Bryan R. Monte – Don’t Leave Europe: My Memoir of Harold Norse

Don’t Leave Europe: My Memoir of Harold Norse, 1981 to 1991.
by Bryan R. Monte
Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

It was hard to miss Harold Norse at Café Flore in San Francisco during the 1980s and early ’90s when I lived there. He was a short, old man with a round, slightly wrinkled face, who wore a black, leather jacket, blue jeans, biker boots, and a black toupee that never fit quite right but which, nonetheless, I never saw him without. Norse could be found most days around lunchtime at one of the café’s tables usually alone but sometimes locked in discussion with one or two writers. There he would sit into the early afternoon, reading a book, writing and looking at the people and the traffic passing on Market Street, until he headed for home, down 16th Street towards the Mission. Flore was where Norse held his “office hours” as he called them since he received so few people at his carriage house on Albion Street. Steve Abbott introduced me to Norse at Flore sometime around 1981. Unfortunately, I didn’t record this first meeting in my journal.

From what I can recollect, however, Norse didn’t seem very impressed. He gave me a quick, critical and perhaps dismissive once over with his dark, sharp eyes. At first glance, he appeared to me to be the sort of abrasive curmudgeon who didn’t suffer fools. I also had the impression that Norse was afraid I might be one of those empty-headed, pretty-boy, literary gay tourists/groupies who wasted his time wanting to know what it was like to be one of San Francisco’s Beat Generation.

The next time I think I saw Norse was when Abbott took me to one of John Norton’s Christmas Anonymous parties in Pacific Heights. He was sitting by himself in the living room looking out at the skyline until Abbott and I came over to sit and talk with him. I remember it took a while to get to know Harold—to be given access to his circle, to show him I wasn’t just another pretty face, and to gain his confidence enough for him to allow me to publish in No Apologies in 1984 and 1985 excerpts from his memoirs about his life in New York with Chester Kallman and W.H. Auden that would later become part of his book-length Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, A Fifty Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey, published by William Murrow in 1989.

My proximity, contact and confidence increased when I moved to 20th and Guerrero in the Mission in November 1982, joined the Small Press Traffic Bookstore’s gay men’s writing group the next spring, started collecting work for the first issue of No Apologies that summer, began working at the SPT that autumn and then at the Walt Whitman Bookshop on Market Street in early 1984 where I edited the second issue of No Apologies.

The first journal entry I have about Norse is from 3 February 1984:

“Ran into Harold Norse at Café Flore by accident on my lunch hour from Walt Whitman. Harold dove right in and told me how nervous he was about Robert Peters publishing a new collection of his poetry which would only be available to libraries. He felt honoured for posterity sake, but sad that people wouldn’t be able to buy his new book in bookstores. Harold was sitting with a friend named Floyd. Both them had to be 30 years older than me, but they solicited my opinion on various questions concerning publishing as if I were an equal. That’s what I like about Harold. No pedestal & no worship required.”

By then I had become much more welcome in Norse’s circle and I sent a letter on the 29th, to The Advocate in praise of Norse’s:

“…groundbreaking memoir of W.H. Auden…because it tackles many of the barely discussed problems of gay writers…(including) working with a literary past which has been deliberately distorted or sanitised…discussing the exploitation of younger gay writers by older ones and vice versa (Auden later “stole” Norse’s boyfriend, Kallman) and the reluctance of powerful gay writers such as Auden and Forster to come out of the closet to create a better world for gay people.”

I added that: “in the 1940’s—(gay) men lived as eccentrics or in constant fear of being discovered and posed the question couldn’t:

“Auden’s regular rhyme schemes and meters in an era of broken forms be seen as a way to buy into some form of respectability while describing his awareness of the apparent dissolution of the modern world?”

In a letter to Phil Willkie dated 10 March 1984, I wrote:

“Just back from Harold Norse’s house where I talked with him at his invitation about my poetry. He’s really amazed that my work hasn’t gained more notoriety in S.F. He went over “Intimations of Frank O’Hara” with me, pointing out what he thought were weak lines that could be altered or removed. On the whole, he really likes the way I zero in on people and the scenes around them. I told him I like to concentrate on one person, just one person in my poems—sort of do portraits. I also left him with some more recent work to look at—“Words Sentences and Paragraphs” and a couple new poems, which were in process and with which I am not emotionally attached so they can be dissected by him without any emotional ambivalence or resistance on my part.”

In this letter, I also tried to convince Willkie to do an interview together with Norse for both my magazine, No Apologies and Willkie’s James White Review. Another letter to Wilkie dated 19 March states that:

“I spent most of the day Saturday, 3/17/84, with Harold Norse going over two or three poems, Harold reminiscing about William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, Hart Crane, etc. Harold also showed me some of his early poems (written between 18-24) literally hundreds of them all publishable. He showed me one entitled “High School” which as an imitation of Auden and which had strong evidence of his homosexuality before he (Norse) was even consciously aware of it.

I told Harold that you were interested in having him read maybe in the fall and the terms (I read your letter to him). He said he will be reading in St. Louis and Detroit in the fall, so I’m sure you could snag him for a couple of days in Minneapolis. (He seemed very excited about your offer).”

I continued the letter by writing that:

“Harold did an incredible amount of opening up to me—telling me about his life as a child in the slums of N.Y.C. His mother fighting with his father over a bottle of milk that his father tried to guzzle down in derision—his mother yelling — “it’s for the kid—it’s for the kid!,” meeting Tennessee Williams & Auden for the first time, living overseas in Spain, Italy and Greece for 15 years. He’s led a very adventurous life.”

In April 1984, Rink took a series of individual and group photos at Café Flore of Norse and I with Jacob Lowlander (Jim Holmes), Phil Wilkie, and Steve Abbott for The Advocate. This was for an issue headlined “New Writing and Erotica” in The Advocate’s 1 May 1984 issue. Headshots of Wilkie and I were included with Robert Fero’s to represent the more traditional writers at the top of the left hand page and those of Boyd MacDonald, John Preston and Phil Andros, to represent the erotic writers, atop the right-hand page.

Gay Writers at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Jim Holmes, Harold Norse, Phil Willkie, Bryan Monte & Steve Abbott. Photo copyright © 1984 by Rink Foto. All rights reserved.

Gay writers at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Jim Holmes, Harold Norse, Phil Willkie, Bryan Monte & Steve Abbott. Photo copyright © 1984 by Rink Foto. All rights reserved.

It was during this period that Norse began to telephone me and he began to emphasise the importance of what I was doing with No Apologies. As I got to know Norse better, we also began to share some of the non-literary parts of our lives. During one phone conversation I told him about the gold and orange clouds that would sometimes roll across my white ceiling as I lay in bed breathing deeply. I had thought this was just a hallucination after a hard day’s work, but Norse seemed to think it was some sort of psychic gift. He told me not to be ashamed of gifts and to use them. He told me he was impressed with my magazine and my poems. He especially liked my poem “The Cyclist” about a man’s struggle to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito against the wind. I thanked him for his comment by dedicating the poem to him and read it a month later at the No Apologies benefit.

Five men at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Phil Willkie, Jim Holmes, unidentified man, Steve Abbott and Harold Norse. Photo © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Five men at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Phil Willkie, Jim Holmes, unidentified man, Steve Abbott and Harold Norse. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

It was this belief in my psychic ability which coloured the description of a telephone call from Norse, the important points of which (including his anticipation of his journey to read at the One World Poetry Festival in Amsterdam) I recorded in my journal of 16 May 1984:

“I was think(ing) about Harold Norse, Robert Goldstein and the magazine (No Apologies) tonight as I sat at the kitchen table finishing my dinner. It must have been ESP because a few moments later, Harold called on the phone and asked if I’d gotten his message (the part about how happy he was at the No Apologies #2 benefit reading and how outstanding and unique he feels the magazine is). The other half is that he’s going to Europe to give readings later this year to celebrate/promote the translation of Beat Hotel into Italian.”

Harold took a great deal of time to tell me how important he thinks No Apologies is, in fact he thinks that #2 is even better than #1. He said that the magazine will make literary history as the first collection of good, gay writing and that it could be the proper vehicle for a career in writing or editing if I should choose those paths. He did stress most of all that I must continue with the magazine no matter what to destroy what we both call the conspiracy of silence about the lives of gay writers and explicitly gay works by the straight, dominant literary establishment. We also talked about how Ginsberg and Kerouac have still to win the approval of the straight dominant literary mafia. Harold’s encouragement was most gratifying to me. He also said that my writing is just as good as if not superior to the group of writers I hang out with and he mentioned a paper on gay writing he was doing implying that he would mention me in it. I feel great! Harold wants to see me on Saturday, so I’d better get some new poems ready.

As Harold began to know me better, he began to tell me about the gay writers and editors who came through town. Once, he mentioned that Donald Allen, a very distant man and Frank O’Hara’s publisher, was in town. Allen came by the Whitman to talk to the owner, Charles Gilman. I can’t remember the occasion, whether it was for a reading, or just to chat with Gilman up on his podium office at the back of bookshop behind the type of twilled, thick burgundy rope used at cinema or theatre premiers to keep out the riff-raff, but Norse mentioned somewhat later that I must have made a good impression on Allen because Norse commented: “You melted the iceberg.” (Allen corresponded with me at least twice over the next year once in a short note on Grey Fox stationary dated 17 May 1984 and the other sent to Brown University on 19 February 1985. The first note praised No Apologies’ first issue and asked the magazine published short fiction…?” The second came with a review copy of “Richard Hall’s new book of stories” (Letters from a Great Uncle). Allen again asked if I’d be “interested in publishing any of Hall’s shorter stories?”)

In May 1984, Norse was the star reader at No Apologies’ second benefit reading held at Newspace, the art gallery and performance space across from New College at Valencia and 19th and next door to the Valencia Rose, the LGBT comedy cabaret and café. Norse agreed to read, but he demanded top billing. Further conditions were that he would only read if he had a microphone and if someone was at the door to stop people from walking in during his reading.

No Apologies #2 Reading, Newspace, San Francisco, May 1984. Harold Norse, front, Steve Abbott, left front. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

No Apologies #2 Reading, Newspace, San Francisco, May 1984. Harold Norse, front, Steve Abbott, left front. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

As Norse had predicted, just as he got up to read, a disheveled, disoriented, gray-haired man in his 60s started jiggling the front doorknob. I went outside and made several attempts to reason with the man and steer him away from the door. Several times, however, he turned back towards the door and I had to take his hand and walk him down the street a few storefronts further. By the time he finally decided to leave, I returned to Newspace just in time to hear the applause of those inside. I realised I had missed all of Norse’s part of the reading, but I rationalised with myself that this was just one of those sacrifices hosts made to take good care of their guests. Fortunately, Norse’s reading was not interrupted and no one missed me. I went back inside, thanked Norse for his contribution and introduced the next reader as if nothing had happened.

Over time, I was able to gain more credibility with Norse as a writer and as a publisher. We had a short period of intensive correspondence between September 1984 and April 1985. During this time I published a six-page excerpt, part 1, of Norse’s Honeymoon memoir in No Apologies #3 (autumn 1984) and a much-longer, 16-page excerpt, part 2, in No Apologies #4 (spring 1985).

In a typed postcard dated 16 September 1984, Norse wrote that he “loved yr letter…a breath of fresh air…like Marco Polo discovering Cathay.” This must have been in response to my letter about my removal to and my new surroundings in Providence, Rhode Island where I attended Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program for the next two years. I had literally moved from one end of the county to another, substituting California’s sunny, warm clime for an already cold, New England autumn. (I remember calling my landlord in September to ask why the heat wasn’t on and he just laughed). I also tried to fill in Norse on my first impressions of Brown’s campus, its students and the locals. Harold envied my ability to travel and to start a new life in a new place. A few lines later he wrote: …I wish I were there…but I’m not. I’m here (San Francisco)…not in Berlin, or Lugano or Amsterdam.” The reason was because of “a bad heart.” Due to this, Norse wondered if he would still be able to make it to his “European reading tour” later that year. He mentioned further: “people were organising a big benefit reading for me because of the frightful huge costs of the treatment.”

Always the self-promoter, Norse also wrote short notes at the top and bottom of the typed postcard. He mentioned that the current Poetry Flash had “his mug on the cover and a long retrospective review of his Mysterie of Margrite.” At the bottom he wrote that the current Advocate had his Tennessee Williams memoir. Harold’s roommate, Robert Goldstein also sent me a letter around the same time. He wrote that Norse had misplaced the card I had sent him that motivated his comments above. He also said he’d enjoyed reading at the No Apologies #3 benefit in San Francisco and had enclosed a poem, “H2O,” for my consideration.

In December 1984, one of the writers, who had also read at Dutch poetry festival with Norse, complained to me when I saw him on the East Coast. He said that Norse had demanded a two-page introduction before he would read. After editing Norse’s two-part memoir about his relationship with Chester Kallman, how W.H. Auden stole him away and Norse’s knowledge of other notables in New York in the early 1940s, however, I didn’t feel such an introduction for a well-known, 70+-year-old, Beat poet was unwarranted.

Goldstein wrote me again around the first of the year. In his letter he said that Norse was “ungoing chelation therapy…He feels hopeful about his condition so his condition has improved.” Whether real or otherwise, Norse was always preoccupied about some ongoing ailment whether it was his heart or something else.

The next letter was from Norse. It included a handwritten note dated 15 January 1985 and a clipping from the 8 January 1985 Advocate that included a photo of him standing next to Jim Holmes, James Broughton, Steve Abbott and Dennis Cooper at the One World Poetry Foundation in Amsterdam as part of a “Poetry Gone Gay” evening reading. He assured me that he would have the manuscript of his memoir for No Apologies #4 ready “very soon.” Norse also asked that this time his memoir appear in the front of the magazine and not at the back as last time (when Kevin Killian guest edited the magazine whilst I was getting settled in at Brown). He then wrote that Beat Hotel “was now being read by the youth of Germany, Italy, Holland, Hungary, Finland, Greece” and that he “was among the handful of 5 or 6 contemporary Americans they admire.” He added that he felt his reading in Amsterdam had been “a triumph” and that “I will consent to an interview for N(o) A(pologies).”

Norse’s next missive was a half-page, typewritten note dated 23 January 1985. He wrote that he was still working on the second part of his memoir for me. He also mentioned that he was reviewing “(Kallman’s) stepmother’s book, Auden in Love, for The Advocate.” Norse reassured me that what he was putting in his memoirs for me was “a first-time publication,” and that it “completely confutes Farnan (Mrs. Kallman) whose book distorts and sentimentalises without making any mention of me.” Norse continued that his health was still “touch and go,” and that he was “spending his last money on the only treatment that can help, but there’s no guarantee.”

Then, Norse sent me a full-page typewritten letter dated 30 January 1985. He continued to discuss the difference between his memoirs based upon “the letters of C(hester) K (allman)” which was “a first for biographers and scholars” and Auden in Love’s “romantic twaddle.” He also mentioned meeting Armisted Maupin at a party at Steve Abbott’s and how “delighted” he was to find that Maupin was a “rabid fan.” Maupin, according to Norse said that “it was red-letter day for his diary” and that he extended an invitation to Norse “to come visit.”

The second half of his letter was concerned with corrections and notes that should be added to the second part of his memoir that I was about to publish. He also mentioned that all of his surviving correspondence with William Carlos Williams was about to be published in HELIX and gave instructions to mention the Lily Library and a copyright note in a first page footnote of his memoir.

The last letter I have in my possession from Norse is a two-page, typewritten missive dated 10 February 1985. This letter is concerned primarily with two additional copy corrections. It begins, however, with the sad news that Norse was mugged just outside his apartment on the first of the month as he was carrying his groceries home. Norse wrote that the man used a “choke-hold, pulled me to the ground, and tightened his arms around my larynx. Luckily he let me go before I passed out.” He wrote that due to the hold “he still can’t talk”… and he had made an appointment with “a throat specialist.”

I had suggested to Norse in a previous letter that he leave out the last letter in his memoir, which commented on a letter by Kallman, because it made Norse “look bad.” Norse disagreed. He said that his letter in the memoir illustrated “the growing separation between us (Norse and Kallman) that dates from this period—Wystan begins to drive a wedge between us—” and that Norse was trying to “establish the roots of a future rift.” He added the World’s Fair description was “essential for on-the-spot interest in the contemporary scene of New York—slice of life—in contrast to Chester’s Disneyland in Calif.”

In the second last paragraph of the letter, Norse mentioned Judith Malina’s Diaries (Grove Press, 1984), which mentioned “me, Chester, Frank O’Hara, Ashbery, Nin, W.C. Williams, Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, all of us from 1947-57 literary NY.”

This second page also includes two handwritten notes: one at the bottom of the page and one in the left hand margin. The former mentions that Goldstein offered his services for distribution (of No Apologies) and the latter a list of where and to whom he wanted review copies of No Apologies #4 sent.

After this letter, I received another from Norse in gold, handwritten script. Norse thanked me for publishing his memoir and told me again I should continue with my magazine and my writing. Unfortunately, this letter was stolen by a Silicon Valley roommate in 1988. After I discovered this, I deposited all my literary correspondence into a safe deposit box.

Thus ended my formal correspondence with Norse. When I returned to San Francisco in 1987, my contact with Harold was almost exclusively via the telephone with some occasional journal entries. On 16 October 1989, I mention of a visit to Harold’s carriage house. I noted that:

“…nothing had changed…Harold met me at the door and said I looked the same thing. I told him he looked the same also (I lied. He also had on his black toupee with some grey hairs to make it look more natural, but it still looks awful on him). We talked about Brown and his noisy neighbours and roommates who kept him from his writing. I told Harold about some big readings I’d organised at Brown and showed him a photo of myself standing with Olga Broumas and Dennis Cooper and picture of my ex-, Jim Guglielmino, sitting next to a Christmas tree. I also showed him pictures of Hans van K. from the Netherlands and that I would like to move there. Harold talked about going to read there in 1984 with Steve Abbott and Dennis Cooper at the One World Poetry Festival. He said while in the Netherlands, a man had offered him a loft space for as long as he wanted so he could to write. Harold said he wrote continuously for six days. Then he ran out of money and had had to come back to the States.

“Harold spent a great deal of time rummaging around in his cabinet to make some tea, but all he came up with were a bunch of mouldy mixes, so I took him out for tea at a Mexican café on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero.

We talked a little bit more. He told me he was going to read that night at Fort Mason with Allen Ginsberg as part of National Poetry Week. I told him I had heard Ginsberg read at Brown and that Ginsburg had read spectacularly (whilst accompanying himself on a zither). Then Harold began to go on about how Ginsberg couldn’t read well anymore. I assured him Ginsberg was in top shape and that he had read Howl in its entirety and an excerpt from his then unpublished, White Shroud. Harold then apologised and said (that) if Ginsberg had read Howl, he must in been in top form that night.”

A flyer in my files for the month of November 1989 from A Different Light Bookstore lists a reading for Norse on Sunday, 19 November at 3 PM. I also have a signed copy of his book, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel which reads: “For Bryan Monte */With warm feelings & strong feelings that you will be recognised for your gift as a poet. * Best, Harold Norse, SF 19.XI.1989” repeated the same warm feelings (and the exact words) he used in when he signed my copy of Beat Hotel in March 1984. I don’t remember attending this reading, however, nor is it mentioned in my journal.

My next mention of Harold is on 2 December 1989 when I telephoned him to try to arrange an on-air interview with him during my Lavender News & Interviews segment on Fruit Punch on KPFA-FM. On the phone, however, Harold “complained of having a cold, so he decided to stay in today and rest up for his book signing tomorrow at City Lights. I asked him if he heard my announcement on Fruit Punch last week and he said imperiously: “It was announced.” I said: “Of course. Remember, I told you I would do it?”

In June 1991 I met Norse for the last time at the annual gay pride parade near a monument in the Civic Center close to Market Street. It had always been my dream to live in a Queen Anne Victorian house, to spend Christmas together and to go to the gay parade with my lover as we called partners back then. Unfortunately, none of these things ever happened in San Francisco. Watching the parade go by, I was alone and depressed and found myself being cruised by a shirtless, muscleman who’d had both nipples pierced with rings big enough for the nose of the county fair’s prize bull. Just as I was considering something I would probably later regret, I saw Norse. We talked for a while and then caught the MUNI, an hour or two ahead of the crowds, up to the Castro and spent time together at Café Flore for the last time.

While we sat and listened to the music, Norse told me his health was failing compared to when I’d known him in the ‘80s. He also told me that the two biggest regrets he’d had were first coming back to the US from Europe and then moving from Monte Rio on the Russian River in Sonoma County down to the City. He told me that if I ever got to Europe, to stay there, to write and to edit, and never come back.

I remembered this advice as the insurance company where I worked went through its fourth reorganisation in three years and I hadn’t been able to find another job in California after an 18-month search. I remembered this advice once I found my first job in the Netherlands in 1993 and I was living in two, un-insulated attic rooms. I remembered his advice again when in 1996 my friends back in San Francisco wrote or phoned: “Come back. No one’s dying of AIDS anymore,” due to combination therapy I had reported about on the radio in 1990, or in 1998 when they contacted me again and said: “There’s plenty of jobs,” just before the Dotcom Bubble burst.

I did come back on holiday almost annually around Christmas. However, every time I visited, I overheard the same, desperate, worried conversations in supermarkets, gyms and churches—not about AIDS or losing jobs—but about the skyrocketing rents and real estate taxes in the City. I thought of Norse’s advice as I sat down at my second-hand dining table in my one-bedroom, Ikea-furnished flat in the Netherlands in a poor, predominantly Turkish and Moroccan neighbourhood, which my Dutch friends referred to as an achterbuurt (Eng.: slum), and corrected my students papers. As a free-lance and later tenured college English teacher with single-payer healthcare and a roof over my head as long as I lived, I could no longer believe that San Francisco, despite its natural beauty and its vibrant gay and literary communities, was the best place for me to live.

I remembered Norse’s advice and I did my best to hang on and make the best of my new life in Europe for as long as I could. After work or at the weekend I tried to retain some energy to attend readings in Amsterdam’s and Utrecht’s many bookstores and art and cultural institutions whilst continuing to write mostly poetry, sometimes in pencil in the margins of my students’ papers and exams. Unfortunately, I couldn’t write much my first 17 years in Europe, but ironically due to my disability, since 2011 I have finally had the opportunity to write and edit as Norse had always encouraged me to do. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – The Political as Personal: My Memoir of Steve Abbott

The Political as Personal
My Memoir of Steve Abbott, 1980-1990

by Bryan R. Monte

Steve Abbott was the first writer I met in San Francisco when I arrived in the summer of 1980. We met at a poetry reading, held in a Haight Street bar or restaurant, where one of the poets, a female African-American, complained about “gay men in Gucci shoes” who were ruining the Haight. I looked down at the scuffed and worn toes of my grey Hush Puppies and my second-hand store clothing, thought about my cockroach-infested, small flat with six, all-night bus lines under the window and considered leaving before the reading concluded. I was at this reading, my first in the City, because it was listed in a free newspaper, Poetry Flash, that I had found on the shelf at the cobbler’s below my flat in the big, yellow, wood-frame building at Haight and Clayton Streets.

It was fortuitous I didn’t leave early because after the reading I struck up a conversation with a thin, middle-aged man with thinning, black hair and glasses. He wore slender black jeans, a thin, thrift shop, early-’60s tie, a light blue shirt and a second-hand, thin-lapelled, black suit jacket. Somehow we struck up a conversation perhaps because we were both natural talkers or because we felt an affinity for each other. Whatever the reason, on our walk back to our apartments, we discovered we lived not more than a block from each other and we had both moved to San Francisco because of politics and poetry: Abbott in the mid-70s and I just months previously.

In the course of our walk, I mentioned the reading’s listing in the Flash and Abbott told me he was one of its editors and had a monthly column called “Up to the Aether,” from a poem by Jack Spicer (San Francisco Renaissance poet, active 1950s and ’60s). Abbott said the column sort of made him the Hedda Hopper (an actress cum gossip columnist for the Los Angeles Times, 1938-1966, and House Un-American Activities Committee informant in the 1950s) of the San Francisco poetry scene. He said that he and Poetry Flash sometimes took a lot of heat for what they wrote. Abbott also told me he worked as a freelance journalist for the city’s gay newspapers—the Bay Area Reporter, Sentinel and Advocate. Before he’d moved to San Francisco, he’d been a monk, a university newspaper editor and married. I told Abbott about my recent move from Ohio and how I was just getting oriented to the City’s cultures and its weirdly, quickly changeable weather (hot and sunny one minute and cold and foggy the next just over the hill). Abbott explained the City’s various microclimates—Mission and Potrero Hill hot and sunny, the Avenues and the Haight, foggier and cooler—and SF’s reading venues and locations.

Either the same day or soon thereafter, Abbott invited me to his apartment at 545 Ashbury. His flat’s furnishings were what I would call basic Bohemian. I think there was a large, wooden spool, the type used by utility companies to coil cables, in the center of his living/dining room (the first room when you came in) that functioned as a table. This table was used both for eating and for writing and always held stacks of books and papers (and sometimes a few dishes). The room’s walls were lined with bookcases filled with double rows of books on top of which were loose papers, letters, mailing envelopes, magazines, newspapers and clippings. There was also a second room off to one side that overlooked Ashbury Street, separated by a curtain and/or French doors. It had a futon that was rolled up into a couch during the day.

I don’t remember much more of what I talked about with Abbott that day but I do remember him showing me his first book of poetry—Wrecked Hearts with its cartoon cover of Jesus and his sacred heart being shot through by a cowboy who had tattoos on his biceps such as “Kill Faggots” and “Anita (Bryant) was right” the latter referring to a 1977 campaign against gay rights in Dade County, Florida. Abbott mentioned he’d given the book to the first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, and wondered if its cover had flashed through his head as he had been murdered by one of his former colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, Dan White. Wrecked Hearts also has a cartoon of Baudelaire and Rimbaud first having an argument and then sex in their flat and later, Rimbaud’s desiccated face in Abyssinia 20 years later wearing a pair of big sunglasses (similar to the ones Abbott wore and to the faces of men I would later see of men who, before they died of AIDS, actually shrank behind their glasses and clothes) where he’d gone off to make his fortune, underneath which Abbott had written “The Dismal End — Abbott.” (I wonder now how prophetic this was of Abbott’s own death). I was excited about Abbott’s poetry because of its honesty and its political awareness. A brief scan through the table of contents yielded poems such as “Three Revolutionary Poems,” “Lines Written for Chairman Mao,” “To A Soviet Artist in Prison,” and “So Why Did We Go To Vietnam.” Abbott gave me a copy of this book inscribed: “To Brian (sic)—In friendship and struggle for a better world. Steve Abbott.”

I read it and found Abbott’s poetry surrealistically co(s)mic and what I would refer to almost three years later in my UC Berkeley English B.A. thesis as “religiously irreverent.” It was quite different from the Modernist poets such as Eliot, Pound, and W. C. Williams that I studied during my first two years of college. Abbott’s poetry reminded me more of Allen Ginsberg’s, (who Abbott told me he’d first met at the University of Nebraska in the ’60s), and his cartoons’ reminded me of Robert Crumbs’ naked honesty. Abbott also mentioned that poet Thom Gunn, another Haight-Ashbury resident who I hadn’t heard of at that point, taught every other quarter at Berkeley. Abbott promised to introduce me if we ever ran into him. I also remember that at some point I met Abbott’s nine-year-old daughter, Alysia. I remembering being consciously shocked that it was the first time I had met a single parent, let alone one that was gay.

I don’t remember the next time I saw Abbott. I do remember that both of us had nowhere to go at Christmas for several years, when Alysia went off to see her maternal grandparents in Illinois for the holidays. Due to my poverty then as a new arrival and later as a single, self-supporting student, I usually worked through every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, if possible, to make as much money as possible. So on Christmas Day 1980, Abbott and I ended up in the Castro only to discover that the only store open was the 24-hour donut shop.

Then we walked down Market Street to a place at 16th that looked like a green house, its glass walls and translucent, green, corrugated ceiling panels, however, vibrating from punk music. Inside an upside-down Christmas tree hung from the ceiling and behind the bar was an old, sideshow poster advertising a turbaned Karmi. We sat and listened to lots of loud, punk ballads such as Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” Lene Lovitch’s “Angels” and The Clash’s “London’s Calling.” I was surprised to have missed this literary, musical jewel so close to the Castro my first seven months in San Francisco. But then, at that time, I was so poor I only went to gay bars without a cover and ordered a bottle of sparkling water that I refilled in the toilet when I thought no one was looking.

Abbott explained to me that Flore was Writers’ Central for most gay and some straight or bi-sexual writers in San Francisco and not a bad place to pick up guys. He also mentioned that Finnela’s Sauna was also just one door down. On another occasion, Abbott introduced me to Harold Norse at Café Flore.

Sometime during the next few months I received a copy of Abbott’s second book, Stretching the Agape Bra. It had another memorable cover: a photo by Ginny Lloyd, of Steve dressed in a dark suit and white tie holding a white flower next to his daughter wearing a long white dress. Both stood next to the columns of The Portals of Past in Golden Gate Park at the edge of Lloyd Lake. It was this same photo that was used for the cover of Alysia’s memoir of her father: Fairyland. Abbott inscribed Stretching the Agape Bra: “For Bryan—This is a book to mellow out to (I have). Steve Abbott.” This book’s poems seemed to be more private than public compared to Wrecked Hearts and concerned with shape, texture and stance in a poem as well as a political agenda. I wrote an analysis of deformalisation of the images in “Do Potatoes Want Sex After Highschool” for my thesis because of its formalist turns and camp persona. The last poem “Elegy” is especially chilling in that it seems to foretell some of the circumstances of Steve’s own death. Steve told me personally that he thought he had had at least one previous lifetime in which he needed to escape to the North to avoid the Black Plague. According to Alysia’s memoir, this poem was read at her father’s funeral.

My first journal entry that mentions Abbott is the one for 29 March 1981 about “Riding to Oakland in Abbott’s car” (his old, beige, Volkswagen bug he mentions in his poem “It’s a Strange Day” where Alysia discovers a mushroom growing in the backseat). Here I was “Putting the Flash together in the basement of a downtown printshop.” I was excited because I was “getting to know everyone on the Flash staff—having dinner together at a Mexican restaurant on Telegraph—near campus—across from Cody’s Bookstore.” After that visit and dinner, my phone was “ringing off the hook,” and I was glad to “have broken into the (SF) literary scene.”

On 23 April 1981 I had a rather long journal entry about Abbott and socialism. I wrote “Abbott…came by my apartment to see me. (I’m still flattered and amazed) and to invite me out for a drink. Great time with him talking about lit.(erature) and politics. Everyone— A.(bbott), Alison Brown, Beth Craig, Jim Peters—all say I should get in(to) UC Berkeley Professor James Breslin’s course this summer—either to associate w/ a great mind—to make a literary connection—(and) to see if he—actually (has) a knowledge (of?) socialist critique. Told Abbott I was fed up with poets calling them(selves) socialists and then living in (separate) studio apartments paying $300 a month for rent and utilities and shopping for groceries at Cala (Supermarket). If poets can’t make socialism fly in microcosm, then they should forget about revolutionizing and reorganizing society…” I wondered why artists in San Francisco couldn’t co-operate similarly to fix up an abandoned building so they would have more time to make, print, show or perform their art. My German-American, third-generation Ohioan, bricklayer grandfather’s, three-room house was built by other German-Americans in one weekend. All my grandfather had had to do was dig the brick house’s foundation ahead of time, pay for the wood, glass and nails for the structure and show up the next time someone else needed a house built. (Of course this was in a time before indoor plumbing, electricity and telephones but still in one weekend, my grandfather had a roof over his head for himself and his new family with the assistance of his ethnic community). I wondered why couldn’t gay people in San Francisco cooperate to build a better housing for themselves to ensure the future of their nascent community?

As a result of this family history, I wondered why the gay super-tenants or landlords who had arrived in the “Summer of Love” and had bought houses then now (in the early 1980s) worth ten times as much or lived in rent-controlled apartments (at a third or a quarter of the current market rate), instead of helping the new, gay arrivals, exploited them. They did this by charging current market rates for rooms to newcomers instead of sharing their low rent-controlled rents or mortgages. As a result they made a handy profit as super-tenants or landlords. They pocketed the extra money they charged over what the actual rent or mortgage was so they could continue “to do their own thing” rather than reinvest it in the community as my grandfather’s German-American neighbours had done. Furthermore, why was the majority of gay “community” only organized around capital and consumption—Castro, Haight and South of Market bars, stores, restaurants and sex and not around lasting community building institutions and cultural transmission? New gay immigrants even had to pay for access to a central register gay-friendly, shared apartment listings at a business called Community Rentals.

I felt good talking to Abbott—he did more for me to learn to accept my gayness than the people at the Mt. Zion Clinic. And Abbott agreed that therapists are for people who don’t have friends to tell their problems to. I also talked to him about writing an article for Processed World called “Fear (and loathing) in Fagland”—describing my frustration as a slightly-educated, gay, temporary officer worker trying to find a permanent job downtown. I continued to seek Abbott out for support and advice with my poetry even when I moved to Berkeley in August 1981 to attend university. In September 1981 I did the layout of the October 1981 Flash with Richard Silverberg at my Channing Way apartment. Despite my initial enthusiasm for meeting the people at the Flash and doing the layout, in my Christmas 1981 entry I lament that “it’s been three of four years since I’d left Salt Lake and, with the exception of Abbott, my literary compatriots have either been very poor or non-existent.”

My next entry about Abbott was on 16 April 1982. I mention that I had come over from Berkeley “….to see Steve Abbott on Wednesday in the hope of having him look over my poetry and provide some imp.(ortant) comments, but no such luck. He was so tired from 8 ½ hours at his temp. market research job that he barely had enough energy to cook dinner. I told him I would mail him a Xerox of everything the next day so he could look it over.”

By September 1982 I had moved back to the City first sharing a flat briefly at 19 Sharon Street just off of 15th and Market and then moving to a larger, sunnier shared flat at 783A Guerrero and 20th in the Mission in November. I was still in contact with Abbott, interviewing him for my B.A. honours thesis on shamanism in gay poetry (including his own) that I would complete in March 1983. (The thesis analyzed the poetry of Robert Duncan and its effect on that of Aaron Shurin’s and Abbott’s). I saw Abbott once or twice a month during this period as I collected material, sometimes at his suggestion, for my research. Abbott gave me a copy of his third book, Transmuting Gold. Consistent with my theme of gay poetry having a shamanistic, transformative effect, Abbott signed this book: “Dear Bryan, Wrecked Hearts transmute gold. Thanks for being so patient when I was late to see you this afternoon. Love, Steve Abbott, 10 Oct 82.”

My journal entry of 23 December 1982 mentions my continued research for my thesis and social contacts with Steve:

“Steve Abbott and Steve Benson, two of the poets I’m doing (research on for) my honours thesis, both called me after a period of two weeks of silence or rather non-response. Abbott called yesterday and said he had a surprise for me….He’d met a blond masseur, 27 (years old) who was counseling him about what he should do with his boyfriend, Joe—and that Alysia had bought him a jogging suit before going off to her grandparents in Illinois for Christmas….(we) ended up going to Café Flore and listening to the music, talking about poetry and politics for four hours.”

Abbott talked a lot about Steve Benson’s poetry and how they had influenced each other. Abbott said Benson influenced him with the odd spacings between lines and the internal rhymes between lines. He demonstrated this with the opening lines of Benson’s “Echo.” Abbott also said that in his poems “Rapture” and “Dark Star” the internal rhymes fold words into each other. Abbott and Benson were doing a lot of correspondence at this time. Abbott said he discovered the influence of (Frank) O’Hara in his work through his study of Benson’s poetry, who had been reading O’Hara.

My writing had been invigorated by workshops at Berkeley with Thom Gunn in winter/spring 1982 and with Naomi Shihab Nye in autumn 1982. Finally back in the City that autumn, I couldn’t wait to attend and participate in poetry readings just down the street and around the corner from where I lived. I asked Abbott if there were any good reading series or workshops in the City I could get involved in and he suggested Bob Glück’s gay men’s writers’ weekly evening workshop. It met in the back of the Small Press Traffic Bookstore on 24th Street in Noe Valley. I started to attend it in the winter of 1982/3. It was here that I first met Lewis Ellingham, Gerald Fabian, Kevin Killian, Richard Linker, Edward Mycue, Wallace Parr, Paul Shimasaki, David Steinberg and Alexander C. Totz. I attended this workshop regularly, inspired by the heady mix of both traditional and slightly experimental gay poetry, fiction and essays. The workshop also gave honest, close readings of my work, the participants neither mystified nor revolted by my poetry as others sometimes had been and would be in academic settings.

In March 1983 I submitted my completed B.A. thesis entitled: The Gay Poet as Shaman: the Poetry of Robert Duncan, Aaron Shurin and Steve Abbott to the UC Berkeley English department. (During my conferences with my two thesis advisors, it was decided to leave out the material about Steve Benson’s poetry because it didn’t seem to have as much connection with the poetry of Duncan and Shurin). That enormous weight finally lifted from my shoulders, I decided to spend more time exploring San Francisco’s live readings.

Initially, I attended readings sponsored by local, literary magazines to hear what else was being published around town. Five Figures Review sponsored one at a café at 17th and Valencia. Channel Magazine also held a benefit reading for its publication at Newspace, a storefront gallery and dance studio. This was directly across the street from New College and next door to the Valencia Rose, the gay and lesbian cabaret. One Friday evening in April 1983, I arrived there for a Channel reading straight from work and very hungry. It was here that I had my first and only completely unexpected brush with San Francisco’s drug culture.

Since there were brownies on sale at the reading and I hadn’t had dinner, I ate first one and then another. Halfway through the reading I began to feel a bit sick to my stomach, then warm, light-headed and finally dizzy as the room seem to rock from side to side if as it were a boat. After the interval, someone found me outside talking to a parking meter and took me back into the gallery for the second half of the reading. After the reading, Killian walked me home to make sure I made it there OK. When I went to bed, my boyfriend, Harry Britt lay down next to me because I kept remarking for hours about the fireworks on the white ceiling. I was so high from the brownies I didn’t come down until the following Wednesday. I found out later that the usual “dose” for that evening was just half a brownie.

My 2 May 1983 journal entry mentions that Abbott said: “the Channel readings are infamous for their hash brownies.” Sue Carlson, Channel’s editor apologized to me the next time I saw her and lamented: “No one will remember a word said that evening, but they will never forget those brownies.” That unexpectedly moving experience aside, I continued to attend readings at least twice a week and the gay men’s group weekly. On 25 April I also participated in a gay men’s group reading which included most of the group members listed above at Modern Times Bookstore at Valencia and 21st. Abbott gave a reading in the same series two days later at Small Press Traffic.

Less than two months later, Killian organized a graduation party for me at his flat near 24th and Guerrero. From the photos my mother took, I can see it was a good mixture of the academic, political and literary people I’d met my first three years in San Francisco. Present were Boone and Glück along with Intersection for the Arts reading series co-ordinator Robert Bedoya, L.R. from Thom Gunn’s workshop, whose poems I published in No Apologies first issue, and Paul Melbostad from the Harvey Milk Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club.

Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, San Francisco, June 1983. L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian and Steve Abbott. Photographer: Mary M. Monte. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, San Francisco, June 1983.
L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian and Steve Abbott.
Photographer: Mary M. Monte. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.


That summer, I remarked to Glück’s writing group that even though much good work was being produced there, few seemed to be able to get their work published regularly. I suggested that I publish the men’s work in my own magazine, No Apologies. I decided on this title because it was what my flatmate, San Francisco County Supervisor Harry Britt, had said to the press when they asked him to apologize for the destruction a gay mob had done at San Francisco City Hall. (A rioting crowd had broken off iron grillwork and smashed windows with it and also set half a dozen police cruisers alight in protest at the light sentence given to White for murdering Harvey Milk, the first elected, openly-gay politician in America, and Mayor George Moscone. The police retaliated a few hours later by smashing windows and heads at the Elephant Walk, the most popular gay bar in the Castro at the corner of Castro and 18th Streets. Afterwards Britt said: “We will make no apologies for our rage until straight America apologises for the history of homophobia that enrages us.” In my journal from 3 August 1983, I asked Abbott if I could use his “The Personal as Political” poem because I felt it “furthered the shamanistic function of gay poetry.” My journal entry the next day confirms that Abbott agreed to this and that he also “gave me two articles about Spicer/Duncan I could publish and suggested I might review Soup magazine in No Apologies.”

Killian volunteered to do the typesetting for the magazine on his word processor at work. He, in turn, introduced me to graphic designer and writer Dodie Bellamy, (who would later become his partner) and she introduced me to her colleague Mike Belt, who donated his time to create a one-colour magazine cover for No Apologies to save expenses. His design used thin, parallel alternating, light and dark horizontal lines that were mesmerizing. In addition, I could use the cover as a template for future issues by just changing the base colour and the white box with the issue’s theme and the authors’ names.

Abbott’s piece “The Political as Personal: A Poem for Men,” was the first poem in No Apologies’ first issue. It described the development of his awareness of his sexual orientation from childhood, waiting for his father to come home from WWII. Abbott described in his poem that when his father did return, he was “straight-back, distant/cold & fierce as a drill sergeant’s whistle.” Abbott also described that how, early in grade school, he had “learned to swagger like a man.” Abbott also discussed some of the aesthetic limitations of gay culture and sexual liberation and wondered: “Why do we still not demonstrate the strength of our unity/ our sisters share/ except through the State controlled commodification of Death?” The poem’s coda then asks “who has organized our isolation…our states of desire…our emotional education and why?” It concludes with: “Let our songs ring out & overwhelm the perpetuators of division,/oppression & death.”

Abbott, Bellamy and Boone, writers’ group members Mycue, Shimasaki and myself, fellow UC workshop member L.R. and California Poet in the Schools Tobey Kaplan all contributed poetry, stories or essays to the magazine’s first issue. Headlining the issue was Lew Ellingham’s interview with Robin Blaser, “Opposition in the Life and Work of Jack Spicer.”

The first issue was published in November 1983. I held a reception for Robin Blaser and the magazine’s writers, including Abbott, at my apartment the same month. Other guests present according to my journal for 10 November included Joanne Kyger, Aaron Shurin, Robert Bedoya, Duncan MacNaughton and Jack Winkler from Stanford.

Robin Blaser Reception, Monte/Britt flat, San Francisco, November 1983. L.-r.: Kevin Killian, unknown man, Bryan Monte, Lewis Ellingham, Roberto Bedoya & Steve Abbott. Photographer Unknown. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Robin Blaser Reception, Monte/Britt flat, San Francisco, November 1983.
L.-r.: Kevin Killian, unknown man, Bryan Monte, Lewis Ellingham, Roberto Bedoya & Steve Abbott.
Photographer Unknown. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.


A benefit reading for No Apologies was also held at Intersection on 6 December 1983. Abbott read that evening along with the others mentioned above plus Glück and Killian. It was a full house and the reading lasted for at least two hours. Afterwards, some of the writers posed for me in the gallery.

Steve Abbott at No Apologies #1 Reading, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983. Photographer: Bryan R. Monte Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Steve Abbott at No Apologies #1 Reading, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983. Photographer: Bryan R. Monte Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

In April 1984, I won a scholarship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. I continued attending the gay men’s workshop and finished the second issue of No Apologies. In May, a benefit reading for issue #2 was held at Newspace. Harold Norse was the headliner and Abbott also read that evening.

Abbott’s participation in No Apologies continued through issue #3. For #2, he contributed an interview with Judy Grahn (conducted with Dodie Bellamy) and a short piece for a literary symposium about Vittorio De Sica’s “Statione Termini” organized by Kevin Killian. For issue #3, in autumn 1984, he contributed an excerpt from his novel in progress Holy Terror: Three Nights in Paris.

I received at least three letters from Abbott within months of moving to Providence to attend Brown. His first letter is undated and written in Abbott’s hand on the back of a poster for a Benefit Reading for Julian Beck scheduled for 5 October at the SF Art Institute with Dianne DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and Harold Norse as readers. Abbott opens his letter saying he’s: “heard gossip you have a new boyfriend already. Wish I did (hee, hee).” He also wrote that: “Last No Apologies was teriffic,” and that he assumed someone had sent me John Carr’s write up of the magazine (they hadn’t according to my files). He says my problem now is “to do a bigger run…at least 500” because all of the magazine’s are “sold out,” which he wished were the case with Soup.

Abbott asked further about my studies and if I’d met “Susan Sontag yet or gay writers from Boston, NYC.” Then he mentioned David Levitt’s Christopher Street magazine debut, with his headshot on the cover. “They might as well have superimposed a target over his face—so many writers will be jealous” Abbott wrote. At the end of the letter, he mentions the Beck benefit he organized and that the next issue of Soup “should be out by January.”

The next letter, another undated missive I received in late October/early November on lined, three-hole composition paper, looks as if it were torn from a tablet. Abbott wrote that it was “Good to hear from you.” (I was so poor and such a poor typist that I did not keep carbon copies of the correspondence nor make copies of what I sent, so I could only guess at what I had written to them by their responses. Unfortunately, I do not see any of my correspondence listed online in the Steve Abbott Papers in San Francisco Library’s Hormel Collection). Abbott wrote he was sitting in Café Flore with his 13-year-old daughter, Alysia who was “driving him crazy,” because she kept suggesting he read things about personalities, such as “Johnny Rotten, from a rock & roll magazine.” He mentions a female reader’s angry response to a Flash article by or about Jack Micheline that she considered pornographic.

Abbott listed pieces and projects he had just completed: an interview of Ginsberg for the “Advocate and Poetry Flash,” the Beck Benefit and one for Harold Norse on Nov. 28th and one “probably for Soup.” He wrote he was “still getting on” with his boyfriend Joe, he hadn’t smoked for a week and that he was going to a movie with some men from Berkeley. In this letter’s second last paragraph, Abbott questioned my choice of Felice Picano as the interviewee for No Apologies #5. (Editor’s note: I went ahead with the Picano interview). Abbott ended his letter saying that both of us had accomplished a lot in the last year and that we should “pat ourselves on the back.”

The third letter from this period is dated 15 Nov 84. It mentions in just four short paragraphs, 19 artists and writers, a list that would have given even Hopper stiff competition. The typewritten letter begins with a handwritten note at the top: “Still off cigarettes!” The first paragraph says this letter is an “addendum to (the previous) letter.” Abbott says he’s busy responding to a “pissed off” letter from (1.) Bob Peters, but doesn’t mention why Peters is angry.

The second paragraph is a list of his recent contacts with writers and the news they brought him, demonstrating Abbott’s Hopper persona at its best and the importance and speed of gossip in his New Narrative group. Abbott wrote: (2.) “Neeli Cherkovski wrote him he’d had a nice visit with me. Although this is not included in my journal, Cherkovski must have recently visited Brown to read and I had the chance to speak with him afterwards as I did with Michael Palmer and Allen Ginsberg when they visited campus and read. Abbott said he heard (3.) Michael Mullen (a friend from my UC Berkeley English B.A. programme) who was returning from Paris because of money. Steve also wrote he’d seen films with (4.) Kevin (Killian) and (5.) “Bruce (Boone). He continued that Bruce and (6.) Bob (Gluck) dined with (7.) James McLaughlin,” and that McLaughlin had also had (8.) (Christopher) Isherwood, (9.), (Don) Bachardy and (10.) (Robert) Duncan to his place for dinner and that Bob’s book had found a publisher. Abbott reported he still hadn’t found a publisher yet for his novel, Holy Terror, but he did say that (11.)“Randy,…(who’s) rooming with an ex- of Sam D’Allessandro’s, was working on illustrating the book.” He also mentioned that the Gay Men’s Press of London “wants Malcontent.”

The third paragraph consists mostly of news about Abbott’s relationship with his boyfriend Joe, including a recent spat they’d had because Abbott had “razored” one of Joe’s bike tires after Joe had stood him up for a date. Abbott ends the paragraph the news that Finnella’s could close and would probably be replaced by a “shopping mall.” He wrote that “…if that happens, Joe wants to travel…—maybe even to Europe for a year.”

His fourth paragraph revealed the reach of Abbott’s writer’s circle and the speed at which news in it, even from afar, travelled. When I had phoned (12.) Dennis Cooper to request an interview a month or two earlier, Boone had been visiting at Cooper’s flat and the news passed quickly on to Abbott. Abbott asked in his letter if I’d done the interview yet. He mentioned that he’d recently seen (13.) Tim Miller, (14.) Judy Grahn and (15.) Paula Gunn Allen and his interview with (16.) Allen Ginsberg didn’t make it into the Flash because co-editor (17.) Joyce Jenkins put (18.) Bobbie Louise Hawkins’s interview in instead. Hawkins, however, telephoned Abbott a few days later and said she would submit Abbott’s name as a possible judge for some writers grants. So he concluded: “…every cloud must have some kind of lining (ha, ha).”

He ended his letter with a “hi” from Alysia and a description and drawing of her Halloween outfit which included a white prom dress, pearl earrings & necklace. (19.) “Robert (Pruzan) across the hall took pictures & she looked like a movie star.” Abbott’s drawing is directly below this text with an annotation “like a big water lily” next to the billowing body of Alysia’s gown.

Unfortunately after such a detailed, newsy missive, the next letter I have retained from Abbott is one dated 9 Jan 87, more than two years later, six months after I had graduated from Brown with my Masters in English and creative writing.

One of the reasons for this long break in his correspondence might have been my break with Killian in the winter/spring of 1985 over the miscommunication of pieces accepted for No Apologies #4. At any rate, it was two and a half years later before Abbott wrote me again. This time Abbott wrote he’d got my address from Roberto (Bedoya) and he’d “hear(d) yr teaching.” Abbott then wrote that during the past two years he’d taught at UCSF, would start teaching a gay writers workshop on Jan. 19th and was interviewing for a job at Mother Jones.

Abbott continued in the next paragraph to update me on his personal life. Two years previously he’d “stopped drinking or doing drugs” since he “broke up with Joe.” He’d tried to quit smoking but resumed after a year. At present, he didn’t have a partner, “just friendships.”
Abbott indicated that he was getting his “new book, The Lives of the Poets” through the presses. Rudy Kikel was sending him the final proofs. Abbott was also writing more for the Sentinel “(art criticism and his own column),” and that he’d recently met a “bright 22 yr old I like a lot.”

Abbott continued with news about Alysia, who was 16. She had worked at vegetable and clothing shops over the holidays, dated a 24-year old French cook and won a ACT Young People’s Theater scholarship the previous summer.

In the last full paragraph, Abbott indicates that although he’d been thinking of me from time to time, he had forgot to get my address from Phil Wilkie when he taught at James White Review last summer, and that he “missed the inspiration of my energy.” He ended the letter with “Best to you for this new year.”

In one of the rare instances in which I saved my correspondence with Abbott, on 17 January 1987 I sent Abbott a letter with a Sylvia cartoon at the top. I thanked him for his letter and commended him for “kicking the habit.” I congratulated Abbott on his new book and asked if Rudy Kikel was editing it for Alyson Publications. (The book, in fact, was published by Boone’s and Gluck’s Black Star series). I told Abbott I enjoyed his column and the article he’d sent about dreams and I commented: “if we quit dreaming, we’re dead.”

I then wrote I was teaching writing to high school students in exurban Massachusetts—“units on essay(s), autobiography, poetry, short story, and computer-based journalism.” I reported I’d been writing every day since October. I also described the crazy weather that winter—a foot of snow overnight—and my two-bedroom apartment in the little town where I taught. I told him I’d like to hear more about his teaching experience at the JWR writers’ retreat and that Phil Wilkie had invited me to read that weekend in NYC, but I couldn’t spare the time because I had a stack of 52 essays to grade. I told him to “Take Care” and I sent my best to Alysia.

The following month I saw Abbott in San Francisco when I flew there to visit and look for a job so I could return to the City that summer. He was at a dinner hosted by James Broughton and Joel Singer at their Noe Valley home. I made an appointment to meet Abbott later that week at Café Flore, but he didn’t show up. He called me the following day at Edward Mycue’s and Richard Steger’s flat, where I was staying, to tell me he’d fallen asleep and forgot about the appointment.

As I mentioned in my previous memoir of James Broughton, I wrote a review of Broughton’s poetry tapes, but had trouble placing it. Bay Windows and the Sentinel both rejected it. My review was eventually published by the James White Review.

The next month, in an envelope postmarked 23 March 1987, I received Abbott’s The Lives of the Poets with its reproduction of Samuel Johnson’s book’s title page of the same name, but with Johnson’s name crossed out in red and “Steve Abbott” written beneath it. Abbott sent the book with a personal inscription for me and a two-paragraph, typewritten letter in which he praised my review of Broughton’s poetry, which he had passed on to Eric Hellman (Sentinel) and Joyce Jenkins (Poetry Flash). Abbott added that “James will be pleased…it’s the best review of his work I’ve seen.” Abbott continued with the news that he’d resigned as the Sentinel’s books editor.

In the next paragraph he mentioned Lives. He also indicated that there was also a TV piece and an interview with Sam Steward inside, but both of these, however, I have unfortunately misplaced or lost. He wrote further that the visit with Steward was “depressing” but that my visit the previous month (with you) “was very pleasant.” Abbott’s title page inscription of Lives reads: “To Bryan Monte: In memory of so many shared things. (Now you’re in this book). Steve Abbott 3/27/87.” Abbott probably wrote the parenthetical comment because when we’d talked in February, I had asked him who, from our circle, was in Lives, but he wouldn’t tell me. I read the book and discovered that Abbott had mentioned himself and many of the writers we knew in San Francisco, such as Bellamy, Boone, D’Allesandro, Glück, Killian and Norse, but he had left me out even though I had published all of them.

Strangely enough, when I returned to San Francisco in July 1987, Abbott was one of the first writers I ran into, albeit coincidentally. We met by chance in Haight-Ashbury after my meeting with Thom Gunn. A passer-by took the photo of us below.

Bryan Monte and Steve Abbott. San Francisco, July 1987. Photographer unknown. Copyright 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Bryan Monte and Steve Abbott. San Francisco, July 1987. Photographer unknown. Copyright 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

This is one of the last recorded contacts I had with Abbott. Once I moved back to San Francisco in July 1987, our communication was mostly face-to-face at readings or via telephone calls as it had been when I had lived in San Francisco before. I have a few journal entries of meeting Abbott in the late 80s, usually at Café Flore or other readings such as one for the James White Review in 1988. One journal entry for 11 September 1987 mentions that I saw him at Flore and that he was very apologetic about the Broughton review not appearing in the Sentinel. Alysia was there also. I wrote: “She’s 16 and beginning to look very beautiful.”

One of the best, undocumented memories of I have of Abbott is when he took me to what I think was John Norton’s Pacific Heights flat for Christmas. Here there was a free, buffet dinner for people who had nowhere to go, which someone had christened “Christmas Anonymous.” On a large table in the dining room was a carved turkey, a carved ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, corn, pumpkin pie, Jell-O—all the traditional Christmas fare, for anyone who was there. It was here that I saw Norse and other members of SF’s LGBT literary scene who had spent the holidays alone because they weren’t welcome at home and/or didn’t have any other place to go. I remember eating my Christmas dinner sitting on a sofa looking at the downtown skyline and talking with Abbott and Norse. It was one of the most poignant and happiest parties I attended with these two men.

If I had any other further correspondence or contact with Abbott, I do not remember it, nor have I yet uncovered it. The last news I remember about Abbott, however, was less pleasant than my Christmas memory. In July 1990, I was at the KPFA-FM to possibly turn in my keys after a dispute with the one of the members of a weekly LGBT radio show. This member had taken an excerpt from my exclusive interview with East German, film director Heiner Carow and actor Dirk Kummer, the stars of the LGBT Frameline Film Festival, and rebroadcast it on another station without my advance permission and payment. This led to an argument with the other members of “the collective” that couldn’t be resolved by the assistant station manager. As I waited to talk him to decide whether I should quit the show, I saw a reading poster advertising an event headlined by Abbott and Jerome Caja, of which I knew nothing even though I’d been doing the gay news and event announcements for almost a year. Once again I felt ignored by Abbott, Caja and the other writers and artists I had known, reported on, published and promoted. I realized that after nearly a decade in SF, I had found virtually no solidarity with the gay community or its writers and artists. That poster tipped the balance and I decided to quit the show and KPFA even though the station’s director had offered me a Sunday news slot. From that moment forward, I decided to devote all my energy and time, outside of my 9-to-5 insurance job, (which would end two and a half years later due to four reorganizations), to teaching ESL and technical and creative writing evenings and weekends in preparation for my emigration to the Netherlands. AQ

Thea Droog – Makassar from The M.S. De Tegelberg

Makassar from The M.S. De Tegelberg
by Thea Droog

Mientje heard the grown-ups talking softly as they sat on the terrace.

She listened and recognized the deep voice of her father, the gentle but perfectly clear words that Aunt Laurien said. She narrowed her eyes a bit at the short, scornful laugh of Uncle Hoogeveen.

She couldn’t fall asleep. Tomorrow they had to embark but nothing had been packed yet. Hadn’t anyone thought about that? They didn’t have suitcases of course, but they didn’t even have large bags. Mien brooded for days over this, but when she asked one of the adults, she received no direct answer. Then dad said somewhat annoyed: “That’ll be all right, girl. You go play,” Aunt Laurien stroked her head.” Don’t worry, Mientje” And mum didn’t seem to pay much attention to her since dad had come back from Singapore.

“Dad and I will take care of that, you only have to play.”

Play! Here in Makassar you had to play, even if you did not know how.

In Kampili, the concentration camp where she had lived for three years, it was better not to play. The Japs were everywhere and could, at any moment, shout an order that you didn’t understand. You could not run away, and you were struck if you disobeyed. Therefore, she had always acted outside the barracks as if she was doing something she was told to do. It couldn’t look like play or doing nothing.

Usually she was inside somewhere. Early in the morning she was sometimes taught by a nun in the wooden school building, but each day at 11 AM, the mica splitting began: fairly light work to be done by the girls under fourteen. The thin slices of mica, which fell apart, were used for the Japanese war effort. Mientje had, like the other children, learned what that difficult word meant so they all worked as slowly and as awkwardly as possible.

Then she had to watch her three-year-old brother Johnny until mum had finished work. She was mum’s confidant, like her brother Ap: they could keep secrets and ensure that things were in order and that Johnny got his plate of food at the distribution and was not pushed aside. Also, she had to be careful that the boy did not attract attention and therefore, perhaps provoke the Japs’ anger.

She still especially watched out, now the Japs had lost and they were released from the camp. Now she lived in a real house in Makassar and they had a whole room for the four of them. The Hoogeveens lived in another room with their two children and Aunt Laurien slept in the dining room. Manja and Peter Hoogeveen and Ap and Mientje had rummaged through the garden and outbuildings thoroughly for hiding places. Who knows where they might still need them, because the Japanese still walked occasionally through the city.

There was something else that Mien had to look out for: more and more men came to live at her house. She was not used to men. Would they be the boss, just like the Japs? Every man asked the children: “And? Do you still remember me? “But Mien didn’t recognize any of them. Uncle Hoogeveen was the first to come back to town from his men’s camp. He had found this house, and he had collected them from the Kampili women’s camp, so he had lived there before and the women and children had joined him. Then came Aunt Laurien’s husband. Then suddenly one afternoon, papa appeared. (Come home, mum said). A long and wide, thin man with black hair, who was somewhat familiar, but who still looked like a stranger.

“That’s my Mientje” – his voice was so loud. He placed his arm around Mientje. She understood that she had to remain standing – Mom smiled so happily towards her – but she was frozen with fear because she was trapped and could not escape if necessary. Imagine if a Jap suddenly came inside! She could not even stand up in that embrace. She could not run away to protect Johnny, nothing. After that she stayed a safe distance from dad, so he could not hold her tightly again.

Her father! Mien didn’t really know him anymore. In the camp they had often and eagerly talked about the time he would be with them again, in their own house in Makassar. And now he was there. They lived in another house, where they only had one room, but they were together again. Mien sometimes looked with wonder at mum as she put an arm around dad’s neck and kissed him. Mum was very happy that he was there. She did not mind, as he held her, that she could not get away. But Mien’s heart was anxious when dad came closer, he wanted to play the boss, like the Japanese always did—and she did not quite know what tricks she could use to evade his orders. And mum just laughed when Mien wanted to discuss her problems with her.

Now the adults had decided that they were going to leave for Holland. Everyone in the house had been able to book passage aboard the MS De Tegelberg, which awaited them in Batavia. And tomorrow they would all leave on a smaller ship that would take them from Makassar to Java.

They came out of the camp with nothing, because in the last fire the last of their belongings had gone up in smoke. Mien knew very well that the mattresses and mosquito nets, on and under which they slept, were new and could only be rolled up in the morning.

But what about the pans that they had bought and Johnny’s new clothes? The stuff they found in the ashes and that they were never supposed to lose: the brass table bell whose clapper was tied up with string, and the bag of six clay marbles, the beaded blocks she had found later in four different colors? The shrapnel which Ap had brought; the feather-decorated, little slipper that you could hang up and that mum had received for her last birthday in the camp from Aunt Laurien, and that had survived everything?

And then there was the sewing box that the sweet Australian soldier had made for her. Australian soldiers had opened the camps, so everyone was very kind to them. They were welcome in every house and Mientje was not afraid of their uniforms.

Mien turned and turned in the warm bed. She heard Aunt Laurien say, “We’d better pack up and go to bed. Tomorrow morning we have to be at the dock at nine o’clock.” Mum added: “We’re taking back a lot less to Holland then when we arrived! I think it won’t take us more than ten minutes to pack. But we’ll go to bed one last night listening to the frogs in the slokan. ”

The frogs croaked deeply, sonorously and rhythmically. Weren’t there any frogs in Holland to listen to, so that you had listen to these closely again one more time? And how was mum going to pack everything in ten minutes?

Still, she was reassured. If they got up at six o’clock, as usual, maybe there would still be enough time for packing. She went over in her mind, once again, what still needed to go with them and then felt sleep come over her in slow waves.

Translated by Bryan R. Monte

Thea Droog – Makassar van Het MS De Tegelberg

Makassar van Het M.S. De Tegelberg
door Thea Droog

Mientje hoorde hoe de grote mensen zacht zaten te praten op het platje.

Ze luisterde en herkende de zware stem van haar vader, de zachte maar duidelijke woorden die tante Laurien sprak. Ze kneep haar ogen een beetje dicht bij de korte schampere lach van oom Hoogeveen.

Ze kon nog niet slapen. Morgen moesten ze zich inschepen maar er was nog niets gepakt. Dacht nou niemand daaraan? Koffers hadden ze natuurlijk niet, maar ze hadden zelfs geen grote tassen in huis. Mien piekerde daar al dagenlang over, maar als ze er iets over vroeg aan een van de volwassenen kreeg ze geen rechtstreeks antwoord. Papa zei dan geïrriteerd: “Dat komt heus wel in orde, meisje. Ga jij nou maar spelen.” Tante Laurien aaide over haar hoofd: “Maak je maar niet druk, Mientje.” En mama leek niet veel aandacht meer voor haar te hebben sinds papa terug was gekomen uit Singapore:

“Daar zullen papa en ik wel voor zorgen, jij hoeft alleen maar te spelen.”

Spelen! Hier in Makassar moest je dus spelen, al wist je niet hoe.

In Kampili, het interneringskamp waarin ze drie jaar had geleefd, kon je beter niet spelen, de Jappen waren overal en konden ieder moment weer een bevel brullen dat je niet verstond. Je mocht niet weglopen en dus kreeg je slaag omdat je niet gehoorzaamde. Daarom had ze buiten de barak altijd net gedaan alsof ze bezig was met iets dat haar was opgedragen. Het mocht vooral niet lijken op spelen, oftewel niets doen.

Meestal was ze ergens binnen. ’s Morgens vroeg kreeg ze soms les van een non in het houten schoolgebouwtje, maar elke dag begon om 11 uur het micasplitsen: tamelijk licht werk dat door de meisjes onder de veertien moest worden gedaan. De dunne plakjes waarin de mica uiteen viel werden gebruikt voor de Japanse oorlogsindustrie. Mientje had, net als de andere kinderen, geleerd wat dat moeilijke woord betekende en allemaal werkten ze daarom zo langzaam en onhandig als maar mogelijk was.

Daarna moest ze op haar broer Jantje van drie passen tot mama klaar was met werken. Ze was mama’s vertrouweling, net als haar broer Ap: ze kon geheimen bewaren en zorgen dat de dingen in orde kwamen en dat Jantje zijn bord eten kreeg bij de uitdeling en niet opzij werd geduwd. Ook moest ze goed opletten dat het jochie geen aandacht trok en daardoor misschien de boosheid van de Jap uitlokte.

Ze lette ook nu nog behoorlijk op, nu de jap verloren had en ze uit het kamp waren. Nu ze in een echt huis in Makassar woonden en een hele kamer voor hun vieren alleen hadden. In een andere kamer woonden de Hoogeveens met twee kinderen, en tante Laurien sliep in de eetkamer. Manja en Piet Hoogeveen en Ap en Mientje hadden de tuin grondig doorgesnuffeld en de bijgebouwen onderzocht op schuilplaatsen. Wie weet waar ze die nog voor nodig hadden, want er liepen nog steeds af en toe Japanners door de stad.

Er was nog iets waardoor Mien behoorlijk moest uitkijken: er kwamen steeds meer mannen in haar huis wonen. Ze was niet gewend aan mannen. Zouden ze ook de baas spelen, net als de Jappen? Elke man vroeg aan de kinderen: “En? Ken je me nog?” Maar Mien herkende ze geen van allen. Oom Hoogeveen was als eerste uit zijn mannenkamp terug in de stad gekomen. Hij had dit huis gevonden en hen toen allemaal uit het vrouwenkamp Kampili gehaald, dus hij woonde er al voordat de vrouwen en kinderen erbij kwamen. Daarna kwam de man van tante Laurien. Toen was ineens op een middag papa verschenen (thuisgekomen, zei mama). Een lange en brede magere man met zwart haar, die wel iets bekends had maar er toch als een vreemde uitzag.

“Dat is mijn Mientje” – zo zwaar klonk zijn stem. Hij had een arm om Mientje heen gelegd. Ze begreep dat ze moest blijven staan – mama glimlachte zo gelukkig naar haar – maar ze was bevroren van angst omdat ze gevangen zat en niet zou kunnen vluchten als dat nodig was. Stel je voor dat er ineens een Jap binnenkwam! Ze kon niet eens in de houding gaan staan Ze kon niet weglopen om Jantje te beschermen, niets. Ze had van toen af aan goed afstand gehouden tot papa, zodat hij haar niet weer vast kon pakken.

Haar vader! Mien kende hem eigenlijk niet meer. In het kamp hadden ze vaak en verlangend gepraat over de tijd dat hij weer bij hun zou zijn, in hun eigen huis in Makassar. En nu was hij er. Ze woonden wel in een ander huis, waar ze samen maar een kamer hadden, maar ze waren weer bij elkaar. Mien keek soms met verwondering naar mama als die een arm om papa’s hals legde en hem een zoen gaf. Mama was heel blij dat hij er was. Ze vond het niet erg als hij haar vasthield, terwijl ze dan toch niet weg kon. Maar Miens hart klopte angstig als papa dichterbij kwam: hij wou de baas spelen, net als de Jap altijd deed – en ze wist nog helemaal niet wat voor trucjes ze kon gebruiken om zijn bevelen te ontwijken. En mama lachte alleen maar als Mien die zorgen met haar wilde bespreken.

Nu hadden de volwassenen besloten dat ze weg zouden gaan, naar Holland. Iedereen in huis had een plaats kunnen krijgen aan boord van het MS de Tegelberg, dat in Batavia op hen lag te wachten. En morgen vertrokken ze al, met een kleiner schip dat hen van Makassar naar Java zou brengen.

Ze waren met niks uit het kamp gekomen, want bij de laatste brand waren de allerlaatste eigendommen van iedereen in rook opgegaan. Mien begreep best dat de matrassen en de muskietennetten waar ze nu op en onder sliepen en die nieuw waren, pas morgenochtend opgerold konden worden.

Maar hoe zat het met de pannen die ze hadden gekocht? Met de nieuwe kleertjes van Jantje? Met de spulletjes die ze in de as hadden gevonden en die nooit zoek mochten raken: het koperen tafelbelletje waarvan de klepel met een touwtje was vastgebonden, en het zakje met de zes knikkers van klei, waarin ze ook de blokkralen in vier verschillende kleuren had gedaan? De bomscherven die Ap had meegenomen; het met dons versierde pantoffeltje dat je kon ophangen en dat mama voor haar laatste verjaardag in het kamp had gekregen van tante Laurien?

En dan was er nog de naaidoos die die lieve Australische soldaat voor haarzelf had gemaakt. Australische soldaten hadden de kampen geopend, daarom was iedereen heel vriendelijk tegen ze. In ieder huis waren ze welkom en Mientje was helemaal niet bang voor hun uniformen.

Mien lag te draaien in het warme bed. Ze hoorde tante Laurien zeggen: “We moesten maar eens gaan inpakken en dan naar bed. Morgenochtend moeten we om negen uur op de kade zijn.” Mama voegde eraan toe: “We gaan met heel wat minder terug naar Holland dan waarmee we hier aankwamen! Dat pakken van ons zal niet meer dan tien minuten kosten denk ik. Maar we gaan wel naar bed, nog een laatste nacht naar de kikkers in de slokan liggen luisteren.”

De kikkers kwaakten diep, sonoor en ritmisch. Waren er geen kikkers in Holland, dat je er hier nog maar eens goed naar moest luisteren? En hoe wilde mama alles in tien minuten inpakken?

Toch was ze gerustgesteld. Als ze, zoals gewoonlijk, om zes uur opstonden, was er misschien toch nog genoeg tijd voor het pakken. Ze ging in gedachten nog eens na wat er mee moest en waar dat nu lag of stond en voelde toen de slaap in langzame golven over haar heen komen.

Joan Z. Shore – The Media: Then and Now

The Media: Then and Now
by Joan Z. Shore

I was lucky enough to be working in the media—radio and television—during the glory days, right up to the end.

Personally, I place the end shortly before the year 2000, just before the Internet took over our lives.

For nearly a decade, I was the Paris correspondent for CBS News, lurching from press conference to press conference, from calamity to calamity, along with my colleagues from ABC, NBC, and later, CNN. We were just a handful among 3,000 accredited foreign journalists in Paris—writing, recording, filming, editing whatever we thought would be important, or interesting, to our unseen audience “back home.”

In America, as in in most countries, foreign news does not take priority over local events. So while radio needed endless material for the hourly reports, television was only interested in foreign news when something really big happened: a presidential election, a terrorist attack, an airline accident. We didn’t have to wish for those: inevitably, they happened.

One of the more delightful events that absolutely had to be covered was the inaugural flight of the Concorde: Paris to New York in three and a half hours! To cover this momentous occasion, CBS sent over their venerable newsman, Walter Cronkite. He spent a couple of days in Paris before the flight. It was the first time we’d met, and we quickly established a friendship. One afternoon, we were sitting at an outdoor café on the Champs-Elysées, and at least half a dozen American tourists spotted him and came over to say hello.

“You see?” laughed Walter. “They recognized you!”


When the day came for the Concorde flight, I accompanied him to the airport, and we joked about sneaking me on board. No way.

We met again when he visited Paris with Betsy, his beloved wife, and we had dinner together at a simple restaurant in my neighborhood. The French clientele didn’t pay much attention, but the owner recognized him and asked him to sign the guest book. Graciously, he did.

We met again in Nairobi. I had just been on safari, and he was doing a story on tribal medicine and witch doctors, part of a series.  He seemed fairly impressed by what he had learned. “There may be something to it,” he said. Walter never dismissed a new idea, a new concept, a new viewpoint.

We met again in Vienna, after his retirement from CBS. He was reporting for CNN on the gala New Year’s celebration and the New Year’s Day concert, as he did for many years. He looked splendid in his tuxedo, but expressed regret that he had retired from the CBS news desk “too soon.” Clearly, those cultural jaunts were fun, but too tame for this maestro.

Whenever I was in New York, we tried to get together. I remember a lovely lunch at the Russian Tea Room, where he had his special table. And a drink one afternoon at his favorite East Side bar, when he arrived limping due to a leg injury. There would be no tennis and sailing that summer.

And once, he called me and simply said, “Hello, Joan,” and I absent-mindedly said, “Who’s this?”

“Oh, my God!,” he said. “She doesn’t recognize my voice!”

“Walter!” I exclaimed, thoroughly embarrassed.  “I must be deaf!”

Walter’s voice was distinctive and rich, as were most media voices in those days. Today, the networks concentrate on appearance, not voice: the perfectly combed hair, the deftly powdered face. But even this may be a vanishing illusion, as network news shrinks in relation to the Internet.

In Paris now, there are fewer than 1,000 accredited foreign journalists. The big three American networks closed their Paris bureaus 20 years ago believing that more important things were happening elsewhere in the world, and that maintaining a fully staffed bureau anywhere was simply too expensive. So there are no more cameramen, soundmen, editors, bureau chiefs. There is, instead, a whole generation of free-lance writers and bloggers. Sometimes their reports get picked up by an Internet site; rarely will they be paid. (Arianna Huffington perfected this “fame but no fortune” principle, promising her contributors “exposure” in lieu of monetary compensation.)  So we have an army of self-appointed journalists who lack training, experience and pay; who probably have a camera in their pocket; and who can, at a moment’s notice, tell the world that there’s been an accident on Main Street or a deadly fire in a garbage dump.

Let us not blame the messenger entirely; the nature of our communications today is fast and shallow. In-depth reporting is rare, and audiences are impatient. The 30-second soundbite has been reduced to 20 seconds, and the seasoned correspondent who spent years in a foreign office—lunching with a senator, interviewing a local businessman—exists no longer.

And we are the poorer for it.

Bryan R. Monte – Our Vaudeville – A memoir of James Broughton

Our Vaudeville
A memoir of James Broughton
by Bryan R. Monte

Unlike the other writers I’ve mention in this memoir series, I do not remember the first time I met James Broughton. I do however, remember two of the last times I saw him. One was captured in a photo by Rink, the well-known LGBT photographer at the OutWrite! writers’ conference in March 1990 in San Francisco in the 4 April 1990 edition of Outweek. James and I are in a closeup profile, with the caption: “Dangling Part(iciple)—Poet Bryan Monte is embraced by poet/filmmaker James Broughton.” The second recorded on a receipt from a Different Light Bookstore dated 11 November 1991 for a copy of Broughton’s Androgyne Journal and a notice of his reading the same evening.

Compared to five other writers, with whom I corresponded during that period, my missives to James were the most frequent and voluminous. Between 25 September 1985 and 2 November 1992, James sent me 18 letters or cards and sometimes books, whilst I (according to the Kent State University Special Collections where James’ later correspondence is kept), sent James ten communications in the form of postcards, letters and a review of his tapes series, True and False Unicorn and other poems, Songs from a Long Undressing, Graffiti from the Johns of Heaven and Ecstacies.

I don’t know if I’d met James when I lived in San Francisco the first time between 1980-84. I had certainly heard about him through Steve Abbott who told me about a boat cruise with a select group out on the Bay to celebrate James’ and his partner, Joel Singer’s union. I’d certainly read James’ poetry while working at the Small Press Traffic and Walt Whitman bookshops September 1983 to June 1984, both of which stocked his books of unabashedly gay, Whitmanesque, naked, cosmic, hippie poetry.

As far as I can determine, the first piece of our correspondence was a plain white postcard he sent dated 24 Sept 1985. I was then in the second year of my Masters degree in creative writing at Brown’s Graduate Writing Program. On this card, James wrote that he was surprised that I had moved to Providence and that he got my new address from a copy of No Apologies #4 which he found at Small Press Traffic Bookshop in San Francisco. He was happy to see that I was still publishing “gaily,” and wanted to know what I was “interested in printing.”

James went on further to ask if I had an address for John Landry so he could contact him. (James had contributed a poem, as I had, to Landry’s Collision magazine/anthology). James signed his name with a extended bar on top of the “J” and stamp with his name and address and, just to the left, another stamp of a petal-flamed sun looking towards his Mill Valley address. It felt like a ray of California sunshine in the midst of a cold, rainy Rhode Island autumn.

At the bottom of the card, James asked: “Do you have a copy of Ecstacies?” Either in San Francisco or after I arrived in Providence in August 1984 to attend Brown’s Graduate Writing workshop, James had given or sent me a signed copy of that book. In my letter of 20 November I told James I had “a beautiful, autographed” copy. I also told him I was swamped with work (writing poetry and putting together my MA thesis, working at the John Carter Brown library cataloguing rare German books and preparing my paper on the “homosexual” discourse in Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz for the MLA convention in Chicago that December.

I told him I was missing California. I wrote: “I hope the sun is warm, the air tingles with a mentholated fog, and that you sit reading this letter in a eucalyptus grove.” I also enclosed a birthday present—a signed copy of No Apologies #5. I wrote that I hadn’t been able to locate John Landry, but an acquaintance at Brown, Natalie Robitaille, said she thought he was working up at the Plymouth Plantation exhibit at the national park. I asked James further if he was inquiring about the Collision anthology that Landry was editing in which I had some poems also.

In addition, I mentioned that I’d been a T. A. that summer for a film course up at a boarding school in Massachusetts and that their textbook mentioned James and his “several experimental films.” I told James: “I’ll have to re-read your poems now with a different eye to see how you manipulate your images from scene to scene.” I also told him I had to sign off because it was past 11 PM and I had a grant writing workshop to attend the next morning to try to get an NEA grant to help fund my magazine, No Apologies.

In a letter dated 12 December in response James said he had received the copy of No Apologies #5, which I had sent him and that he had “…enjoyed reading everything in it…” because it was “lively” and had a “fresh tone.” He also wrote that he “very much…would like to “send (me) …some material in January.” He continued: “I thought you knew had I been making films off and on most of life.” He sent a bio with a separate sheet of his films that were available through a distributor. He reported further that “Joel and I are doing fine…he is mostly making collages and I am working on my memoirs before I forget everything.” He ended the letter with “All my best wishes and tender regards,” wishing me a “Happy Christmas.”

In his next letter dated 17 Feb 1986, James apologized for being slow to respond to “your good letter.” (I don’t know if James is still referring to my letter of 20 November, or whether I wrote him another letter in between that date and his writing. His papers at KSU do not include a second letter from me). James had decided to submit some stories for consideration in the next issue of No Apologies. (That would have been issue #6. However, due to my financial situation as a working, sole-supporting graduate student, I wasn’t able to publish another issue of No Apologies). He sent “Two Tales for Fairies” and wrote “you can arrange them any way you wish.”

In the next stanza he mentioned he had “notes of all kinds for a chapter about the experience of my filmmaking.” Then he asked if I “would be interested…on how I made I made my first films in San Francisco in the late ’40s and ’50s?” Futhermore he wondered if my readers would know who “Maya Deren, Willard Maas and Parker Tyler” were because he had a piece “out at a cinema type magazine,” which if rejected, he would send to me.

I responded to James in a letter dated March 4, 1986 in which I thanked James for his submissions and accepted his poems, “Senior Scorpio’s Foxtrot” and “Off to the Lifelong Races,” and his film memoir, “Mother’s Day Goes Off to New York,” (which was currently under consideration by another magazine), for No Apologies #6.

I continued by asking James how his stay in Hawai’i had been. I mentioned I had been a newspaper intern there on Maui a few summers before. I also said that I liked his film memoir because of its metaphors which described a screening location for one of his films as having “the intimacy of a car barn in Siberia,” and in another place where he compared his film to “chamber music.” I told him: “Anyone who loves film should be interested in this piece.” I ended my letter by thanking him:

“for your invitation to keep in touch. It makes me feel good to know that people in the Bay Area miss me. I wish I could have been at your birthday party. It sounds like it was lots of fun. When I return to San Francisco, you’ll be the first person I’ll visit. Take care of yourself – and of Joel. Get back to me as soon as you can if the Mother’s Day piece is out of the running.

Around Christmas 1986 I sent James a card indicating I had a job teaching writing at a high school in semi-rural Massachusetts and that would be discontinuing publication of No Apologies. James responded with an undated card (probably from January 1987) the text of which read: “If it’s the last dance, dance backwards.” probably meaning to review what I’d done and look back on it with pride. In any rate, I felt supported and affirmed by James even though I wasn’t able to publish his pieces in my magazine. Inside he wrote: “Sad that we may lose No Apologies.” He hoped that things would improve for me and that I could start over again. He also asked if I would return his manuscripts.

The next piece of correspondence is my letter to James dated February 9, 1987. I told him I was able to locate his Mother’s Day manuscript in my correspondence binder, but not “the MSS of the two poems I accepted.” My happiness at receiving James’ card was also continued in the next paragraph when I told James I would visiting him the following week during one of the high school vacations. It was the first time I’d returned to San Francisco since I’d left in July 1984. (I’d also go through three blizzards in Massachusetts that winter before it was over). I told James that while in SF, I would be staying at Ed Mycue’s and Richard Steger’s apartment near City Hall and to give me a call. I added a handwritten P. S. and the bottom of my typed letter that read: “I’d really like to see you.”

During that holiday, I visited with Ed and Richard and with Steve Abbott and Thom Gunn. (In between I also looked for jobs in San Francisco through contacts in the the Brown Alumni Association. I was warmly received by a prominent SF hotel, a newspaper and a publication relations company. Each of these company’s reps. told me I would get a job if I returned that summer. I had a memorable dinner with James and Joel and Steve Abbott and Dennis Green at the couple’s 21st and Church Street hilltop apartment overlooking the lights of San Francisco. Joel cooked a lovely Italian meal, which I mentioned in my review.

Broughton poured wine and reminisced about his years in Paris and the Beat scene in San Francisco. Present was also Joel Singer, Broughton’s partner and artistic collaborator, who created the cover photomontages for Broughton’s new poetry tapes. Singer cooked an exquisite dinner of cheese gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, osso bucco alla Milanese, and orange slices mascerated in Grand Marnier.

The same evening, James gave me his new, audiocassette collection which including recordings from his True and False Unicorn and other poems, Songs from a Long Undressing, Graffiti from the Johns of Heaven and Ecstacies to review. Either that evening or when I returned to Massachusetts, I gave or sent James a copy of Neurotika, my MA poetry thesis at Brown, which is included in Broughton’s KSU papers. At the top of the Neurotika MS is a handwritten note: “2.20.87 To James Broughton and Joel Singer, Thank you for your gifts of laughter and joy. Good luck and good health to you both! Bryan.”

The pleasant memory I have of visiting James and Joel at their SF apartment is reinforced by James’ postcard of his face in close up by Rink, dated and postmarked 28 February 1987. James wrote that he “enjoyed” my poetry and my visit and he hoped my “listening (to his tapes) had been productive.”

I responded with a postcard dated 3.8.87. “Dear James, I just finished my second draft of my review of your tapes. I will do the final draft tomorrow and Tuesday…Steve (Abbott) should have my copy by the end of the week.” I also continued on a personal note writing that: “I hope I can see you again this summer. Depending on the job possibilities, I may move back to SF. The West Coast isn’t Lotus Land, it’s the Promised Land! If I hadn’t gone to Brown for my MA in creative writing, I probably would have never left. I hope I can continue to teach writing (in SF).”

On 1 April 1987, I sent a copy of the review to Rudy Kikel at Bay Windows in Boston, who had just typeset Steve Abbott’s chapbook, The Lives of the Poets. I also informed him that Steve had sent copies to the San Francisco Sentinel and Poetry Flash.

In my review I wrote that: “Broughton is to be applauded for his return of poetry to its rightful medium—oral transmission. I remarked to friend once that reading poetry on the page is like trying to understand a song’s melody by reading the lyrics sheet.” I continued my review by praising Broughton’s tapes for their versatility and musicality. I mentioned his “The Water Circle,” which was set to a Corelli gigue.

I played this selection for my high school freshman, who were not the least bit reluctant to join in with Broughton the second time around. I used this poem as a springboard for their own poems about the natural elements and the seasons of the year. Another poem I played was “Mama is Gone.” It’s soft consonants and vowels echo a child’s lament….Broughton’s other “Songs for Anxious Children,” such as “Papa is a Pig” and Mrs. Mother Has a Nose,”…are strictly for adults due to their subtlety and subject matter.

I concluded that: “These tapes will surely establish James Broughton as one of the greatest (and one of the most underrated contemporary (American) poets….they will provide many hours of good listening.”

I don’t remember hearing back from Kikel about the review. Steve Abbott was also unable to place it at the Sentinel and Poetry Flash. James got back to me about a month later with an Uffizi Galleries postcard of Cranach’s Adam saying that he had read and liked my review of his tapes and wanted to know if I knew where else it could be published. He suggested The James White Review or The Advocate. He also invited me to dinner another time.

A little more than a month later, James sent me a typewritten note dated 8 June 87 with the epigraph “Garlic cures every infirmity/ except death where there is no hope.” Inside he wrote that he hoped I’d had “success in placing” the review because he thought it was “valuable and essential reading.” And he added an invitation saying that if there was a “festschrift for my birthday next year,” it or “another piece by you,” would certainly be welcome.

On 10 June 1987, I sent James a postcard of View from the Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, Massachusetts. I thanked James “for your card of 4/28” and confirmed “I did enjoy writing the review of your tapes” and that “I’ve sent the review to Phil Wilkie at The James White Review.” I also said that I hoped “Joel’s show” had gone “well.” I also confirmed I would “like to come back for dinner” that I’d be out on the West Coast again “on the 20th of July for about a month.”

The next communication I received from James was on the back of a Pitti Galleries postcard of St. Sebastian by Giovanni Antonio Bozzi detto ill Vercelli. James wrote that he was “delighted” to see my review of his tapes in the JWR. “Praise and thanks.” He also wished me well.

By January 1988 I was living in Silicon Valley and working for an insurance company in San Jose. In order to learn the trade practiced by poet Wallace Stevens and composer Charles Ives, I was required to spend one evening a week in insurance classes for the next year and a half and to study at home for at least two hours every night in order to pass the three, four-hour written exams (included calculations which could only be done by hand) for my general insurance certificate. As a result of all this work and living an hour’s drive from San Francisco, I had to drop out of the literary life up North. I received an invitation from James for the premier of his new film, Scattered Remains, made in collaboration with Joel, at the Castro Theater on 26 March 1988, but I doubt that I attended. On the back of the invitation, James wrote his “Good wishes.” Later that year, in October, James kept his promise of inviting me to his schriftfest when he sent me an invitation to read at his 75th and Joel’s 40th birthday celebration at the San Francisco Art Institute on November 10, 1988. For that evening, I wrote and read the poem below:

Birthday blessings for James Broughton and Joel Singer
by Bryan R. Monte

A white house on the side of a hill
high above San Francisco’s lights
holds the home of two lovers and friends
we gather here to honor tonight.

A house of Beauty, a house of Mirth
where Love’s books are reinvented
cook, write, film, fuck, sleep
two lovers by Zeus’ cup demented.

A man and a youth they once began
almost thirteen years to this night
the young pupil and the wise teacher interchangeable
twin novitiates of androgyne delight.

For three days they stayed in bed
two lusty monks on spiritual retreat
and fed Love’s thirst through sweat and tears
sweet nectars of their bodies’ meat.

They taught their hands to sing Hermes’ hymns
to fashion a world for lovers’ delights
and wrought in film, photo, word and deed
the lives we celebrate tonight.

May we be eternally as silly as they:
forever as blessed
forever as blissed
forever as full of life.

On the copy in the KSU archives, I wrote at the top: “by Bryan R. Monte 11/10/88” and a personal note: “Happy Birthday! James & Joel. I hope you enjoy your new home up North.” The audience howled with laughter and applauded my poem, which was good. Just a few minutes before, though, I had mounted the stage with knees knocking so badly I didn’t know if I would be able to stand up and deliver my poem properly to the audience of nearly 300. It was good training. I was able to keep my nerves under control and it gave me extra confidence for my Walt Whitman Bookshop reading a fortnight later.

I invited James and Joel to my reading at the Whitman on a Friday towards the end of November. In response to my birthday poem and my invitation, James sent a postcard dated 17 November 1988 with a painting of “Shelly composing Prometheus Unbound in the Baths of Caracalla,” from a posthumous portrait in oils by John Severn from the Keats-Shelly Memorial House, Rome. He said he “loved” my “tribute,” asked for a copy and thanked me for taking part in his birthday celebration at the Art Institute, which he referred to as “our little vaudeville.” He also said he couldn’t make it to my reading because he had another appointment.

At the reading, I premiered some of the poems I’d written at Brown, including the long poem, Neurotika, about sexual longing, the AIDS crisis, and the probihitions against LGBT rights around the world with aural backing from Brian Eno’s Ambience. On November 28, I sent James and Joel a card with my best wishes. I told them I had had a good time at the Institute reading and his birthday party and I that enjoyed his films—especially Window Mobile, Shaman’s Psalm and the nude interview series, which I’d never seen before. I also told him that my reading “was quite a hit…there were about 25 to 30 people in the audience and my Neurotika piece caused quite a stir.” I also mentioned that: “I realize by now that you may be in Port Townsend. I hope your mail is being forwarded and that you receive this copy of the birthday poem, (and the picture of Joel I took last year at your house at the dinner party with my friend Dennis (Green) and Steve Abbott). Good luck up North and Happy Holidays.”

In response to my letter I received a card with two men on a bicycle, one doing a handstand on the handle bars, with the caption in the upper left “Please Stay in Touch with James & Joel” and their new address and postbox in Port Townsend in the lower left. On the reverse, James thanked me for my “delicious” poem and said he would put it “prominently” in in his “archive.” He also told me about his travel plans after Christmas which included stays in SF in April and June.

During 1989, James and I don’t seem to have corresponded. In September of that year I moved up from Silicon Valley back to San Francisco and into an apartment in the Mission at Valencia and 19th with a view of the apartment I shared with Harry Britt at 20th and Guerrero from April 1983 to July 1984. Here I wrote my weekly news stories and scripts and prepared questions for my bi-weekly interviews on KPFA’s weekly Wednesday night Lavender News on the Fruit Punch radio hour. From this base (and my day job as a computer technician in SF’s Financial District), I trawled the Castro for the LGBT news alone or with photojournalist Rink. I covered demonstrations, AIDS memorials, protests, school board meetings, baseball games, art exhibtions, etc.—anything of interest to the queer community. Every other week I interviewed gay writers, politicians or commentators such as Stan Leventhal or John S. James.

At this time that I also began attending poetry and prose readings in the Mission, the Castro and Berkeley. I started my own weekly writers workshop with regulars such as Donna Kreisle Louden, Edward Mycue, Ronald Linder, Richard Linker and Andrea Rubin. It was Ed in fact, who, according to my 11 November 1989 journal enry, told me about a reception for James on Green Street and said that my invitation had probably been sent to my old address in Silicon Valley.

My journal entry for that evening reveals clearly the happiness and beauty that surrounded James and Joel’s lives and their willingness to share that with me.

James greeted me wearing his ubiquitous pin-purple square oriental pill box hat, a light blue scarf tied around his neck and a darker, blue cordurouy shirt. He put out his arms immediately (to embrace me) . . . The first thing he said was: “It’s a been a year since I’ve seen you; a year exactly.” He was right. He told me I looked good. I told him him he was (as) full of life as ever and as always, happy. He told me he worked at being blissful every day

Joel asked me if I’d like to go to dinner later and I said yes. We ended up with about six people in our party: Hal Hershey, a Berkeley book designer, John Carr, critic for the BAR, Michael Hathaway who hosted the party for James that afternoon and, of course, James, Joel and myself…(at) a Japanese restaurant on Fillmore and Union. We sat upstairs around a low table and I was on James’s right hand. Joel described some Native American ornamentation he’d painted onto the side of their new house. (I also heard that Joel is working on a series of watercolours…He says they’re in the style of photomontages). I asked James the secret of his longevity, but he just smiled.

My training as a radio journalist gave me good training for my writing. From the press releases, books and reading and event announcements, I was aware of what was going on in the gay community. All this, of course, was happening whilst the AIDS crisis was decimating the LGBT community. At least once a month I announced the death of a prominent man or woman I had known personally who had died of AIDS. In addition, one quarter of my radio stories were about AIDS fundraisers and support groups. I felt useful providing this information weekly to the gay community. And it helped me hone my skills as a writer to go out and get stories, sift the facts from the gossip or outright lies, and shape it into the type of telegraphic language necessary for radio news. I soon discovered that for every minute on air, I needed to spend at least an hour preparing my script either at home or gathering information “on location.”

The next piece of correspondence I sent to James and Joel is a letter dated January 6, 1990 from my Mission District apartment. I wrote “It was a pleasure to see both of you during your recent visit to San Francisco. I enjoyed having dinner with you at the Japanese restaurant and listening to James read at the Intersection. I hope both of you had a good holiday. (Did you throw a winter solstice party?) I had a great time on Christmas and New Years. On the first holiday, I went to the Fruit Punch party, and on the second, my roommate and I hosted an open house in our apartment.” I enquired further about their welfare and asked if “Joel is still painting Native American designs on your new house?” and “How is Special Deliveries coming along?” I asked James when his book came out to send me a review copy since “I’m doing 10-20 minutes of news, reviews and interviews on Fruit Punch.” I ended the letter saying that I was thinking of travelling North to Port Townsend with Rink to visit James and Joel.

James responded about three weeks later with a This is It Syzygy Press poetry postcard dated 26 January 1990. James wrote he had just returned for the Yucatan with Joel and that he was working on the final proofs for Special Deliveries.

The next time I saw James was at the OutWrite! Writers’ Conference in San Francisco in March 1990. I covered the conference, speaking with Allen Ginsberg in addition to James.

James Broughton and the author, OutWrite! Writers’ Conference, San Francisco (March 1990). Photo by Rink © 1990. All rights reserved.

James Broughton and the author, OutWrite! Writers’ Conference,
San Francisco (March 1990). Photo by Rink © 1990. All rights reserved.

In response to the above photo in the 4 April issue of OutWeek, James sent me another postcard of a 60+ man logging crew standing on top or next to an enormous tree trunk which it is strapped to a semi-wagon saying that he liked Rink’s photo of “beauty and the old beast.” He wrote would be sending a review copy of Special Deliveries and would be in town for Gay Pride at the end of June to read. He signed the postcard: “Big Log.”

Once again there is a gap of at least a year when James and I did not correspond. During this time, I moved from my flat in the Mission to one in the Outer Sunset from which I could hear and see the Pacific Ocean’s breakers. Here I had hoped to get away from the problems of the City, especially the AIDS crisis. A receipt from A Different Light Bookstore from 11 November 1991 indicates I purchased James’ Androgyne Journal the morning of his reading, and his signature in the book along with the message “for Beloved Bryan. Rejoice in Oneness with Love. James” indicates that I must have attended, but unfortunately I have no journal entry for this day, nor any memory of James’ reading.

Unfortunately, it was also at my oceanview apartment that my new boyfriend, who I’d met in April 1991 and moved in by July, coughed through Christmas with pneumocystis. During the holidays, my new, next-door neighbour abandoned his apartment to die in the arms of his family. By February, my boyfriend was in hospital. Then one Friday evening I came home from work and found he had moved out without giving notice or leaving a forwarding address. In addition, the things he’d left behind were scattered around the flat, including a plant whose soil he’d swirled over the white livingroom carpet.

After my ex-boyfriend left, I kept the AIDS crisis at bay by teaching four times a week after work—twice a week to Russian émigrés out in the Avenues and once a week each to technical writing students at the University of California Extension and to my own writers’ workshop in my living room. Previously this moonlighting had been contractually forbidden by my daytime employer, but once the company went from 17 to 12 to seven to five offices in four massive reorganizations in two and a half years, no one cared as everyone scrambled to find new jobs before they lost their old ones and their homes or apartments.

I remember driving home on night from the UC Extension’s Menlo Park campus at 11 PM along I-280 in thick fog. I was so tired I had rolled down the window and turned the radio up so that the cool air and loud music would keep me from falling asleep behind the wheel. I also remember coming home one night at 10 PM, surprised to feel I was choking as I ate my supper hot out of the oven only to discover I still had my tie on that I’d put on for work that morning at 7 AM. The death of my neighbour, the impending death of a second ex- and the loss my job, all of this was on my mind when I corresponded with James in 1992, one year before I was forced to leave S.F. because I couldn’t find a full-time job or combine two or three jobs that would pay the bills.

The first missive is from James dated 23 January 1992 on James Broughton’s Port Townsend stationery and sent in a Holiday Inn Aeropuerto envelope. He welcomed my suggestion that Rink and I visit him and Joel up North, but he said he couldn’t host us at the moment because he had a family visiting for one month and “some brutal dental surgery” the next. He also reminded me that it was a two-day drive from San Francisco to Port Washington. He ended his letter with “I love you & send you my love & welcome too. Be sure to flourish. Joy from James.”

I must have sent James another letter talking about putting together my poetry collection because I received a postcard of a young man with a muscular torso and legs holding a mirror dated 2 March 1992. It announced a visit by James to San Francisco in “mid-May” and said he “hope(d) you are getting it (the poetry collection?) all together.”

Then about a month and a half later, I received a flyer from James in an envelope postmarked 16 April indicating his readings and screenings in May. On the 14th James had a reading at the Art Institute sponsored by the Cinematique and City Lights Books. The flyer also mentioned that besides the readings, signings and parties, two of Broughton’s films, Scattered Remains and Dreamwood would be shown. James wrote a personal note on the flyer indicating the precise dates he would be in San Francisco and a telephone number in town.

I don’t know if I saw James this time. I may have because I sent him an update of my poetry collection that I had first sent in 1988. This Neurotika, however, was twice as long as the first because it included my performance piece of the same name about the AIDS epidemic.

James responded on 2 Aug 1992. He wrote I had packed a lot into my book because he thought it was really “two different” books: the first poems and the second part the “prose paragraphs of the Neurotika section” which he felt “is almost of a book of its own…an impressive picaresque elegy.”

Broughton’s critique of the poetry (first) section was that it: “…often dropped words so the sense of the line is unclear…” He suggested I “not capitalize” (the beginning of my) lines so it would be easier to distinguish when a new sentence occurs.” He reassured me, however, that: “You have a genuine gift for nuance and impression, for phrasing and shaping.”

He also commented that he was “a hard-hearted reviser” of his own writing and that he was now on his third revision of his memoirs. He advised me: “when in doubt, cut.” Broughton’s letter ended on an encouraging note: “You have enormous potentiality….”

I responded to James’ letter on the 10th thanking him “for your suggestions, especially those concerning the (non)-capitalization of (the first word in) my lines” and for his encouraging words about the Neurotika section. I also asked if he would provide a book blurb.

On November 2, I received the following blurb from James: “Neurotika does not belie its title. On the contrary it pushes sexual neurosis to painful lengths…The neurotic fear of sex that pervades governments and communities around the world provides a concurrent theme. This is a sad, savage, sorry chronicle.”

By that time I had “finished” Neurotika, however, I had lost my job. I had to choose between staying in the City and living from my unemployment benefits and free-lance teaching (which, unfortunately, wouldn’t pay three-quarters of my expenses) and to self-publish Neurotika from my savings, or pursuing my vision of a new life in the Netherlands, which I had had since I was a graduate student.

I purchased an Apple PowerBook laptop and a journalist quality camera and applied for teaching jobs in the Netherlands. Luckily, just after my job ended in San Francisco, I got a job in the Netherlands as an Apple computer system administrator and a substitute English teacher, which is how I began my now 23-year stay.

From James I learned the ropes of writing business—both backstage and on stage. Through his correspondence and books, he taught me how to improve my visual communication as well as my word choice. He provided opportunities for me to create and present work, and, through his and Joel’s hospitality, I learned the value of good food, conversation and company. As a result of this, the time I spent with James and Joel were some of the happiest and most fulfilling I experienced as a writer in San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s during a very dark period for the LGBT community.

Bryan R. Monte – A Tribute to Philip Levine

A Tribute to Philip Levine
by Bryan R. Monte
copyright © 2015 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Whilst searching through my 35+ years of journals for information on James Broughton for my planned memoir on him for the September 2015 issue of AQ14 on radio, television, and film, I stumbled upon entries about my creative writing classes with Philip Levine at Brown University. As Thom Gunn mentioned in my previous memoir, Philip Levine did shake them up at Brown. I thought perhaps these five, largely unedited observations might be a fitting tribute to one of the best poets, (bar Thom Gunn), with whom I studied. Philip, unfortunately, passed away last February 14th. I hope these entries capture some of the waves and tremors he created in class.

24 January 1985

Yesterday, (was the) first day of Philip Levine’s class. (He wore) Blue, Nike running shoes inside of black rubbers, a beige zip jacket under a tweed blazer. (and) An old, gold-brown shirt unbuttoned at the top with a brown tie that looked like it could have come from the Salvation Army. His head (is) much older than the picture on the (cover of his) Selected Poems. (His) Hair (is) bald at both temples, but with brown and grey curls and tufts in the centre. (His) Teeth (are) yellowed and spread apart.

He talked about the poets he liked—Rexroth, Patchen, (William Carlos) Williams—a lot of poets who had been undiscovered, whose names were completely unfamiliar to me so I can’t remember them. He talked about (T.S.) Eliot in the negative sense quoting Williams saying he’d created a regression in the poetic climate that would take America 30 years before they would read his (Williams’) poems again.

He talked about Charlie—a theoretical, but very real student who was an arrogant prick. Levine used the word “prick” a lot—a world full of “pricks.” Levine said Charlie would wear a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, smoke a pipe and write poems that were so learned they were incomprehensible. He said: “Charlie’s a good talker too—he can win any debate about his poems, especially since he’s the one who wrote them. Well, in this class, Charlie keeps his mouth shut.” I hope Student A and Student B were listening, or else he’s going to tear them to pieces.

Levine seemed fairly intrigued by the idea that the poetry students take the same (writing) classes together for two years. I think he likes the idea of the community of poets referring to former students visits and mentioning that we could ride the train up to Boston with him after class. He talked a little—tangentially—about the loneliness in his life—mentioning the superb quality of Rexroth’s love poems saying they were so good they reminded him what having sex was like.

He seems like everything I would want from a writing teacher—scorn for (the) academic/hermetic tradition in poetry, strong-willed, strong convictions, interested in the sensual in poetry, in the community of poets, or sitting on disruptive, pompous assholes, or bucking the GWP (Graduate Writing Program) and letting some of his own students in (our class)—and filled with a “flaming centre,” a burning love for poetry.

1 February 1985

Less than glorious things to say about Levine’s class after he trashed a poem by Student C. He seemed, however, to have his finger on the pulse of a lot of writers—(he) told Student D she had a good sense of line, but that her poem was like the travelogue poems that are very popular at the moment, he told Student A his poem about a fisherman wasn’t detailed enough and he told Student F, that she needed more tension in her poem. But he really savaged Student C’s poem about the elevation of suicidal women—Plath, Sexton—in American letters and how that’s used as a device of oppression.

I found myself arguing how woman are oppressed by a monolithic, (straight) male tradition—I remarked that it wasn’t until my senior Modernist lit. class at Berkeley that a studied a woman writer—Gertrude Stein. But I found myself arguing with no support in a class with a majority of women. Even Student G didn’t support Student C’s idea of the oppression/self-oppression of women even though that’s all she writes about.

Levine fell in my estimation (today) when he couldn’t even find anything salvageable in Student C’s poem. She had one line I especially liked: “We never strike in anger except at ourselves.” This is the language of the oppressed, the inward violence that gay men/lesbians, women do to each other/themselves because they’re powerless to lash out individually at the monolith of straight, male oppression. (This is) The self-laceration, (the) scars we don’t talk about or wear as merit badges.

12 February 1985

Last Wednesday I met with Philip Levine in Michael Harper’s office and he was very enthusiastic about my poetry. He especially liked “Wayne” (now entitled “The Boats” and published in Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets in 2013) and he showed it to me in a new light so that I became aware, for the first time, of its power and its deficiencies. I told him that I was very happy that he had been able to do a close reading of my poems. I told him that the previously I had had trouble getting accurate feedback because students and instructors were repelled and/or threatened by the homosexuality in my poems. Levine said he couldn’t understand why an instructor would do that. He also looked at another poem, “Brushstrokes,” which he felt had potential but was actually two separate poems. He thought the sound and sight imagery at the bottom of the poem was the raw material for another poem—he saw it as discontinuous, but not as leading away from the base of the poem inspirationally.

At any rate, he saw that I was able to take criticism of my work very objectively. I think that telling him a poem is “in progress” gives him more to say, what he thinks can be done with a piece. He suggested we go over “The Predators,” (published in Assaracus 15 in 2014), in class. He liked it very well and sort of guided it through a lot of negative criticism. He said, however, that my description of the attackers was too stereotypical. He liked the line breaks, however, saying they reminded him of Williams’ line in “The Desert Music.”

24 February 1985

Wednesday, met with Levine in Harper’s office before class. He was very happy to see me and we talked about three poems—two finished that I had turned in and one that is in process. Levine said that the images in “In Envy of Naturalism”  (published online by BMUG in Baaad Poetry in 1995) were too romantic and therefore, too distant from the perceptions of the modern reader. He also said that the lines seemed too awkward—too forced. He absolutely adored “Heterophobia,” (published in The James White Review as “The Visit” Volume 3, Issue 1, Fall 1985) which I wrote in practically one sitting. He said that the surrealism and the language flowed very swiftly and took them reader with them—that the tension created in the first line carried throughout the poem. He echoed these sentiments in class. He also looked at my first drafts of “The Bunker” which I told him would probably be typeset the same way as the lines in the “The Predators,” breaking every line every fourth or fifth word and distributing them over the page.

6 March 1985

Another hit today in Levine’s class. (I) Read my poem, “Mrs. m.” which the students and Levine praised. To me, it seems awkward, especially the rhythm of the lines—but they seemed to have liked it or at least respect the sentiment it expressed—Student A said that he thought the poem was very close to me so he didn’t think he should say anything about it. As much as I dislike Student A, that’s the kindest thing he’s ever said about my poetry. One of Levine’s guests (invited students) said that she like the poem because I respected the mother enough not to try to get into her head—I just described the physical things a child could see. Levine liked it even though he didn’t understand the image of the (broken off) chair leg next to my mother’s bed. He really seems to like my work and to be encouraging some kind of close communication. This is my chance—to really learn from someone who is really gifted.

Irene Hoge Smith – Anxious Attachment

Anxious Attachment
by Irene Hoge Smith

Ann Arbor, February 1961.

I don’t know where she is. Maybe I’m supposed to know what she’s doing this afternoon, but I just know that I’m cold and that it was a long windy walk from the bus stop and that I’ve been thinking all the way up the hill how pleased she’d be that I took the bus by myself. I leave the soggy black leather boots on the concrete floor of the carport and come into the kitchen in damp knee socks.

Mama doesn’t get why I hate to take the bus and I can’t explain it. I started worrying even before I left the house this morning. Is the fare still twenty-five cents? Do I have quarters in my pocket? Are they still there? It’s the 12B, I know that. I thought I knew that. Unless it’s 12A. No, I’m sure it’s the 12B. Except how will I know if I’ve already missed it, and when will the next one come? If I get on the wrong bus I could end up in Ypsilanti or, worse, Detroit. But the boxy black and white 12B bus stopped at the foot of Pinecrest Crescent about five minutes after I got down the hill, and during the long stretch down Miller Road toward town my heart gradually stopped pounding in my ears. When I saw the first red-roofed university buildings I started watching for the arch at the corner of the quad, but everything looked different from inside the bus. I was supposed to get off at the corner of South University and East University, I remembered that, but at State Street I saw the Carillon and got confused again. What if we’ve already passed my stop? I should have gone up front and asked the driver, but then everybody would have looked at me. There’s the arch. There’s Ulrich’s bookstore. I pulled the cord and the bus slowed to a stop and I was on the sidewalk. For a minute I was sure I’d made a mistake, but I was just looking the wrong way and when I turned around I saw, halfway down the next block, catty corner from Ulrich’s like I remembered, the school steps. My armpits were wet and I didn’t catch my breath until I got to homeroom.

Now it’s almost four o’clock, no one’s home, it’s getting dark out and it’s even darker inside. Across the living room the tall windows glow blue in the twilight and it reminds me of something that I want to ask her about. The blue time? A perfume? A poem she wrote? When I switch on the light, indigo turns to black and I see only a reflection of myself and the living room, the kitchen, orange countertops, dishes in the sink, piles of newspapers and books on the table.

Where is she? I hope there’s something to eat. Maybe she’s at class? Which class? I’m pretty sure there’s some instant cocoa. I’d like to go with her to pottery class again. I run water into the scuffed aluminum kettle, put it on the electric stove, find a heavy white china mug in the sink, rinse it out. I wish she wouldn’t go to that writing class. She’s wearing lipstick and putting something on her hair called a “rinse.” Yes, there’s the red box of Nestle’s EverReady, and it’s at least half full. I feel better, and realize I’ve been crying.


My parents met in Washington as World War II was winding down. She’d dropped out of Smith College to join the WACs, he’d gone into the Army after finishing an engineering certificate in Arizona, and both of them were doing secret work that, as far as I know, neither of them ever talked about to anyone. She’d found a handsome, smart engineer, like the father who died when she was eight. He was fascinated by her writing, her education, and most of all her admiration for him.

Getting married and having babies was what everybody was doing and what they did, but they weren’t cut out for it. He was insecure, angry, needy and nasty to her when things weren’t going right for him. She was looking for someone to take care of her and help her grow up, but as she began to realize, they were both infants themselves.


We moved from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor in the summer after sixth grade. I was going to start seventh at the University School in the fall, and everything seemed to be looking up. Daddy finished graduate school, left Willow Run Labs for a job on campus, and things were better in ways I can’t put into words exactly that had to do with them not fighting so much, not being so mean to us, me and Patti not having to take care of the little kids all the time, and not—not other things I don’t even want to think about.

And there must have been more money and enough hope that they decided they could build a beautiful new house in a nice part of Ann Arbor.


She’s happy here. She was excited all during the construction. When a gigantic boulder came out of the excavation she got the bulldozer man to move it to the back yard, imagining the bachelor buttons, Queen Anne’s lace and purple vetch that would grow around it. She chose the pumpkin-orange Formica, told the workmen how to arrange the gray-speckled linoleum tiles, found a dramatic black stain for the vertical support beam in the middle of the house, didn’t let them box it in with drywall. She’s in a good mood a whole lot more since we moved here last summer. Our house is as nice as the other ones in the neighborhood, or it will be when Daddy gets the foundation painted and when Mama plants the Japanese maple tree out front that she wants. She finally made curtains instead of just buying fabric and saying she’d get around to it. They’re just bed sheets but she sewed pleat tape across the top and put in the little pronged doohickeys that make gathers like machine-made drapes. Daddy put up real curtain rods and I helped Mama draw free-form flowers on the bottom edge of the sheets with magic markers, and they look pretty nice. She’s cheerful, making things, full of plans. I forget to worry about her for a while.


I’d always remembered the house we lived in when I was born, a corner row house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, as a vast castle with an enormous round tower. After we left Ann Arbor, I developed a similarly aggrandized image of that house, imagining the low-slung yellow rambler near the crest of Morningside Drive as larger, more striking, more beautiful than it really was. It had the shallow-angled roof that says “contemporary,” cathedral ceilings, and clerestory windows—elongated scalene triangles just under the roofline. It was a nice house, especially compared to anywhere we’d lived before, but not really grand. Ann Arbor has a rich architectural heritage of mid-century modern houses, and their iconic lines, expanses of glass, and pleasing simplicity became conflated, after we left, with memories of the actual house we lived in for two and a half years. Two and a half years. It doesn’t seem possible. I don’t want it to have been such a short time. How could it have always meant so much to me when we were hardly there at all?


Our parents’ marriage was never easy, and at times it was awful. He had affairs and left several times when we were small. At least once she tried to leave him but he convinced her to come back. In the darkest time (his father died, he had a setback at work), he abused all of us, and she was powerless to do anything about it.

Things calmed down between them after the first decade. He got a grip on himself as his career became more promising, and being less afraid of him helped her start to rebuild her self-esteem. She was changing, hoped he’d change too, and it started to seem things were going to be okay.


They have a housewarming party. Mama serves angel-food cake with frozen strawberries and sour cream. I think sour cream sounds like a good way to ruin strawberries and cake, but it’s delicious. Like the curtains, the orange counters, the unfinished post in the living room—I wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing but it turns out to be exactly what she had in mind, and just right.

They haven’t had a really bad fight since we moved to Ann Arbor. She still doesn’t always get up in the morning, but she doesn’t stay in bed all day, either. Patti has the alarm clock, and I get out of bed when I hear her in the shower. I put cornflakes, milk and sugar, four cereal bowls and four spoons on the table while Patti wakes the little kids up. Sally’s in kindergarten, and can dress herself and help Ruthie, too. Usually they’ve had their breakfast and are ready by the time the car pool comes.

I’m in seventh grade, have some friends, and am starting to feel pretty good about this new school. I draw a peace sign on my olive-green canvas book bag and sling it over my shoulder just the way Patti and her ninth-grade friends do. I try to forget Ypsilanti, and hope that this tenth move will be the last.


At Christmas our parents were happy all day long, although we were on edge, waiting for the first impatient words, a quarrel escalating to yelling, crying, and four girls running to separate corners of the house.

She sat smiling, legs crossed in the yellow canvas butterfly chair. He leaned back on black leather, put his feet up on the matching ottoman. They talked and joked after the presents. Kennedy was going to the White House, a friend had landed an important job in the administration. She’d gotten over Stevenson, didn’t sneer about Kennedy any more. He said something about a leave of absence from the university, about a job “on the hill.” She said it’s too soon to tell the kids. I didn’t know what a leave of absence was or what hill they were talking about and I didn’t want to ask.

In January they told us that there would be another move. We agreed to believe them when they said it was only for a while, that after a year or two in Washington we would certainly, definitely, absolutely move back to Ann Arbor. Daddy went to Washington after the inauguration, coming back every few weeks, and things were more relaxed with him gone. We wouldn’t have to leave until the end of the school year.

I stopped expecting to find Mama at home in the afternoons. She was taking a class in poetry and another in Russian and I came home one day toward the end of winter to find the living room windows lined with Cyrillic letters painted in robin’s-egg blue. Yevtushenko, she said. The most beautiful poetry in the world. Much better to read it in the original Russian. Maybe in Ann Arbor it’s okay to have Russian words on the windows. I hope so.

I knew about the poetry and the Russian and even Artesian, the literary journal she was helping to revive. I didn’t know about the man, the teacher, the editor of the journal, about what was happening between them while she was so happy and busy and creative. And I couldn’t know, of course, how little time was left.


She’s smoking, pacing, clutching a cup of black coffee and I want to talk to her. It was exciting at first to think of our father and Washington and the Kennedys and I even imagined our family might become like them and thought maybe it would be fun and make me special to go away for a year and come back. But the school year is ending and I’m starting to feel sad. I really don’t want to miss being in eighth grade with my friends. I’m tired of being cooperative. I’m ready for an argument.

I start in on her. “I still don’t get why we even have to move to Washington.”

She sighs, but I have more to say.

“We practically just moved here and I’ve only been at U high for one grade and that’s not fair, because Patti’s had three whole years. I finally have friends and Mr. Berg said that next year I should try out for choir but I won’t even be here!”

I start to get even more upset than I thought I was.

She seems willing to hear me out. Maybe I can convince her we should all stay here and Daddy can keep coming home every other weekend and not make us move.

“I know you really like school now, but that’s just because you have a better attitude. University School’s not so special; you just don’t want things to change. Lots of people are afraid of change.” This sounds like one of her speeches about how narrow-minded most people are, but she still sounds sort of sympathetic.

“I’m sure there’ll be a choir at your school in DC, or at the Unitarian Church. You’ll find new things to like. You’ll make lots of new friends.”

“But I’m never going to see my old friends anymore! I don’t want new friends, I want to live here! This is the best place we’ve ever lived and I don’t see why we have to leave!”

“But it’s not forever,” she goes on. “We’ll be coming back, I told you that. That’s why we’re just renting the house and not selling it.”

I’ve heard this before. “When are we coming back? Will we be back in time for ninth grade? Can you promise it will be exactly one year, that I’ll only be gone for eighth?”

“I told you already we’ll come back. Your father’s just on leave, so he has to come back.” She’s not so patient, getting a little sharp.

“Well, how long exactly?”

“I don’t know exactly! You’re making too big a deal out of it, going on about never seeing this place again. That’s just stupid.”

It’s probably her saying I’m stupid that does it. Daddy says that all the time but usually she says of course not, you know you’re really smart but he’s in a bad mood and stay out of his way. But I’m so mad that I say what I’ve been thinking from the first time they told us about moving.

“Well, isn’t that the same thing you said when we left Riverside?” I’m using my most sarcastic voice. “And that didn’t happen, did it? When we came to Michigan you promised we’d be moving back to California, and did we? No, and we never will, either! So why should we believe….”

She puts the cup down, switches the cigarette to her left hand, and slaps me across the face.


Mama’s maiden name was Frances Elizabeth Dean. “Frances after my grandfather,” she told us, which made no sense until I learned to read and could grasp that they did have the same first name, with a different, final vowel. Her father was Samuel Winthrop Dean, and his father was Francis Winthrop Dean. Twelve Dean brothers were supposed to have come over before the Mayflower, settling first in Taunton and later in Lexington. An ancestor’s revolutionary war musket had been in her grandfather’s attic on Elliot Lane, which meant, she said, that she could have joined the DAR if she’d been interested. “Some people think that kind of thing is important,” she sniffed, and I knew I shouldn’t be too impressed. As grand as this all sounded to me, I knew it was because her father died that they had to move in with her namesake grandfather. She and her mother and sister were always the poor relations, and her memories were not happy ones.

I remember Mama. I never called her anything else. I didn’t know the Frances Elizabeth Dean or Frances Dean Smith who wrote so many poems before I was born, and she didn’t start writing again until after she left. I didn’t really know her after that until I was grown up with children of my own. I don’t remember her as S. S. Veri, or f.d.b., or FrancEyE. I only remember Mama.


FrancEyE dies at 87; prolific Santa Monica poet

Frances Dean Smith, a Santa Monica, Calif., poet known as FrancEyE who was inspired by Charles Bukowski, lived with him and had a child with him in the 1960s has died. She was 87.
….A singular character affectionately called the Bearded Witch of Ocean Park—or, as Bukowski fondly referred to her in one poem, Old Snaggle-Tooth—Smith had lived in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica for decades.
Her work under the pen name FrancEyE was published in poetry journals and gathered in the collections “Snaggletooth in Ocean Park” (Sacred Beverage Press, 1996), “Amber Spider” (Pearl, 2004), “Grandma Stories” (Conflux Press, 2008) and “Call” (Rose of Sharon Press, 2008).
….Although Ms. Smith had been writing poetry in fits and starts nearly all her life, she arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1960s determined to reinvent herself, leaving behind the man she had divorced and the four daughters they had produced during an unhappy marriage.

(The Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2009)

Bryan R. Monte – The Long Workshop: A Memoir of Thom Gunn

The Long Workshop: A memoir of Thom Gunn, 1982-1994
by Bryan R. Monte

I first met Thom Gunn in January 1982 at the University of California, Berkeley as a student in his creative writing workshop. Strangely, even though we lived close to each other in Haight-Ashbury the previous year, he at Cole and Alma and I at Haight and Clayton, nine blocks away, we had never run into each other at neighbourhood or gay-themed readings or parties. (Haight-Ashbury poet and friend Steve Abbott, however, promised he would introduce us if we ever did).

I didn’t know what to expect from Thom personally, though something about his poetry “spoke to me” years before I knew he was gay and I had moved to San Francisco. My first contact with his poetry was during my last year of high school as I prepared for the Advanced Placement exam in English by reading through the Norton Anthology of English Literature from cover to cover. His poem “Human Condition,” about walking through a fog “Contained within my coat”. The phrase “…condemned to be/An individual,” certainly resonated with my teenage angst, growing up gay in Ohio. It was also consistent with all the walking around I did looking for who knows what, trying to quiet the ever-turning wheels in my head.

Two and a half years later after I had returned early from a mission to Germany due to a nervous breakdown, I received The Poetry Anthology 1912-1977 from my senior high school English teacher as a New Year’s gift to help me recuperate. The book featured Thom’s young face at the top of the book’s thick spine with a young Tennessee Williams in the middle and a matronly, 19th century looking Harriet Moore, the magazine’s editor for many decades, smiling at the bottom. This book contained three of Thom’s poems—“High Fidelity,” from 1955, “The Unsettled Motorcylist’s Vision of His Death” from 1957 and “The Messenger” from 1970. All of these poems are formally constructed, but the rebellious, young man seemed nonetheless to burst through these restrictions.

This is one of the few books from that time, before college, that I’ve kept all these years and certainly one of the few I had with me when I moved to Haight-Ashbury in 1980 to find out what it meant to be gay in a more tolerant environment and to see if I could be a writer. I think I considered it phenomenal for a living poet to have one poem in the Poetry anthology, let alone three.

At Steve Abbott’s urging I purchased two copies of Thom’s books from a second-hand bookstore. These were the thin, 47-page, chapbook length, My Sad Captains (1961) and the somewhat thicker, 78-page, Jack Straw’s Castle (1971). So these two books, published almost a decade apart, had launched and maintained the great man’s career, I thought.

From the very first day class, I knew Thom was going to be different than the other male Berkeley professors. Instead of coming to class in a button-down shirt and tie, chinos or jeans and a wool jacket with elbow patches, Thom arrived wearing a tight, white, round-neck T-shirt, tight Levi’s black jeans, black biker boots including the silver chain back by the heel, and of course, a leather jacket, the scent of which filled the room as his body warmed it. In contrast to his tough guy, rebel-without-a-cause wardrobe, however, Thom proved from the very beginning to be a somewhat shy, soft voiced man, who, nonetheless, commanded the respect of all his students without (as far as I can remember) ever having to raise his voice to call the class to order.

To fill the time during the first meeting, Thom had us introduce ourselves around the circle. (Yes, as a former educator, I’m shocked to realize that this was the one and only class at Berkeley that I can remember in which the classroom chairs were arranged so radically!) The students generally introduced themselves and talked briefly about their writing interests and experience. I don’t know what I said about myself that day, but I remember one or two students mentioning university poetry awards they had won or that they were putting a (chap)book together.

As far as my background was concerned, I’d written about two-dozen, short, imagistic (and some homoerotic poems), which I’d submitted with my admission’s essay to Berkeley. This had earned me a blue, “Do Not Admit Under Any Circumstances” sticker on my admission folder, but that’s another story. These same poems this time, however, were good enough to get me into Thom’s class. In fact, for the next 20 years, Thom’s workshop was one of the few I attended where sexuality of all kinds could be freely used and discussed in poetry.

Five fellow classmates mentioned in my journals include L.R., a short, dark-haired lesbian, Taras Otus, a blond, laid-back Southern Californian with a calm smile on his face that reminded me of Yoda from Star Wars, Miles, a shy, sixth-year undergraduate who wore a broad-brimmed, light-tanned, Australian hat with corks hanging around the brim during class, Cindy Larsen, a Mormon wife and mother, and another woman whose name I think was Marina, who wrote a poem about a homeless man or woman who everyone passed on their way to work. The terminal lines to her poem, as I remember them, went something like this: “How do you sleep at night/ knowing he/she’s on the street/ and you, in your safe, soft, clean bed./Very well, I bet.” It exemplified the smugness and lack of social consciousness of the Zeitgeist as yuppies gentrified San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, Western Addition and Castro neighbourhoods (some “homesteading” as they called it with guns next to their beds and bars on their windows). It also typified the new breed of Berkeley students who seemed more interested in buying clothes than books as more stores devoted to the former opened on Telegraph Avenue replacing the latter.

After the dozen students had introduced themselves and their poetic backgrounds and/or aspirations, Thom explained the rules of the workshop. Students were to submit work twice during the quarter. These submissions could be four short poems (shorter than one page), one long (longer than two pages) and two short poems or two long poems. The poems were to be photocopied and distributed a week in advance of class so that students could make micro and macro annotations about the manuscripts under discussions. Each student was allowed five minutes time to critique the poem before the discussion moved on to the next speaker. Students who had not read and annotated the poems in advance of class were not welcome to critique the poems.

In addition, while a poem was being critiqued, its author was to remain silent and take notes. Only after the critique was finished (usually after a half hour maximum) was he/she allowed to speak and then only to address questions posed by the readers to fill in missing details such as: “Who is speaking here?” or “What colour was the stone?,” etc.

Thom then gave us a stack of handouts about the basics and nomenclature of rhyme and rhythm and also a short collection of representative modernist poems including an excerpt from Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts (which, to his horror, Thom discovered none of us had heard of).

I soon discovered that Thom was a humble, professional, impartial, caring and reserved instructor. He never took up class time telling old war stories about his time with other famous poets and writers. For example, he didn’t mention his Stegner Fellowship to Stanford to study with Ivor Winters or his journey down to Santa Monica to visit Christopher Isherwood. He also didn’t “testdrive” new poems in class. Furthermore, even though Thom was gay and he knew I and some other writing students were gay, as far as I know, he was one of the few gay instructors who respected the barrier between instructor and student. Moreover, he didn’t groom protégés for class or for the poetry contests he judged.

In Thom’s workshop the students’ writing was the most important thing week after week. I don’t ever remember him giving us specific assignments like those I’ve had in other classes which half of the time, the teachers haven’t bothered to check or review in class such as: “Go write a poem from the perspective of an animal of a tree,” or “Imagine you’re attending your own funeral, what would you want someone to say about you in verse?”

Thom was very secure in his role in the class. He just left us to the business of writing and he used the students’ texts as the examples from which he taught. In addition, I don’t remember Thom ever talking about grading as most professors did during their first classes, nor mention participation as a means of boosting one’s grade.

One last very important aspect about Thom’s workshop that stands out took place in the second class when student work was first being discussed. Tom became a bit agitated by student responses that were mostly complimentary and only barely critical of each others’ work.

“C’mon. Stop being so nice. You can be harder on her/him!” Thom explained this outburst by saying that West Coast students had trouble being critical of each other’s poems because they were afraid of giving offence, whilst those on the East Coast tended to be much too critical and competitive, fighting their way to the top over the bodies of the poets whose work they sometimes happily tore to pieces. Soon the chorus of “be harder” started to ring through class spontaneously (followed by giggles) after the students had finished describing most of the good aspects of the poem, but had just barely touched what needed improvement.

Thom waited until everyone else except the poet had spoken, before summing up what had been said and usually adding something important that the students had missed. Thom may have walked into the class the first day by projecting his hard guy leather rebel persona, but he was, on the contrary, the most careful reader and capable writing instructor I’ve ever experienced. Thom returned poems with helpful micro-level (correction of spelling, punctuations and word order, and crossing out overwritten phrases leaving just the essential words behind) as well as a paragraph of macro-level comments (the overall effectiveness of the poem and/or where it fit in contemporary American/English poetry). As a result of this, I can remember his writing class as being orderly, respectful, inspiring and productive. In addition, I don’t remember students ever questioning his judgment.

Within a few weeks, everyone in the class, due to the intensity of the class’s discussions and comments, knew who were the better, more interesting and/or controversial poets. Despite this, Thom gave everyone equal time in class. He was one of the few poetry teachers I can remember who carefully kept track of the time each students’ work was discussed. He waited for the end of the maximum half hour of discussion before he made his summation and delivered his final judgment and/or recommendations.

Thom shared his personal life in class only once that I can remember. That day he asked us if we thought he was too old or physically over the hill. We assured him he wasn’t. I mentioned that he didn’t have anything resembling a beer gut which most men his age had and that he had all his hair. This seemed to put Thom back on top and we got on with the class.

After listening to others’ poems being critiqued the first two weeks, I submitted my own poems for consideration, a long one in three parts called “Coming Out,” and two shorter ones called “Subway” and “To Harry in the Hope of Your Speedy Return.” Because Thom was gay, I felt comfortable submitting the “Coming Out” poem to class for critique. The students in general liked it and weren’t repulsed by the gay subject matter as students in other programs were a few years later. Thom’s students, whatever their sexuality, were able to offer helpful recommendations on how to tighten up lines or rearrange word order to make the poem stronger. After class ended and most of the students had left the room, Thom confided to me that many times he’d tried to capture the spirit of a gay march or protest, but hadn’t been able to. My “Coming Out” poem, however, in its third part, was able to capture that raw sentiment with the image for example of ““I tore my bedsheets to make a banner” (which was about the first march on Washington for gay rights in 1979). He also liked the images of the “soldier boy” and “his boots/laughing on my ribs.” The soldier boy image was one he would refer to in his correspondence for years after I had graduated from Berkeley and gone onto graduate school.

I also remember the laughter in Thom’s class and the constructive criticism when L.R. read her two poems “Femme Dykes” and “sitting on a fence” about blowing up traditional stereotypes and not wanting sometimes to identify with a specific sexuality, which I later published in the first issue of No Apologies. It was then I understood another reason I enjoyed writing workshops so much—to hear previously unpublished work read by as yet undiscovered authors—(and later, the thrill being the first to put it into print). This laughter also rounded out the class when someone, I think it was Marina, wrote a cento for the last class, taking one or two memorable lines from the students’ poems and putting them together into a poetic valediction.

I took Thom’s compliments about my poetry as a sign that he would be open to discussing my writing during his office hours which I tried to sign up for each week. That was when I discovered that even though Berkeley had 36,000 students on 12 campuses, you could still see professors once a week for ten or fifteen minutes. All you had to do was sign up in advance for the professor’s mandatory office hours on the bulletin boards next to their doors in the attic of Wheeler Hall (At least that’s where most of my professors had their offices with windows looking out onto the cement urns at the roof’s edge).

And my visits continued even when I was no longer in Thom’s poetry class. In addition to discussing my poetry, I also talked about readings I was attending in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and Mission districts, both hotbeds of young, experimental writers, my new relationship with Harry Britt, and how I was getting on as a working student. Thom, on his part, however, confided very little to me except that when he’d come to California on a scholarship it had also been difficult for him to get established and to stay.

Some weeks only a few students would show up, so Thom would give me an extra time slot or two of his time. It was those days that I couldn’t believe my luck as Thom discussed even in more detail, the tricks and tools of a poet. During one of these sessions, Thom took out one of the computer punch cards he gave to students to register late for his class and wrote his home telephone number on the back of it. I don’t remember what prompted him to do this, but I only rang this number rarely to talk to Thom about poetry, to tell him about a reading or my gay literary magazine, No Apologies, or to request a recommendation to graduate school.

After I left Berkeley and during the time I attended Brown we continued to correspond at least three times per year. In June 1983, Thom wrote to apologize for not being able to make it to my graduation party. On the back of a Poetry Comic Card #7, showing Walt Whitman sitting in an armchair watching television dated 7 June 1983, Thom sent me his “Congratulations” and wished me “a good summer” but apologized for not being able to attend my “graduation party.” Other times he wrote to confirm he’d received my request for recommendation letters to graduate school. In January 1984, he sent another postcard, this one featuring a short-haired blond man at the Air Force Academy holding its falcon mascot on his arm. Thom commented on the back of this postcard that that man looked “like the “soldier boy” at the end of your poem!…” Thom thanked me for sending him a copy of No Apologies’ first issue and for the recommendation forms for me for graduate school. He was confused though, “Now, one goes to Harvard, one goes to Brown, but where does one other one go?” He guessed that it went to the graduate program at Berkeley and he was correct.

I also phoned or wrote him during this time, asking him to read at No Apologies book parties in November 1983 at the Intersection and in May 1984 at New Space, a converted store front gallery, reading and dance space across the street from New College at 19th and Valencia. Thom, however, declined both times and Steve Abbott and Harold Norse respectively were the featured readers for those two events. Both times Thom thanked me for my invitation, but declined gracefully.

Only once did I see Thom in San Francisco when he wasn’t as eloquent and graceful as he’d been in class or on the phone and which also revealed a bit about his own private life including his recreational drug use. One Friday evening as I was walking on Market Street at 15th near where I lived, I saw Thom stumbling on the pavement. I walked up to him and asked “Thom, are you OK?” Instead of being able to speak to me, however, he could only gurgle and giggle in response. He must have been high and on his way from the N-Judah Duboce Park stop. Thom continued down the Market Street hill in this state.

Whilst at Brown from 1984 to 1986, Thom and I exchanged postcards and letters at least bi-annually, four of which I still have and which are fairly representative of our correspondence from that time. (Taras Otus also contacted me in December 1984 after some of my poems where published in Bay Windows in Boston. We got together at least once in Cambridge to talk about poetry and share our work). In March 1985 I sent Thom a long letter in which I asked him whether I should remain at Brown a second year and get my MA in creative writing. So far, I’d experienced opposition at Brown due to the homoerotic poems, the continued publication of my gay magazine, No Apologies (which ironically had won me the scholarship to Brown) and the response of some of the faculty, their spouses and fellow students to my partner’s presence at some campus readings. Unfortunately in the spring of 1985, even though I had been a fastidious student, attending all my classes and completing my assignments, I was passed over for a teaching assistantship for the next year. This was despite the 15 poems I’d had accepted or published, the three readings I’d given or sponsored on or around campus and the two major readings I was scheduled to give—one at the Small Press Fair at Madison Square Garden in New York City and the other at the Modern Language Association in Chicago.

About this time I had also been told all writing fellowships were being reconsidered. My response to this was to go home and see if I had enough boxes and suitcases to pack everything into to move back to San Francisco. Given the choice of borrowing $8,500 to complete my degree in creative writing or moving back San Francisco to continue with my magazine, the latter not the former seemed more reasonable based on my experience.

Around this time, I sent a letter to Thom in which I wondered whether the move to the East Coast had been worth it. Thom responded in a letter dated April 8 (1985). He said he was “glad that you are shaking them up at Brown…and I’m sure Philip Levine is glad too,” because he felt Levine had also done that at Berkeley even though it was something Thom felt he had “never been able to do” there. Thom also wrote about the value of getting a degree in teaching creative writing. He said that he sort of “fell into it.” He said that he felt teaching writing at a very elementary level—“giving them that starting push,” was “good” and “honest,” but he didn’t feel that writing “needs…or should be taught beyond that level.” He went on further to say that the “Writing Workshop style seems…responsible for the general wimpiness in too much American poetry.” But he concluded that the best thing for me to do “would be to try to get an MA in poetry.”

Then he went on to share that it had also been a “difficult semester” for him also. That even though he: “did a lot writing last year, which made me happy,” he had still decided that his next book would not come out until 1992, à lá Robert Duncan, who published a book only every ten years.

In addition, Thom wrote at the top of the back of the letter’s envelope at the top: “P.S. It gets slippery on that big hill you’re on, esp. in the winter, doesn’t it.” I can’t help thinking he was referring to more than meteorology and geography.

Reverse of envelope of letter from Thom Gunn to Bryan R. Monte, 8 April 1985

Reverse of envelope of letter from Thom Gunn to Bryan R. Monte, 8 April 1985

After his receipt of issue four of No Apologies which featured the second part of the long memoir by Harold Norse and an in-depth interview with Dennis Cooper, Thom wrote me a thank you note on 22 May 1985 on the back of a postcard featuring the Martin Theater in Talladega, Alabama. It was sent to my address at the Graduate department (where I assume the secretaries and anyone else could read it in my open cubby hole before I collected it). He wrote he liked the Cooper interview and my poem Heterophobia (later published by The James White Review as “The Visit”). He wrote me that “Heterophobia” was “good, interesting, gutsy, original.” About my other poem, “Daddy Dearest,” Thom said it reminded him of a man I’d written about “before, in a poem where he was a soldier boy.” Thom wished me luck at the private boarding school where I was about to teach that summer and warned me not to have “too many illusions about it” because it might turn out to be “a more tight-assed place then where you are.”

The next piece of correspondence I have from Thom is dated 16 July 1985. He sent it to that “tight-assed” school where I assisted with a poetry and a film class and was the instructor for track. I had written Thom about a contract an editor had sent me for an anthology. The contract prohibited me from republishing my poems chosen for the anthology for three years. I didn’t know whether I should agree to this because they’d taken many of my best poems like “Intimations of Frank O’Hara,” “Coming Out,” (the one with the soldier boy) “To Harry in the Hope of Your Speedy Return” (which Thom had said reminded him of Ezra Pound’s letter of the merchant’s wife letter in the Cantos) and “The Visit.”

In response to my question, “Should I sign?” Thom wrote that he found it “odd” that I had to sign a contract for a group of poems and not a book especially if I was only getting “two copies” of the anthology in return. He mentioned his own publishing experience and said that “the only times I have been asked to sign a contract for a poem….have been with The New Yorker which pays a great deal of money.” Thom’s advice was that I should either “a. ask for my poems back and send them elsewhere or b. sign the contract with the intention of breaking it.” Thom went on further to explain that “Obviously a. is the more honest.”

I had also sent Thom copies of the poems the publisher wanted me to sign the contract for including “The Mistress of Castro Street” and “Intimations of Frank O’Hara.” Thom called the latter “a real triumph in its assurance of tone, its certainty and tact, and….unashamed sexuality that reminds me of Marlowe in Hero and Leander.”

Thom ended the letter by saying he’d just attended a reading by Robert Duncan lamenting that Duncan was “the only great poet left alive” due to Basil Bunting’s and Cunningham’s deaths. “And, given his kidneys, I’m not sure he’s left to us much longer.”

The next month, I received Thom’s recommendation (on University of California, Berkeley stationery) dated July 30, 1985 for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help fund my magazine. First, Thom praised my magazine saying it was “innovative, bold and interesting” and that it was “one of the few magazines whose main concern is with Gay literature rather than…Fall fashions, cultural chit-chat, etc… and that its approach is consistently serious and responsible.” Then he mentioned my ability as an editor saying in the last five year he had “watched with interest the growth of his editorial talents in connection…with his poetic talents.” Thom called me a “dedicated and discriminating editor” and my magazine “worthy of whatever support” the NEA “could give it.”

I was over the moon with such a recommendation (and also one from Felice Picano, the editor of the Seahorse Press). One afternoon, out of the blue, I was telephoned by a woman from the NEA, who asked if I could raise half of the magazine’s budget from private investors. Instead of lying and telling her what I now realize she wanted to hear, I told her the truth—that I didn’t think I could raise 50% of my operating costs for the magazine’s expansion from private investors. (I could barely scrape enough money together each month to pay my rent and groceries!) This honest answer, unfortunately, probably doomed my request. I don’t know how far it got and if that was the last hurdle, but at the time it didn’t matter. I was exhausted from working two and sometimes three part-time jobs to pay for graduate school and keep a roof over my head let alone go out fundraising for private backers for a literary magazine.

The last piece of correspondence I received at Brown or have preserved is a short note on a piece of cardstock paper in an envelope dated 15 November 1985. This was in response for a letter of recommendation to a graduate school that was to be sent directly to the university without me seeing it. Thom, forever the anti-establishment hippie, wrote: “Now you can see it and still have waived your right to see it!”

I returned to San Francisco in February and July of 1987, the first time during a winter school holiday and the second after finishing my first and last year teaching high school in Massachusetts. While in San Francisco that February, I stayed at Edward Mycue and Richard Steger’s apartment and also visited James Broughton and Steve Abbott. On 16 February 1987, on the way back from Steve’s, I stopped at Thom’s. This is my journal entry:

On the way back, I stopped by Thom Gunn’s house….Thom was on the phone, so one of his roommates let me in. When he came in the room, he was as shy as always, wearing a leather band with flat metal studs on his left wrist. He’s thinner than the last time I saw him….His back was bent forward and he hugged himself. We talked a little bit about Massachusetts versus California—weather is warm, it’s spring already, drivers are nicer, etc. and I told him his picture was in the English Lit. textbook we use for the upper levels. He asked which one it was, but when I mentioned the title, he didn’t recognize it. I said it was the one in which he had a beard and was wearing a black, Zig-Zag T-shirt. He still didn’t remember it. A few minutes later, he walked up to me and shook my hand after we made a date to get together Friday at 5 at the Twin Peaks Tavern.

We met that Friday in the Twin Peaks Tavern at the busy corner of Castro, Market, and 17th Streets. As the rush hour traffic whizzed by and the music played not as loudly as other places in the Castro in the bar, Thom and I talked about my first job teaching creative writing in Massachusetts’ high school. I told him I intended to return that summer to San Francisco, that I’d spent the last week contacting San Francisco employers via the Brown University graduate network. A hotel and an advertising firm had both promised me work, so we both drank to my imminent return in just a few months for an hour or so before we both went off to our next appointments expecting my return that summer.

In July 1987, Thom’s was one of the first places I stopped to show off my new car and tell him about my road trip across the country. (My journey started just 30 miles west of where the Pilgrims landed with a detour north at Iowa to Minnesota to see Phil Willkie and Greg Baysans at The James White Review. (I attended a writing camp in the Wisconsin woods sponsored by JWR and led by poet, Robert Peters). Thom was happy to see me and posed for a photograph with me.

Bryan R. Monte & Thom Gunn in San Francisco, July 1987

Bryan R. Monte & Thom Gunn in San Francisco, July 1987

The next record I have of Thom is a black and white photo postcard of a short-haired, young, bare chested man with a chain around his neck looking at his shadow against a white wall. It’s dated Nov 16/88 more than a year later and it was sent to my address in Silicon Valley with the instructions to “Please Forward” if necessary. I had invited Thom to a reading of my long poem, “Neurotika.” It featured snippets of my own erotic misfortunes and the escalating AIDS crisis in San Francisco interlaced with music loop of Bryan Eno’s Music for Airports, part 2, gay travel magazines reports about where homosexuality was criminalized in the world and newspaper reports of the spread of the world-wide AIDS pandemic. Thom’s response to my invitation was short saying he wouldn’t be able to make it because he would be in Portland then. He did however wish me “Good luck.”

I saw Thom for the last time at a reading he gave at Black Oak Books in Berkeley in 1992. It was just after the publication of his fourth major poetry book: The Man With Night Sweats. I attended that reading with the late poet and doctor, Ronald Linder. It was a cold, overcast, foggy day and I remember all the lighting was switched on inside that enormous store.

Thom still recognized me without me having to introduce myself even though it had been more than a decade since I’d sat in his class. He smiled, chatted with me briefly and signed a copy of Night Sweats and also a broadside of the book’s title poem, “a gift from Black Oak Books”…“on the occasion of the reading by the author.” As he’d mentioned in his letter to me in ’85, Tom had kept his promise not to publish again until 1992.

I corresponded with Thom at least once more that I remember after I moved to Europe in 1993. In 1994 I sent him my poems arranged in a book-sized collection entitled Neurotika asking for his opinion and, if possible, a book blurb. Thom posted the poems back to me a few months later with a letter that I have either temporarily misplaced or lost during one of my four moves during the next seven years. I can’t remember exactly what was in the letter, but essentially it said that the publishing world had changed considerably since his first book, and that he no longer knew where to refer me. I did notice, however, that Thom had taken the time to go through my entire manuscript, just as if I were still in his workshop, and edit it. For that I was grateful, even if it seemed I was on my own to find a publisher and/or an agent.

More than twenty years later, I still consider it a privilege to have studied and corresponded with Thom Gunn. He was a great poet and a modest and masterful teacher. He gave me the start that I needed and offered advice for years after I’d left university. This kept me going through the dark years when I had no time to write whilst trying to keep my head above water financially and trying to forge ahead with my teaching career in a new country. Now that due to my disability I have time to write again, I look back on Thom, his class, and my classmates fondly. As I sit in a bookshop in Amsterdam listening to the Westerkerk’s two o’clock chimes signalling it’s time for Amsterdam Quarterly’s monthly writers workshop to begin, I realize that Thom taught me all I ever needed to know about writing and teaching writing—and I want to do the same for these writers.

Bryan R. Monte — New Eyes for Saint Lucy: A Memoir of Jerome Caja

New Eyes for Saint Lucy
A Memoir of Jerome Caja
By Bryan R. Monte
Copyright 2014 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved

It has been my privilege to have known, at the very beginning and the very end of my education, two visual artists, whose works hang in major galleries. These two artists, one dead and one living, have produced distinctive works which can be found in galleries and museums such as the Smithsonian, the San Francisco MOMA and the Saatchi in London.

I don’t know if my association with these individuals was by luck or fate or whether I just naturally gravitated to them. But being a writer who finds himself spending more and more time as an art critic for my literary magazine, Amsterdam Quarterly, I find that knowing these two people intimately—their interests, aspirations and foibles during their childhood and/or (post)adolescence—gives me an added insight into their work with regard to its subject matter, style and format.

The Jesuit saying, “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” is apropos for my acquaintance with the first artist, Jerome Caja, the notorious bad boy of the San Francisco gay art scene in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. In September 1964 we were both pupils in Mrs. Kosowski’s dreadfully-overcrowded (45 pupils, 42 desks), Irish-, Czech-, Polish- and German-American, first-grade class at St. Clements (Catholic) School in Lakewood, Ohio.

In those days, the only way the overstretched teachers could keep track of their pupils was by strict, alphabetical seating. As a result I spent most of my time in elementary, middle and high school talking, working and socializing with pupils towards the middle of the alphabet such as Larry McMurtry, Megan Rowe, and Jerilyn Friedman. There was, however, a tall, thin boy at the beginning of the alphabet with short blond hair and glasses so thick they left red dents on his nose, (on the rare occasions he removed them), who caught my attention. Not only did he look interesting, but he was also good at storytelling and mimicking the mannerisms of some of the students and teachers out on the playground during recess. With these skills, he soon made himself known in the large class and had attracted a small group of friends (one of whom was myself).

St. Clements First Communion 1964. Bryan Monte, second row to the right of the priest, Jerome Caja, second last row, fourth from the right side.

St. Clements First Communion 1964. Bryan Monte, second row to the right of the priest, Jerome Caja, second last row, fourth from the right side.

There were other reasons, though, why Jerry was interesting and even unique. He came from one of the most well-known and devout families in a parish with ten and later eleven boys. His parents frequently attended mass, (daily during Lent), and were always involved in pancake breakfast fundraisers or ferrying boys to campouts for the school’s scout troops. (In contrast, I can remember my father taking our family home early from a parish barbeque because the man taking the tickets remarked: “Who the hell are the Montes?” even though, as he later roared in the car, “I have three kids on the God damn honour roll and nobody knows who we are!”)

In addition, Jerry lived just down the street from St. Clements, on Lincoln Avenue. I can remember going over to his house and meeting his other older and younger brothers who were almost carbon copies of each other. They all had the same tall, thin bodies, long noses, and dark Bambi eyes. The only difference was their ages. Jerry and I usually played with the dozens of green, plastic toy soldiers in the basement, lining them up for battle. That was, until one of his older or slightly younger brothers decided they wanted to wrestle. I soon learned to stay back and not join in because wrestling, for the Caja boys, was serious business. Board games and pieces flew into the air and chairs, lamps and tables were overturned as the boys tested each other’s strength. I imagine with eleven male siblings around the dinner table and two or three to a bedroom, there was probably plenty of competition for just about everything.

And there was yet another reason I felt attracted to Jerry, though I couldn’t really understand it at that time. Even though most think that a child has little knowledge of sexual orientation, when I was six going on seven I thought I had scanned some sort of understanding in Jerry’s head which comprehended why I didn’t enjoy torturing insects or small animals in my backyard or why I wasn’t repulsed by girls but enjoyed playing with them as much as with boys.

At any rate, I learned a lot that first year. I learned how to read. I taught my younger sister the phonics lesson I learned each day. Until my parents found out about my tutoring, they and my sister’s kindergarten teacher thought she was a genius. I learned how to pray. The nuns taught us the Our Father, Hail Mary and Nicene Creed in preparation for our First Communion the following year. I learned how to attend mass in the dark, stained-glass-windowed, parish church. Its clerestory walls had a mural of the saints’ gruesome martyrdoms—St. Clement, the parish’s patron, thrown off a ship with an anchor around his neck, St. Peter, crucified upside down, St. Lawrence, grilled over a fire, St. Sebastian, shot full of arrows, Saint Hippolytus, pulled apart by horses, and St. Lucy (patron of the blind and poorly-sighted), her eyes gouged out because a pagan man found them so beautiful he wanted to marry her. All these saints looked away from their torment with big, ecstatic doe eyes upwards towards heaven. From the nuns I also learned how to “turn the other cheek” when they struck me with a hand or ruler for disobeying or just because they were upset.

But with Jerry I always felt safe and by the end of the first year I felt I could ask or tell him anything. That was until our first cub scout campout together that summer. One night, Jerry and I lay next to each other on the floor of the tent in separate sleeping bags listening to the scoutmasters’ card playing and the whoosh of the Coleman gas lamp under the shelter ten or fifteen yards away. We talked for a while and when the others had fallen asleep, I asked Jerry if he would hold my hand. To my surprise, Jerry wouldn’t do this. I asked again, but Jerry continued to refuse. After repeated requests, however, Jerry reluctantly did as I asked, probably to keep me quiet. About 15 minutes later, however, he took his hand away.

The next day, everything changed. Freaked out by my hand-holding request, Jerry told all the other boys what I had asked and I suddenly found myself an outcast from Jerry and the rest of the troop who did their best to torment and/or exclude me from activities without the adult leaders knowing what was going on.

After I came home from the campout, I didn’t see Jerry for the rest of the summer and I didn’t go over to his house, afraid I’d be humiliated again. When school began in September, my distress was compounded when I discovered that Jerry and I were now in different second-grade classrooms—I in Miss Barbara’s class and Jerry in Mrs. Savage’s across the hall. Worse yet, Jerry refused to talk to me out in the schoolyard and wouldn’t let me come over to his house. He also made fun of me, throwing a limp wrist to mimic me (though I’d never done that myself) as I now became a part of his entertainment.

In my distress, I enlisted the aid of Mrs. Savage. I told her about how close Jerry and I had once been and how he now didn’t want anything to do with me. (I left out the handholding incident). I begged her to bring Jerry and me together so we could talk. One afternoon during recess, Mrs. Savage did as I requested and Jerry marched sullenly up to me in the playground under Mrs. Savage’s watchful, but somewhat distant eye. I told Jerry that I missed him and didn’t understand why he no longer wanted to be friends.

Jerry however, would have none of it. He called me “a fag” and said: “From now on, I’m only going to hang out with the cool people.” I didn’t realize our school had cool people being only in second-grade, but obviously Jerry did. I now wonder: could Jerry’s desire for fame or notoriety have been so acute, even at the age of seven, that he knew to get rid of anyone perceived as a liability?

Jerry’s desire to ignore or exclude me was difficult to maintain since we attended the same weekly school, scout and church activities together. It was torture sitting across from Jerry in the back of one of the fathers’ or mothers’ station wagons as we were being ferried to another weekend or summer campout. The connection between the Cajas and my family was also close. I can remember Mrs. Caja bringing a Ziggy cartoon book from my mother for me on the mid-week parents visit for scout summer camp at Camp Avery because my mother couldn’t leave my father’s side that evening at the family-run pharmacy. My request for Jerry’s hand was an open secret and none of the boys would share a tent with me unless the scoutmaster forced them. As Jerry led another group of boy’s on a hike into the woods to smoke, look at his older brothers’ porn or light an illegal fire, I’d lay on the grass next to my tent, reading a science-fiction novel about people travelling in a space ship at almost the speed of light, practicing my telekinesis, pushing clouds through the afternoon sky.

Jerry still found ways to punish me for hanging around. After shouting obscenities into the thick backstage curtains, upset because he was about to go on as the Virgin Mary in the nativity play, Jerry, at the last minute, stuffed me into his white sheet costume and pushed me out onto the stage. It was a non-speaking part so I kept my head down in the dim lights, hoping no one would notice me. Later that evening at home, however, my mother mentioned to my father what the man sitting next to her in the audience had asked: “Where did they get a girl to play Mary?” It was only time I can remember my father laughing uncontrollably—and not because something was funny. I began to understand what Jerry feared about my desire to get close to him, about being a fag and gender bending.

Another time, he set the cub scout pack on me literally. One winter, we were gathered inside a warm, wooden cabin in Beldwin Village in Lorain County because it was too cold and rainy outside to camp out in tents. Cooped up in this cabin, I made the mistake of looking at Jerry across the room too many times. Jerry had the boys hold me down while they and punched and pinched my bare torso so long that it burned a bright pinkish red called a pink belly. I was amazed that Jerry could be so cruel. He just looked at me and said: “You had it coming. I warned you not to look at me.” Perhaps this was the reason that my photos of Jerry at scout camp are always a bit fuzzy, taken with a simple Brownie camera and usually from quite a distance.


Jerome Caja and unidentified camper, Camp Beaumont, Ohio, August 1969. Photo © 2014 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved

Serving mass together was also torture. As the two of us put on our black cassocks and white surpluses alone in the same room next to the altar, I began to feel like one of those clerestory saints being hacked or burned to bits in some sort of simultaneous earthly torture and holy communion. (This is perhaps the archetype of all my future relations with tall, blond, athletic men who I pursued or rather observed mostly from a distance after Jerome’s rejection and my social humiliation/isolation. Those blond, mostly straight men to whom I was undoubtedly attracted later in high school, but to whom I almost never expressed my need for intimacy as I had with Jerry). I also noticed that the priests seemed to like Jerry and paid him more attention even though he cursed when he tripped in his cassock going up or down the marble steps, he didn’t know all the prayers and he sometimes drank the leftover, consecrated wine instead of pouring it down the drain.

The last time I remember spending time with Jerry was in the church basement for a scout meeting. I was 12 and had made it to Star Scout with merit badges in marksmanship, cooking, coin and stamp collecting or philately (which brought lisps of appreciation from the guys in the troop) camping and hiking. I’d also recently been inducted into the Order of the Arrow after a 2-day hike and sleeping out alone without a campfire or flashlight under the stars at Beaumont Scout Camp in the woods of Northeast Ohio. I had hoped to make Eagle before I started high school, but I soon realized that wasn’t possible. Even though I was still in the scout troop, I had once again done the unthinkable and was about to leave St. Clements’ for the evils of public school. I explained to nun after nun and priest after priest who pulled me out of class and into the hallway that spring before I left, (some of whom graphically described my soul burning in hell), that my departure was due to financial considerations— the tuition having recently been increased from hundreds to thousands of dollars per student per year, a price my father wouldn’t or couldn’t pay.

At this last scout meeting in June 1970, someone had left a long, thick rubber hose on the floor of the church hall. Jerry got it into his head to tie the hose between two supporting posts to use it as a slingshot to launch himself into the air and across the hall. Instead of making him airborne, however, the cord spun and flipped Jerry over, smashing his head against the floor. Everyone was horrified by what happened, even the assistant scoutmaster, who was present. Jerry fortunately remained conscious and rubbed his short, blond-haired head repeating: “Fuck” or “Shit, that hurt,” over and over again. I don’t know if he sustained any injuries as a result or whether he was taken to hospital. That was before the days of MRI scans.

For twelve years I didn’t hear anything about Jerry. Then in autumn 1982 while attending Berkeley, my mother sent a half-page clipping from one of Cleveland’s daily newspapers. Almost as large as the article was a photo of Jerry as a seminarian with shoulder-length, blond hair surrounded by a group of adoring, but troubled, inner-city youth. It didn’t surprise me that Jerry had decided to go into the priesthood. Growing up in such a large, devote Catholic family, the law of averages predicted that at least one and maybe two Caja boys would receive a “calling.” And, becoming a priest would give Jerry the opportunity to be in front of people again in the spotlight at least once a week. Looking at Jerry’s wavy, androgynous, shoulder-length hair, though, I wondered if the Catholic Church had become more liberal or just desperate for new priests. Surely that hair made Jerry looked unmistakably gay. I wondered if he had ruffled a few feathers at seminary. A year later I graduated from Berkeley and in 1984 I got a scholarship to Brown (probably because of No Apologies, my gay literary magazine, I had founded in San Francisco the year before and continued publishing at Brown).

The next time I read about Jerry was in late 1989, two years after returning to San Francisco after graduating from Brown and teaching high school writing courses in New England. By day I worked as a microcomputer technician making rate charts and data back ups at an insurance company. By night and in the weekends, I covered the gay news as a radio reporter on a show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley. While preparing my script one night after work, I saw a photograph of a drag queen with stringy blond hair, big, Bozo eyes, and double rows of light and dark lipstick on the front page of one of San Francisco’s gay newspapers. It accompanied a feature story about a man named Jerome who had become the mistress of Wednesday jockstrap Jell-O wrestling at Club Chaos just around the corner from where I lived on Valencia Street. The photo piqued my interest because there was something familiar about those big eyes and long nose. I realized Jerome was Jerry when he identified himself as a “recovering Catholic” who had sex with men in Cleveland’s Edgewater Park.

Through my press contacts, I discovered that in between seminary and his refereeing of the Jell-O wrestling, Jerry had come to San Francisco in the mid-80s to get his Masters degree at the Institute of Art. For his graduation he had worn a transparent gown he’d made of plastic pouches filled with different coloured liquids and floating, fake goldfish. (Reportedly, Jerry was also naked underneath the see-through gown, but I have yet to see a photo which confirms this).

Even though the gay community was my beat, I had missed Jerome’s splash on the gay drag/art/sex/literary scene, probably because when he was at Club Chaos, I was in bed as I had to go to work the next morning. And it was still a few more months before I literally ran into Jerry by accident, one cold, windy, January night walking up Castro Street. All 6’7” of him, hard skin and bone, literally collided with me in front of the Castro Theater. He was wearing his trademark high heels and fishnet stockings. I also could smell beer on his breath and figured he was drunk. I said: “Jerry, it’s me, Bryan.” Jerry just stared at me and said: “That’s great, baby, (burp), but I got to go,” and he continued walking down Castro Street. I don’t know if he recognized me. I would have liked to have invited him for a cup of coffee at the 24 hour donut shop down the street, but once again, he didn’t want to talk.

A month later, I heard about Electric City, a weekly LGBT TV show broadcast on San Francisco City College’s cable channel. Electric City had heard about me too. They suggested I do the gay news for them. From the beginning I was a bit apprehensive. This rag tag group of druggy, leather and drag queens was a little too over the top for me. In addition, I believed radio was a much more intellectual medium. What you said on the radio was more important than how you looked or what you did while you were saying it. Against my better judgment, I consented to a tryout. As I had expected, I spent hours in makeup or in front of a camera doing many takes for the same news segment I could have delivered live, unshaven and shabbily dressed on the radio in 10 minutes. I soldiered on, however.

As I was taping one day, Jerome walked in the door. I had heard Jerry was part of group, but I hadn’t seen him since I’d bumped into him in front of the Castro Theatre. Jerry said hello then went into a back room to get ready for a short promotional segment. They filmed Jerry lying flat on an ironing board and, by some sort of trick photography, blotted out the board and made it appear as if he was flying through the air. That day or a week or so later the crew asked me to stretch out my arms over my head and jump up and down. Then, they adapted this video to make it seem like I was jumping while holding the Electric City logo.

At the beginning of April, Jerome had a big art show in a space (a former shop) at Collingwood and 19th Street then called the Art Lick Gallery. The name of the show was “Compact” and I remember trying to look through the white sheets taped over the windows while Jerry hung his very small, framed miniatures painted with nail polish on “found” materials (such as used McDonald’s French fry cardboard holders, junk mail envelopes, plastic restaurant tip trays, recycled paper or tin foil). Some, due to the erotic subjects like “One, Two, Three, Pee on Me, nail polish on tin or “The Foot of Christ,” enamel on toenails (1991), reminded me a Roman art work or early Christian reliquaries. “The Birth of Venus in Cleveland,” nail polish on plastic tip tray (1988) is a self-portrait of Jerome wearing only fishnet stockings and a bra, standing in an inflatable children’s wading pool in a backyard. In the background is a clothesline on which laundry dries, the line attached at one end to a column atop which is a statue of the blue-robed Virgin Mary. This scene, (except for Jerome’s nudity and transvestitism), was familiar to most Catholic families in the Lakewood whose large families (four child minimum on my street) played in backyards that included hand-made shrines to the Virgin made from upturned white washtubs with a statue on a pedestal in the middle. And Jerry’s Marcel Duchamp/Salvador Daliesque (re)interpretation of Bartolome Estaban Murillo’s “The Immaculate Conception” by painting Bozo clown faces on the Virgin and the angels surrounding her in the clouds, placed Jerry’s painting solidly in the Postmodern movement since his unique sign(ature) over Murillo’s work hijacked and upended its motif and critiqued Catholic tradition.

Although I’d been on the radio for a while, very few of my friends and none of my co-workers had noticed or even commented on the show. Once the Electric City promos were broadcast, however, friends, co-workers, even strangers in the subway stopped me to ask me if I was that guy on TV. I realized then the power of TV over radio. I also realized I might be able to make a name for myself and maybe some real money. My natural cautiousness and the desire to stay out of the spotlight, however, kept me from pursuing it. I decided that even with TV’s increased recognition I was going to stay with radio. Then I invited the cast of Electric City to be interviewed by me on the radio in May or June 1990. The night of the interview, however, no one showed up. Through Rink, a photographer friend, I heard they’d got their dates mixed up (even though it was in the station’s published calendar) and were sorry about it. Due to a conflict with my fellow program members shortly thereafter, however, I decided to leave the show and the station, so I never got another chance to interview Jerry or Electric City on the radio.

I did see Jerry, however, one last time, just a few days later, at the head of the 1990 LGBT parade even though I didn’t recognize him. Wearing a Hare Krishna orange-coloured outfit including a skull cap, (which completely hid his long hair), big round glasses, a round gold disk hanging from one ear and a bagel from the other, an orange sash, leopard lingerie and a Kielbasa sausage hanging from a chain link necklace, Jerry created a new persona: Konnie Krishna. As he walked the parade route, people around me asked: “Who is that stealing the show?” and I couldn’t answer them.

A few weeks later, while resigning from the radio show and handing in my keys at the station, I saw Jerome’s name with Steve Abbott’s and a few other San Francisco writers I’d published in No Apologies. They were involved in a big reading in San Francisco, but somehow had forgot or neglected to invite me either as a writer or a reporter. I felt betrayed and excluded once again. I stopped writing gay news stories in my spare time and started teaching ESL and creative and technical writing evenings after work to save money to leave town. Since my insurance company had already been through three reorganizations going from 17 to 12 to 7 offices nationwide, I figured I wouldn’t survive the next one. In addition, even though I’d been looking for another job for the last year and half, I hadn’t had one offer since most businesses downtown were downsizing and/or moving out of town.

Moreover, almost a dozen friends had sickened and/or died of AIDS related illnesses including two ex-partners. San Francisco was turning into a ghost town. I started imagining seeing people on the street that I’d known years ago, who I later discovered were (long) dead. I also thought that even though I had tried to be “careful,” I probably didn’t have much time, so I figured I had the opportunity for one last adventure.

In 1993, I moved to the Netherlands with a one-year job contract and a journalist quality camera. I lived in two small rooms in a barely heated attic for two winters. By spring 1995, I had my own apartment, lived a Spartan life and, through some 16-hour workdays, created a slightly profitable computing and English teaching consultancy. Later that summer, I suddenly and inexplicably felt moved to start writing a long poem about Jerry, which I worked on for months in between projects. On the phone in early November just after my birthday, I mentioned the poem to a friend in San Francisco. He paused, then choosing his words carefully, told me that after a long illness, including the loss of his eyesight due to CMV, Jerome had just passed away of AIDS-related illnesses. (I discovered later he’d died on my birthday). The synchronicity of wanting to write a poem about him in the last months of his fatal illness and the date of Jerry’s passing wasn’t lost on me. I wondered if somehow Jerry, in his distress, was somehow able to contact me as my parents had before they passed—sending their fatal heart attack and stroke pains to me thousands of miles away so I packed my things at work or made plane reservations at home even before the phone rang.

After that, I spent the next few years running my business, securing my permanent residence permit, and developing my first serious, long-term relationship (at the age of 41!). I went from teaching courses at a private college to getting a job and tenure at a public one. During this time, I lost track of Jerry’s artwork and its legacy. On one of my yearly visits to San Francisco, though, poet Ed Mycue, mentioned that there was a book about Jerry on sale at bookstore at 20th and Valencia, once again, right around the corner from where I had lived in San Francisco.

On a table next to the window I found a prominent, fanned stack of large, orange-coloured, hardback books: Jerome: After the Pageant, by Thomas Avena and Adam Klein. On the cover behind his painting of the Bozo clown-faced angels and the Virgin, was a Jerry himself with big glasses and lips. Inside I discovered various photos of Jerry with which I wasn’t familiar. The most interesting was a photograph of Jerry’s paternal grandfather and his brother-in-law dressed in women’s clothing and his paternal grandmother and her sister dressed in men’s. There was also a very uncharacteristic painting, “Still Life with Broken Doll,” (1988), interesting for its distortion in perspective. The traditional bowl of fruit and vase flowers on a red table cloth tilted perilously downwards as if they were about to fall off. A doll with its right arm broken off was also splayed across the tabletop. The room also has a yellow chair and walls of deep blue. Outside, beyond on the orange curtains and pumpkin on the windowsill, is a white picket fence and another house painted in Van Gogh-like thick, eerie strokes as if a strong wind or a tornado, were about to blow it apart.

As a result of knowing Jerry since he was in elementary school and his family’s contact with mine, I think I have a very good understanding of how his Catholic background, which persecuted him for being gay, “inspired” paintings such as “Sacred Heart Circle Jerk,” “Rape of the Altar Boy,” and “The Last Hand Job.” His “The Holy Spirit Getting New Eyes for Saint Lucy,” painted in 1988 seems particularly prophetic as Jerry lost his eyesight months before he died. I wonder if in heaven, God, in his Infinite Mercy, restored Jerry’s vision, as he did St. Lucy’s, her eyes found miraculously intact in her corpse just before her burial, usually portrayed as being brought back to her on a golden plate in the beak of the dove of the Holy Spirit. For those of us left behind, I only hope we can learn to see as well as Jerry did and to make something beautiful and unique from our lives no matter how long or short they prove to be, no matter how rich or poor we are, no matter who includes or excludes us.