"Wittman had been there at Berkeley when Charles Olson read--and drew, spreading wide his arms, a map of the universe on the chalkboard--circles and great cosmic rings. And Lew Welch dangling his legs off the corner of the platform and nodding in rhythm . . . "
--Tripmaster Monkey, Maxine Hong Kingston
Kingston, Wittman Ah Sing's creator, had been there too, and so, it turns out, had Rachel Loden.
I love the cover of Loden's book. Back in the day, you got those punch cards to register for university courses. The cards in use at Berkeley at the time of the Berkeley Poetry Conference still had an attendance record running along the top. You needed a ticket to attend the Poetry Conference events, and you registered for the thing as you would for a regular university course. This card, dated July 16, 1965, gives Loden's Westport, Connecticut, address and shows that she paid $45 for the two seminars and the readings she was able to attend. The conference was run through the university's extension program, and the then seventeen year old Loden had earned the fees by babysitting.
"LeRoi Jones was supposed to be here but he may not come. / Headline on the Realist: / 'You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love LeRoi Jones.'"
That Paul Krassner had one wicked sense of humor, AND read poetry. People who never saw The Realist would probably think of something like The Onion if you tried to describe it to them.
"This conference heartens and alarms me," Loden writes in one of the two notebooks she had with her; a page from one of them is reproduced in this book.
There is so much going on here. An entry marked "Olson #5" starts out with a simple citation: "Harlem Gallery. Twayne. Tolson." How much longer would it take mainstream American literary criticism to make that connection?
Later: "Leroy McLucas & Dorn - a book - " The reference is to The Shoshoneans, a book of text and photographs that grew out of a road trip the poet and photographer made together.
On the same page: "The poets were always real to me but now I've seen them. Strangely there are no further realities after that first one of knowing and believing the poems themselves."
In the section on Olson's reading we suddenly get: "A voiceless Ezra Pound watches LeRoi Jones Dutchman & Jennifer West -- "
In the end, it comes to Bob Dylan, as all things must -- but hey, it was 1965:
"WMCA turns people on" says the ad.
Help! The Beatles.
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
You're in the free world -- now you've got to stay here.
Loden's notebooks give us a window on a crucial moment in the history of American culture that can only be matched by watching film of the event itself. And even watching the film you would miss so much. You wonldn't have seen Wittman Ah Sing, for example.
Kulchur was still publishing in 1965. It was a place where you might find that same energy and similar constellations of poetics. Loden learned from it, and so can we.