Sunday, June 1st — 2 pm
Latif Harris, Part Two:
A life in beat zen poetry
Continuing where he left off in mid-May, Latif Harris reads more work from the span of his career, and relates stories of what has happened along the way.
Latif is one of the survivors of the late 50’s North Beach poetry scene. He lived on Columbus above the Stella Pastry as the 50’s rolled into the 60’s and the Beat scene evolved into the “Flower Children” hippie movement followed by the Gay revolution and the Independence of Women, and ultimately the internet explosion all of which changed the world for good. He has been an important writer of poetry as these years evolved and you can find elements of all of these historic events in his work.
He hung out with a group of poets and artists who for the most part were older than him. He notes that “Robert LaVigne was a great artist I met in 1960 and through his kind guidance I was thrust into a scene which I’d been seeking since I first heard about Ginsberg’s Howl. I went to high school in Temple City, California. I began writing poems at the age of 12 and two memorable librarians at the local library put my poems up on a bulletin board and asked for more. Hearing there were actually living poets active in San Francisco at the age of fifteen, I couldn’t wait to get there.”
Harris found himself assisting LaVigne as he created sets and costumes for the Actors Workshop whose directors Irving and Blau went to New York and were founding directors of the Lincoln Center Theater. The great productions of King Lear, Waiting for Godot and Kraps Last Tape, were just a few of the extraordinary plays done during a short period of time.
“LaVigne, who was a friend and neighbor of Michael McClure who had adjoining flats on Washington and Fillmore, put together a performance piece in a warehouse space in Jackson Square. McClure’s book DARK BROWN was just published and the well known composer and teacher of music Morton Sabotnik put together a piece of music featuring recorded sounds and live music as McClure performed Fuck Ode and other work from his book. LaVigne designed background flats and used dramatic lighting to create a captivating scene. I was there helping with light cues and knowing about Happenings in New York felt like I was in the middle of the Avant Garde at the age of 19.”
“Later when I moved back to L.A. in 1963 I was working for Open City, the underground newspaper edited and published by John Bryant. I reviewed Creeley’s book FOR LOVE and his novel ISLAND which gave me a new insight in to his stylistic rhythms which remain unique and impossible to imitate though many have tried. Also intrrviewd McClure when his Billy the Kid play was busted. Later Open City became famous for publishing Bukowski’s Notes of a Dirty Old Man.
” I attended City College, and with the help of the playwright Ed Bullins with whom I edited the College Lit Mag. I founded, edited, and published a hand set press literary magazine with graphic covers featuring the great disappearing landmarks of downtown. I lived in Echo Park with my first wife Sandy and my first son David was born in 1965. The Kennedy assassination the year before changed many of my views about politics. I was already outspoken about the Viet Nam War and published pieces in the People’s World. But the letters and poems I wrote after this earth shattering event, have kept me under their watch for the rest of my life.
I returned to San Francisco for the historic gathering of poets at U.C. Berkeley organized by Professor Warren Tallman. Since I was one of the few people that had a car, a cool 1952 Ford Victoria which Lew Welch loved. I was driving people back and forth between the City and readings and nightly parties. Had the privilege to be John Wieners driver. His book HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS, read to me by LaVigne years earlier still remains, in my opinion, one of the greatest books of poetry that came out of the whole movement. I had hung out with Spicer and his followers in the early 60’s, and it was his use of language that influenced my work in such a deep way. I drove him to his last reading during this gathering, as he died a month later in Stinson Beach. I was there for the Olson “Lights Out” lecture/performance. I remember he and Lew Welch got into it because Olson said Lew didn’t read enough, Lew thinking he meant “do readings” not reading books was climbing over the rows yelling at Charles. It was the largest collection of poets ever gathered in one place for a short time. I was anxious to meet Robert Creeley. We had a brief correspondence after I read his For Love. I decided to go out to Albuquerque to study with him. He was teaching at U.N.M. and this was one of my best decisions in my life.
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