COLUMN TWENTY-FOUR, AUGUST 1, 1997
(Copyright © 1997 Al Aronowitz)
PART 4: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
(Drawing by Lillian Enda)
CHAPTER FOUR: A CERTAIN PARTY
[In A Certain Party, written some 40 years ago, I describe the person who opened the door for me as a "young woman wearing black stockings, a matching shirt, a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons, and a moon-like face . . ." She also wore a sneer on her moon-like face which immediately put me off and, when I tried to get to know her better, I found her unapproachable. I thought she was uppity. Even today, a friend of hers has described her to me as "snooty."
The party was in her apartment, which, like most Lower East Side residents, she shared with an abundance of six-legged creatures. At the time, I was a corny squareass, a naive, innocent and boorish middle class nerd from New Jersey who had escaped the bed bugs which infested my early childhood to live a very married life with my wife and three children in a brand, new, development house on a curved suburban street. And who thought that was the way everyone should live. Since then, of course, I've shared more than one New York apartment with more than one six-legged creature. But then, six-legged creatures are as much a part of New York as New Yorkers, or so they say.
As you'll find, I didn't even bother to identify her in A Certain Party. After she opened the door for me, I tried to get friendly but came up against an icy wall of superiority. That's not the way to treat a dumb but inquisitive newspaper reporter! And so I get my revenge: my characterization of the young woman wearing a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons was designed to reflect the contempt she showed for me. What I wrote was not meant to please her. Now, some 40 years later, I am about to put this column on the Internet as Part 4 of my unpublished Beat Papers. To me, A Certain Party is a part of Beat history. Didn't I see my New York Post Beat Series on display at the Whitney's Beat Generation exhibit? But to introduce A Certain Party, I have to write this prelude. As part of my research, I pick up a book the young woman wearing a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons wrote about her two-year romance with Jack Kerouac and her travels with Jack through the then-embryonic Beat scene. As I start to read the book, I find that behind that woman's icy wall of superiority is a talented writer who offers eyewitness history with compelling storytelling style, keen perception, extreme sensitivity and total candor. Published some 20 years after the party described below, the book is called Minor Characters, a title which might leave browsers with the impression that the author considered herself to have been one: a minor character. Actually, the title is meant to be ironic, referring to the women of the Beat Generation, all shoved out of the spotlight shining on the Beat Generation's stars, Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg. Minor Characters not only tells about the heroes but it also celebrates the heroines. The young woman wearing a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons was certainly one. The fact of the matter is that, some 40 years later, she has emerged in Beat annals as a very, very major character.
At the time she opened the door for me, her romance with Jack was over. But she had already entrenched herself in Jack's Beat literary movement. According to one of her good friends, Hettie Jones, who, at the time I wrote A Certain Party, was the wife of LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka), the young woman wearing a sweater which seemed to have more buttonholes than buttons "was a city girl, bookish, the closely watched, only child of more ambitious Upper West Side parents . . . But she was writing --- a novel, already under contract --- and that was her good fortune, I thought. We shared what was most important to us: common assumptions about our uncommon lives. We lived outside, as if. As if we were men? As if we were new, freer versions of ourselves? There have always been women like us."
The only child of Daniel and Rosalind Glassman of Queens, New York, Joyce Glassman first came close to the embryonic Beat scene before she could even have been aware of the coincidental proximity. When she was eight years old, her parents moved to Manhattan's West 116th Street, just around the corner from the apartment salon of William and Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, frequented during the middle 1940s by none other than Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Her parents wanted Joyce to become a librettist and a composer of musical comedies but by the time she was 13, Joyce had started her rebellion, sneaking down to Washington Square to hang out with the bohemians. Described by writer Steven Watson as "learning to be a Jewish girl with Gentile inflections," Joyce was extremely precocious. She was not yet 16 when she succeeded in entering Barnard College, just around the corner from her parents' apartment. But, in her senior year, she was romantically swept off her feet by one of her instructors and she was never graduated. In Minor Characters , Joyce describes her parents as having been so sexually uptight that they described the genital area as "down below." When Joyce's father pictured his daughter losing her virginity, he walked into the bathroom and vomited. When Joyce quit her music studies on her mother's treasured baby grand, frustrating mama's ambitions for Joyce's future, there was an angry family fight. Joyce left home.
At Barnard, Joyce met Elise Cowan, one of those whose mind was destroyed by madness. Like Joyce, Elise, too, had rebelled. When Beat poet Gregory Corso was later asked why there were so few women among Beat writers, he answered, "There were women. They were there, I knew them. Their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the '50s, if you were male, you could be a rebel, but if you were female, your families had you locked up." Beat poet Janine Pommy Vega once said Elise was the smartest person she knew. Elise, too, was a writer. Until Allen met Peter Orlovsky, Elise was supposed to be Allen's girl friend. She kept writing him post cards. Is that how Allen picked up his own habit of writing whole letters on post cards in his barely decipherable scrawl? Was Elise Allen's lover? Allen never told me, but he used to boast about having made it with women as well as men.
Yes, Elise's parents eventually institutionalized her. Was it they who drove her to madness? Have you seen the movie, Shine" Ultimately, she jumped to her death through a locked seventh floor window. Whatever her parents had contributed to destroying her, they certainly destroyed much of her writing after she died.
At Barnard, Elise become Joyce's confidante and spiritual guide and that's how Joyce met Allen. In January of 1957, Allen fixed up a blind date for Joyce with a 34-year-old aspiring writer named Jack Kerouac. In Minor Characters, Joyce wrote:
"Hello, I'm Jack. Allen tells me you're very nice. Would you like to come down to Howard Johnson's on Eighth Street? I'll be sitting at the counter. I have black hair and I'll be wearing a red and black checked shirt."
I'm standing in Elise's kitchen, holding the phone Allen has just handed me. It's a Saturday night shortly after New Year's.
"Sure," I say. I put on a lot of eye shadow and my coat and. . . I'm laughing too at the absurdity of this blind date Allen has arranged. (The notion of Allen Ginsberg arranging blind dates will crack people up years later when they ask me how on earth I met Kerouac.)
As for what he saw in me that night, I'm not sure at all. A very young woman in a red coat, round-faced and blonde. "An interesting young woman," he wrote in <B> Desolation Angels</B>. "A jewess, elegant middleclass sad and looking for something --- she looked Polish as hell . . . Where am I in all those funny categories? . . .
As a lover he wasn't fierce but oddly brotherly and somewhat reticent. I'd listen in amazement to his stories of Berkeley parties where everyone was naked and men and women engaged in some exotic Japanese practice called yabyum (but Jack, fully clothed, had sat apart brooding over his bottle of port, something he didn't tell me). . .But then Jack leaves me. . . Little by little, I'm letting go of what I learned on the abortionist's table in the white upstairs room in Canarsie . . .
Apparently, what Joyce considered a romance, Jack thought of as a fling. Apparently, she ended up loving Jack more than he loved her. Not until many years later, after Jack had died could she bring herself to write, or at least to publish, Minor Characters, clearly her book of reminiscences about her romance with Jack and her travels through the early Beat scene. Despite the fact that the Washington Square Press edition advises that "the names of some people --- not the principals --- have been changed," that "this book is a work of fiction" and that "any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, Minor Characters won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography in 1983.
And so, the young woman wearing a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons has turned out to be a gifted writer and a distinguished professor, a member of the faculty of the graduate writing program at Columbia University. As Brenda Knight has written about Joyce in Women of the Beat Generation, "Working as a publishing secretary by day, writing her first novel at night (a Random House editor had bought it after reading only 50 pages), and hanging out at the Five Spot and the Cedar Tavern with 'regulars' such as Willem DeKooning, Franz Kline and Frank O'Hara, Joycey, as Kerouac fondly dubbed her, became a full-fledged artist and bohemian herself. She would never turn back."
Joyce has written four other books and is working on a sixth. At the age of 26, four years after Joyce and Jack went their separate ways, she published her first novel, Come and Join the Dance. Soon afterwards, she married James Johnson, a young abstract expressionist, who, tragically, was killed in a motorcycle accident a little less than a year later. She has since been married to another painter, but that didn't last very long,, either. A son resulted from that coupling and, as a single mother, Joyce raised the son and dedicated Minor Characters to "my son and friend, Daniel Pinchbeck." As I've said, Joyce's uppityness put me off when I first met her at that party some 40 years ago. Although Kerouac was quoted as saying she looked Polish, to me she looked so WASPish that it was to my later astonishment I learned she was Jewish.
Allen Ginsberg absolutely hated A Certain Party. Jack Kerouac complained about the piece in his footnotes to COLUMN TWENTY-TWO. Like Jack and Allen, Joyce, too, turned up her nose at A Certain Party and I could still feel her bristling whenever I bumped into her after its publication in the New York Post. And because both Joyce and I have continued to run in the same Beat Generation circles, we have, since that party, bumped into each other many times. Whether she struck me as "uppity" or "snooty," I never got to know her very well, something I regretted after starting to read Minor Characters.
Then, after Allen died and Amiri Baraka and I started organizing THE ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL COMMITTEE, I wrote to Joyce at her Vermont vacation home inviting her to join. She sent me a gracious response and when, not long afterwards, it was time for me to start putting this column together, I phoned Joyce for an interview so that I might write this preface. In a way, I intended this prelude to be a way of making it up to Joyce.
July had ended and I still didn't have my August 1 column ready. It was a Sunday and when she picked up the phone, she said I was phoning at a bad time and I should phone her that night. That night turned out to be long past my bedtime and I phoned her the next morning. When she answered, she said that, too, was a bad time and she said I should phone at 5 that evening. When I did, I got her answering machine.
Afterwards, every time I phoned I kept getting her answering machine. I phoned and phoned and kept getting her answering machine.
All I wanted to do was to get to know Joyce well enough so I wouldn't have to go to the library and do tedious research. I kept phoning and kept getting her answering machine and it finally dawned on me that Joyce was screening her calls. Obviously, she didn't want to talk to me. So I sent her an overnight letter in which I hurriedly tried to explain what I wanted to talk to her about. I also tried to explain that although A Certain Party wasn't the opening piece of my Beat series, it was the first of the series I had gotten around to writing. As a whole, however, the series makes it clear that I was one of the first print journalists to take the Beat Generation seriously as a literary movement.
It had been Allen Ginsberg himself who invited me to the party. Allen, after all, played the role of the Beat Generation's chief promoter and No. 1 press agent, although he angrily denied that because he considered the function of publicist beneath his image. As for Allen's antics that night, I wrote Joyce that I suspected they "might have been just a show put on for my benefit. As I think Einstein once said, the fact that something is being observed affects its behavior. I at the time was a naive, innocent, unsophisticated middle class nerd from the New Jersey suburbs, a Newark police reporter intoxicated with having become a feature writer on a New York City daily newspaper.
I had been armed with a hatchet handed me by the villainous, notoriously corrupt and antediluvian executive editor of the Post and I was out to wield it, using what I thought was a snide New Yorkerish style I had lifted from years of reading that magazine."
This was my first glimpse of a "beatnik" party and I wrote it in a way designed to satisfy my bosses. I wrote it, it was published and now it's history. I don't consider it the best piece I've ever written but, despite the denials of Joyce, the denials of the late Allen Ginsberg or the denials of anybody else, everything occurred the way I reported it. I long ago dedicated myself to truth just as Allen dedicated himself to poetry. You know, Allen fudged the truth a lot, but when he did he said he was merely "romanticizing."
In my letter to Joyce, I told her another reason I wanted to interview her was so she could specify exactly what she found objectionable in A Certain Party. I also explained I had quit phoning her and was writing instead because I had concluded she didn't want to talk to me.
"You got it --- I don't want to be interviewed," she finally wrote back in a letter dated August 7, 1997. "Am I thrilled that you're reprinting A Certain Party" No, frankly, I'm not, though it took me a day to decide I didn't want to do the work of helping you out. The tone of your 'explanation' already sounds patronizing and insulting. . . You're just recycling the old, boring male chauvinist bullshit.
"I hated the article because it was a dumb, exploitative, square guy's distortion of the Beat scene, because you insulted my hospitality and characterized me in an embarrassing and belittling manner that had some painful repercussions for me (my parents were readers of the Post). You say it's part of history but only as one of the mindless fictions that was generally written about 'Beatniks' in the late Fifties."
And besides, she wrote, "I really didn't have more holes than buttons in my orange mohair sweater, which I remember quite well."
I'm really impressed with Joyce's writing. I hope she'll one day recognize the worth of my own. I'd like to be friends and I hope we will be soon. And I never said her sweater had more button holes than buttons but merely seemed to. Maybe she buttoned her sweater wrong. Maybe I just couldn't see straight. As a reply to her letter dated August 7, I sent Joyce an advance copy of this prelude to A Certain Party.]
The party was held on the second floor of one of those tenements that rise above the garbage cans where the East Side begins and Greenwich Village no longer ends. It was held behind a large, and, on this night, overworked door which was opened for us by a young woman wearing black stockings, a matching shirt, a sweater which seemed to have more button holes than buttons, and a moon-like face that was kept in partial eclipse behind long, stringy hair. She was the hostess, a printer's daughter of twenty-three, who had gone to Barnard, written a novel, received a five hundred dollar advance and befriended, in an intimate sort of way, Jack Kerouac.
"I don't consider myself beat," she told us, adding later, after some thought: "My book is about a girl who has become alienated emotionally from the world. I mean she just can't get excited about anything"
We nodded politely, asked where the fire escape was and then stepped into the parlor, a short, narrow, high-ceilinged room which probably would have served its purpose better if someone had stood it on end, a feat, we thought, which might be attempted this very evening. The walls were covered, although not completely, with a greenish blue paint, and several silk screen prints peered down on the various couples, most of them boys, who sat talking quietly wherever the furniture would allow. There was none of the usual tinkle of glasses, and, in fact, there was none of the usual glasses. They were in short supply, and those who were drinking did so from quart bottles of beer, assorted mugs and cups, and two jugs of yellow wine that stood on the center of a table along with a bowlful of salted peanuts and a pair of equally seasoned cockroaches.
"Who invited them?" asked a guest.
"Man, they live here!" replied another.
We soon found, of course, that the wine table wasn't all the party had to offer, and those who weren't paying homage to the jugs seemed instead to be sitting at the feet of a thin, bony, youthful man who was hunched over the edge of a studio couch with a bottle of beer clamped between his knees. He was dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and a pair of blue jeans that had been worn, unwashed, to a point of permanent and gnarled bagginess. His hair, combed straight back, was also black, but if it hadn't lost any of its color in its thirty-two years, it had indeed lost some of its substance, and a second forehead was already prominent far behind the first. He had a handsome, gentle face, and across it was a pair of thick eyeglasses, concave in shape, so that through them could be seen almost a second image of himself. His name was Allen Ginsberg, and he was a poet.
"Yes," he told us, in answer to a question, "I was the prototype for Carlo Marx in Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Lots of people seem to think that he called me Carlo Marx in the book because I used to be a radical or because my mother once was a member of the Communist Party cell in Paterson. Well, she was---but that's not the reason at all. It's just that Jack was on a Harpo Marx kick at the time. We all were and I guess he took the name from that. Jack loves Harpo very much.
He spoke quietly, almost shyly, in the measured speech of a man accustomed to writing in rhythms, and he paused to put the beer bottle to his lips, lift his head, and swallow a few silent gulps, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he had finished.
"Actually, a lot of these things are just literary accidents," he resumed, thoughtfully. "Take 'Beat Generation.' I'm sure Jack didn't sit around for days trying to think of a name to call it and then jump up and say, 'Eureka, I've got it!' Actually, he meant it as a joke. Someone said, 'This is the such and such generation' and Jack said, 'Aw, no, it's the beat generation.'
"It was a very casual remark, sort of set off by the circumstances they were in.
He makes a lot of casual remarks like that---everybody does everyday---but usually his
remarks have some pith. Like he said to me, 'The trouble with you, Ginsberg, is that you
are a hairy loss.' So I could have come back and written an article for the New York Times
and said that this was a 'Hairy Lost Generation.' Or he just as easily could have called
it a 'Fried Shoes Generation.', It doesn't mean that beat is meaningless. It's just that
the universal popular use of it in the way that it has been used has given it a
historicity and an authenticity as if it was an ex cathedra statement, which it was never
intended to be. And anyway what he meant by beat then is a lot different from what he
means by beat today. It's all in the fugitive meaning of the word, and that's the beauty
of hip talk. I'm
'Jack wouldn't come here! He broke up with this chick. She caught him making eyes at some other chick and she belted him one!'
interested in following the changes---they're beautiful and they're poetry---but even I fall behind. 'Bread,' for example, used to mean money but just the other day, I heard someone use 'toast.' But that doesn't mean I'm square. . ."
He illustrated his point by drawing a picture of a square in the air, and at this moment a youth who certainly didn't belong in the picture came up to ask if Kerouac would be at the party.
"No" Ginsberg answered, "I don't think so "
"Man!" a voice broadcast to us from the studio couch, "Jack wouldn't come here! He broke up with this chick. She caught him making eyes at some other chick and she belted him one!"
Whatever the reason, Kerouac's absence seemed to have little effect on the seating arrangements, and it was with some lack of hindsight that we gave up our place on the couch to be introduced to a young, lightÄhaired man with red cheeks and an equally bright smile.
His name was Edward Marshall, and he, too, was a poet. (Lena went to the asylum at the age of thirty-five having just had/a child and when the baby came to/visit her she said: pretty/baby: You have a/a very beautiful/b aby and that baby is now I).
"This is essentially a religious movement," he told us, with his smile never once leaving his face. "I myself am a Congregationalist---from Concord, New Hampshire---and, as a matter of fact, the Congregationalist church has set up a mission for beat poets in San Francisco. A good many churchmen see in our poetry a return to the Old Testament and a similarity to the old Christian-Judaic prophets howling in the wilderness. Our writing is largely confessional. One minister I know says that the only comparable movement in American history was that of the Transcendentalists---you know, Emerson, Thoreau. The academic poets are less. . ."
Unfortunately, the only movement discernible among the crowd at the party was neither religious nor literary but toward the bedroom, and, carried along, we reached the doorway before Marshall could reach the end of his sentence. Inside the bedroom, however, all that could be seen was a number of couples in the act of conserving electricity. The only light in the room came from the radiophonograph dial, and, by its glow, several couples were dancing, some without either shoes or shirts, while others, similarly barefoot, lay on the bed. There was no question as to any impropriety of dress, however, since most of them also were boys.
"Another good example of how hip talk meanings change," said Ginsberg, coming upon us as a Billie Holiday record suddenly transfigured the room, "is the word 'funky.' Maybe one day, some jazz artist was sitting listening to Billie Holiday sing and he said, 'Aw, she's funky '---you know, in a pejorative sense. Maybe he was just in a bad mood, see, but 'funky' immediately took on a bad connotation. But then maybe a couple of years later, the same guy was listening to Billie Holiday, but his mood changed, and now he liked her. So he would say,'Aw, she's funky---but no longer in a pejorative sense. So, you see, Billie Holiday doesn't change, she's still funky, but the meaning of 'funky' changes. That's hip talk."
"They also call it spade talk,"' said an eavesdropper wearing both a tie and a disdainful look. "Spade means Negro. In spade talk, you see, you call a spade a spade."
Ginsberg, apparently ignoring the remark, continued talking, stepping, as he did so, into the bathroom.
"Edward Marshall," he said, leaving the door open, "is one of the important young poets. He's only about twenty-three, but he's already been published and he has been writing a lot of new poetry which is pretty good. He originally was one of the Black Mountain College group, with which we have more or less combined. There should be others from Black Mountain here tonight. Ah!" he said, and stepped out of the bathroom, "here are two more---Joel Oppenheimer and Max Finstein. In these two rooms I would say you have about a dozen of the most important poets of the so-called Beat Generation."
Oppenheimer (what i worry about is you and what/ you worry about is him and what he/ worries about is a bottle of beer/ which worries about me because i'm/ how's that for a quatrain huh bayby/ hows that for a quatrain. . .) and Finstein (a man spoke of roots/ or the lack/ of them/ boston is beautiful/ he further said/ with/ a green grin/ we'll win through yet. . .) exchanged greetings with Ginsberg, who nodded his head shyly, grinned, and mentioned that they were beginning to look more and more like the Smith Brothers everyday. Finstein, in fact, wore a long, shaggy beard, while Oppenheimer's was pointed, refined and almost oriental.
"This is not a Zen Buddhist beard," Oppenheimer said, however. "I don't go for any of that Zen Buddhist crap. This is a good, old fashioned Prince Albert beard. At night, I'm a poet, but during the day I work at a printing house as a clerk. I'm the voice at the other end of the phone, and I'm sure some of our customers would be surprised to see what I look like. . ."
By this time, the party had taken on a new atmosphere, with some of it emanating as smoke through the bathroom door, now closed. ("That's where the pot is," a passerby told us, with undue descriptiveness.) If there was still no tinkling of glasses, there was instead a clanking of bottles, and Ginsberg was presently joined by another beer-drinker, Howard Shulman, a short, bushy-haired poet of twenty-three with intent, luminous eyes, who said he had just returned to New York's winter from San Francisco's spring.
"Allen, I'm telling you they're writing out there in San Francisco, mad, new things, they're really writing out there," he insisted, speaking with an undulating emphasis on what seemed to be the wrong words.
"But I thought the cops were chasing all the poets out of the city," said Ginsberg. "I thought they had a real police state in San Francisco."
"They are, they have," countered Shulman, "that's why I'm back here, but now poets are arriving in San Francisco every day. It's the magic out there, the magic of the atmosphere, perhaps it has something to do with the radiation---I have my own private mystical thoughts about that---but they're really writing out there. I'm telling you, it's mad. You know, San Francisco is such a mysterious town, I mean it's so easy to get lost there. There's always this strange white fog, and then the cops go around changing all the street signs. Really, you see them climbing up on ladders. And the buses never take you where you want to go. If you're driving a car, it's all right, because then you have control, but in the buses, you're under someone else's influence. . ."
"I had a car in Frisco for a while, but I wrapped it on someone's bumper---I was trying to get it started by letting it roll downhill. So I called the cops and I went to sleep in the back seat. But the car was in the middle of the street and when the cops came they asked me what I was doing, and I said I was sleeping, because, you know, I was. Well, I was wearing my dungarees and I guess I must have looked kind of funny, so they took me to the station and they looked up my record and they found I had been arrested for vagrancy, and I was high on Belladonna, and they thought I was an addict, so they gave me a shot of morphine, and I really had a ball.
"They took me to their hospital, City and County, they call it, and it looked just like Kings County---you know, I had been there a year while I was going to Columbia---and I said, 'Man, why are you taking me to the mad house?' And they said, 'How do you know it's the mad house---have you been here before?' They were pretty cool cops, real cool, it was just like they were smoking tea themselves, but the judge ordered me to get out of town, so I did, but I'm going to go back---I'm going to go back for more of that magic."
He swallowed some beer, began to tap the bottle in time to the jazz coming from the bedroom, nodded his head, also in rhythm, and then stared straight off at the wall, smiling to himself.
". . .The thing is," Ginsberg was saying, "you've got to dig everything. What we preach is love. We preach the same thing Jesus preached, Buddha preached, Mohammed preached, Jehovah preached, Zoroaster preached---love. Understand everything. Dig everything. Love everything. What would you do," and he turned toward us, "if a big, fat fag walked up to you and asked you to dance?"
The fag turned out to be neither big nor fat, but slim and lithe. He said his name was Freddy, and he asked for the dance in a pleasant, friendly manner. He also danced quite well, but then he had gone to dancing school. He had studied ballet.
"The only persons who are doing any original thinking in ballet are George Ballanchine and James Waring," he said, as we took the lead in a fox trot---he had insisted on trying something fancy, but we protested our inability. "Katherine Dunham hasn't had a new idea since 1946, and Jerome Robbins isn't concerned with ballet any more---he's just too commercial. Really, Waring isn't well known, but he's quite good. He works for Time Magazine, you know."
As a dance reviewer? we asked.
"No," Freddy replied, "as a mail clerk in the subscription department."
The music ended and we thanked Freddy for the dance (He didn't ask us to dance again). Then we turned toward the hostess, who happened by with her face now aglow (and even more moon-like) and who refused to talk about her domestic problems.
"When one is a guest at another's house and one notices cockroaches," she told us, "well, one may notice them but one doesn't say anything about them. I mean, it just isn't proper!"
We returned to the safety of the parlor to find it equipped with its own music-making machinery, two guitarists, Tam Gibbs and Steve Cogan, a pair of mustachioed and bearded Columbia University students, who were playing blues and folk songs while Ginsberg and his roommate, Peter Orlovsky, a tall, friendly, and good-looking young man, sang an array of words to match. Suddenly, in a moment of silence, Oppenheimer stood up and joined the improvising. Almost immediately he was faced, on the other side of the guitarists, by Leroi Jones, also a poet and also bearded, who publishes Yugen, a quarterly of modern poetry, none of it in rhyme. Opposite each other, and rocking with the guitar strums, the two of them began hurling words.
"I'm going to sing about spring and trees," declaimed Jones, a Negro, "like a poet that's got knock-knees."
"If you're going to sing about spring and stuff," answered Oppenheimer, "you gotta sing real loud and don't make a bluff."
"Joel had a baby," retorted Jones, "a poet like a treasure. She knew about rhyme but not about measure," and then he added: "Only couplets, Joel, only couplets!"
"Used to dig Whitman," chanted Oppenheimer, "then I dug Crane. Then I found. About Ezra Pound. And now all these cats are the same!"---and then, before Jones could answer, he added: "A poet at the Cedars didn't have a beard. Everyone thought that he was weird."
Ginsberg, delighted, clapped his hands.
"This is a contest," he chuckled, almost dancing. "A great Wagnerian contest---a great Wagnerian contest between the whites and the blacks. And the blacks are losing."
"I think it's time we heard a rhyme," chanted Oppenheimer, "from the guitar boys who are making noise."
The versifying went its course, and so did we, but soon another divertisement arose in the
a young woman from Harper's
a dressing down
form of Ginsberg himself, seated at the time next to a young woman who happened to be both from Texas and from Harper's, the publishing firm.
"Why are you dressed like that?" he asked her.
"What are you referring too?" she replied. "The fact that I am clean?"
"Do you know who I am?" he questioned. "Who are you? What are you doing here? Have you ever written anything? Are you an author?"
"No," she replied, "but I'm close. I work for Harper's."
"Harpers?" he said. "Harpers? You're responsible for Robert Creeley not being published. You turned down a book by Robert Creeley! You turned down a book by Robert Creeley! Do you know what you've done?"---and he grimaced---"My God! A book by Robert Creeley! You devil! You devil! You're the devil!"---and he stood up on the studio couch and grabbed her by the throat---"You're the devil!"
The young woman's escort, a square from Delaware (Dover, Delaware, to be exact) ended the proceedings by exhibiting a pair of clenched fists, and, moments later, escorted the victim out the door while the hostess shouted after them: "You don't understand him! You don't understand him!"
As for Ginsberg, he pranced from the couch and huddled in a corner, explaining: "This is the second scene I've made with someone from Harper's. They probably think I'm mad, but if it happens often enough, they'll begin to wonder. They'll stop and say, 'Are we doing the right thing?'" A moment later he was up and off, hugging and kissing, with wet lips, everyone in the apartment, men and women, friends and strangers, proclaiming, for all to hear: "Love! To love is the important thing!" Still later, he was seen crawling on the floor after his roommate, Orlovsky, and still later he was seen trying to whirl a bent and broken hula hoop which had been brought in from one of the garbage cans outside. But he had long since donned his red and black checked flannel shirt (with holes at the elbows) and left for home alone when, at about four a.m., two policemen appeared at the door and announced that the party was over. ## NEXT: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ PART 5: CHAPTER FIVE: THE PROPHET
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