EDWIN FORREST WARD
A MILE HIGH AND UNDERGROUND
Paul Harbaugh, the prime mover behind this exhibition, made three requests when we met to discuss it. One, would I define, for clarity’s sake, the meaning of Bohemian. Two, could I tell him how I met Steve Wilson, the exhibition’s curator. And finally, could I comment on some of the artifacts to be exhibited.
To paraphrase Wikipedia, Bohemian, a term of French origin, describes the lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, musicians and actors. It seems some like-minded Eighteenth Century Parisian artists sought refuge from the established world of the status quo and lived among the Gypsy population who were believed to have migrated to Paris via Bohemia; hence, the term.
Bohemians generally hold unorthodox, underground or anti-establishment viewpoints, caring little about what the rest of the world thinks of their unconventional approach to art and lifestyle. Deviancy from normal sexual mores and patronizing the black market are often associated with Bohemian behavior. Think free love. Think living together as opposed to married. Think gay. Think absinthe. Think bookstore. Consider the vernacular, as opposed to metered, in modern poetics. Think street smarts not school smarts. Think abstract expressionism in the beginning and the art of collage in the cigarette package assemblages of the incarcerated. Just how many naked lady parts can a man in prison paste onto a pack of Lucky’s? For pictures, imagine paint spattered beach pads in Venice with foliage-laden windows open to the Zen of sea and sky and hippie communes in the Sange de Christo Mountains with geodesic domes for homes. Think of a two story walk-up just off of Colfax. Think see-the-urban-dawn late night jazz skyline. Think that place in time when one is young with wonder at the magic of literature, music and art. Think of where and with whom you were, when you knew for the first time there was more to life than you had ever imagined. Chances are there was a Bohemian in the smoke-filled room. Idiosyncratic fashion has always ruled Bohemia. Think mini as a dress and minimalism as a choice. Sandals not shoes. Pot not Prozac. Organic not adulterated. Think of a polyester suit once worn to court to make a good impression as a canvas to be painted on. Think less is more. Bohemia sometimes lives in a backpack.
Often, the term Bohemian carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment – what one might call hip-ness – a result of an intuitive understanding of the relationship between inspiration and the divine. A Bohemian practices and understands the words of Wallace Berman that Stuart Perkoff wrote across the walls of his Venice West coffeehouse: “Art is Love is God.”
Bohemians often congregate where housing is cheap. After awhile, however, the energy and art of Bohemia will catch the attentive eyes of pop purveyors, urban planners and developers, and Bohemian enclaves often get redeveloped, gentrified and eminent-domain-ed. Think Greenwich Village in New York; Provincetown in Massachusetts, South Street in Philly, Ann Arbor in Michigan, Venice Beach in Los Angeles; Haight-Ashbury and the Mission District in San Francisco; and in Denver: Capitol Hill, Lo-Do and the East Colfax corridor. Fortunately, given the chaotic, greed-driven topsy-turvy-ness of the American real estate world, Bohemia has always been more of a state of mind than a state of place.
Proof of Bohemian existence and vitality are found in its artistic output. That’s what this exhibition is all about.
How I Meet Steve Wilson
I meet the artist, Steve Wilson, the day of a funeral, to be exact: the funeral and burial of the croupier of hip beat literature, himself, the publisher of the The Mile High Underground newsprint literary journal, as well as the small press poetry concern, Croupier Books, and the proprietor of Croupier Books on Seventeenth Avenue in North Capitol Hill: the poet, James Ryan Morris. On a hill facing east, up in Gilpin County south of Rollinsville just off the Peak to Peak Highway in a cemetery belonging to the town of Blackhawk, Dory Hill, JRM’s grave is to be marked and honored - tombstone-ed - with a stainless steel sculpture by Angelo di Benedetto. Angelo, Jimmy and a third great artist, the avant-garde filmmaker, Stan Brakhage, were a trinity of friends, all three at the top of their game, each on top, more or less, of different mountains. The triumvirate would speak on the phone with each other for hours – sometimes as an antidote to cabin fever, most times out of passion - at the local rate of ten cents a call, rhapsodizing and raging, obsessing on the nature and practice and politics of their arts, Stan about film from his alpine compound in Rollinsville, Angelo about painting and sculpting from his studio atop The Mermaid Café in Central City’s largest building, and Jimmy about poetry from his cabin aside the train tracks in Wondervu. And now there are two …
Some holy and not-so-holy barbarians and bohemians, the beatified and notorious, the hip, the hippie, the poets and painters, the substance abusers and entrepreneurs of thrills, the actors and dancers, the poseurs and ex-prep-sters, the journeyman and apprentices, the instigators and provocateurs, all - some thirty or so - are rendezvousing at Steve & Linda Wilson’s house on South Sherman Street. From Washington Park West just east of Gates Rubber, a caravan of vans and sedans will drive to the mountains from Denver past Golden, up Clear Creek Canyon on US 6 to Highway 119, past gold-panning outfits and trail ride stables, through Blackhawk, past the mining ghost towns of American City and Perigo, to Golden Gate Canyon and Dory Hill Roads.
When I walk into Steve’s living room, the first thing I notice is a sobering collection of hats, baseball style with an assortment of logos diverse and varied, mounted amongst collages and the expressionist paintings on the living room walls, the hats a bouquet of a working man’s blues, a signature (Steve’s) apparent in the arrangement of the sweat-stained caps more meaningful and evocative than all the arranged found object art in the museums of the world.
I don’t really know any of the gathered mourners, but one, Jess Graf. I’ve only been in Denver since the summer of Seventy-five, my time since then, devoted, for the most part, to making a living and looking for love. It had been Jess who suggested that I introduce myself to Jimmy Ryan Morris as he and I were scheduled to do a poetry reading together at Global Village as part of an ongoing reading series hosted by Denver’s Society for the Advancement of Poetics, made up of Jess, Jim Bernath and John Munson. According to the series promoter our reading would include a reading by the Best and the New-Kid-in-Town. When I agree to read, I’m not sure if I am entering a competition or collaboration. None of these times - when I agree to do the reading, when I summon the where-with-all to visit the existential living legend, gun toting drugstore cowboy in his bookstore, or when just this morning I decide to attend his funeral – have I any idea of the nature and depth, of the love and complexity, of the world of art I am entering. I’m just hoping to bum a ride with someone, to pay my respect to this poet I have come to know.
When I introduce myself to Steve and Linda, Wilson makes quick work of finding me a ride, and after a quick round of Irish and coffee, I’m out the door with a guy whose handle is that of a car’s, Continental, a filmmaker and aspiring hipster, oddly, another man with a gun. After five minutes in his car, it is apparent why, prior to my catching a ride with him, Continental had been alone in his short. I guess my getting a ride, on some levels, could be construed as proof of what some symbolists believe, that all eternity is reflected in the smallest shard of it. Each and every act reflects the future and the past. This gun-ster I’ve caught a ride with will one day figure violently in the world of me and friends of Steve. In hindsight, I like to think that Steve putting me and Continental together - however thought-ful or -less, coincidental, practical and/or whimsical - should have served as a warning about the sometimes darker side of Bohemia. Duh! Who am I kidding? I should have known; I mean, after all, when all is said and done, - to quote Jimmy Ryan Morris
When all is said
then we shall stand
between the 1000 pains
with death as a horse
and love at the reins
Honestly, I am not blind to the reality that Jimmy has, in fact, o-d-ed at a rather early age. Being as how both Jimmy and I are as Irish as Paddy’s Pig, I prefer to see his death as proof of the old Irish triad: It is Death to mock a Poet/Death to be a Poet/Death to love a Poet.
I get to know Steve better a year or so later when he partners up with Larry Lake to open up one of the last great Beat bookstores in Denver, Bowery Books on Old South Pearl Street. Steve and Larry are at the time brothers in more ways than the business of used books, alcohol being the principal other. During this time Steve is busy as Steve is always busy: collecting, bartering, collage-ing, and painting. He paints a black flower as a wedding gift for me and Marcia when we marry. When I connect with New Blood magazine in Boulder, Steve contributes. He continues to sell paintings to friends, dealers and collectors. He raises his children, and about this time in this history of the late Seventies, Steve gives up – for the first and last time, drinking alcohol, something a man does when there’s no middle to imbibing all-the-time or never. Steve once told me that when he and Larry and Jimmy used to drink together, Steve was in the habit of seeing triple. I’ve always suspected that no-longer-being-drinking-buddies had as much to do with the dissolution of the partnership that was Larry and Steve at Bowery Books as anything else, like let’s say Larry’s rumored troubles with the Denver police, troubles that stemmed from Larry’s inappropriate come-on’s to the women of the Old South Pearl Street neighborhood. Steve once told me that the last straw was when a cop came into the bookstore and warned Steve: if Larry continues to harass other shopkeepers, especially the women, Larry would turn up missing, a threat Steve took not lightly. With Larry, one either loved him or hated him. With Steve, one generally loved him, as long as repayment of debt did not matter. If truth be told, Steve often had only good intentions when it came to the repayment of a loan.
Now all these people that I mention, that populate the stories swirling on the periphery of Steve’s existence, they color the attitude of what Steve paints. His palette is full of influence: what he’s seen in the numberless books and periodicals he’s pored over and in the art of friends and contemporaries, both dead and alive: Tony Scibella, Jimmy Morris, Michelle and Saul White, Marcia Ward, Larry Lake, Angelo di Benedetto, Frank Rios, Gayle Davis, Bill Dailey and Stan Brakhage. And still there are a few. Which is good, considering there never were that many.
History and art history adds more verbiage to the poem that is Steve. Steve’s expressionist iconography includes wickiups, Charlie Chaplin hats, crosses, and tunnels, all born of whimsy and/or symbolism, as well as the darkness of adolescent flesh aside the stocking-ed leg of a Life magazine model. Steve’s imagery and vocabulary speak the vernacular of life’s existential language to articulate an answer to the question: what’s to love about life, anyway? Steve’s answer: most everything, and everybody. With Steve, all stories are love stories.
Comments on a Dozen Artifacts of A Mile High Underground
An Intro in the Vernacular
In 1979 I was tricked/drafted into lifetime-membership in the Mile High Underground. I’ve always considered myself to be a solo artist, as in, to quote Stuart Perkoff, “one man saying one man’s things;” but on a crazy day in Central City, in The Mermaid Café, a roomful of artists – with Larry Lake as MC – honored four fellow artists, each with an art award, a TOMBSTONE. The Tombstone reference has to do both with Jimmy Ryan Morris’ – in whose name the art awards were being given – with JRM’s fascination with all things Doc Holliday (who lived to tell of the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona) and with the Angelo di Benedetto sculpture that tombstones Jimmy’s grave. Steve Wilson, one of Morris’ longtime artist pals from the days and nights of the Lido Lounge, had penciled, penned, and collaged the actual award certificates; and longtime friends of Morris were in attendance. Stan Brakhage received a Tombstone for Film, Angelo di Benedetto received one for Art, the jazz guitarist Bob Grey received one for Music, and Frank Rios, according to my understanding, was slated to receive the Tombstone for Poetry. Frankie had flown in for this Jimmy Ryan Morris Memorial with other friends of Jimmy’s from the LA/Denver contingent: Bill Dailey, Marsha Getzler, Michelle and Saul White, Tony Scibella and Gayle Davis, and Frankie was staying with me and my wife, Marcia, at our house on South Pearl Street. Rios and Morris had run with the Venice West poetry crowd in the late Fifties and both Morris and Larry Lake of the Bowery Press had published Frank’s poetry. So I was totally Bowery-ed, to coin a phrase, when Frankie – who, of course, was in on the ruse – got up, without introduction, to present The Tombstone for Poetry and gave it to me. Acceptance of the Tombstone acknowledges and makes forever compulsory a lifetime of dedication to one’s art. To paraphrase Tony Scibella, there’s no getting out of a contract with the Muse.
Every so often, a serious new young bohemian will question me about poetry and art. I tell them one good answer to their query begins at a grave, and if I can swing it, I’ll take them on a sojourn to visit Jimmy’s. Standing in the presence of Angelo’s sculpture evokes a feeling of comradeship with those who - to simplify Morris – “stood alone in their time . . . and left something behind.” My initiate and I, we will watch the shadows pass and play across the steel moons of Morris’ tombstone on the side of Dory Hill. The progress of the shadows, their dance, leads a mile high underground.
* BLACK, Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III, Swallow Press, Denver, Colorado, 1966
Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III says about himself on the inside cover: “i was born on a little green hill 1 mile up in the sky. i didn’t talk until I was 3. i said: ‘there’s a damned fly in my window.’ My father has always thought me a bit mad, my mother has always thought me a bit queer. Amazing how revealing genealogy is. I am now 20.”
Alfred spent most of his adult life living in downtown Denver above his father’s optometry shop on Tremont just north of 14th. The last time I looked, the unoccupied building still sports the name Kleyhauer across the door, and it remains one of the few two story buildings in downtown Denver. In keeping with the title of his first book, Alfred painted the walls of his apartment black where he eventually spent much of his final years in mourning as his companion, Michael Trego, had died of AIDS. Ironically, a decade before his death, Alfred and Michael had created poster size comic book-like collaged drawings that tell the tale of Trumble and Ding, alter egos of Alfred and Michael. My favorite of the group has a prophetic, Tiresias-esque feel: Trumble and Ding are conventioneers riding a trolley towards a convention center that radiates welcoming and wonderful times. Trumble and Ding are blissful with anticipation. Across the destination light box of the trolley, one word: ETERNITY. Sadly, Alfred died in 1994 while crossing California at 15th, a block from Denver’s, at the time, new Convention Center, the first accident fatality of Denver’s recently launched electric trolley, Light Rail. Ironically, perhaps fittingly, on the west side of the street from where Alfred died, there is a Colorado Historical Plaque inscribed with words from Jack Kerouac’s 1955 classic On The Road: “I walked around the sad honkytonks of Curtis Street: young kids in jeans and red shirts; peanut shells, movie marquees, shooting parlors. Beyond the glittering was darkness, and beyond the darkness was the West. I had to go.”
During his life Alfred embarked on many artistic adventures. He held Sunday pot-luck art salons. An early evening there was theater in progress. One of Alfred’s assets was his ability to have an answer for any query. He possessed a wide wisdom and a alchemist’s passion, absorbing the truth of everyone he knew. The day I met Alfred, he was playing piano in a small alley-side gallery just west of Washington Street on First Avenue. The actor and director Richard Collier, who had founded The Trident Theater on South Gaylord Street, Denver’s first avant-garde playhouse, was pushing his artistic envelope and exhibiting paintings. Alfred’s compositions and playing seemed that day to channel, all at the same time, Beethoven, Coltrane and Dylan (to whom Alfred had dedicated Black). He eventually wrote hundreds and recorded dozens of pop and not so pop tunes that he and guitarist Bob Peek brought to sundry Denver stages via their band The What Nots. His song, “Dancing on the Grave of War” - whose melody ADK composed on a miniature electric piano that he bought at Woolworths for twenty-nine dollars - is a haunting masterpiece of nuance and timelessness: “Ships follow trade winds, when there’s no war.” Mid-life, Alfred started a typing service for term papers as he could type a hundred words a minute without error, both blind-folded and intoxicated. When students - freshmen and doctorate candidates alike - brought him papers to type he would tell them, “I hope you don’t mind, but it would be easier and quicker for me to just write your paper from scratch than deal with the thematic and grammatical errors contained therein. And, of course, I guarantee an “A.” One of the youngest Denverites ever to be admitted to MENSA, Alfred earned a dozen PHD’s anonymously via his underground “typing.” He told me that he once got seven “A’s” all in the same graduate class, ghost writing for seven of the eight students enrolled. He also wrote out a check to me for one million dollars.
BLACK is the quintessential Alfred, possessing as only an eager and tireless speed-reader can, the librarian mind of a lizard whose jewel eyes have knowledge of centuries, civilizations, and art movements unfolding. He writes the dialogue of warriors and composers and sheathes the sword of love. Maybe one day, the Bonnie Bray Library will change its name or name a nook to include a reference to Alfred, as no one used the books there as did Alfred.
Alan Swallow whose Swallow Press published BLACK was a poet/publisher of the highest rank. The oral history of small press in Denver begins with Alan Swallow. He began publishing Swallow Press in 1940 in Denver. He reigned supreme in that regard until his death in 1966. Prior to his death, he had the idea of establishing a literary journal here in Denver to be called The Mile High Underground, an idea that came to fruition under the leadership of Swallow’s new friend, James Ryan Morris, whose Croupier Press would follow, taking Denver’s small press world both literally and figuratively a mile high underground.
* The MILE HIGH UNDERGROUND issue #6, Denver, Fall 1967
The cover art of MHU #6 is a black and white drawing of Tony Scibella’s that ridicules the machines of war - Tony, like Morris, had served in Korea, and knew of what he so artfully depicts – with this particular machine sporting a swastika, crucifix and USA star. A war machine is a war machine, no matter the decade or nation’s affiliation. Inside, the cast of contributors is national as well as local: Anais Nin, Timothy Leary, Larry Lake, James Ryan Morris, Frank O Hara, Tony Scibella, as well as other East Coast (Joel Oppenheimer) and West Coast (William J. Margolis) poets. Frank Rios, serving time for narcotics violations, contributes his classic “The Ball Poem” from jail. Of special note is JoAn Segal’s review of Richard Collier’s production of Marat/Sade that was running at Denver’s Trident Theater – and yes, there was theater before the government got into the business of tax-dollar-ing it. The production was so over the top that the great actor Jim Straley - Jim was one of the original leads in television’s Route 66, although he brawled with the director while filming one of the pilot episodes on location in Central City and was replaced – Jim actually broke a leg careening and jumping madly about Michael Klein’s asylum set. Collier used to sign Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III out of the psychiatric institution he was rehabbing in so Alfred could play his role. The review ends with seventeen stars! Also a photo essay by Dan Mc Crimmon of a child pondering his place in the world seems to anticipate, metaphorically, the Summer of Love that was to follow.
The linch-pin of Denver’s late-Sixties early-Seventies poetry publishing art scene, James Ryan Morris, sparked others to pick up where The Mile High Underground left off, like-minded men like Kevin Tannenbaum who had a hand in two early Seventies’ underground journals, Chinook and The Denver Free Press. JRM was published locally and nationally, both as a poet and reviewer. Morris, along with sometimes Denver resident Frank Rios, were featured in The Smith/17 out of New York City. JRM’s opinion, about what’s cool and what’s not, mattered, and he riled many. Diz Darwin’s 16 milli-meter film The Croupier Gallery - it was screened at David Feretta’s Global Villageon Pennsylvania Street in West Washington Park- documents the opening of Jimmy’s Croupier Gallery and offers a frenetic slice of Jimmy’s visions. Sadly, the film is lost, although not its influence. After one art opening at The Croupier Gallery, Morris was arrested for exhibiting an assemblage that contained a syringe, a case that pushed the envelope of free speech in Denver. Driven by his passion for the arts one might say Jimmy put Denver on The Map of Where It’s At. Morris’ own Croupier Press specialized in publishing poetry chapbooks and postcards. Croupier’s KOWBOY POMES by Stuart Z. Perkoff is a perfect example of what a small press publisher can do with five sheets of paper, a friend in the printing business, a photograph, twenty-six Letraset transfer letters, a black and white drawing, two staples, a sheet of cover stock, and great poetry. Morris was such an inciter, instigator and inspiration that he was selected for inclusion in Barbara Jo Revelle’s two block long tile mural that adorns the east side of Denver’s Colorado Convention Center, depicting one hundred men and women considered to have been principals in shaping Colorado culture. His black and white tile image, bearded and beret-ed, is near others of his era: his friend and confidante, the master of avant-garde cinema, Stan Brakhage, and the bus-driving Merry Prankster of Ken Kesey’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and the hero of Jack Kerouac’s pivotal novel, On the Road, Neal Cassady.
* mano-mano / 2, edited by Larry Lake, Bowery Press #10, Denver, Colorado 1971
Larry Lake was to Jimmy Morris, what Jimmy Morris was to Alan Swallow. Larry went from helping Jimmy Morris publish The Mile High Underground to establishing his own small press, The Bowery. mano-mano / 2, speaking alphabetically, begins with LA’s Charles Bukowski and ends with Denver’s Steve Wilson, whose yellow and black painting graces the front cover. A real treat in this literary journal is the publication of Neal Cassady’s letter from the Colorado State Reformatory in Buena Vista to his friend and probation officer in Denver, Justin Brierly, asking that Justin take care of Neal’s small overdue tab at a bar at the corner of 15th and Platte. To this day a printed facsimile of Neal’s letter, page 12, torn from the pages of mano-mano / 2 hangs in what is now Brothers Bar, a bar from which Larry Lake, himself, had been eighty-six-ed. No surprise there. Larry had a way of riling people up. He even got himself shot in an argument about art and money, by a film maker whose only claim to fame was that he’s made The Bowery Gallery, a film about the opening of Larry’s art crib, The Bowery Gallery, which was catty-corner from Brothers Bar. The centerfold of man-mano / 2 is an anonymous six panel color fold out, an extraordinary piece of art, both in its late-Sixties verve and the fact that four-color printing was generally outside the economic reach and practice of small presses. In addition to Denver/Venice West poets Tony Scibella, Frank Rios, James Ryan Morris and Stuart Z Perkoff, a number of West Coast artists are represented in mano-mano / 2: Diane di Prima, Ben Talbert, John Thomas, William Margolis, and Joan Clifford. And in mano-mano / 2 the Denver underground is accompanied by the renowned: there is a letter of Jack Kerouac’s written to Denver architect Ed White, an interview by Vaughn Marlowe with Ken Kesey, and a poem of Kenneth Patchen, printed boldly in purple and gold, “A Mercy-Filled & Defiant Xmas To All Still Worthy To Be Called Men.” mano-mano / 2 was but #10 of some fifty literary efforts of Larry Lake’s Bowery Press.
* CHINOOK, Valentine’s Day edition, edited by C.G. Scott & Kevin Tannenbaum, Denver, 1972
This swan song ends a turbulent two and a half year run of Tannenbaum’s shot at mile high underground publishing. The 17 x 11 format allowed for some big graphics, including two full sheet broadsides: page one gets away with penises masquerading as dripping candles, a contribution of Layne Catherine Anderson, and page ten sports John Fish’s Birdwoman Drawings. Between the pages are many of the usual suspects: Homer Bone, aka John Loquidis, writes a jazz column whose language of review is jazz itself (read Bone aloud, you’ll hear what I mean), Ed Baerlein of The Germinal Stage, writes Dying Thoughts on Denver Theater, Steve Wilson offers up a collage, Tony Scibella waxes poetic about newspapers and newspaper guys, and Krusty K himself, Tannenbaum, recaps the struggles that were Chinook’s. A local notice mentions that Scibella, Tannenbaum and others were hosting a Writer’s Workshop at the Ogden Bookstore, 919 East Colfax, the Capitol, of the time, of Denver Bohemia. All and all, a great go at mining the gold that then lay a mile high underground.
* KOWBOY POMES, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Croupier Press, Golden Colorado, 1973
Stuart Z. Perkoff holds a seminal place in the story of mile high underground art. His Café West coffeehouse in Venice California is where one branch of Denver’s Bohemian family tree begins. There are numerous books and films and histories of Stuart including his collected works, Visions of the Lady, published by the University of Maine and The National Poetry Foundation. Stories of Stuart abound. He married a witch. Stuart learned the ins and outs of prison life from Frankie Rios. Hearsay has it that one of the first tape recordings of a marihuana transaction - where a listening device with wires running to a hefty reel-to-reel in the lap of a vice squad detective was actually suction-cupped to the glass window of a beatnik crash pad - records Stuart’s voice. Perkoff was interviewed by the likes of Walter Cronkite and chased by reporters from Life magazine from whom he hid. He and Tony Scibella would watch from Venice rooftops as the beatnik craze brought tourists and thrill-seekers and journalists to their Venice Beach domain. Stuart also appeared on Groucho Marx’s television show, You Bet Your Life, as himself, “a beatnik poet.” When Groucho noted that Stuart’s bio info mentioned that Stuart wrote a lot, Stuart responded, “O yes, I write home for money every week,” a one-liner that forever endeared him to the comedian. Stuart, at Jimmy Morris’ invitation, lived in Denver for a time, working at The Ogden Bookstore along with proprietor/artist pals, Tony Scibella and Steve Wilson. Stuart Perkoff’s voice and vision, both on paper and on tape, are profoundly poetic. When one reads or, better yet, hears Stuart, even the reluctant are enlightened as to the power of poetry. KOWBOY POMES, with cover art by Denver artist John Fish, is composed of seven of Stuart’s riffs on the state of America as reflected in his take on the American West. Fortunately for all, through the efforts of Larry Lake of Bowery Press, Stuart read on Denver radio station KFML in 1971, an over-the-air underground event, that resulted in a professionally recorded reading that includes, among others from it, the final poem of KOWBOY POMES, “seven: the buffalo,” a magnificent one hundred and thirty-one liner, that ends with this savvy summary of the buffalo, the once grand symbol of the American West
Even the coin he rides
Don’t buy much anymore.
* THE KID IN AMERICA, Tony Scibella, Passion Press/Black Ace/Temple of Man, Denver, Colorado, 2000
Tony Scibella began writing THE KID IN AMERICA on July 4, 1976 sitting around a kitchen table with the artist Bill Dailey. Something about a flotilla of sailing ships in New York Harbor sparked Tony to write about being a kid, such as himself, in two hundred year old America. In 1979 Tony had completed the first forty-five minutes of his oral history, and Scibella – one of the original holy barbarians of Larry Lipton’s creative non-fiction beatnik novel, The Holy Barbarians - read THE KID IN AMERICA for the first time in Denver at Café Nepenthes, a coffeehouse around the corner from Larimer Square on Market Street where Marcia and I hosted poetry readings. It was the first time I was to hear Tony read, but since his reputation had preceded him, I was armed with a cassette tape recorder and had duct-taped a second microphone to the house microphone. What Tony read at Nepenthes that night – the first third of what would become THE KID IN AMERICA - was published as a Bowery number. Ten years later while Tony was living in LA with his second wife, (the artist, actress, dancer, clothing designer, and former girlfriend of Elvis Presley, Gayle Davis), a second major chunk of THE KID IN AMERICA would be serialized in five issues of POINT magazine (1991-1992), the literary arm of Denver’s Alternative Arts Alliance, an umbrella organization for the co-operative art galleries that were then happening. In 1999 Tony who lived as much in LA as he did in Denver returned to Denver from Los Angeles to take care of his life-long friend, the artist Bill Dailey, who was dying of cancer. At my invitation Tony started attending the Friday night poetry readings at The Mercury Café. I remember asking about the status of THE KID IN AMERICA and Tony said he’d not worked on it since I’d serialized the second chunk of it in POINT. Tony’s first night in attendance, he asked, “Are there any good poets here tonight?” - a tricky question for a host, one I answered diplomatically with a narrow affirmative. “Oh yeah. You have to hear Kate Makkai,” a young writer whose first book, Pink, I was in the early stages of publishing. To make a long story short, Tony was so inspired by Kate’s talents - Kate soon moved in with Tony after Bill Dailey died - that he finished in very short order the third major chunk of what he’d been working on for over twenty some years. Published simultaneously with Pink in Denver by Passion Press / the Image Maker, THE KID IN AMERICA was subtitled, BLACK ACE BOOK 6, Black Ace being the signature of Tony’s many publishing endeavors. In addition to his personal role as the back-and-forth link between Venice West and Denver, Tony’s THE KID IN AMERICA serves as testament to the benefits of living a mile high underground - Tony used to advertise his Black Ace poetry readings and art shows with the admonishment: Don’t Tell No One - and THE KID IN AMERICA is Denver’s greatest contribution to American letters.
I (Ed Ward, who along with my wife Marcia are Passion Press / the Image Maker) am to Larry Lake what Larry Lake was to Jimmy Morris. Larry published my first book, citysight, with drawings by Michel Bergt, as BOWERY 30 with the imperative that I must publish others as well as write. And so I do, publishing journals and chapbooks under a different logo, Passion Press / the Image Maker, my contribution to the furtherance of Alan Swallow’s dream of a mile high underground journal of literature.
* 13 SOUNDS, James Ryan Morris, THE POETRY SUBWAY (Croupier Press), Pinecliff, Colorado, 1977
13 SOUNDS are the last thirteen poems of James Ryan Morris to be published during his lifetime. It is pure Morris, self-selected from a lifetime’s work. From his 1958 drawing on the cover of a saxophone player to the final 1977 poem that begins
better off without
I thought once . . . .
surrounded by assassins
was the common reference
Morris, to quote his mini introduction, offers “A toast to the hipsters who remain.”
Morris arrived in Denver in 1965 and died within a year of the publication of 13 SOUNDS. His journey from Manhattan to Denver included stints in Korea, Venice, and Seattle. He left behind a poetic distillate that when taken in leaves one heady with the art and intellect of his era.
*NEW BLOOD, editor Michael Wojczuk, Artz Press, Boulder 1980
When Naropa Institute instituted the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, it was only natural that there would arise a connection between the scenes of Boulder and Denver. Issue #1 of New Blood documents that relationship. The cover sports the father - son dynamic of William S. Burroughs, Jr, who authored Speed and Kentucky Ham and his renowned father, William S. Burroughs of Junky and Naked Lunch fame; and five of the seven artists headlined are sometime Denverites: Steve Wilson (collage), Ed Ward (poetry centerfold), William S. Burroughs, Jr.(creative non-fiction), K-M Montier (letter), and Andy Clausen (poetry). Inside can be found even more: a 1977 drawing by Larry Lake and centerfold photography by Marcia Ward. Although its focus was national, over the course of its run, NEW BLOOD often published the work of Denver artists, including Tony Scibella, Jack Livingston, Michael Bergt, and Thalia Cady.
Michael Wojczuk came to Colorado from Brooklyn after time in San Francisco and Austin. Not too proud to step outside of his own flat irons backyard, he sought the help of Denver bohemians to launch his branch of the small press poetry-publishing tree.
* 5000’ & CLOSING, Larry Lake & Michael Bergt, BOWERY PRESS #31, Denver, 1981
The last four words spoken over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, by the pilot of the Enola Gay, Colonel Paul Tibbets, before the dropping of Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in warfare, were “Five thousand feet and closing.” In many ways this book, written by Larry Lake and illustrated by Michael Bergt, is an atomic bomb of art, a new weapon in the war on artlessness. Larry and Michael deliver an art born of collaborative thinking and mutual inspiration, with Michael illustrating Larry’s fictions and poems. From Larry’s riveting Viet Nam narrative tale of “Dumb Slumbo” to his image perfect haikus - Branch blossom drops in / water. Deep; deeper still. Meet / the trees reflection – Michael had a lot to work with, and his black and white lines belie the actual two-dimensionality of his pen and inks drawings. Similarly Larry’s writings escape the confines of mere words on a page. Reading this book gives an understanding of poetry’s lineage, a lineage that pre-dates Denver’s Mile High Underground by some two thousand years. Druid and Gnostic thinking invigorates this treatise on the state of Post Viet Nam America. Larry firmly believed that only art – not politicians - can save the world from war, and the poetry of 5000’ & CLOSING is Larry firing at point blank range the bullets of his beliefs.
* Passion Press #4, edited by Ed Ward, Passion Press, Denver, 1983
With photo montages on both covers – the front a Marcia Ward dark room manipulation of Michael Bergt’s Lady of the Lake sculpture, a dark room alchemy that transforms negative space on the printed page into a literal sword of light, and the back a rattlesnake of threatening closeness by Camera Obscura’s Loretta Gautier, Passion Press 4 documents the Early-eighties. In the footsteps of mano-mano / 2, another Jack Kerouac letter appears, this time without the redactions that Ed White had earlier insisted upon while those mentioned in Jack’s letters were still alive. And in this letter, dated December 29, 1959, Jack puts the laurel on Denver’s own Neal Cassady, crediting Neal with being the greatest writer working in Europe and America. At the time of Passion Press 4, there loomed in American culture the ever on-going threat of censorship – think Larry Flint’s trials over Penthouse - and I had hoped Ben Talbert’s drawing that accompanies his humorous porno-noir, An Excerpt from “The Disconcerting Games of Vadim the Mechanic” would test the waters. The geography of Denver Bohemia included at this time an enclave on Delaware Street in the Baker neighborhood where some of the contributors lived. The painter Joey Patton whose black and white paintings appear, lived next door to me and Marcia, and Larry Lake and Frank Rios lived two doors north of us. The photographer, TW Gaddy, whose portrait of Marcia is the cover of my first Passion Press book, ladywho, also lived on Delaware Street. Not far from Steve Wilson, John Macker was living in Larry’s old crib on South Logan with his wife, Kathy, and the actor Jim Straley who had finally returned to Denver after a decade long hiatus on the East Coast. Coincidentally, Kathy’s sister was married to Bob Peek, who along with Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III, comprised The Whatnots. In addition to Ben Talbert, highlighting the Venice West/Denver connection, the West Coast is represented by the poetry of Tony Scibella who had returned to LA and a sketch of Marcia Ward by San Pedro abstract expressionist Saul White; the Denver writers in this issue include John Macker, John Loquidis – doing poetry not music reviews this time, - Andy Clausen, Larry Lake, Ed Ward, Freddy Bosco and K-M Montier. Ten artist’s portraits are showcased in Marcia Ward’s contribution excerpted from her on-going silver archival series, Artists in Portrait: Ed Ward, Joey Patton, Don Martin, Saul White, Ann Kouri, Michael Bergt, April Cipriano, Frank Rios and Larry Lake.
* the cutting distance, John Macker, Long Road Press/Black Ace/Bowery 38, Denver 1984
This chapbook is cut from the same cloth as others that came before it. Outside of the poetry, the cutting distance is a group effort: a full color wrapper of a watercolor by Kathy Macker, five collage/drawings and cover art by Tony Scibella, an introduction by Frank Rios, a kick-off quote of Stuart Perkoff’s, and a photo of John by Sherra Boris.
John Macker is the bookstore poet, in the tradition of Morris, Lake, Scibella, and Wilson. He currently operates an art book store in the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. Between Denver and Santa Fe, in the tradition of Doc Holliday, John did a stint in Glenwood Springs. I met John in The Capitol, a bar just west of John Loquidis’ Jerry’s Record Exchange on East Colfax and a block east of the State Capitol Building. Jerry’s is to music what the Ogden was to literature. Macker had submitted poems for Passion Press #4 and we made arrangements to meet. I remember Larry Lake was with me. Maybe, Joey Patton. Within a year John was following Lake’s dictum to publish others as well as write. His Moravagine literary journal, as well as Harp out of Glenwood Springs and Desert Shovel Review out of New Mexico would be populated by many of the same artists showcased in the pages of the Denver efforts that had preceded it: the Mile High Underground, mano-mano / 2 , The Denver Free Press, Chinook, and Passion Press, including Stuart Perkoff, James Ryan Morris, Tony Scibella, Frank Rios, Steve Wilson, Marcia Ward, Ed Ward, Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III, Michael Trego, John Loquidis, Jess Graf, Larry Lake, Saul White, John Thomas, Andy Clausen, and Bill Dailey.
It would seem that even death can not cancel contracts with the Muse.
*Revolutionary Stew, Marilyn Megenity, Passion Press / the Image Maker, Denver 2001
Marilyn Megenity’s Revolutionary Stew is an adventure in anti-establishment, unorthodox thinking. With these twenty dramatic monologues Marilyn roams through history and the contemporary world with admiring eyes for the heroines of mankind and offers up an assortment of answers to the question: What can one woman, or one man, do to make the world more artful, lovely and beatified? Here are nineteen scripts for an actress to wrap her act around and one for an actor with the magic to enact Ben Franklin. Marilyn, a Denver native, has been a revolutionary thinker and principal in Denver’s mile high underground since the age of eight-teen when she took up an initiative to boycott the combustion engine. (Imagine how independent we would be, had we all followed suit!) In its thirty-fifth year, the success of her Mercury Café’s - the venues and names have changed from time to time but not the Lady of the House - is proof that what was planted a mile high underground remains. In the early years of this century, out of the efforts of poets attending the ongoing Friday Night Poetry Reading Series at The Mercury Café came The Mercury Reader, and guess what: many of the contributors are the same as those first featured in The Mile High Underground.