Kevin Opstedal

A Literary History of the San Andreas Fault:
Bolinas Section

This is Bolinas, California.
The home of the poets.

-Aram Saroyan

 

About an hour's drive north of San Francisco, up the coast and around the Bolinas lagoon from Stinson Beach, the town of Bolinas seems like an island just off shore. One day it may be just that. Perched on the southernmost tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula, Bolinas is on the western side of the San Andreas Fault, pulling away from the continent.

Perhaps this geological fact has had an effect, on some cosmic level, upon the consciousness of the Bolinas citizenry. Since the early seventies the media has portrayed Bolinas as a home for the odd, the wacky, and the certifiably strange. While it's true that the place attracted more than its share of bohemians, hippies, visionary sandal-makers, and mystic organic farmers, it is unfair to view the place, as one Marin County supervisor did, "an asylum run by the inmates". On the contrary, during the seventies an experiment in community took place in Bolinas that is both noble and extraordinary.

This experiment was documented by Orville Schell in his 1974 book The Town That Fought to Save Itself. Schell, a Bolinas resident, presents a social study of the Whole Earth Catalog mind-set of organic farming and community building that was at the core of life in Bolinas. Schell’s book is an excellent window upon the central principles and concerns of Bolinas during this period, although it is interesting to note that Schell changes the name of the town from Bolinas to Briones (Briones being the name of one of the early founding families of Bolinas). In the seventies the location of the town was to be kept secret, to preserve its otherness. Later this was demonstrated in the highly celebrated and ongoing theft of the roadsign on Highway 1 indicating the Bolinas turnoff. While Bolinas isn't exactly hostile to visitors, the folks there have made it clear that they'd prefer to be left alone.

During this same period Bolinas was also home to one of the most intense collections of poets in one place not around an academic or university scene. Not having that academic presence made for a more visionary, "utopian" atmosphere—the politics of the place so important and interesting. It wasn't simply a hippie alternative situation, an easy comfortable scene for artists, but a rigorous place—involving commitment.

The coast of Marin County is fairly remote yet certainly within striking distance of San Francisco. Since the 1950’s Bolinas and Stinson Beach had ties to the San Francisco Beat scene; Robert Duncan, Jess Collins, Richard Brautigan, Joanne Kyger, Lew Welch, and Philip Whalen had all spent time there on and off. In the mid-sixties poet Jim Koller and novelist Bill Brown brought Coyote’s Journal and Coyote Press to Bolinas.

In the late sixties a significant number of poets and artists were among the psychedelic refugees that made their way to Bolinas. It was a secluded hideaway and a place of great physical beauty. A scruffy little surf ghetto tucked away behind coastal hills and walls of Douglas fir and eucalyptus. The downtown area consisted of about two blocks on Wharf Road. Smiley’s Bar and Pepper’s (the general store) were the highlights. To the north of downtown, up on the mesa, was a scattering of rough little houses settled in among eucalyptus, cypress, and Monterey pines. Giant cascades of nasturtiums spilling over wooden fences. From the mesa bluffs, towering over Duxbury Reef, you could hear the tide movements carried up on the almost constant sea breeze. It was on the mesa that the majority of poets made their homes.

On The Mesa

For the sake of getting the names said, so that we know who we're talking about, here's a list of some of the poets, writers, and artists who lived for varying periods in Bolinas between the years of 1968 to 1980: Paul Alexander, Don Allen, Gordon Baldwin, Franco Beltrametti, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Ebbe Borregaard, Jack Boyce, Joe Brainard, Richard Brautigan, Jim Brodey, Bill Brown, Jim Carroll, Tom Clark, Robert Creeley, Richard Duerdon, Lew Ellingham, Tom Field, Charles Fox, Bob Grenier, Jim Gustafson, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Dale Herd, Larry Kearney, Jim Koller, Joanne Kyger, Kenneth Lamott, Keith Lampe, Lewis MacAdams, Duncan McNaughton, Gerard Malanga, David Meltzer, Alice Notley, Arthur Okamura, Aram Saroyan, Orville Schell, John Thorpe, Tom Veitch, Anne Waldman, Lewis Warsh, Peter Warshall, Philip Whalen, and Michael Wolfe.

City Lights published *On the Mesa*. Edited by poet Joel Weishaus

A San Francisco writer dubbed Bolinas during these years "a poets ghetto". Poet Ed Sanders called it "a psychedelic Peyton Place".

"It was a scene of intense concentration," Duncan McNaughton remembers, "A community. It hadn't anything to do with sentiment or agreement in values. It had to do with sympathetic coexistence in a single human fabric." Bill Berkson told me "I remember being immediately impressed—bowled over, really—by the coastal landscape and by the dramatic scale human relations seemed to take on within it."

"Everybody was aggressively being a poet," says Lewis MacAdams, "and aggressively being everything else, in such a heightened context." McNaughton adds:

It was a literate population; there was a strong feeling for the presence of poetry and poets. It mattered, unlike elsewhere. The poets were held in esteem—an extension of the unusual acknowledgement of poets for a long time in San Francisco. Not that people couldn't be assholes—just that there was respect for the poem . . . What writers did there was their business. There was never a school or shared attitude. We were, many of us, living together, and that makes some deeper human sympathies possible. There was no agreement at all, except the one of permission. That is a very subtle matter and asks thoughtful inspection.

"There was a lot of license," Lewis Warsh said, "to be yourself, to go nuts, to fall in love, to be depressed and not see anyone for days, etc." This permission was obviously very liberating, but at the same time it was, in the words of Aram Saroyan, "full of pitfalls, magical, and a bit maniacal."

Future Studies

The essential humanity of the town was remarkable. "It was a way of life," says McNaughton, "one was on duty all the time." Within this context of permission the discipline was somewhat strange and it took some a few years to understand it. Others never really did.

There was a strong California Buddhist element in the town along with a grassroots political agenda that was focused mainly upon water and sewage issues. Poets like Lewis MacAdams became deeply involved in the politics of the place.

"Coming to Bolinas and getting involved in politics saved my life," MacAdams says, "I understood that that was what you could do, you could make it, you could start from the ground up, you know, make sure the water was right."

Bolinas was and is an unincorporated municipality. The closest thing to a governing body is the Bolinas Public Utilities District. After the big oil spill of January 1971 washed thousands of gallons of bunker oil up on Bolinas beaches killing hundreds of seabirds, the town realized not only how fragile the ecosystem was, but that their refuge was not a sanctuary from the world around them. Volunteers turned up by the truckload to help with the clean-up and bird rescue. By the time the last of them had left the town was totally changed. The hippies, many of them once active in the anti-war movement, organized voter registration and elected a new board of the Bolinas Public Utilities District from among themselves. The BPUD became the agency of the people, waging a successful battle with Marin County over a proposal to link Bolinas and Stinson Beach in a county engineered sewage system.

A Bolinas Future Studies Institute was started. Its mission to study and set forth plans to limit development and solve the downtown sewage crisis. In 1971 a water moratorium, which put a prohibition upon the granting of new water permits, severely limited any potential growth.

The topic of conversation in Bolinas invariably revolved around water and waste management.

Bill Beckman published *The Hit*, co-edited by Tom Clark and Jim Brodey    More of *The Hit*

Bill Beckman, who was involved in publishing underground comics in New York, moved to Bolinas and published The Bolinas Hit. The Hit was a two-shot magazine/tabloid Beckman co-edited with Tom Clark and Jim Brodey. Consisting of eight pages of pure anarchy the first issue (May 1, 1969) carried a cover photo of two men, pictured from the waist down, dressed in some sort of military or police uniform, complete with jack-boots. One man is kneeing the other in the groin. Inset is the following quote (attributed to Franz Kline) "To be right is the most terrific personal state that nobody is interested in." The Hit contained poems, a procedure for the manufacture of LSD, a first-person account of an escape from a Mexican jail and a photo of the bloated tongue of a dead whale (courtesy of the Hit Culinary Corner).

Bolinas community newsletter, *The Paper*, published by Bill Beckman

After the oil spill Beckman started a new publication called The Paper. The Paper was more of a community newsletter with less emphasis on the irreverent anarchy that characterized The Bolinas Hit. The Paper reported on the BPUD meetings, school board meetings, news from the Future Studies Center, etc. The premier issue, July 6 1971, featured a photo by Ilka Hartmann depicting an oil coated fist raised as in defiance over a caption which read "lest we forget / january 1971". The Paper also carried this prohibition; "NOT TO BE SOLD EAST OF MT. TAMALPAIS."

Hearsay

In 1971 an organization called The Poets Orchestra was started by Darrell DeVore and Tom Veitch. The announcement for their first performance is vintage Bolinas:

ATTENTION, FOLKS

A most unusual occasion figures to be this coming Sunday, JANUARY 17 at the clock of 8:30 PM or thereabouts behind the restful doors of THE BOLINAS COMMUNITY CENTER when strange blast of sunshine and moon music be erupting for a couple of hours or so, strange love gut notes of POEM and NOISE upon unusual and rare flame performance of

THE BOLINAS POETS ORCHESTRA

! ! !

To enter the magic dimension will cost a smear of coin, 35¢ or 50¢ at the door to be exact. A few will be allowed to join the backhanded craziness if they can by waving a little yellow flag and running up on the stage and doing three eskimo handstands. Many FAMOUS POETS and MUSIC DOCTORS will pe4m together for the first time in 2,000 years of Western Sadness. I sat smoking a cigarette and watching out of the upper window as the cops chased a nude girl through the park. Later I went to the doctor and was alarmed to find out that my blood pressure was very low. I hope this won't spoil my summer trip to pan for gold . . .

SPECIAL GUEST STARS: THE YELLOW MANDARIN and THE GHOST OF ALBERT AYLER!

plus John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, and many more . . .

 

The Poets Orchestra was a loose amalgam of musicians and poets, all of whom played or toyed with various instruments ranging from guitars and saxes to assorted percussion ding-dongs and pieces of kelp. Tom Clark described the performance in a letter to Clark Coolidge as "Periods of unison dotting huge seas of cacophony!" It was free music along the lines of Sun Ra, however none of the performers had any kind of musical talent. "The idea was," Clark says, "to build up this din wherein the individual faults and graces of the instrumentalists would never be noticed."

While the Poets Orchestra acted as a kind of group primal therapy, smaller, more intimate gatherings occurred on a regular basis usually in the homes of poets. For example, there were weekly soirees at the house that Joanne Kyger and Bill Berkson shared on Brighton. One night Brother Antoninus (William Everson) showed up to read a vast, endless, painful religious poem and, as Kyger recalls, "everyone left and nobody ever wanted to go back!"

*Big Sky Magazine*, published by Bill Berkson

Bill Berkson began publishing Big Sky magazine at about this same time. Featuring primarily works by Bolinas writers, Big Sky was one of the liveliest little magazines of its time. In addition to the magazine, Berkson published books under the Big Sky imprint.

The first Big Sky publications were printed at a community printing press, called simply The Press. A number of little publishing ventures ranging from community newsletters and ecological tracts to poetry found their way into print because of The Press. It was via The Press that Aram Saroyan and Russ Riviere put out two issues of an untitled magazine featuring works by locals only. Their editorial policy, in keeping with the town’s anarcho-pacifist participatory democracy, was "print whatever you're given."

This magazine may have been the prototype for one of the town’s most remarkable and enduring publications. Town butcher and sometime schoolbus driver, Michael Rafferty, had the genius to recognize that the editorial policy of the Saroyan/Riviere magazine—print whatever you’re given—made more sense for a newspaper than for a literary magazine. Rafferty started publishing the Bolinas Hearsay News.

Joe Brainard's *Bolinas Journal*

The Hearsay News appeared three times a week and had three different editorial staffs. It was, and continues to be, the most important community news source in Bolinas. Joanne Kyger and Lewis MacAdams helped edit the Monday paper. MacAdams remembers, "Joanne and I would come in at 10:30 on Monday morning to the Hearsay office and start drinking brandy and coffee and smoking joints and just waiting for people to come in and tell us what happened over the weekend and we'd type it up. It was great! It was really fun. We'd get completely smashed and make like $20 apiece for the morning’s work. We'd wrap up the paper by 1:00 and it'd be everywhere in Bolinas by 5 or 6." The Hearsay is a lively mix of community news, social commentary and gossip. An ongoing biography of the town, a diary of community consciousness, the Hearsay News is still an important part of Bolinas life.

At Bolinas

Bolinas sits on the ground
by the sea, sky
overhead.

Robert Creeley

1.

In 1970 City Lights published an anthology of Bolinas poets titled On the Mesa. Edited by poet Joel Weishaus, On the Mesa contained works by John Thorpe, Joanne Kyger, Bill Berkson, Robert Creeley, Bill Brown, Lewis Warsh, David Meltzer, Lawrence Kearney, John Doss, Ebbe Borregaard, Max Crosley, Tom Clark, Keith Lampe, and Michael Bond. The book also featured art work by Arthur Okamura and Gordon Baldwin. This is the only anthology published that identifies the loose weave of poets living in Bolinas as "Bolinas poets". A note on the back of the books reads:

This is a gathering of poets and writers and artists living in or around the mesa in Bolinas, California. Not so much a school of poets as a meeting of those who happen to be at this geographical location at this point in wobbly time, several divergent movements in American poetry of the past 20 years (Black Mountain, San Francisco Beat, 'New York School' of poets) have come together with new Western and mystic elements at the unpaved crossroads of Bolinas.

Also printed on the back cover is this quote from poet Daniel Moore:

Like those Rabelaisian characters who took to the mountaintops during the plague and caroused and told stories completely unharmed by the plague while the plague went on below them, like those in Noah's boat who took to high ground during the flood, like those who 'hold back the edges of [their] gowns . . . for we are going through Hell,' so these popets have taken to the Bolinas Mesa, high ground, while the world goes awash around them, practising a little 'Black Mountainery,' a little 'New York Schoolery,' and a little Tom Foolery. All part of America's vital poetic machinery, high on the Mesa.

Moore is somewhat over romantic here, but that sense of Bolinas as refuge was very real.

"The first few years I lived in Bolinas I did not want to go into the City," MacAdams says, "I really wanted to root myself in Bolinas . . . I didn't even like to look at San Francisco across the water!" This sentiment was shared not only by the poets but most people living in Bolinas. "Once Shao [John Thorpe] and I went downtown", MacAdams recalls, "and just wrote what went down all day from the moment the sun went up to the moment the sun went down . . . there were years that went by where I was really happy just looking down at the ground and seeing what was growing . . . Bolinas was like the whole cosmos to me. You could do everything in Bolinas that you could do in New York City or Paris, on a mythological or cosmological level, and that was totally true for me at the time."

2.

Not everyone shared this view. Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley lived in Bolinas during the summer and fall of 1971. As Notley remembers, "Ted was pleased to be near Bob Creeley, Joanne Kyger, Bill Berkson, Tom Clark, etc., but he found the organic vegetable and milk your own goat scene extremely delirious-making." Berrigan and Tom Clark wrote a book-length collaboration titled Bolinas Eyewash in which they lampoon the scene:

Last Friday night the Attorney General of the State of California filed suit against the people of Bolinas to wit that the people of Bolinas cease to dispose of their sewage in their customary matter at once, or pay a fine of $6,000 a day until they do so. Mr. Shao Thorpe of Hawthorne Road replied, "I don't have any money but I'll be glad to give the Attorney General some of this here broccoli."

- - - - - - - - -

The word of mouth network plugs you in to what's happening inside everybody else's houses, even if you never go there, & don't even want to.

- - - - - - - - -

We swear not to give in to the outside forces that want to twist our words and our tongues and ignore our wishes and dreams of a wide berth on the planet in harmony with our brothers and sisters by pressuring us into a surf ghetto bordering on further subdivisions of the meatball, right?

- - - - - - - - -

It is God's wish that no waste be discharged into any water. We must maintain integrity with the mountains & the sea. Waste is waste, that's all there is to it.

- - - - - - - - -

Every day another Chlorine Rap.

In his poem "Things To Do In Bolinas", Berrigan lists such interesting activities as "watch the natives suffer … freeze & sleep … yearn for city lights." In a piece titled "From Journals: BOLINAS" published in The World in 1973, Berrigan offers this summation:

Bolinas, in the final analysis, for you, for me, there is, alas, quote
unquote No Use.

                                  The black eye is your favorite salutation.

I don't have time to suffer.

3.

Berrigan’s good friend, the artist Joe Brainard also visited Bolinas in 1971. Bolinas Journal, Brainard’s account of his visit, offers a brilliant, perceptive, often very funny, portrait of the place:

Bolinas is more like I thought Jamaica would be than Jamaica was. (So lush).
And fantastic flowers everywhere.
A lot of talk about things I don't know much about. Like eastern religions. Ecology. And local problems. Sewer problems in particular.

- - - - - - - - -

A lot of being inside your own head here. A lot of talk about it. And a lot of talk about being inside other people's heads too.

- - - - - - - - -

Bolinas dogs are so funny. Running around all over town. In and out of stores. Alone or in packs. Plain dogs most of them. Mutts. They seem to have a little Bolinas all their own. With rules and regulations I'm sure I couldn't begin to fathom.

- - - - - - - - -

Lots of dogs.
Lots of dope.

Finally, Brainard notes, "Living in Bolinas is turning out to be very like living in New York City." Indeed there was a large contingent of New Yorkers in Bolinas during this time. A situation which prompted Philip Whalen to write in Scenes of Life at the Capital (1971), "Who is there to see in New York anyway / Everybody’s moved to Bolinas."

4.

One New Yorker who moved to Bolinas (in 1973) was poet Jim Carroll. When Carroll arrived in town he was "damaged goods". Years of heroin addiction had taken their toll. He enrolled in the methadone clinic in San Rafael and settled into Bolinas. "I lived in total seclusion," Carroll said in a 1980 interview in The San Francisco Review of Books, "I’d just walk my dog every day for 12 miles, around Bolinas, Point Reyes." MacAdams recalls that "Jim lived the most isolate existence . . . most people when they think of Jim Carroll in Bolinas, it's like this spectral person in a serape, with his dog, Jo-mama, and carrying a big staff, some big long stick." When he wasn't out on long hikes with his dog, Carroll stayed indoors and watched television, drank methadone, smoked and wrote. "I was a total recluse," Carroll says, "just using the landscape."

It was in Bolinas that Carroll put the finishing touches on The Basketball Diaries and found a publisher for them in resident Michael Wolfe and his Tombouctou Press. It was also in Bolinas that Carroll met the members of a local rock band calling themselves Amsterdam. They would later form the nucleus of what would become the Jim Carroll Band.

5.

Bolinas was a place where one could be a "total recluse", or become totally public, completely involved in community affairs. Joanne Kyger and Lewis MacAdams, for example, not only helped with the Hearsay News, but also collaborated on plays which were enacted at community gatherings. One of the plays they wrote was performed at the opening of the sewer ponds where they cracked a champagne bottle over a toilet. It was poetic and memorable.

Medicine

1.

"I took endless amounts of drugs when I was there," said Lewis Warsh, "and that tended to confuse and diffuse a lot of the emotional intensity that was further amplified by the presence of all the poets. Everyone was inventing their own rules, almost daily, about how to be private and how to be social and, as always, in all communities, it was the assertion of individual egos (who was strong, who was weak) that raised the intensity level beyond the point where I could stay there much longer than I did."

During his tenure in Bolinas, Robert Creeley was battling a very heavy drinking problem which added to the strain of his already shaky marital situation. Creeley would often get drunk then drop acid and wander about the mesa or down to Smiley’s Bar. There were fights. Creeley said that Bolinas was "increasingly despairing" for him. At the big 4th of July barbecue, Creeley, on acid, wrapped his head in tin foil and proceeded to terrorize a young lady, actually chasing her off into the trees.

The noble concept of permission within the community was, at times, tested. There was this unspoken code of tolerance for wildly different attitudes and permutations. It was understood on a very basic level.

2.

The poet John Clarke, who visited Bolinas briefly in 1968 and again in 1970, wrote an amazing book based upon the life of William Blake using the Bolinas poets as the principal characters. Titled Blake, the work was a masque set on the Bolinas mesa. The book was part of the Curriculum of the Soul series and Clarke's assignment was:

Poets as such, that is disciplined lives not
   history or for any 'art' reasons example
Blake

           the same, say, medicine men . . .

"I took Blake's life as ‘order’," said Clarke, "and let these poets of Bolinas ‘act’ it out, so that if they had not ‘disciplined lives’ in the Blake sense Olson means individually, they could have it collectively, each satisfying some aspect of the whole ‘form’, and speaking the Blake quotes appropriate to that progressive movement (interspersed with contemporary talk), which I then thought could perhaps activate both ways, both Blake and Bolinas, through play, life to the level of ‘medicine’." As the play opens Robert Creeley and his wife Bobbie Louise Hawkins have not yet arrived in town, but they were on their way. Their impending arrival became crucial to the ‘plot’ of the play, the climax being the transformation of Creeley as Ulro into Eden, Blake’s lowest to highest human condition. The resulting work is a deeply strange, intriguing, mythologized version of the Bolinas poets.

3.

Reading the works of the Bolinas poets it's apparent that many seemed to have had an ongoing dialogue with the place. Their attitudes were sometimes intersecting, sometimes conflicting. In his book Long Distance (Ferry Press, 1971), Lewis Warsh asks the particularly Bolinasian question "Can poets live together?" :

. . . To break down the walls
which separate each other's houses. To open the doors
of the rooms in which we sit, privately, contemplating
our works, each other's works, the works of the gods of
the past, present & future, to exist as if there were
only one room & fill it with all the poets you like

 

*Shit On My Shoes*, by Duncan McNaughton

Warsh sees it as "just another typical domestic scene" only with a difference that lends a "fragility to our acts, as if we were participants in a / softer sense of ourselves."

                                          . . . If I resemble
you, well, that's an accident—I didn't mean to be mistaken
for anyone, not even myself.

Aram Saroyan’s Bolinas Book (Other Publications, 1974) is made up of small poems about life in Bolinas along with little portraits of some of the poets living there:

ROBERT CREELEY

Robert Creeley
is a town figure
of no small
dimension.

 

JOANNE KYGER'S WRITING DESK

Joanne Kyger's writing desk
doesn't exist.

 

LEWIS MACADAMS, JR.

The best
basket-ball-
player in town
is Lewis MacAdams, Jr.

 

THE BOLINAS SCENE (5)

Getting yourself
operated on
by Bolinas, California—

all your friends there,
good doctors & nurses.

 

In The Cargo Cult (Big Sky, 1972) John Thorpe embraces Bolinas much as Charles Olson did Gloucester:

                       . . . I address Bolinas
as if it were a condition
to be occupied

           as if it Arose
not after Frisco that monsoon of lights
but rather the unclaimed silt beach of
phonepoles, bridges, houses, shoes—a last outpost takes
out here, and the rest of the world a wake
of minor shocks not for a moment

                                                       to be received as
history

          except of delay
or the question can a 'town' afford
to have lived less
than the men

            she
fosters

Duncan McNaughton lists the underlying forces of the community in a poem entitled "Bolinas" from his book Shit On My Shoes (Tombouctou, 1979):

compulsion superceded by orders
yawning emptiness by service
resolute solitude by confirmation
adversity by purpose

Philip Whalen’s take of the scene is somewhat different in his poem "America inside & outside Bill Brown's House in Bolinas" from Severance Pay (1970):

Flowers thick and various, fuchsias all over everything
Houses all scattered, all different, unrelated to the ground
or to each other except by road and waterpipe
Each person isolated, carefully watching for some guy
to make some funny move & then let him have it POW
Right on the beezer

Whalen was impatient with the place. He told me that he left because there were "too many parties". In "A Letter, to Bill Berkson" (The Kindness of Strangers, 1976) Whalen gives his final farewell to Bolinas:

There are no poems today.
Bolinas: too many people

           not enough
           W A T E R
No solitude where too many
cars, telephones, dogs—
No see no hear nothing.
Too bad! I go away.
All the trails overgrown with bushes

     vines and kookaburrs.
     Dead beaches. Ripped-out heads.
     G O O D B Y E.

Adios

1.

In the late seventies, the poets started to migrate away from Bolinas. Some began to find work outside of town, usually in San Francisco, and attempted to commute or split their time between the two places. But gradually the majority of the poets left.

"It got to the point for me," said Lewis MacAdams, "where I couldn’t walk down the road without seeing ghosts. I couldn’t go to any corner of the mesa that wasn't overpopulated with images of myself."

*News from Niman Farm*, by Lewis MacAdams

They all had their own reasons for leaving, but to almost all of the poets I interviewed or corresponded with, their time in Bolinas is held very dear to their hearts. Central to their lives.

The diverse threads or themes that pervade the works written there provide compelling criteria for the distinct character of the place and the community that everyone who lived there was a part of.

The motive force in Bolinas (to paraphrase Roger Shattuck’s description of the avant-garde in turn-of-the-century Paris) came from individuals reacting to each other and occasionally discovering a common end, yet never surrendering their integrity. To some it seemed an incestuous scene, but in the end it was, very simply, human. It was unquestionably an important and unique episode in the history of American poetics, if only because of the sheer number of poets living in one place at one time.

2.

In the fall of 1984 Richard Brautigan went to stay for a while in Bolinas where he had kept a home for some years. He holed up and kept to himself for several weeks until some friends, concerned that they hadn’t seen him for a while, stopped in to check on him. They were the first to discover his body. He had been dead for days. An autopsy revealed that he had shot himself. He was 49 years old.

It was no surprise to those that knew him well that Brautigan, the quintessential hippie writer, was a very troubled soul. Tom McGuane, quoted in the SF Chronicle in 1984, described him as "a gentle, troubled, deeply odd guy." A celebrity among the counterculture in the sixties, Brautigan had fallen out of favor with the critics and reportedly felt that his work was no longer appreciated. A close friend said "Richard was always a heavy boozer. Obviously he wasn't happy, but he always managed to pull himself out of despair before."

I wonder whether Brautigan saw the undercurrent of dark meaning in his choice to suicide in one of the last outposts of sixties counterculture?

Maybe "choice" isn’t the right word; more likely he was simply swept away in his own dark undertow. Still, this tragic death would seem to lay closure upon the hippie spirit that characterized much of what went down in Bolinas.

3.

While the poet population of Bolinas has been depleted from what it was in the early seventies, the place is still "outside," still, in many ways, the last hold-out of a lifestyle American culture co-opted but never really understood.

The town itself hasn’t changed all that much.

Of all the poets who lived in Bolinas during the sixties and seventies only John Thorpe, Bob Grenier and Joanne Kyger still live in Bolinas.

The Crystal in Tamalpais

     In Tamalpais is a big crystal. An acquaintance told
me the story. A Miwok was giving his grandfather's medicine
bag to the Lowie Museum in Berkeley. He said this man
took him over the mountain Tamalpais, at a certain time
in the year. I believe it was about the time of the
Winter Solstice, because then the tides are really low.
They stopped and gathered a certain plant on the way over
the mountain. On their way to the Bolinas Beach clam patch,
where there is a big rock way out there.

                                                                 Go out to
the rock. Take out of the medicine bag the crystal
that matches the crystal in Tamalpais. And

                                             if your heart is not true
                                             if your heart is not true
when you tap the rock in the clam patch

                                                 a little piece of it will fly off
                                       and strike you in the heart
                      and strike you dead.

And that's the first story I ever heard about Bolinas.

-Joanne Kyger

 

A (Partial) Bolinas Bibliography

[Unless stated otherwise, all direct quotes from the poets are taken from interviews or correspondence with the author.]

ANTHOLOGY

On the Mesa: edited by Joel Weishaus, City Lights, 1970.

PERIODICALS

The Bolinas Hit: edited by Bill Beckman, Tom Clark and Jim Brodey, 1969.

The Paper (later called Beaulines: A Diary of Community Consciousness), 1971-1974.

Big Sky: edited by Bill Berkson, 1971-1978.

Hearsay News: published 3 times a week by three separate editorial staffs, 1973-present.

BOOKS

Berkson, Bill: Recent Visitors, Angel Hair, 1973. Enigma Variations, Big Sky, 1975.

Berrigan, Ted & Clark, Tom: Bolinas Eyewash, unpublished manuscript (a large selection from this manuscript was printed in GAS: High-Octane Poetry, Number 3, Summer 1991).

Boar, Gerard a.k.a Ebbe Borregard: Sketches For 13 Sonnets, Oyez, 1969.

Brainard, Joe: Bolinas Journal, Big Sky, 1971.

Carroll, Jim: The Book of Nods, Penguin, 1986. Forced Entries, Penguin, 1987.

Clark, Tom: Green, Black Sparrow, 1971. John's Heart, Goliard/Grossman, 1972. 35, Poltroon Press, 1976.

Clarke, John: Blake, The Institute of Further Studies; Number 7 in the Curriculum of the Soul Series, 1973.

Creeley, Robert: Thirty Things, Black Sparrow, 1974. Away, Black Sparrow, 1976.

Cover of Joanne Kyger's *Just Space*. Poems 1979-1989. Illustrated by Arthur Okamura.

Kyger, Joanne: Joanne, Angel Hair Books, 1970. Trip Out and Fall Back, Arif Press, 1974. All This Every Day, Big Sky, 1975. The Wonderful Focus of You, Z Press, 1980. Just Space, Black Sparrow, 1991.

MacAdams, Lewis: The Bolinas Report, Zone Press, 1971. Dance, The Institute of Further Studies; Number 16 in the Curriculum of the Soul Series, 1972. Tilth, Bolinas Future Studies Center, 1972. News From Niman Farm, Tombouctou, 1976. Live From the Church, Kulchur, 1977.

McNaughton, Duncan: Shit On My Shoes, Tombouctou, 1979.

Saroyan, Aram: The Bolinas Book, Other Publications, 1974. Friends in the World: The Education of a Writer, Coffee House Press, 1992. Day & Night: Bolinas Poems, Black Sparrow, 1998.

Schell, Orville: The Town That Fought To Save Itself, Pantheon, 1976.

Thorpe, John: The Cargo Cult , Big Sky, 1972.

Warsh, Lewis: Long Distance, Ferry Press, 1971. Part of My History, Coach House Press, 1972.

Whalen, Philip: Heavy Breathing, Four Seasons Foundation, 1983. (Collects Severance Pay, Scenes of Life at the Capital, The Kindness of Strangers, and Enough Said).

© by Kevin Opstedal