinist Olga Rudge, his long-time companion and the mother of his daughter Mary, dying in Venice’s Civil Hospital on November 1, 1972.  His body was taken by gondola for burial to the island cemetery of Isola di San Michele, his life ending in the city where he had first found his poetic vocation:

Will I ever see the Giudecca again?
      or the lights against it, Ca Foscari, Ca Giustinian
or the Ca, as they say, of Desdemona
or the two towers where are the cypress no more
            or the boats moored off Le Zattere
or the North quai of the Sensaria. . .
                                                (Canto LXXXIII)

(Previously posted on Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, March 18, 2018)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the Road Sixty Years Later

“There is nothing to do but write the truth.”
--Jack Kerouac

Sixty years ago, on September 5, 1957, a novel was published that changed the face of American literature, and with it much of American culture. That novel was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, a young writer from Lowell, Massachusetts, who grew up in a French-Canadian working-class family and had been a football star at Lowell High School and a promising athlete at Columbia.
Writing in the New York Times, on September 5, Gilbert Millstein described Kerouac’s book as a “major authentic work of art.” He went on to call On the Road, “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat.’”
I was nineteen years old when I read Millstein’s rave review. A less enthusiastic one by David Dempsey appeared a few days later in the Times’ Sunday Book Review, as if the timid editors had gone too far in allowing a positive appraisal of a novel that was destined to become one of the most subversive in our literature and felt they had to correct Millstein’s enthusiasm.
I had not heard of Jack Kerouc and I didn’t know what the Beat Generation was. The literature I was studying in college was pretty much canonical. But I raced down to my friend Carl Apollonio, who owned the only bookstore in Brunswick, Maine.  Within a week I possessed a first edition of On the Road.  I should have held onto that copy, instead of sharing it among my friends until it disappeared, because today a first edition of On the Road is worth between $7200 and $19,000 depending upon its condition. Kerouac’s own manuscript of the novel, typed on a continuous roll of architectural drawing paper, was sold fifteen years ago at auction by Christie’s for $2.4 million dollars. Kerouac would have loved it that the winning bidder was James Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team, whose comment upon taking possession of the manuscript was, “I look on it as a stewardship. I don’t believe you own anything.” In 2007, Kerouac’s original publisher Viking Press issued a ground-breaking edition of On the Road, effectively reproducing the initial scroll manuscript and, true to Kerouac’s wishes, reinserting the actual names of people upon whom the characters were based.
On the day I bought On the Road I sat down after dinner in my rented room on Federal Street and didn’t stir until I had read the novel in its entirety.  Describing the novel’s young and articulate, if often manic, characters, narrator Sal Paradise, alias Jack Kerouac, says: “They rushed down the street together, digging everything in the early way they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank. But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...”
Imagine the effect of this prose, indeed of a narrative in which Kerouac’s people are racing from one corner of the country to the other in pursuit of experiences I could only imagine, on a studious small town boy attending a staid New England College. It was incendiary, to say the least. And while I’d learned to play on piano the bebop that accompanied Dean and Sal and their friends from New York to Denver, and from Denver to San Francisco, LA and Mexico City, I had no idea that people like them or their chronicler Kerouac existed.
As a budding literary critic, I grasped the relationship between Kerouac’s Beat Generation and the equally alienated Lost Generation of the 1920s that Ernest Hemingway, one of my heroes, had described in The Sun Also Rises, a novel that had as much impact on its era as Kerouac’s had on mine. But the Beats were less after “kicks,” as their critics alleged, than they were in search of transcendence in the face of post-war materialism and Cold War anxiety. Asked by his friend, novelist John Clellon Holmes, whose 1952 novel Go was really the first Beat novel, to describe Beat sensibility, Kerouac replied:
“We were a generation of furtives...with an inner knowledge there’s no use flaunting on that level, a kind of beatness—I mean being right down to it, to ourselves, because we all really know where we are—and a weariness with all the forms, all the conventions of the world. So I guess you might say we’re a beat generation.”
I wish I could tell you that after closing the covers of On the Road, I dropped out of college like some of my friends did, traveling to San Francisco in pursuit of the “subterranean” culture whose members Kerouac characterized as “hip without being slick, they are intelligent without being corny, they are intellectual as hell. . . without being pretentious or talking too much about it, they are very quiet, they are very Christlike.” But I didn’t. As much as I may have wished to go “on the road” literally and metaphorically, I was committed to my studies, and afraid, I see now, of taking any risks beyond the purely academic.
Nevertheless, On the Road had a deep impact on me as a writer, an impact that reverberates to this day, when I am no longer nineteen but approaching eighty. In fact, when I put down the novel after my first reading, I picked it up and started reading it all over again. Then I thought about it for weeks, pondering its meaning on long solitary October walks down the Mere Point Road in Brunswick, the red and yellow leaves accompanying my mood of autumn melancholy.
For all its surface elation, On the Road is at bottom a profoundly tragic book. It’s a novel about a missing father who was never found, a childhood never regained, a country whose innocence is forever lost. At the end of Kerouac’s road, and Hemingway’s, too, instead of enlightenment for Sal and his friends there is only the recognition of lost illusions and inevitable death.
“I’m writing this book because we’re all going to die,” Kerouac said. “In the loneliness of my life, my father dead, my brother dead, my mother faraway. . . nothing here but my own tragic hands that once were guarded by a world, a sweet attention, that now are left to guide and disappear their own way into the common dark of all our death.”
Like much of our finest fiction—U.S.A. and The Great Gatsby come to mind—On the Road interrogates the fundamental American myth of success, the viability of a life based on material values. For all their seeming irresponsibility, Sal, Dean Moriarty (a character based on the legendary Neal Cassady), and Carlo Marx (poet Allen Ginsberg), are committed to achieving a higher consciousness and an authenticity of personhood and spiritual insight that cut through the religious and political cant of Henry Luce’s “American Century.”
For this reason, more than for Sal or Dean or Carlo, who drank too much or took drugs in order to “see God’s face,” who refused to work nine-to-five jobs, and who flaunted conventions with their liberated or inter-racial sexual expression--indeed, for the experimental brilliance of Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—On the Road was viciously attacked by the established press and marginalized by mainstream and academic critics. Literature, unlike politicians, tells the truth; and sometimes the truths it reveals are unpleasant. Yet, since its publication in 1957, On the Road has sold 5 million copies in the United States alone and continues to sell more than 100,000 copies a year. Like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which was once banned from the classroom, On the Road, is now taught as an essential American text.
Along with On the Road, Kerouac published nine other novels. Perhaps the most achieved in terms of structure, language and the poignant evocation of his childhood in Lowell are three books set in his hometown, Dr. Sax, Maggie Cassidy, and Visions of Gerard. Kerouac also wrote movingly about growing up in Lowell in his first novel, The Town and the City, (1950) and his last book, the elegiac Vanity of Duluoz, published in 1968, a year before his death of alcoholism in St. Petersburg, Florida at the age of 47. Kerouac was buried in Lowell on October 23, 1969. As he wrote in On the Road, “I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.”
Turning the pages of this book again, I rediscover my youth in Kerouac’s stunning prose, with a voice as unique as Whitman’s or Henry Miller’s, and the unremitting energy of his narrative, both so characteristically American. I see myself and my circle of friends, aspiring writers all of us, electrified by a novel, which beckoned us away from our textbooks, opening us to a world that lay beyond classrooms and degrees, beyond jobs and the promise of suburban respectability. In one way or another many of us eventually followed Kerouac’s road to self-discovery; and that decision, in the words of another great New England writer, “has made all the difference.”

Coda: The Scroll

I was ten years old when Jack Kerouac began the journey, hitchhiking and by car and bus, that would take him back and forth across America. And I was thirteen when Kerouac sat down at his typewriter, on April 2, 1951, to begin writing an account of those epic trips on eight sheets of tracing paper he would later tape together to form the 120-foot “scroll” version of the novel that would be published in 1957 by Viking Press as On the Road. He completed that single-spaced draft version of the novel twenty days later, on April 22, 1951.
By the time On the Road was published, six years later, I was two months away from my twentieth birthday. Between the time Kerouac had begun work on the scroll and the date of its book publication, I had read those sprawling narratives by Thomas Wolfe—Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River—which had been an inspiration to Kerouac, especially in his first novel, The Town and the City; I’d heard in person the great tenor saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young and the bebop innovator Charlie “Bird” Parker, both of whose lives and music inspired Kerouac and his Beat companions on the road; and I’d become something of a jazz musician myself. I’d also heard and begun to experiment with the “bop talk” that became a prevalent form of communication among jazz musicians, black and white, and among many of the literary and artistic bohemians of the time, and which found its way into both the speech of the characters and the narrative of On the Road. By that time, too, I’d read most of the key texts of Modernism, which had equally inspired Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, later to be characterized as the Beat Triumvirate, though Burroughs was older than Kerouac and Ginsberg and never considered himself part of the Beat Generation.
Consequently, as soon as I began reading On the Road I understood Kerouac’s cultural frame of reference, though I had never read a word of either writer, nor had I traveled further west than Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I knew the music he referred to, and I had myself experienced those extraordinary moments when, as he wrote, “the tenorman jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd, blowing around…”
So much of that excitement came back to me as I read the scroll version, which in its rawness, its lack of paragraphs and chapter breaks, sounds to me like what Kerouac really wanted to write, what was burning inside of him to express in incandescent images, whole exhalations of pure language--that "spontaneous bop prosody" he strove to attain. Even as the young scholars and critics, who have edited and introduced this long-needed authentic version of an American classic, detail Kerouac’s painstaking revisions (including drafts of the novel before he began the scroll), and the difficult editorial negotiations during which the book’s handlers at Viking attempted to “manage and commodify his wild book and Kerouac’s enthusiastic vulnerability and complicity in that process,” they make clear to us that the scroll is the ur-text and should be read as such. I agree with them. My experience of reading it is not unlike the one I had sixty years ago when the Viking version of the novel blew my mind.
 Encountering recent scholarship like that which underpins the Scroll Edition of On the Road and Joyce Johnson’s definitive biography, The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, one can’t help but be reminded that the Beats played a crucial role in the last truly concerted avant-garde movement in art and literature in the US. Action Painting/Abstract Expressionism, bebop and hard bop, the dance of Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, the new theater, and the poetry of the Beats, Olson's Black Mountain group, and the emerging New York School all came together, intermingled, and fertilized each other, from 1947, when Kerouac first went on the road, to the late 1950s, when On the Road and his other novels emerged, along with Ginsberg’s HOWL and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.
          It was a heady time for the arts--arts that were also in opposition to the Cold War, to American materialism, the myths of family life and suburban respectability. We haven't experienced a total movement like that since, and we may never again because the literacy doesn't exist anymore, nor the material conditions. It was cheap to live in the East Village from 1947 to the early 60s, or in San Francisco or Venice Beach. The Bowery is now full of high-end hotels, restaurants and condos. People could live on next to nothing, get part time jobs, sell their work and essentially give their time over to making art. Now we are compelled to teach or to find other work that takes us away from art, while artists are being forced out of the cities and neighborhoods they once inhabited. With the loss of places to live and gather, the kind of community that the Beats created, lived in, and traveled to and from in SF, Venice Beach, Denver, New York, Mexico City, and LA no longer exists. This is a great loss, not only to art but to the creation and sustenance of the kind of transgressive culture a nation needs for its intellectual and imaginative growth, especially now in the world of Trump and the new Cold War he and his administration are creating. On the Road is therefore all the more poignant because it describes a radically new world just as it was coming
into being, a culture and a time—an energy—we may never have again.

(First posted on Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, October 2017)