A Beat Memior by Marc Olmsted


Then, most important, lovers over half-century/.…
“He taught me to meditate, now I’m an old veteran of the thousand day retreat –”
–  imagining his funeral, Allen Ginsberg’s “Death & Fame”

Phonecall 2 AM –
the famous old
poet, friend for
23 years,
calls to
tell me he may
be dead in
a month – terminal
liver cancer –
result of Hepatitis
C –
“You’ve been so good
to me over all
these years” he says
I’m startled
“You’ve been so
good to me.”
“Then it’s been
a good thing.”…

-(excerpted “BONES” from my What Use Am I a Hungry Ghost?: Poems from Three Year Retreat)


At the back of the bar was Bob Kaufman, legendary black Beat poet that I’m not sure I was aware of yet.  He was quite loaded and seemed quite mad.  “Allen!  Allen!” he shouted across the room, and sat down on the floor of the bar, reciting a poem from memory.  It was mostly incoherent to me, except for something about the ancient pagan god Dagon.  Ginsberg listened attentively with one finger raised and pressed against his lips.   It was a characteristic gesture I would see countless times.  When Bob was done, Allen turned to me and said, “Good poem.”  Kaufman suddenly leered at me, “You’re with Big Daddy, huh?”  I probably blushed, but in fact I was terrified.

We walked in the cool North Beach night, 1974..  Allen said, “I’d kinda like to sleep with you.”  I confessed that I’d “never experienced sodomy.”  He said not to worry.  He later told me that hearing me use the word “sodomy” gave him quite a thrill.

I arrived with Allen in Shig Murao’s apartment on Grant Street.  Shig had been busted for being behind the cashier at City Lights bookstore when Howl was initially confiscated.  He was a very kindly Japanese hippie who made himself scarce in the second floor apartment.  The place was mostly bookcases full of first editions.  After looking at some of my poems and making kind remarks, Allen signed Yage Letters for me as an intro to Burroughs (who was coming to town to read) and suggested I touch Bill’s heart when I met him.

Allen and I retired.  He showed me how Neal Cassady would let him screw him, which was facing me and thrusting between my legs.  Afterwards we lay together.   “Don’t be mean to me,” he said.  And we slept.

In the morning, he taught me Buddhist sitting, both of us naked and facing the bookcase on Shig’s tatami mats, awareness of my outbreath dissolving into space.


Teenager 20 – nearly gave up writing after running into academy wall of college – same old story: your mind ain’t o.k. as is – met Allen Ginsberg who gave permission – sanctity of the ordinary-basic haiku moment, H. Miller’s matchstick in gutter, Howl’s holy bum and asshole refined through Buddhist practice – everything’s o.k. but we still need discipline – I was big confused pain early 20’s, later relaxed due mainly to that original permission, a meadow for me to see I didn’t have to be tortured, though took a good 10 years and will always be a mess, probably, still in better shape than that kid who first saw him lead drunken Trungpa Rinpoche to stage – Ginsberg’s contribution: beyond poetry, politics, to show the space of mind both exist in, where problems unravel, poetry rises and self lets go – a chance for us all to the last outbreath.

– My contribution to Best Minds: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg, 1986 (for his 60th birthday)


One Response to “A Beat Memior by Marc Olmsted”

  1. “Don’t be mean to me.” Your struggles had a lot in common with Ginsberg’s, apparently. Kindred spirits who swirled together during evenings of drunken poetry.

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