He's the Beat, or non-Beat, that no one knows. And that makes him extra cool. Born in the Bronx, of immigrant stock, he named himself after Jack London and made up a last name. American style. Moved to Greenwich Village in the 50's, the breadbasket of artistic community, and indulged himself in the jazz scene and the vagabond's way.
Troubadour Press, publisher of a jazz magazine of the times, made him hipify his lines by adding whitespace, stair-ing them on the page, and had him "get someone famous" like Kerouac to write an intro and a deal was done. The "Doctor Johnson Zen Master Magee of Innisfree" was thusly ordained by the daddy of the Beats and the book, River of Red Wine, was reviewed by Esquire's Dorothy Parker.
But fame had other plans. In 1998 he died on the insipid BART on a mission of visiting a pal in the East Bay. He forever lived on the fringes, in New York and in San Francisco. He saw the Beats as a mythical creation but hung with them and identified more with Harlem's Langston Hughes. He received the "Revolt in Literature Award" in 1957 from Charlie Mingus. He boozed it up with Kerouac in the Village where a true friendship was formed. He was a man about towns.
what is a poet's life but pure rebellion
and relentless wars of the heart
Shunned by the big presses due in part by his raucous behavior and an attitude that frowned upon the art of kissing ass, he poured out verse for hep cats about the people of the street, the dispossessed, the lowest of the lows, who, as we all know are just versions of ourselves. He was a kind of east coast Bukowski who even befriended Bukowski, even puked in his home, and was a man of both coasts.
But he was a writer less concerned with manufacturing a bad boy persona and more so focused with opening up his mind and heart and lungs in praise of the common human condition of always being on the downside of the up.
The alabaster city gleams in the sunlight
I am on a bus going to Santa Rosa
Away from the stinking hotel
They tell me I am famous, like the Jerome cookies
Streets, poems, nuthouses, jails, paintings, con-men and time
Micheline was a painter too -- he taught himself and made more money off his artwork than any of his over 20 books of poems. The primitive style. An anti-materialistic, Be-Bop influenced lyricist who despised greed and the mediocre culture of crap it spawns. When he tired of the Village and espoused the North Beach of San Francisco as an open and free place, where the roamers roam, where drinking was a past time and there wasn't enough trouble to get into, he found friendly exile.
As an unacknowledged patron saint of poetry, he canonized the poet as the demiurge who freed the soul from boring 9-5s and equally spiritless social roles. The poet's duty was to live out the freedom those who chose the "lives of quiet desperation" could only dream of.
Time is finally catching up. It seems the "relatively unknown" moniker is fading away and those who can see clearly view Micheline as the talented innovator he was. And right on the clock is Zeitgeist Press's collection of his poetry, Cockymoon, edited by William Taylor, Jr.
It is a compendium born "from a desire to make available, in one volume, the poems by which we knew and loved Jack in North Beach and the Mission in the 80s". Those who knew him knew.
there are blue skies hidden in my room
dolphins and seagulls
the heaving breasts and oceans
there are skies in my room
there are flies in my room
there are streets in my room
there are a thousand nights hidden in boxes
there are drunks in my poems
there are a million stars on the roof of my room
all hidden away in boxes
There can be nothing better in this day and onslaught of the digital era to be brought back to the appreciation of such complex simplicity. These are poems of voice, of sound, of the streets, of the normal abnormals, of the jazz of speaking and singing and talking a blue streak. Micheline's style is Old School from the era of authenticity and feeling.
This an essential collection for any reader who digs the artistic style of that one time in history that America was producing its greatest musical art form, the non-conformists were showing us the way, and artists in America had an open conflict with the Establishment and the Nuclear Family post war life.
It is a rich reminder that words are the music of all of our gloriously damned souls and that Jack Micheline was one hell of an artist.