can‘t stop the beat

THE LIFE AND WORDS O F A B E AT P O E T

ruth weiss

“‘You’re what jazz and poetry are all about!’ I shouted at ruth weiss, rushing the stage after thrilling to her performance at Stockholm’s 1998 Spoken Word Festival. My first encounter with ‘the Goddess of the Beats’ continues today as she establishes herself as one of the few female giants who led the birth of Beatitude. Names appear—from Ginsberg to Kerouac to Lamantia—but in ruth’s ritualistic and evocative Can’t Stop the Beat, it’s the music tradition of acknowledging ‘personnel’—as she summons the sidemen with whom this feisty innovator crossed swords and arms. Sayin’ it plain: ever the rebel, ruth weiss embodies the sound. Live bebop become bebop. ruth weiss is speaking louder than ever! Listen with your heart!” — Wanda Coleman, the L.A. Blueswoman, Recipient, the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, Nominee, Poet Laureate, State of California, 2005

“This book is an outstanding read for those who want to illuminate as they create. It’s a journey of an outstanding Beat poet, ruth weiss, who gave birth to her extraordinary talent after surviving extraordinary circumstances . . . It’s a journey of how her artistic spirit grew mixing her free form of improvisational words with the beat of blues and bebop as though she was born directly into the inner world of jazz.” — Lloyd Clayton, President of the Board of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum

“Jazz-poet-performer ruth weiss lived the lore of many of her associates in the Beat literary-arts movement. She’s a tenacious survivor and anomaly, being female, foreign born: Berlin (whose family escaped the Nazis by coming to the U.S. of A.), and fiercely independent. This fragmented Memoir-cum-Poetry gives a pungent and moving sense of her life and times.” — Anne Waldman, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa University

“This is a beautiful book, created with reverence for a woman who has lived as an artist for over 60 years, and whose many talents broke down the barriers between word, film, song, painting, and theater.” — Randy Roark, author of Dissolve: Screenplays to the Films of Stan Brakhage and apprentice to Allen Ginsberg 1979-1997

“The publication of this book is enormously important. It resurrects important details of the life of one of the seminal figures of the beat movement, ruth weiss. Divine Arts presents selections from weiss’ entire oeuvre never before published, including a newly discovered text of the late 1950s. Part travel journal and part surreal dreamscape, no text of the beat era captures Mexico with more authenticity and immediacy than weiss’s 80-page COMPASS. The pages of this book turn themselves. Simply stated, you won’t be able to put it down.” — Matt Gonzalez, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors

“I first heard many of the stories in Can’t Stop The Beat sitting with ruth late nights after a gig in Tommy’s Joynt on the corner of Geary and Van Ness in San Francisco. With beer and food on the table, ruth would pull out her journal and read. I was astounded not only by the words and the jazz inherent in them but also by the history of a generation. ruth weiss was far ahead of most by infusing film and music and poetry in her performances. Her time has finally arrived, especially with the genius that shines through in Can’t Stop The Beat.” — Earl LeClaire, Poet, Sugar Grove, North Carolina

“Can’t Stop the Beat offers indelible evidence that the beat, indeed, goes on. And who better to demonstrate this dancing continuity than ruth weiss, a pioneer in joining poetry and jazz in a radical vernacular that helped melt the frozen heart of American Cold War culture and blew open new portals for exploration. ruth’s work remains as lucid, instructive, and lush with sensuous delight as it was in 1950. All praise to Divine Arts for refreshing our acquaintance with this neglected American original.” — Jim Dodge, author of Fup, Not Fade Away, Stone Junction, Rain on the River

can’t stop the beat
THE LIFE AND WORDS O F A B E AT P O E T

ruth weiss
with an Introduction by Horst Spandler

Published by DIVINE ARTS DivineArtsMedia.com An imprint of Michael Wiese Productions 12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111 Studio City, CA 91604 (818) 379-8799, (818) 986-3408 (FAX) Cover design by Johnny Ink. www.johnnyink.com Copyediting by Marsha D. Phillips Book Layout by William Morosi Printed by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., Saline, Michigan BLOWS LIKE A HORN: BEAT WRITING, JAZZ, STYLE, AND MARKETS IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF U.S. CULTURE by Preston Whaley Jr., pp. 65, 70, 80, 81, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2004 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Quotes used by permission from the copyright holder. excerpts from I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU BLACK previously published in — MATRIX #2, POETRY at the 33, BEATITUDE #35, CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS AUTOBIOGRAPHIES VOL. 24, BOMBAY-GIN, DISCOURSE, AWAA-TE #4, SAN FRANCISCO READER, OUTLAW MAGAZINE, LE JOURNAL DE POETES, the books SINGLE OUT & FULL CIRCLE excerpts from COMPASS previously published in — BEATITUDE #4, SEMINA 5, the book SINGLE OUT TEN TEN previously published in — THE CAFE REVIEW #13, IRA NOWINSKI’S SAN FRANCISCO POETS, POLITICS and DIVAS POST-CARD 1995 previously published in — POETRY at the 33, WOMEN of the BEAT GENERATION, POETRY NOW Manufactured in the United States of America Copyright © 2011 ruth weiss, cover photograph © Ingeborg Gerdes/Dennis Hearne All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. First Edition, 5 copies signed and numbered by the author. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data weiss, ruth, 1928Can’t stop the beat : the life and words of a Beat poet / ruth weiss ; with an introduction by Horst Spandler. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-1-61125-001-5 I. Spandler, Horst. II. Title. PS3573.E4164A6 2011 811’.54--dc22 2011002827 Printed on Recycled Stock

CONTENTS

quotes from BLOWS LIKE A HORN by Preston Whaley . . . . . . . . . . . . . viii Introduction by Horst Spandler: ruth weiss and the American Beat Movement of the ’50s and ’60s . . . . ix TEN TEN (1990) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU BLACK (1993) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 PHOTOS OF THE POET . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79 POST-CARD 1995 (1995) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95 COMPASS (1958) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99 About ruth weiss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .179 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .181

QUOTES FROM Blows Like a Horn: Beat Writing, Jazz, Style, and Markets in the Transformation of U.S. Culture

“More than most of the Beat writers, weiss’s art marks the collision of white biography on the fringe with African American culture. weiss uses the poem to enter language from every portal. Every syntactical unit is a window into alternative arrangements of poetic line. She looses syntactical units from their functionary straightjackets. weiss has no yen for a golden mean between the subjective and objective … she cracks the opaque glass of sense and arranges the pieces … for a body seeking a look, a tone, a rhythm, and a feeling. weiss’s art throws a party for the senses. It invites the multimedia of jazz and other sounds — composed, improvised, found, and aleatory — painting, and film. It works the crowd and dances with all of the guests. weiss’s forty-minute experimental film The Brink (1961), particularly, demonstrates those aims. Bob Kaufman and ruth weiss … also wrote from the boundary, the very brink of selfhood. They displaced and deconstructed the self in order to cross the boundary. The next generation would cross back with a counterculture of new spirituality, environmental consciousness, civil rights, black power, and feminism. The markets did not follow Kaufman and weiss. They were shy of promoting minorities and art that did not master and signify. Nevertheless, Kaufman and weiss drew upon vernacular style and jazz and quite radically opened up performance spaces for new identities and community. They helped transform U.S. culture.” Preston Whaley Jr. 2004

ruth weiss AND THE AMERICAN BEAT MOVEMENT OF THE ’50s AND ’60s

ruth weiss was there. She was there before the literary fireworks exploded, sparked off by the writers of the Beat Generation in San Francisco. One of her maxims is that one should try to be in the right place at the right time. Her advice to some junior high school students from a suburb of Linz, who interviewed her during her visit to Austria (in connection with the holocaust documentary project, A Letter to the Stars), was: “timing is what matters,” and she added: “approach foreigners and events and so on with an open mind and see what they can offer to you.” In 1952, ruth weiss acted very much in accordance with her philosophy. At age 24, she went to San Francisco because the reputation of the city as a cultural and ethnic melting pot appealed to her. She sensed the right moment for a change of place and made her decision. Perhaps ruth acquired this special ability during events that left their mark on her childhood. Most likely she wouldn’t have survived if her parents hadn’t had a fine feel for the necessities and possibilities of the political and historical situation: They left Berlin, her birthplace, without hesitating too long, just in time to escape the imminent threat of Nazi terror. When it started to get dangerous in Vienna, the family made the right decision once more and just made it to the last train to freedom that saved their lives.

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After a period characterized by moving from one place to the other (after residing in New York, Iowa, Chicago, Switzerland and New Orleans for relatively short spans of time), ruth weiss’ search for new roots finally took her to San Francisco. The city appealed to her because it reminded her of Vienna in many ways. Settling in California, which was to become her new home country, meant a first step towards more continuity in her life and better chances to develop her creative skills. To understand the role of the artists in the U.S. during the ’50s, it is necessary to look at the state of its society. It was the time of the Cold War, of political tensions, and nuclear threat in connection to the realistic danger of a coming world war. In American society this scenario created an atmosphere of collective phobia, which led to a nasty communist hunt under the command of Senator McCarthy, during which the term “communist” was applied to freethinkers, intellectuals and artists of all kinds. In this fear-filled climate, and after all the hardship of the war years, many citizens believed that an escape to a better world was possible through consuming whatever the booming industry of the country provided. However, for critical or sensitive souls, this attitude equalled a descent into an intellectual wasteland, which they decided to oppose with wit and creativity. To be effective, they needed retreats and the community of like-minded people. In those days the North Beach quarter of San Francisco became an oasis for many artists. For the bohemians, this part of the city, on which the Italian inhabitants had originally left their stamp, was not only interesting in terms of atmosphere due to its many cafés, bars and restaurants, but also in practical terms because of the many venues, possibilities for exhibitions, and jobs it had to offer. It was an extraordinary place for meeting other people and

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for the exchange of thoughts, and therefore a breeding ground for new ideas and their realization, thereby creating the basis that transformed the city into the capital of alternative movements in the late sixties. This quarter became ruth weiss’ home turf. In poetic sketches, anecdotes and several poems, she outlines the impressions of her encounter with the city and links them with street names, buildings, artist hang-outs, individuals and experiences. Spurred by the urban atmosphere and the extraordinary possibilities it offered, while driven by the powers of an emotional fermentation process, which asked for expression with increasing intensity, ruth weiss’ long-felt calling to become a poet became more concrete. She had already written poems as a child and destroyed a biography begun in her teens — put plainly — she had always written. But now her poetic potential erupted in a more powerful way. One source of inspiration was her encounters with other artists, as in the North Beach bars where she worked as a waitress. Since this quarter was the major meeting point for local and visiting artists and outsiders, it comes as no surprise that ruth weiss soon came in contact with persons who were to strike it big under the handy expression, Beat Generation, only a few years later. The term had already come up in a conversation between young writers, Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes, in 1948, and was destined to name not only a circle of writers, but a whole generation, but it took some time to spread to the public. ruth weiss’ and Kerouac’s paths crossed in 1955. By then Kerouac had published just one book: The Town and the City (1950). Two more years were to pass until On the Road made him famous. As ruth weiss stresses, they were not lovers, luckily, she believes, because their relationship would not have been as relaxed as it was.

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Kerouac’s visits to her place followed a certain routine. He would show up late at night with a bottle of wine, and they would talk about everything under the sun: about writing streams of consciousness; his technique of sketching with words (i.e. catching moments in a way painters do), which he developed in those years, and writing haiku together. Expressing herself in this short form derived from Japanese literature became one of ruth weiss’ longlasting passions. The poems received a special note by the water colors she added to them. Jack Kerouac’s collected haiku appeared in 2004. Unfortunately, none from this early stage of experimenting with the form were included for they did not survive. ruth weiss reports Kerouac’s comments on her poems: “You write better haiku than I do.” The nightly visits regularly ended with Kerouac passing out drunk on the floor, but often sleeping no later than sunrise when Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s friend, whom he immortalized in his novels On the Road and Visions of Cody as the prototype of the Beat hero, often knocked at the door. Off the three would go on wild Beat style joy rides (pretty much like the ones described in Kerouac’s books), on the serpentine roads of Portrero Hill — rides which ruth weiss cannot remember without going goose-pimply. She believes she owes her life to there hardly being any oncoming traffic on those blind curves so early in the morning. ruth weiss also became acquainted with Allen Ginsberg in the early stages of the Beat era. She was even his predecessor in her apartment on 1010 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. For reasons incomprehensible to ruth, their relationship was full of tensions from the beginning, even downright hostile on Ginsberg’s part. Two memories from her trove of anecdotes shed light on their relationship: one deals with a poetry reading, during which Ginsberg

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pushed her down a ladder for no reason; the other, with the last time they met. In 1996, during a stay in New York in connection with the exhibition, “Beat Culture and the New America,” at the Whitney Museum, she suddenly felt a look piercing her back. She turned around and gazed into the icy-cold eyes of Ginsberg. Only after a long, silent stare did they turn their eyes away from each other. ruth weiss was also friends with the surrealist poet Philip Lamantia — she records a rather spectacular story in compass, a journal of an extended visit to Mexico. In 1959, ruth met with two of her friends from San Francisco in Mexico City: Lamantia and the photographer Ann McKeever, and they spontaneously decided to climb the near-by Pyramid of the Sun to watch the sunrise. They made it to the top, but her fear of heights paralyzed her to such a degree she had to be carried all the way down. Another anecdote, which ruth willingly tells in her incomparable way, involves her friendship with the street poet, Jack Micheline. In 1967, she spent some time in Los Angeles (She had met artist Paul Blake, her life companion (until 2009) and followed him there. Her current partner is Hal Davis.). On the way to the different bars, where she used to write, she constantly spied a tall and impressive man, who didn’t appear threatening, but seemed to stalk her somehow. Years later, back in San Francisco, when she and Paul launched Surprise Voyage, a poetry performance series in the Old Spaghetti Factory, somebody recommended poet Jack Micheline, whom she had not yet met in person. She agreed and was just as surprised as he was when they faced each other. He shouted: “Oh, it’s you! You used to follow me all the time in Los Angeles!” That was the start of a lasting contact during which Micheline bought several pieces of art from Paul Blake. Occasionally, he also appeared unexpectedly and urged Paul and ruth to buy some of his drawings because he was short on money.

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A long friendly relationship also existed between ruth and the poet Bob Kaufman, who had already gained some renown in French bohemian circles as “the black Rimbaud.” A Jew with black skin, Kaufman was predestined to be a social outcast. He was a typical street poet and well-known on the streets and squares, and in the bars of North Beach. In no way did he crave literary fame — he did not even bother to write down his poems, but recited them by heart. The fact that some of his writing is published in book form is mostly thanks to his wife Eileen. weiss contributed a number of poems to the now legendary literary magazine, Beatitude, edited by Kaufman, which was distributed in mimeographed copies and offered a platform to some of the better known, and also the now long-forgotten, writers of the scene. In his book, Blows Like a Horn, Preston Whaley dedicated a joint chapter to ruth weiss and Bob Kaufman: he views them as typical members of the Beat Generation in San Francisco, but also as writers who not only wrote from the extreme fringe of society, but have remained underestimated marginal figures of literature up to the present day. He recognizes certain affinities in their literary production of that period, namely, that they both “displaced and deconstructed the self in order to cross […] the very brink of selfhood” and broke open syntactical structures. Such analysis leads to the difficult question of how far the different writers of the Beat Generation influenced each other. Beat circles should in no way be imagined similar to, for example, the hermetic group which so closely gathered around the poet Stefan George who stood in the spotlight. On the contrary, they were systems open for fluctuation with encounters that often happened by chance, but which also led to longer, though not necessarily constant, close relationships. The zeitgeist of poetry was not so much to be found

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in some quiet chamber, but rather in the streets, the cafés, and at meetings in cheap apartments where people talked, discussed, smoked and drank for days and nights. As a counterpart to the conformism that had seized the country, a basically individualistic position was what the situation required, but, instead, it manifested in a community and gathered strength from it, which might seem a contradiction at first glance, but really is not. Without doubt, there was a common interest in a transformation of society, although the protest was not so much of a political than a cultural nature — the main aim was the elimination of social norms, most obvious in the realms of sexuality and artistic expression. As far as the latter is concerned, it meant reclaiming art and literature as a common good and freeing it from the fetters of conventions, museums and libraries. In his essay, “The Origins of Joy in Poetry,” published in 1958, and written under the impression of the latest developments in San Francisco, Kerouac concisely reflected on that when he spoke of a “poetry returned to its origin, in the bardic child, truly ORAL […] instead of gray faced Academic quibbling. Poetry & prose had for long time fallen into the false hands of the false.” In this respect, he also speaks of the liberation of “the pure masculine urge to freely sing.” To Kerouac, it didn’t seem worth mentioning that women might feel the same urge, but it obviously existed, which can easily be proved by photos showing ruth weiss with a microphone and megaphone on San Francisco’s Grant Street, where she reads her poems to an audience that surrounds her. Another link among the young generation of writers was the new type of jazz music, onomatopoeically called Bebop, which had taken over the place of swing music, which had become highly commercial. Over time this style managed to free jazz music from its image of being nothing but entertainment, and, in retrospect,

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established it as an art form. This new wild style, characterized by ecstatic up-tempo solos, conquered bohemia quickly, offering the listener a highly interesting combination no less appealing to the senses than to the intellect. The poets started to sing and swing, as Kerouac put it in his above-mentioned essay. Quite likely the first one to experiment with the possibilities of merging the contemporary jazz style with poetry was ruth weiss. She had already experimented fusing poetry with jazz accompaniment in 1949 in Chicago while living at the Art Circle. In 1955, when ruth weiss encountered Johnny Elgin in San Francisco (a keyboard player she had known in New Orleans in 1950), he invited her to join the jam sessions at his home. One year later, three of the musicians, including Sonny Nelson (who now lives in Venice, California and stays in contact with ruth), opened The Cellar, a beer and wine jazz joint in North Beach, where ruth innovated poetry with jazz as a regular Wednesday night feature. Reciting poetry to jazz music soon became a pretty common activity among poets, at least for a while, and it was called either “jazz canto” or “poetry & jazz.” Jack Kerouac, for example, published some records in this genre. Even readings by Kenneth Rexroth, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the writer and founder of the legendary City Lights book store and publishing house, were recorded in The Cellar. It is almost symptomatic in this context though, that there are extensive liner notes on the record sleeve by the well-known jazz critic Ralph Gleason, but he does not credit ruth weiss with a single word as someone who paved the way, but instead portrays the two men as the big innovators. ruth could again have hollered, “I’m already there,” but nobody would have listened. In any case, today ruth truly has the right to claim “I’m still here,” because she is the one who has sought and managed to connect jazz and poetry more consequently and

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lastingly than any other writer. In 2000, for example, she was invited to perform at the Berlin Jazz Festival. The trio she brought from Vienna included bassist Gerhard Graml, sax player Friedrich Legerer, and percussionist Stefan Brodsky. No matter whom she performed with, it was always important to her to see to it that music and voice met on equal terms, which quite often cannot be said of similar experiments by other poets, because, in their case, the music mostly serves as an accompaniment or a background. In the case of the Beat Generation, the sparking off of the literary movement can be more clearly traced back to a specific date than with other epochs of literature. That doesn’t mean the phenomenon had not existed or been named before, but it was the reading that took place on October 7, 1955, in the Six Gallery in San Francisco, that turned it into a movement recognized by a larger public. It resulted in a renaissance of the San Francisco Renaissance, so to speak. Its older exponent, Kenneth Rexroth, was the mentor who lead through the evening, and the wild innovators of the younger generation who read were Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg, who recited his ground-breaking poem, “Howl”. Kerouac was busy collecting donations for the wine supply. A woman was not among the performers. That raises the question of whether the female writers would have attracted more attention in the Beat movement if some of them had stepped into the spotlight during that event. This not being the case, women, for a long time, remained the muses or Minor Characters, as Joyce Johnson so adequately called them in the title of her autobiographical novel about her problematic relationship with Jack Kerouac. It was not that they did not write, but many of them did not make it beyond little mags, anthologies or small press booklets. Certainly, this had

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something to do with traditional ideas about the role of women, to which both sexes still clung in some respect. As for ruth weiss, it is true that she found a supporter in Madeline Gleason — a member of the older generation of the San Francisco Renaissance. Nevertheless, ruth’s publications during the Beat era were rather scarce: at least, a number of her contributions could be found in important scene magazines like Beatitude or in Wallace Berman’s Semina. Her first volume of poetry, Steps, was published by the small Ellis Press in 1958, three others by Adler Press, namely Gallery of Women and South Pacific (both in 1959), as well as Blue in Green (1960), which was heavily influenced by jazz music, especially by Miles Davis. Other books by ruth did not appear before the second half of the ’70s, i.e. in post-Beat times, which is likely due to her being busy transforming her poetry into performance and expanding it in an extremely progressive way into the realm of multi-media by combining it with music, slide shows, film, and taking it to the theatre stage. In his aforementioned book, Blows Like a Horn, Preston Whaley indicates the reason for the lack of acceptance of ruth’s early poetry by publishing houses like Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Press and by publishers like Hoyem and Haselwood at Auerhahn Press, who also specialized in Beat literature: ruth weiss’ avant-garde language, which eliminated conventional structures, and therefore was not easily accessible for a wider readership; and, the respective policies of the publishers, who either looked sceptically upon or were strictly opposed to either the publication of non-political writing or that of women in general. But ruth herself also sees the reasons for it in her own biography: as a child she often had to hide, an experience that left its stamp on her life and was counter-productive to her literary success.

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It seems that it took nothing less than a general change of women’s roles in society, and a continuous collective effort on the part of the women writers of the Beat Generation, before they were heard and accepted by a larger audience. Despite some earlier smaller steps towards acceptance, Brenda Knight’s anthology, Women of the Beats, published in 1996, deserves to be considered the real breakthrough of the female Beats. When this book appeared, many of the readers interested in the Beat Generation realized what kind of treasure still remained to be uncovered. Part of the treasure were poetical texts of women writers that had been neglected, also, their autobiographical reminiscences of their role inside the Beat community, which remarkably contributed to a wider view of, and a deeper insight into, the era, and also lead to a certain demystification of some of its male protagonists. ruth weiss is not only present in the book, which features her biography and some of her poetry, but also in its audio version, where she connects the sections of the different authors by some of her own introductory, poetic mini-portraits. ruth weiss is also prone to being called “the goddess of the Beat Generation,” a term coined by Herb Caen, the journalist who first used the expression “beatnik” to describe the followers of Kerouac & Co. in June 1958, in a column he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. What the “goddess of the Beats” says about herself is: “they call me a beatnik poet.” If one listens carefully, one can detect certain underlying reservations behind these words, because ruth does not say that she is a beatnik poet, but that she was given that name. In this respect it should be known that originally the term “beatnik” was not intended to be nice. It had been formed in analogy to the Russian satellite “Sputnik” and was meant to be derogative, and was used that way. Second, it must be kept in

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mind that as soon as the Beat movement reached a certain level of publicity, it was commercially exploited. In the media the topic was often presented in a sensational way. In films aimed at a mass audience the beatniks gained a dubious reputation. When they were not assigned the role of criminals, they were usually shown as stereotyped bohemian characters. People who wanted to pep up their parties could turn to a rent-a-beatnik service. It is obvious that such commercialization was a complete contradiction to the original Beat philosophy and,therefore, it is a small wonder that a good many writers started to feel uncomfortable with the “Beat” label. Even Kerouac, who was significantly involved in coining and spreading the expression, distanced himself relatively early from being categorized under this term — for example, in the preface to his text collection, Lonesome Traveler (1960), while he was still being stylized by his admirers and the mass media as the “king of the Beats.” With a certain justification, it could be claimed that it is part of the Beat tradition that writers who are attributed with the term, Beat, distance themselves from being considered members of the Beat Generation. ruth weiss’ attitude towards the labeling is ambiguous to a degree. On one hand she is conscious of the fact that she owes part of the recognition she gets to her being categorized as a Beat writer and she is no doubt grateful for that. There is no doubt that she received essential impulses from her presence in San Francisco, when the bohemian scene began to flourish, but, she also knows that she obtained this classification and the recognition that went along with it only subsequently. Moreover, she knows that it doesn’t do total justice to her, and that the understanding of her texts might even be narrowed by the label. Like any other good artist, she did not remain fixed in one creative period, but has continually developed. Instead

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of lapsing into a retrospective Beat nostalgia, she has stuck to the essential premise of the Beat movement, which has constantly made her search for new ways of expression in her poetry, her films, and plays. Drama was not the domain of the Beats. It is true that Kerouac himself wrote a play titled, Beat Generation, but the so-called “lost play” was not published before 2006, and so far has only been staged once by a small Lower East Side company (in the same year). Jack Gelber’s play, The Connection, owes its fame more to its film version than to its stage performances. Michael McClure’s scandalcausing play, The Beard, is situated at the very end of the Beat era, and can even be classified as belonging to the rock & pop era. ruth’s play, m & m, is one that might most rightfully be considered a product of the Beat era. Put on stage as late as 1965, there are nevertheless clear signs that justify its categorization as “Beat,” firstly, because the two characters appearing in it are shaped after real persons from the bohemian community: both are friends of ruth weiss; and secondly, the play refers to their initial meeting in San Francisco in 1957, when the Beat movement had already gathered some momentum. The “Beat” character is primarily visible in the eccentric existence of the protagonists who live on the fringe of society due to their homosexuality, respectively, their transvestism. It can be called progressive because in those times, even in Beat circles, it was not yet common to openly confess homosexual inclinations. What renders the “fantasy piece” intellectually entertaining is its associative and poetic language battles in the best of Beat tradition. Astonishing, is its immanent parallelism to Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot, which even ruth weiss had not recognized until

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recently. It makes sense to understand it as an unconsciously conceived counterpart, even though, or, just because weiss does not appreciate the author due to his negativism. But, similarities arise from the basic constellation: that two queer birds in a deserted place are waiting for something existentially meaningful to arrive that does not come and, in the case of m & m, for a car to pick them up and to save them from waiting in an inhospitable desert area. A further parallel lies in the conversation, which is often repetitive and revolves around certain topics, while it appears to be pretty incoherent at times. Another stunning feature of ruth weiss’ play is that its title, and the two characters, both have the initials M, a letter which fascinated Beckett because of its thirteenth position in the alphabet, which influenced the names of the characters in several of his books, though not in Waiting for Godot. Strange as well is the reoccurrence of the phenomenon surrounding the figure of Macumbre in ruth’s drama, The Thirteenth Witch, written in 1981. weiss has an unrestricted belief in the magic and meaning of seemingly accidental occurrences in all areas of life. The fact that Beckett included the same song about a dog that stole an egg from the cook in his drama, about ten years before ruth used the same as a childhood memory in m & m, did cause some exclamations of disbelief on her part. On the other hand, ruth sees in such coincidences the workings of a higher reason and fate in all situations of life. Therefore, Mead’s and Markow’s encounter in m & m does not lead to continuous alienation and emptiness as happens with the protagonists in Beckett’s play, but results in a deep connection via their confrontational dialogue. In comparison, the play, No Dancing Aloud, staged in 1962 for the first time, already had an additional dimension not so openly discernible in m & m. It is true that, also in this play, eccentric

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figures from the fringe of society are put on stage and that Heinz is a character shaped after a hobo acquaintance of ruth weiss, but they are hardly conceived as individuals, but carry elements that strongly attest to their symbolic nature. There are good reasons to claim that ruth weiss has a special position in this context because of her anticyclic behaviour, thus enriching in a very personal way her potential of poetic expression by turning to the literary streams of the turn of the previous century. This was supported by her early interest in C.G. Jung’s psychological ideas, which increasingly became the center of attention during the ’60s and began to outstrip the former Beat icons in this field: Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich. While Kerouac still tried to model the persons in his play “Beat Generation” after real Beat characters in an almost naturalistic way, ruth weiss was far from any realism from the beginning onward. She preferred the poetic drama, used elements of fairy tales and myths, and concentrated more and more on archetypal figures present in Jung’s theories and the tarot, e.g. the old man, the wise old woman, the knight, and the animus and anima, and dealt with the relationship between people, especially the sexes, in that way. No doubt, ruth managed to discover new and idiosyncratic aspects in the old myths and fairy tales. In the preface to her play The Thirteenth Witch, written in 1981, ruth weiss explicitly refers to the French writer, actor and literary theorist, Antonin Artaud, but the influence of his idea of the theatre is discernible in practically all her plays. Crazy outsider and rebellious artist that he was, Artaud on the one hand may well be counted among the predecessors of the Beats. On the other hand, he also has some points of contact with the concepts of symbolist and poetical drama. For example, Artaud is of the opinion that it is not the task of the theatre to reproduce reality, but considers it

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a reality in itself, which, nevertheless, has a feedback influence on reality. Integral parts of his concept of a non-representative theatre are, among other things, his insistence on the character of facial expression, gestures and postures of the actors, as well as the extension of their actions into the auditorium. His style is characterized by breaking down linear logic and conventional language structures. Artaud’s stress on the role of the breath as a link between actor and audience is of special interest to ruth weiss as a performer of jazz poetry. His affinity with C.G. Jung derives from his idea of a timeless, basic source, which enables people in disastrous times to gather strength by reconnecting with their inner self in order to overcome the horrors of the present. In her dramatic texts, ruth weiss repeatedly connects Artaud’s ideas with viewpoints of natural mythology and ecology. The Californian poet, Gary Snyder, is the one most responsible for turning the Beats on to nature and Zen Buddhism. Jack Kerouac chose him for the main character of his novel, The Dharma Bums, which caused, as Snyder called it, “a rucksack revolution” among some youth after it was published in 1958. ruth weiss found her own way to nature. ruth, who in, full circle – ein kreis vollendet sich, says of herself: “I have always known cities […] I walk easy on cement,” writes in the same book of her attempt in 1963 to live closer to the pulse of nature in a cabin in Mendocino: I am here to clear. to be with MOTHER EARTH. to find the next step. barefoot. swim naked. in a red mud pond. red dragonflies abound. sun naked on portuguese beach. nestled between logs. back to the cabin. sand between toes. oh earth i walk you. Eventually ruth weiss moved back to San Francisco, then on to Los Angeles, but the wish to live a life close to nature did not leave her.

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With Paul Blake, she finally turned her back to the city for good and they settled in Inverness, north of San Francisco, only to leave it again one year later after a terrible flood threatened their lives. They moved on to a new home in Albion, also situated on the Pacific coast, in the midst of an impressive landscape of unspoiled nature. It comes as no surprise that this coincides with the completion of her play, The Thirteenth Witch, in 1981, in which she unfolds a magical and mythological picture of a vulnerable, wounded nature, whose value has to be rediscovered and preserved. It also makes clear that, to achieve this, nothing short of a change in paradigm is necessary, a radical change of ideas, which re-establishes nature and art in their due roles as the original sources of mankind that provide healing, balance and energy. ruth weiss’ work is both modern and timeless. Quite a few critics had considered Beat literature a short-lived fad. Today it has become obvious that the writers that sprang from this epoch have had a long lasting impact on literature like few others. It seems that every new generation discovers the Beats anew for itself. What guarantees this continued interest is the candor and credibility with which the Beat writers convey their experiences, the abounding joy of life, the abyss of suffering, their experiencing and practicing of humanity, their either quiet or loud protest against inhumane behaviour and conformism, and last but not least, their language, which is in most cases immediately accessible because it is derived from the sound of the spoken word. Thankfully, young writers today can identify with this approach to literature and some still write in the spirit of this tradition. ruth weiss is a living example of the legacy of that era and an incomparable and unforgettable experience when one has the chance to attend her live performances. ruth is authentic without

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being locked up in the Beat era. She knows where her roots are and that may well be a major reason she has remained open for change without feeling a need to follow trends. Horst Spandler, August 2006

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TEN TEN

TEN TEN cometh the dragon skims on ten thousand feet drumming remember along the street of applause pauses — it was 1952 a dragon-year at broadway & columbus my last hitch from chicago said this is where you belong found my room on montgomery 1010 montgomery 10 dollars a month with a light-well and a shower steaming on the roof through the fog across the hall professor FOON kept music in a room tongue click against tooth a nervous habit from near-miss of bomb on his home in hong kong butterfly harp i danced he played

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kept us both from being afraid we spoke no english i wrote in it though and ate with chopsticks but not pizza ten fingers for that one late-night-walk uphill on kearny from pacific the man stopped his black & white and asked what are you doing out at night? just then FRANKE LUPO (another up-all-night-freak) stepped through the gate of his kearny palace told the man (since i didn’t speak) she just likes to walk then invited me in to share pizza reheated on coal with a glass of red to warm the soul talked of MAMA upstairs through glass-clink & fog-blink regaled me with tales i’ll never forget nor remember

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my first book STEPS 1959 41 dragon-steps up the steps of kearny casbah where for years we smoked joint to the east made a point in the west ONE MORE STEP WEST IS THE SEA on pacific THE INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENT where i worked the tables in THE HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHTS the girls dark & grace how i loved that place the music was so fine lullabye of broadway garbage-truck smash-crash at dawn fuck! — can’t sleep climb to coit tower ONE MORE STEP UP SEE SUN RISE TEN TEN cometh the dragon skims on ten thousand feet drumming remember along the street of applause pauses — CHINA GONG 1990 where’s that monkey KAISIK WONG?

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his floats a saga the crowd going gaga while he scampers away floated away in his robe of atlantis CHI CHI CHI CHI is that you? TEN TEN cometh the dragon skims on ten thousand feet drumming remember along the street of applause pauses — the dragon arrives
© ruth weiss 1990

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I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU BLACK

FOREWORD
black people — dancers, painters, poets & musicians who have appeared throughout my life, marking deep impressions — here are some of those stories.

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1992. black don’t crack she said & called me girl friend when i told her i was 64. her elegant hand brushed my face — i was back in 1928. in berlin. i had just been born. the nurse asked MUTTI if PAPA was black. it was the ’20s & jazz musicians were made most welcome in europe. what do you mean MUTTI cried. your baby is quite dark but she has light eyes — maybe green maybe blue. what do you mean let me see her MUTTI said. this is my baby she looks just like OSCAR. and he’s dark she said. and his mother even darker. she didn’t say any more. like his mother is from budapest & maybe even gypsy & a jew through & through.

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about ruth weiss

ruth weiss is one of the last living significant poets of the Beat Generation. Born to a Jewish family during the rise of Nazism, she eventually made her way to the United States where she became friends with, and a contemporary of, the likes of Jack Kerouac and many other artists of the 1950s American counter-culture movement of San Francisco (specifically in North Beach). In the 1960s she began spelling her name in lowercase letters in a symbolic protest against “law and order” since in her birthplace of Germany all nouns are capitalized. She continues to perform live in North Beach and at many jazz and poetry festivals around the world. In this age of high-speed information exchange, she still uses her “Loyal Royal” metal typewriter, and lives deep in the Northern California forests of Mendocino County, USA.

i’ve been on the run i’ve been through flood i’ve been through fire flashbacks 1928 born in berlin. 1933 escape to vienna. write first poems. 1938 left for new york. start to write in english. since 1998 — 60 years later — i’m back in europe performing, invited to JAZZ FEST BERLIN 2000. the mayor of vienna awards me a bronze medal in 2006 for literary achievement. chicago teens. chicago near north side. bohemia & be bop. 1950 hitched to greenwich village. 1950 on to new orleans old french

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quarter. 1952 san francisco north beach. 1956 put poetry with jazz on the stage at THE CELLAR. i love movies. have made them, been in them — sometimes fiction, sometimes fact. then come the plays. three of them performed in vienna 2006. since 1965 exhibits of watercolor – haiku. i’ve barely begun. since 1982 from albion on the california coast in mendocino. ruth weiss

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an imprint of michAel wieSe pRoducTionS

DIVINE
ARTS

Divine Arts sprang to life fully formed as an intention to bring spiritual practice into daily living. Human beings are far more than the one-dimensional creatures perceived by most of humanity and held static in consensus reality. there is a deep and vast body of knowledge — both ancient and emerging — that informs and gives us the understanding, through direct experience, that we are magnificent creatures occupying many dimensions with untold powers and connectedness to all that is. Divine Arts books and films explore these realms, powers and teachings through inspiring, informative and empowering works by pioneers, artists and great teachers from all the wisdom traditions. We invite your participation and look forward to learning how we may better serve you. Onward and upward, Michael Wiese Publisher/Filmmaker DivineArtsMedia.com

POETRY/AMERICAN/GENERAL

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Take a journey into the heart and passion of one of the most brilliant voices of the American counterculture movement. ruth weiss innovated poetry with jazz in the San Francisco North Beach scene of the 1950s with contemporaries Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, and others. For the first time in print, one of the last of the original Beat poets presents two masterpiece long form poems: I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU BLACK (a tribute to her AfricanAmerican artist friends) and COMPASS (about a road trip through Mexico).
"Jazz-poet-performer ruth weiss lived the lore of many of her associates in the Beat literary-arts movement. She’s a tenacious survivor and anomaly, being female, foreign born: Berlin (whose family escaped the Nazis by coming to the U.S. of A.), and fiercely independent. This fragmented Memoircum-Poetry gives a pungent and moving sense of her life and times." — Anne Waldman, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa University "This is a beautiful book, created with reverence for a woman who has lived as an artist for over 60 years, and whose many talents broke down the barriers between word, film, song, painting, and theater." — Randy Roark, author of Dissolve: Screenplays to the Films of Stan Brakhage and apprentice to Allen Ginsberg 1979-1997

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