Thursday, December 10, 2009


On December 10, 2004, I posted the note below.

It was twenty years ago today that I last had a drink. Not that anyone’s counting. Well, as people who know me must understand by now, I tend to count everything, so why not this? I was seeing a therapist at the time, one Charlie Vella out at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco, & he suggested stopping “while we’re meeting,” but, once I stopped, I never went back. Something, curiously enough, I have in common with both Howard Dean and George W.

“Better to read Jack Spicer than to be Jack Spicer” is the way I’ve explained it to more than a few people over the years. That’s a sentence that’s underscored, in my case, by the coincidence that Jack Spicer & my father died on the same day.

When I was coming up as a young poet in the 1960s, there was still a romance to the myth of the hard-living poet, who drank ravenously, did drugs constantly & certainly did not practice what was not yet known as safe sex. I remember when first I met Paul Blackburn, seeing him rotate a quartet of substances – beer, whiskey, doobie & cigarette – constantly in motion. He was always sucking on something. As it happened, I never met Jack Spicer, precisely because alcohol killed him at the age of 40. Never met Kerouac for the same reason. Brad Gooch has detailed, accurately I think, how Frank O’Hara’s prodigious drinking made it impossible to keep him alive after he was hit by a dune buggy. Who knows what the impact of their habits might have been in the early deaths of Ted Berrigan or Charles Olson? There are at least three contributors to In the American Tree whose friends despair of ever getting clean & sober. And every poet in my age cohort recoils at the memory of how Darrell Gray destroyed himself. This is a list that, once you start drawing it up, never stops. And it always cuts close to home. I have a half-brother who is a late-stage alcoholic & there’s nothing I can do to counter that.

Over the years, I’ve had a few poets – three or four – tell me that it was important to them that I talked about this. So today feels like a good time to mention it here.

Five years later, the clock is still ticking. The trick is always the same. I only have to go without drinking for one day, but it has to be today.  This somehow works. I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but I’m glad they’re around and when I go to a big event, such as a folk festival, it’s good to see a tent announcing the Friends of Bill W. Just knowing I’m not alone is a serious comfort. Allen Ginsberg once talked to me at length about how valuable NA had been for him in dealing with a relationship to a drug addict. It reminded me how, when I wrote to Ginsberg for the very first time – I must have been 18, sending a poem Richard Krech later printed in the Community Libertarian – Allen wrote back to tell me not to “take too much dex,” (i.e. Dexedrine). He sent this on a postcard & my mother thought the word was “sex.”

Since I posted that note five years ago, I’ve heard from quite a few other people, and have seen my note referenced on other blogs several times. So saying this out loud seems still to be a good idea. There is no reason you have to die for your art. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.


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