Thursday, December 8, 2016

ROBERT A. WILSON R.I.P.


Robert Wilson owned The Phoenix Bookstore in Greenwich Village where, back in the 1960s and '70s and early '80s, I sold books to him to help pay the rent and put food on the table for first my son Miles and then for him and his sister Caitlin after she joined us in the city. Wilson was a witty, knowledgable, and sometimes acerbic, fixture in The Village, especially among the poets who went to him first with books they were trying to tell to raise some funds.

I sold off some of my letters from the more famous poets, like one from Robert Bly, and autographed books, that only Robert would either care about or pay top dollar for. His shop was focused on the kinds of "alternative" writers and poets that at the time were not necessarily getting top dollar elsewhere, or even any dollar. But Bob was prescient about the writing that would matter to future generations.

Many of us used Wilson as a source of income (along with Burt Britton, the rare book buyer in the basement of The Strand). Poet and friend Ted Berrigan would give me two signed copies of his latest book so I could sell one to Robert for grocery money. His shop was a place not only to sell books, but to buy or exchange them, since he had the best inventory of the kind of "alternative" and, at the time, contemporary literature of anyone in the city and possibly beyond.

And it was a great place to hang out at too. Robert introduced me to many poets and writers and others whose work I admired when I was there talking to him and they would stop by to chat or sell or buy books. Some I already knew and was friends with, like Berrigan or Ginsberg. Others I didn't know but would get to know after Robert introduced us. He was a pivotal figure in the downtown literary scene from The Beat era to the post-punk one.

He lived a long, full life (check out the NY Times obit here) and thus his death is less to be mourned than honored, and his contribution to a vital piece of literary history noted and appreciated. And, I have to add, that Wilson's passing makes me miss my old friend Ray DiPalma even more, because we would be talking about it right now on the phone, telling stories about Wilson, and Ray's would be bringing up all sorts of memories I cannot evoke on my own, unfortunately. Too many deaths this year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

RAY DIPALMA R.I.P.

This is me and Ray sometime in the 1960s I believe...we first met at the University of Iowa when I arrived there after four years in the military to try and get into their Writers Workshop at the last minute without even a BA and managed to get them to not only accept me on the G. I. Bill but let me work on a BA and MFA at the same time.

I was a married veteran and Ray was a single ex-"seminarian" (he had spent his high school years preparing for the seminary and the priesthood) who was living the life of a bachelor in the swinging '60s...we became instant friends based on our mutually obsessive, even addictive, love of books and our ethnic "neighborhood" East Coast backgrounds (he an Italian-American from outside Pittsburgh, if i remember correctly, and me Irish-American from outside Newark NJ) among Midwesterners and WASP graduates of Ivy League colleges, (or so it seemed to me at the time) etc.

We remained friends until now, though there was a brief few years where we weren't in touch over some perceived slight—Ray was one of my dearest and oldest friends, but also one of the most demanding—but when another poet friend I had loved but wasn't talking to for some reason suddenly dropped dead of a youthful stroke, I decided I would never again let anything separate me from my friends, and got back in touch with Ray and remained close ever since. He was the godfather to my oldest son, and was visiting me and my then, now long deceased, wife when our son was born forty-seven years ago, and was the neatest guest we ever had in our apartments over the years, always leaving no trace of his having been there.

Ray and I spent a lot of time in the 1970s when we had both moved to Manhattan, hanging out at each other's pads and walking lower Fourth Avenue in what was then the used bookstore district where Ray could spot a rare find almost mystically. We'd be walking and talking and he'd zoom over to an outdoor table with bargain books and pick up the one rare find that he could resell for much more or that we both had been hoping to find but he always spotted first. We also spent Sunday afternoons watching NFL football games while stoned, with our then close friend, the recently departed poet Ted Greenwald.

By the time I moved back East at the turn of this century, Ray had burned a lot of bridges and we no longer had as many mutual close friends as we once had. I sensed the hurt this caused him, but it didn't change his behavior until more recent years when he began to express regrets and wishes to reconnect with old friends, and began to make an uncharacteristic display of his love for me and others and his gratitude for our friendship.

We spent most of our visits, me going to him in recent years, talking intensely about books and authors and poets and other cultural topics with a little politics, but eventually would get into retelling stories from our mutual pasts. he always had a special treat he had prepared that he believed I loved or would love and was a wonderful host. And I always left his presence feeling grateful and satisfied, both from the food and the conversation.

I will, and do, miss him deeply. May he rest in poetry.

[Here's a poem from one of his first books, Between The Shapes, a book he later dismissed, because soon after it he developed the unique style that made him an original (he's often cited as one of the founders of the poetry movement that became known as "Language Poetry"), but this poem was one of my favorites of his from the git go and seems even more powerful in these days:

THE PRIVILEGE

A gift
for the few
of the few

who
never had
to ask.


If you'd like to get a sense of not just his writing but his art work (he was a master with rubber stamps and collages and other forms of manipulating images) one of his last large collections that I cherish is his book The Ancient Use Of Stone.]

[This is me (with the soul patch) and Ray (in the beret)
after a reading we did at The Saint Mark's Poetry Project
several years ago...]

Monday, December 5, 2016

LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

Some of you might have noticed, or not, that Casey Affleck is getting a lot of attention for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, a film I've yet to see but intend to. I've been loving Casey's acting since the first thing I saw him in. I have no doubt he deserves some of the buzz he's getting for this. Lots of media outlets are talking about him winning an Oscar for it.

Other actors have gotten some press as well for possible Oscars this year. But I haven't seen anything much about the FOUR ACTORS who star in MOONLIGHT, so far for me the absolutely best movie of the year, and for which I think all four—Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes—should be nominated, and Trevante Rhodes should win.

The fact that Rhodes and the others (including Naomie Harris as the mother) aren't all over the media as the best actors in a movie this year is, for my taste, not just another indication of the ways who-you-know and what-corporate-entity-is-backing you counts in the world of entertaiment, but of the inherent racism in the ways the media presents that world.

[PS yes, I stand corrected, it is true Moonlight has won some critics awards, but not for best actor which is what my post is about, the seemingly preordained oscar for casey affleck, and no mention of Moonlight actors for best leading man in any of the stories on the Oscars I've read so far...]

Friday, December 2, 2016

JAMES STASZKIEL R.I.P. (I THINK THAT'S THE CORRECT SPELLING)

Jim and I were in the cast of the play Balm In Gilead during it's premier run in L.A. in 1983. He was a unique personality as well as actor. I loved working with him and getting to know him and becoming friends with him and hanging out with him. I lost touch after I moved back East.

But others in the cast, the tightest knit group of people I've ever worked with on any production, stage, screen, radio or whatever, kept in touch with him as he receded from L.A. and became what looked to me from a distance like a genuine mountain man, who called himself "Whisper."

Jim was profoundly himself, catering to no one else's ideas of who he should be, for which I greatly admired him, and always will. My condolences to his family and friends, among which I am proud to have been included for many years.

[This is the cast of the '83 L.A. production of Landford Wilson's Balm In Gilead, with Jim down in the lower left hand corner of the photo in checkered shirt and me on one knee in bookending him in the lower right hand corner of the shot...]

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ONCE UPON A TIME

My three older brothers and me, looks like around 1960 or so. They were much older than me, as you can see, and bigger (the street is on an incline so it's hard to see they're taller than me). They're all gone now but still in my heart.