Saturday, October 31, 2020

And now The Big Tam, RIP, 007

And now The Big Tam. RIP, 007. there can be only one.

The Irish sure pick their days to depart. My grandmother, mother, and brother all departed during this time when the gates to the Otherworld are open. The banshee always came when my grandmother’s siblings died. She found my grandmother in California. The bean sídhe, the woman of the Sídhe has no borders, other than the the liminal boundaries of the otherworld. Tonight she freely roams both worlds.

And now 007. The only real 007. We will miss you, Big Tam. Yesh. There’s a simple bronze place on the building where he was born in Edinburgh. An auld fellah ambled over to us and told stories of Tom (his first name) the milkman, as he was known in his youth.... 

One of my favorite stories of Sean Connery was that he was visiting a friend in Marin, and she  needed to pick up a few things at the Mill Valley Safeway so he was pushing the cart for her while she grabbed items from the shelves. People would stop and stare, then shake their heads in disbelief, and leave the store, mystified.

Oh, my.... a fit 40ish Bond in a red loincloth. I don’t think the loincloth ever recovered from being such an intimate costar. Or coaster. Shaken, not stirred, I’m sure. The irony was, that Sir Sean couldn’t get any rolls in films after being typecast, then decommissioned as 007 by The Home Office. So, he starred in some rather dodgy B grade movies, and was the better for it, as he made a comeback as a bald man, making bald beautiful. Who knew! There can be only one. Yesh.

And for the record, Sean (his middle name) was of Irish descent, born in Scotland. His great grandfather was a Wexford Irish traveller who fled to Glasgow during the Great Famine. Sean’s father never gave up his Irish Catholic roots. The Irish Scots settled in the toughest slum, the Barrows, or The Barras, as they were called, which made New York’s Hell’s Kitchen look like candy floss. Glasgow was one mean city. Most of the Barrow has been razed in the process of urban sanitization.

The great-grandson of an Irish Wexford traveler, Sean traveled far into the world and to the outer reaches of the galaxy. But his Irish accent sucked. RIP, big fella. There can be only one. Yesh.

Go n-éirí on bóthar leis. May the roads rise with him...

On learning Irish

I learned some Irish from my grandmother, and studied Gaelic league Irish on my own. Then I tried all the tapes, from Buntas cainte to God knows what. Learned to say there are eels in my hovercraft. Not a useful phrase. Better than the donkeys and goats phrases. Then I took a summer immersion course on modern Irish at UC Berkeley. I have never worked harder in my life, some of it stuck, most of it fled, screaming for its life. Sometimes, if the wind blows right, I can actually read Irish. But God help me if I have to speak it, or worse, understand it if spoken to me. I can however bibble-babble niceties when pressed. I can even fool enough people into thinking I speak fluent Irish. I also took the year of ancient Irish where we translated the medieval Epics. I was lousy at it but I loved it. I remember the moment when I translated Cuchulain saying the enemy of your enemy is my friend. Goosebumps on my arms the size of mountains.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020



After weeks of scanning photos 

and poems resurrected from the past, 

revisiting old ghosts, and tropes, 

from a time when poetry was new, 

remembering when we sat at the feet 

of Diane Di Prima at the old Zen Center on Fell street, 

and we slid into the slick canyons of words, 

while Loba paced the streets, she said the writer’s life

is a balancing act, juggling disparate entities.

Frances asks me to write something, and I am so lost

in the technical jungle of negatives and proofs

and the way silver bromide outfoxes the lens,

chopping off the hands of dead poets, 

McClure, Rexroth, a weird sacrilege.

All I can think of is how to save these archives, 

the past is an albatross weight around my neck.

As the ash fell like snow, we learned new words: 

ember fire, and stomped on the burning souls of trees.

I cannot find the right words.

I keep thinking I should write something

but the blank page snarls and drools.

Crouches, slinks off into the night,

eyes burning like coals.


Remembering Diane diPrima

College classmates Jack Crimmins and Gregg Lowe were reminiscing around the death of Beat poet, Diane diPrima, who once read with Elizabeth Herron in Cotati when Loba was first published. At Sonoma State College, 1979-80, we resurrected a defunct reading series, called the Public Poetry Center, where we hosted community readings with local poets paired with luminaries including Michael McClure, whom Jack introduced, Lewis MacAdams, Joanne Kyger and Bobbie Louise Hawkins at the Cotati Cabaret and the Inn of the Beginning.

As Jack and Gregg reminisced, I realized I was quickly being written out of the collective post-narrative, and it was my project. So I did a diPrima, I chimed in, and reclaimed the past, and then I realized I’ve never properly documented the project, as I was living in the moment producing events.

I told Jack, Yep, The Public Poetry Center, the idea, or concept was to bridge the gap between the writer community and the isolated university. I wasn’t entirely happy with the name, I think it was something my professor, poet David Bromige had coined, but it stuck, and served its purpose. Before that, there wasn’t much going on at Sonoma State. Jack said he came up with the title.

Our job was to resurrect SSU’s defunct Public Poetry Center and to create a liaison between the university and the community We hosted campus literary and art events for the English Dept., The College of the Humanities and the ASUC InterCultural Center. We also had to negotiate around David Bromige who wanted to present a very different poetry scene.

I began booking readings as an undergraduate art student, after attending The Child in Changing Times Conference in either June of 1978 (I don’t have a notebook for 1978, and so, can’t look it up) and/or another conference in 1979, The Arts in Everyday Living (they could be one and the same conference), that changed my life’s direction. It was hosted by the SSU Dept. of Psychology, coordinated by Terry Doyle, psychologist, and poets Michael Dow and Lee Perron who both taught for an organization that would literally change my life, California Poets in the Schools (CPITS). 

The organizers were setting up kiosks with photos of children, and their poetry. I had my calligraphy kit on me and offered to make signs. I was the signmaker for the Sonoma Student Union. Once they saw that I could make huge banners, they roped me in, made me part of the conference. 

• Summer Workshop: A conference on developing more effective, loving relationships with children, Growing Up Sane: The Child in Changing Times, will be offered at Sonoma State College from June 22 to 25, 1978. The conference will provide new insights, practical skills and usable methods in raising and educating children. For information call Neil Schifiman, 565-9280. 

That conference is also how I got roped into both the Russian River Writers’ Guild, and CPITS at the same time, via poet Lee Perron. Anyway, by circumstance, or by accident, I became the default student liaison between the university and the Russian River Writers’ Guild. The Cotati Cabaret was off campus, and it drew much large crowds. (Besides, there was booze). The other tenant was that we always paid the poets, no matter no small the stipend was....

The Arts in Everyday Living: The Real Basis of Education Conference, 28 June - 1 July, sponsored by Sonoma State University, Office of Extended Education. The workshops and an ongoing art project are geared toward teachers, parents, administrators, artists, counselors and community members. Kenneth Rexroth, poet and critic, and Jose Arguellos, educator, artist and writer will be the featured main speakers. Also included are an Arts Festival and Resource Center. For further information, contact the Office of Extended Education at SSU, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, CA 94928 or call (707)664-2394. 

Ultimately that Arts in Everyday Living conference was where I was first exposed to accessible personal narrative poetry that even kids could write. Hooked, I took to the streets running: I undertook the equivalent of a second BA in Expressive Arts, a cluster school offshoot of the psychology department, along with my BA in Art Studio (my connection with the English Dept. was a bit of a fluke), and I trained to become a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools. 

CPITS Area Coordinator for SoNapa counties, (we called it SOCPITS) Michael Dow’s writing workshops were vitally alive and I wanted more, but I was also simultaneously taking poetry workshops with David Bromige, so to ameliorate the schism, I created a bridge of sorts between the three groups to make sense of it all. It was an octopuses eight-handed nightmare, as I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. Besides, I was an art student.

Without poetry I never would’ve gone back to school as I had dropped out of SFSU, and was floundering around at Sonoma State trying to finish my BA degree in Art Studio at a school where few art classes were being offered. Luckily, both David Bromige and Psychology chair, jazz musician, “Red” Thomas became my SSU liaisons. But the English/poetry department and the Expressive Arts department, even though it was a cluster school, were not connected at the hip, or anywhere at all. So that was yet another matchstick bridge to build. When I landed in Expressive Arts, I felt I had finally come home.

“Red” Thomas, more than anyone, gave me belief in myself and lent credence to what I was doing, even if I hadn’t a clue as to what it was. He gave me blanket permission to “follow my passion.” What stayed with me were those weekly seminars, group meetings when we had to report back to our peers our successes and failures.  I was always so terrified but poetry was this large brontosaurus rucking round the room, I was merely holding on for dear life. Even tho I wasn’t officially in the program, I joined in. It was like a 12-step program for enabling artists and poets in their communities. “Red” Thomas and Mac McCreary were at the epicenter of change.

And because we didn’t know any better, we all dreamed big, and that’s how Diane Di Prima came to SSU to give a workshop and a reading—either in the fall of 1979, or the spring of 1980. Her exploration, and navigation of the feminine archetype as a she-wolf, a hunter of lost things, became my mantra. Her epistolary manifestos in Revolutionary Letters gave us permission to address the universe not just as participants, but as activist poets on the cusp of change.

Some say that she wrote Loba as a counterpoint to Ginsberg’s Howl. None of that matters. She was a woman before her time, and she ran with the wolves long before it was a concept. I took workshops with her in June, 1979, at the SF Zen Center, a converted Victorian flat. Her open narrative process allowed us to generate our own major arcana of mythos and symbolism unimpeded by the tight corners of male-dominated academia.

Another college classmate, Rebecca Clintron reminisced, Diane was palpable, she was elegant Wildness itself bringing 'Loba' workshop to us almost immediately upon publication, fresh and clear w a subdued gravitas. what i recall most poignantly was her speaking of the 'vulnerability of youth' (our ignorance and openness) was nothing compared to the vulnerability of an aging woman in our culture, approaching cronehood. i recognize now that she was barely into middle age!”

Jack answered, “ Rebecca, very cool, your recollections of Diane...thank you..."Wildness"...! Diane's book "Loba" such an important cross-cultural, mythopoetic long poem, written over years, added to as she went, and as Diane said, as she heard the poem voices emerging, a poem that powerfully explores feminine consciousness and cool Diane was out teaching early and throughout her life.”

There is a woman whose poems are bread & meat 
hyacinth nightmare crepe paper 
I close a window, she is not reflected in it 
but I see her silhouette against the glass 
she is crisp as ice, is soft 
as russian vowels”

Diane diPrima, Loba

From Altar, Diane diPrima's workshop, SF Zen Center, June 1979.

From the Naropa broadsides 1974

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

My Covid project, scanning old negatives

My crazy scanning set up. I use John Oliver Simon’s cranky 2010 Canon Lide 210 scanner to scan the proofsheets, it rarely wants to actually work so I have to cajole it. Then I load the negatives into the film strip holders for the big Epson 550 scanner (from 2013), processing both proofsheet and images at the same time on my elderly 2010 MacBookPro, which has its challenges (not to mention mine, from multitasking), then I file everything. 

Since the software and technology are a decade old, the process is cranky and slow, if I unplug anything, if I sneeze, fart, or look cross-eyed, things quit working. They all need massaging, ego boosts, and replacing, if not downright retirement, as we are all at least a decade older than dirt naps. If I’m lucky, I can scan 10 proof sheets of negatives a day, the average tends to be around six. It takes about an hour to scan, edit/crop, and file each sheet of negatives (about 20-35 images per sheet). Whaddya mean you forgot to flip the negatives upside down and backwards? Rescan.

I am nearly finished with my negatives from when I worked at The Paper into the digital age. Next up, the Slug Fest, and the Russian River Jazz Fest. I have a box of negatives of travel photos and another big box of poet photos on deck—some of which I’ve done scanned, but it’s still a lot of work. The old Epson scanner is challenged by low light imagery and chops people up like Mad Sweeney Todd. I’ve tried scanning the negatives directly but that doesn’t work either. 

I always knew that I’d eventually have to deal with my negatives but after having to pack them up for three evacuations, three boxes weighing at least 30 pounds each (all that silver bromide), I decided that now is the time to do it even if I don’t have the right equipment. I really want the better scanner before I tackle the poets. So many times I took photos of people because I like the way it looked, or the lighting intrigues me, I often didn’t know who they were. I sure have a lot of photos of Norton Buffalo hamming it up.

Jerry Downs tossed a closetfull  of slides... I loved the photo of him in the dumpster under an avalanche of slides but I was also aghast. I replied, well, I’ve been scanning all my old negatives and I’m glad I did, rather than toss them— as I found photos I never printed and in several cases, didn’t even know I had taken photos of—including Robin Williams and Emmylou Harris. But having to evacuate three times with three heavy boxes of negatives, plus several boxes and crates of writing and art nearly killed me as several flights of stairs were involved. I took a few days off from scanning, I’m burned out, but every time someone asks if there’s a fire, I feel the urge to redouble my efforts.

I am still waiting for the perfect refurbished Epson Perfection 850 to be in stock (but they are rare as hen’s teeth), so that I can do a decent job of the poet photos. My budget is a shoestring. I need a GoFundMe. I will need a wet mount easel to scan some of the photos—like with the Robin Williams photos. I am learning as I go. No manuals for this stuff. Some images I will need to rescan. 

At night all I dream about, is editing and filing problem negatives... and finding lost ones. Then there are the pages I didn’t date, thinking I’d the Forestville Poison Oak Festival, because there are male strippers wearing masks and little else on that roll. Sadly, some of the negatives I was looking for, specifically Brownie Mary, Tony Serra, and Dennis Perón have not turned up, and since I am down to a handful of files, they were probably nicked by the same jerk who took my Ella Fitzgerald photos.

What I’ve learned is that you can’t pick and choose, the only way out is through, begin anywhere, as long as you begin—and there are no shortcuts, I’ve found them all... Ah, but the treasures I am uncovering! So, what is your Covid project?

Friday, October 16, 2020

Aaron Shaw photos

I remember when I first met Aaron Shaw of the Wicked Tinkers during the San Francisco Caledonian Club Highland games, or was it Seaside? circa late 1990s, we got to talking, and I kept having this nagging feeling that I had met him somewhere before. I have a good memory for faces. I never could place it so I figured he must’ve looked like somebody I knew. And it was merely a coincidence. And then when I was scanning old negatives, there he was. Since I have photos of him in a few different spots at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds clearly I spent some time following him around with my camera.

Aaron Shaw, 1982 SFCC Games, Santa Rosa. I've known him a whole lot longer than I thought! Scanning all my old negatives. Oy! Found a slew of pix of him, Peter Capp playing piobaireachd too. What a rollercoaster. I must admit I did a double-take as I was scanning those negatives, never expecting to find anyone I knew, other than Bill Merriman. Obviously I was following Aaron around, as I have several shots in other places. All out of focus.....

Confirmed: Aaron Shaw and Francis Elheran. And Cutty Sark’s knickers. There's enough sleeve there to go into the sailmaking business! Just a few years ago. Yeah.

Friday, October 9, 2020


 Something I found in my note—sometimes I dictate to my iPad’s Notes app while driving the backroads to Sam’s. 

Molly blamed herself for the old cat launching up to snag a hummingbird at the feeder. That cat who can barely bring himself to the next sunny spot on the rug, and curl up properly, needed that strange inner, fire, the soul of the war god just to make it through the day. 


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bad scanner day

As if the appearance of a brace of morning vultures weren’t enough, my not so perfect Epson Perfection scanner was going AWOL. As I scanned old b&w negatives, it refused to scan certain images, it either chopped them up, or  cropped half frames, or scanned them too dark. I was too tight to buy the Cadillac model and now it's payback time. Now, they were perfectly good images. Not overexposed or underexposed. 

First, it chopped off my head, and then it nibbled the top off a man’s head. He had really nice hair. Then in the next image, it whacked off the entire top of his head. Wow. My scanner is either possessed or taking instructions from Dr. Frankenstein. The guy with the hair didn’t deserve that. He was someone whom I vaguely knew, someone who once took my photo a long time ago. And I took his. A mutual snapfest. Our photos were next to each other in a portrait exhibit at the Falkirk Center. 

I deliberated what to do with the scanner, aside from drop-kicking it out the window. I reset everything, no luck. Repeat. Still no luck. I went through every setting and function. I even reinstalled the software. The demented auto trim button was stuck on, and greyed out.

The scanner kept chopping up my negatives like Mad Sweeney Todd—it chopped off Carolyn Forché‘s hands, Carolyn Kizer’s nose, Michael McClure‘s entire body. I couldn’t even get Kenneth Rexroth‘s face to appear. It ghosted on me. I tried everything I could think of—from drawing on the edges of the negatives with Sharpies, to masking them out with tape but nothing worked. 

To be fair, I often shot low light images in chiaroscuro mode—I like intense black and white. Especially when I’m shooting in poet mode. Maybe my scanner is stealing small pieces of their souls and is planning an ad hoc poetry assemblage TBA. The scanner is demented. My friend Miceál suggest ordering an online exorcist session.

Then I discovered that if I chose the normal “no thumbnail” option on the preview marquee, I could scan the entire strip of negatives. Not the best solution. But apparently switching from marquee to film strip resolved the head-on-the-chopping-block problem. Not practical, but it works. It also reset the auto trim button. Lo, as I flipped the Epson setting back to marquee mode, so I could make separate prints, the negatives appeared in their dusty glory. 

Back to that guy with the great hair. Luckily I had written his first name on the proof sheet, but that’s all I wrote. What was I thinking? I can’t even remember people‘s last names. Except for Chester Arnold’s name, who was also there, but he has two first names in a row. He also entered so many pieces, he stole the show. Then I noticed I had taken a photo of the guy in question holding up a check. He had sold one of his photos and there was his name right on the check, Jay Daniel. 

You know I had to look him up on Facebook. And damned if I didn’t find him, and we had friends in common: Mark Adler, Andy Giddings. Who is this guy? Then I discovered I went to high school with him. Oops. Oh dear. Ok, you gotta admit it’s been a very long time since 1985. Or 1970. So naturally I befriended him. He probably doesn’t remember me either. But you gotta admit Facebook works in mysterious ways. So does my scanner. 

I can limp along with the Epson imPerfection v.550 scanner to scan the rest of the news stories—my big Covid project. But I’m afraid the poet archives will have to wait for a better scanner as it’s also not the sharpest lens in the toolbox. I will need to rescan the images I want to keep. Perhaps it’s time for a GoFundMe?

All these photos should have the same greyscale value.

A two-vulture day


Feeling a bit under the weather. Not one, but two vultures—are loitering outside my window. Should I be concerned? The weather is foggy with a threat of grounded vultures and a slight promise of rain.

I do love watching vultures—amazing birds. When the first vulture landed, he was peering my direction. It was comical because the branch he landed on is so tiny, and he was such a big boy that it was bobbing up and down as if he were riding a possessed sea-saw. His head was contra-bobbing up and down as if he sought equilibrium on a bilious sea or he was doing the Egyptian.

It’s an overcast day, portent of rain, all the birds are flying low, even the ravens, the poor creatures have lost much of their habitat because of the fires. These young vultures—their heads are not red, but grey (I learned that from Geoff)—are intently watching the road. It could be that one of the chickens got run over. Again. Not the same chicken each time. But the chickens tend to get terribly excited when they’re let out of the coop, and, yes, Virginia, they do cross the road. And you know what that leads to.... Bugs, ya know.

I guess I’m safe for now. They flew off—the vultures, not the chickens. Did you know chickens can only fly for 13 seconds? All that white breast meat, they’re devolving towards flightlessness like the Carol dodo.

Perhaps I’m atoning for past sins. Once, long ago, I tried to scavenge some vulture wings. The cats sometimes left presents—dead birds at my doorstep. I figured, the least I could do was to photograph and draw them. Small ones, mind you. Not whole vultures. It began innocently enough—a yellow-shafted flicker took my breath away—he was my first real study. I’d never seen anything quite like him up close like that. 

I’ve also scooped up birds struck down in the middle of backroads and given them more fitting burials. A bluejay, I couldn’t bear to see all that extraordinary blueness of sky lufting down the middle of the road. Ok, so maybe I did nick a tail feather or two for the dashboard. They help my car to fly down the road. Right now I have a fall bouquet of wild turkey, barn owl, bluejay, and raven feathers. Molly said it was a female barn owl. Hoo knows?

That vulture was dead, he didn’t need his feathers anymore. I tossed it in the back of my truck. I had planned  to make an assemblage to Raymond Barnhart as an homage. What struck me was how hard it was to cut his wing off. The vulture’s, not Raymond’s. And the sheer size of those outspread wings was extraordinary. I took photos and left it at that. I was in over my head. I couldn’t even pluck wing feathers. But I did admire his strange beauty. His skeletal head. The dendritic perfection of those rows of wing feathers. I took my photos and then buried him in the orchard.

Katie astutely notes that today’s vultures are looking the other way.  She says, If they turn around, start doing your jazz-er-size. I can’t tell if it’s allergies or if I’m warding off a cold. No fever. Congestion. A little achy. I’ve been scanning old negatives for days and one folder was quite musty. Photos of a bright lemon finchy bird struck down by a car, that I meant to draw, but never got around to it. And I began to sneeze horrifically yesterday—it could be allergies. Trouble is, I can’t tell until it’s too late. So I’m laying low. Not quite as low as those vultures would prefer, though. 

Maybe I should go back and finish what I started, and draw that poor dead bird. Maybe then, Molly can identify it. The next folder I grabbed from my to scan pile, contained the negatives of Raymond’s vulture. Synchronicity works in strange ways. What would Lew Welch say?

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Learning quirks

Jannie Dresser asked about writing in long-hand, she loves the feeling of moving her hand and ink across paper. But at one point, we need to transcribe our  poems from journals to digital format. She asks how we manage. I’m not sure when the transition from journal writing to writing digitally occurred, probably after my 1997 car accident. Was just too difficult to write, yet the rhythm and physical act of writing soothes my soul. It doesn’t help that I have several odd learning quirks including dysgraphia, dyslexia, and some form of aural aphasia. I took calligraphy in college and it helped to iron out some of those kinks. But then I got in a car accident and it all came tumbling back. Perhaps the worst thing was beginning my Latinate words at the third syllable, so I’d have to unwrap my writing like a strange fruit. That’s when I switched over to the Mac. And it was a major revelation, especially the revision part. Pure magic. Like writing writing longhand. My calligraphy has given me elegant handwriting as well. Before, it was very choppy-leaning left, right. I do miss not writing in longhand but I don’t miss the struggle. And lately I’ve taking it a step further, dictation but it is fraught with all kinds of strange errors, and unhappy word combinations I would never dream up in a million years.