Tuesday, January 16, 2018

RIP John Oliver Simon 23 April 1942 - 16 Jan 2018

¡Presente! Mi corazón de los sueños. Buen viaje mi amor viejo. This was the back cover photo of our bilingual chapbook, Falling to Sea Level, Aldebaran Press, 1986. A chronicle of our many journeys to Mexico and beyond. Jorge Luján photo. Safe journey, old friend. 23 April 1942 - 16 Jan 2018.

JOS poet teaching article in T&W

JOS in Argentina 2012

John Oliver Simon, one of the Bay Area’s most beloved poets, died in the early hours of Jan. 16th, from cancer, in the home of his fiancée Susie Kepner. He is survived by daughters Kia Simon and Lorelei Bosserman, son-in-law J.D. Moyer, granddaughter Tesla Rose Moyer, and former wives Pam Simon Hazel, Alta, and Jan Courtright Simon. He was 75.
Born in New York City in 1942, he wrote his first poem under a full moon in 1956. Educated at The Putney School, Swarthmore College (Phi Beta Kappa), and the University of California Berkeley, Simon was mentored by John C. Adler, Jeffrey Campbell, Daniel Hoffman, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch and Carol Lee Sanchez.
While at Cal and after, Simon was active in the Free Speech Movement and in the famous struggle to liberate Berkeley’s People’s Park. Of this time, he wrote “I was a newcomer to the Bay Area, having arrived in Berkeley in September 1964 in time to sit down in the crowd on Sproul Plaza surrounding the police car which was holding Jack Weinberg prisoner in the back seat in the first act of what would become the Free Speech Movement. I came west three months after graduating from Swarthmore College, planning to get my Ph.D. in English at Cal since I had not been accepted to graduate school at Harvard, and because my mother’s forebears had arrived in San Francisco a 110 years before that and California was my terrain of legend.”
Simon’s nine full-length books of poetry included Caminante (praised by Gary Snyder and Juan Felipe Herrera), Roads to Dawn Lake (Oyez Press, 1968), Rattlesnake Grass (Hanging Loose Press, 1978), Lord of the House of Dawn (Bombshelter Press, 1991), and Grandpa’s Syllables (White Violet Press, 2015). His poetry was published in numerous literary journals and reviews, “from Abraxas to Zyzzyva.” He also co-founded and edited the poetry magazine Aldebaran Review, which ran from 1967 to 1978.
In 1989, Simon was awarded an Individual Artist’s Fellowship by the California Arts Council. He also received an NEA Fellowship in Translation for his work with the great Chilean surrealist poet Gonzalo Rojas (1917-2011). On Jan. 20, 2015, Simon’s contributions to the Bay Area writing and educational community were recognized by the city of Berkeley with “John Oliver Simon Day.” On May 14, 2016, the Berkeley Poetry Festival presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
As an educator, Simon devoted himself to teaching children to write poetry. He co-founded and taught at the People’s Community School in Berkeley, 1969-1973. He was a former president and board member of California Poets in the Schools (CalPoets) and served as the artistic director of Poetry Inside Out, a program of the Center for the Art of Translation. In 2013, he was named the River of Words Teacher of the Year by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass.
Despite not learning Spanish until the age of 40, Simon became a noted translator specializing in contemporary Latin American poetry. His cultural reporting was featured in Poetry Flash and American Poetry Review. In 2017, he traveled to Madrid to attend a conference of translators of Gonzalo Rojas.
In addition to his daily writing practice, Simon was an avid backpacker, kayaker, gardener, and baseball fan.
John Oliver Simon touched the lives of thousands with his teaching, friendship, and poems. Mexican poet Alberto Blanco wrote, “The poems of John Oliver Simon, like all true poems, trace a map, a psychography, which allows us to enter, not only into another life but into the voyage of that life, and not only into another culture, but into other cultures: into another point of view.”
Simon himself wrote, “Language is the central human invention, the hive which we are ceaselessly elaborating, even as I speak.”
A memorial service will be held at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, on Feb. 3rd, at 2 p.m.

Monday, January 15, 2018

John Oliver Simon dream

Last night (or rather, this morning) I dreamed that John Oliver Simon and I were on the road. I'm not sure where we were but it was something like New Mexico, or it could've been Nevada. I don't think it was Mexico. We were in a new white VW Beetle, crammed to the gills with all our gear. I must've been driving, because when we parked the car, he took my face in his hands, and tenderly kissed my cheek, saying, I love you. It was so tenderly sweet. He was so present. Not his ambivalent self. I said, I love you too.

We pulled into the driveway of a sagging two-story house that spoke of the Southwest. We clamered up the steps to meet some poets, and were talking for hours. I went out to get my camera gear and the car was gone. John joined me on the porch, as we looked all over the yard for the car.

Someone had stolen it with all our gear, electronics, cameras, clothes—everything. I was too shocked to be angry. Then as I looked around the yard, John had disappeared. I was alone, cameraless, in a strange town, in a strange state, or country, utterly alone, with no way home. He had left me. He had left me.

I awoke feeling utterly bereft. Abandoned. It was almost 4 AM, I couldn't go back to sleep.

That afternoon, as we were headed to Savers in Dublin to get rid of old clothes, and buy some new ones, I told Neil about the dream. I said I think it's a warning that John is dying. The doctors gave him a year or two, but I had a bad feeling. I couldn't shake John from my mind.

Next morning, Tina from CPITS called to tell me the news and I said, I already know. I could feel it. His leaving. She said he died between 2 and 3 AM on Tuesday. I knew. Irish clairvoyance at work. We dream of the dead. They come to us in dreams to say goodbye. Somehow I thought we'd have a little more time together.

I am so grateful we had such a sweet goodbye after our Emerson after school class on the eve of the Winter solstice. Complete and total melding into each other's arms. I said, I love you John. He said I love you too, Maureen. He didn't shove me away, or do the ambivalent hug.

He said, I want you to meet Susie. I haven't told her about our star-crossed path, but she knows about you. You'll come to our wedding. I said, I'm still wrapping my mind around that one. He laughed, and said, Yeah, me too. I held his face in my hands, and wished him well on his upcoming chemo. I said I will hold healing thoughts for you, We want to keep you for a good while longer. He laughed and said, Me too. That was the last time I saw John alive.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

TO SLEEP, perchance to dream (haiku)

TO SLEEP, perchance to dream (haiku)
Good news: I slept 8 hours last night.
Bad news: It's  2:30AM
So, how does the full night's sleep thing work?
What fresh hell is this?
Resist mid-winter, sleepless
& cranky as a bear.
I resorted to
watching Hawaii 5-0, 
worked like a charm. Zzzzzx. 
A rockabye shake
from a 4.5 quake
thus murdered sleep.
I strive for 7 hours sleep a night. So I was excited that I got in a full 8 hours on NYD eve (even if it was in two shifts), I woke up at 5:30 AM and was so tired, after 5 hours sleep, I actually went back to sleep until 9 AM, which is pretty rare.  

I don't want to embrace my sleeplessness at 3 AM. But I've been so tired, averaging 5-6 hours sleep a night. So I was excited that I got in a full 8 hours (in two shifts. Then, with a full 8 hours sleep under my belt, I couldn't go back to sleep last night. Pie owl-eyed.

Reading articles doesn't work, BTW, no matter how boring they are....

I can't nap. If I do, then I usually feel awful (hung-over), when I awaken. Then I have to redo the full morning wake-up routine at dinner time—sans tea (a miracle drug.) No flasks of tea are ever harmed after about 1 PM. 

It could've been the wee bit o midnight chocolate. Apparently I slept on a piece of fudge. (I do make a mean bittersweett fudge, flavored with Kahalua.) I don't recommend sleeping on bittersweett fudge, a batard adaption of a See's recipe from when my aunt worked at C&H. See's was a very good client. But when they sent her the bill, she nearly fainted, it was something like $250 in 1960s economy. So she sold copies of the recipe for $5 ea.

Why it's all such a big deal, besides being permanently cranky, if I don't get enough sleep, (7+ hours), then I fall prey to every virus that comes along. In fact, one of the signs that I'm getting a virus is when I nap! Two bad colds in December.

On second thought, it was probably the full wolf moon, as my bed is locked away in a dark recess, where no streetlights or moonlight falls, I'm extremely sensitive to light at night. But to be fair, I was editing photos til late last night, and that tends to amp me up, as it's such intense work.

If only I could schedule sleep...well, every once and a while I meet the sleep quota.

Preparing for The Big One, 'QUAKE! (and other qaiku)

Last night, or rather, this morning, I had just fallen asleep around 2 AM, but I had trouble sleeping as I was having odd pre-'quake symptoms—like before the 1989 6.9M Loma Prieta, and the 2014 6.0M Napa earthquakes struck. I felt ill all over right before this earthquake. A weird musty smell was wafting from the closet. It was so strong (something like mold hitching a ride on argon, or radon gas?), but the closet door was firmly shut. What's with that? I firmly resolved to clean up my bedroom.

I buried my head under the covers, but I could still smell it. The odor was coming up from the floorboards, and from under the bed. I was so queasy so I swigged some Pepto-Abysmol. But it was more than GI indigestion. I was uncomfortable all over, prickly, as if I wanted to run away from my own body. It was just like before the Loma Prieta, and Napa 'quakes. But I was also so tired, I just wanted to sleep.

I dozed off, then the earthquake struck, practically beneath my pillow. A magnitude 4.5M, and 8 miles deep, with the epicenter under the Claremont Hotel. OK, so the earthquake wasn't under my pillow, but it was less than 4 miles away. 

There was a big cataclysmic jolt, southwest to northeast, then when I ran to the door, the wooden  floor was undulating, making me stumble as I headed to the doorframe.  

A real bitch-slapper. It hit so hard, I thought there was no way there wouldn't be another aftershock. I was positive this was a precursor to The Big One. Nada. A one-off. I was thoroughly awake—but I found myself shakily counting quaiku syllables at 3AM. Most of the 8 million of us who call the Bay Area home, were awake at the same time.

Big 4.5M 'quake, Hayward Fault, Berkeley.
House lurched, a sharp jolt, but nothing fell.
And I was waiting for another strike.
A rockabye shake
from a 4.5 earthquake
it doth murder sleep.
Big 'quake slapped us awake
The house lurched, and settled down.
We wait for the Big One.
I invent a new poetic art form
quaiku haiku—after the quake—
to measure a magnitude of words.
Jack Gilder asks: So, how's that insomnia coming along? I had to laugh as I got a rare 8-hours'-worth of sleep NYD eve, only to be up all hours last night. Again. We're a right buncha loony nightowls on FB. I wrote back:
Good news: I slept 8 hours last night.
Bad news: It's now 2:30 in the morning.
So, how does the full night's sleep thing work? 
The problem is that the Hayward Fault north of Berkeley has not budged in more than 175 years, meanwhile the bottom end of the fault from Fremont to Oakland is creeping north at about one-fifth of an inch a year. And the San Andreas Fault, which moves north about 1.5 to 2 inches a year, is dragging the Hayward Fault along with it. This can't end well.

The last major earthquake on the Hayward Fault was October 21st, 1868, flattening Hayward (then the Alameda County seat), and San Francisco. The estimated 6.8M temblor was called the "Great Earthquake" until April, 1906, when it lost its heavyweight title. I imagine Santa Rosa too sustained significant damage, as the Rogers' Fault may actually be the Hayward Fault. Since the Hayward Fault has erupted on average, every 140 years, we're all sitting ducks waiting for The Big One.

The last big middle of the night temblor was the 6.0M Napa earthquake, Aug. 24, 2014. I was visiting a friend in Point Reyes at the time and was flung from his couch. We thought the San Andreas Fault had ruptured. A brand new fault was discovered, much of Napa was destroyed, and a lot of wine was spilled.

You can bet I went through the food cabinets the next day to check my food stores. And I carefully restacked my wine—preparing for The Big One.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


I hear mayhem and people cooing in the street
like fat pigeons strutting in figure eights.
I'm playing a useless messiah line 
in my head like a broken record.

Is that the slender rain I hear
thrumming a staccato beat
after having gone missing in the fall,
and all the the winter too?
The sirens, our city bred wolves, 
begin a lonesome chorus.

We danced to fallen embers
and we breathed the hellish smoke,
while the infernos raged, both north & south,
and we wondered who was left to count
among the missing and the dead.
The cats of Coffey Park keep close vigil
where their home hearths once stood.
When the wind blows, love letters,
in the form of singed pages of books
continue to fall from the sky.

So many of homeless, and so many more,
living in parking lots, under bushes, and underpasses.
They say that after the fires died back
their hearts were still intact.
But the ranks have swelled like an angry river
at full flood. King tides and new rain
under a full werewolf moon.
O welcome. Welcome, Rain! Oh!

3 Jan 2018

Happy Perihelion Day!

Happy Perihelion Day! Today, tho it be mid-winter,
the earth (in the northern hemisphere) is close to the sun
than any other day of the year. Let there be light.
Let Apollo race his chariot across the sky.
And may his pale horses fly like the wind.