Wednesday, December 7, 2016


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:


A gift
for the few
of the few

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...]

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thanks. I found about Ray's passing only today through the obituary notice in the New York Times, and feeling so bad, I was looking online for something about Ray. I will really miss him. Although I'd met him a few times in the '70s, I was more familiar with his poetry, which I really admired, until I moved back to NYC ten years ago and taught with Ray at SVA until I moved West four years ago. He was my best friend at the school, and I will treasure our talks about poetry and books and all kinds of stuff. Ray was a kind, generous, funny, wonderful person -- the kind of person whose occasional irascibility is lovable. I am going back to read some of his work now. Thanks again.