He spent a short time in Chicago, writing from a cheap $6 a week hotel room, and described himself as a possessed man, who slept little, as he wandered the streets at all hours mumbling to himself and counting empty beer cans. But his best creative years were in Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach.
He saw the poet as a revolutionary whose purpose in life is to free people from the slavery of stifling jobs and relationships. He believed it was the poet’s job to live poems and set a fearless example for others. He was a close friend of the late Charles Bukowski (Hank) in the days before Hank became famous. They drank together at Hank’s pad, and he recalled to me how John Martin (Black Sparrow Press) would come over to Hank’s apartment and leave him art supplies so that Hank could create drawings, which he used to promote his books.
“We became good friends,” said Micheline. We went to the track together, a few times. He was very vulnerable, but he changed, like everyone does after they become famous. He had to protect himself. That’s understandable. He had a magic there, and it carried over to his writing.”
The love relationship between them is evident from a July 16, 1973 letter that Hank wrote me: “Micheline is all right—he’s one-third bull shit, but he’s got a special divinity and a special strength. He’s got perhaps a little too much of a POET sign pasted to his forehead, but more often than not he says the good things–in speech and poem–power- flame, laughing things. I like the way his poems roll and flow. His poems are total feelings beating their heads on barroom floors.
I can’t think of anyone who has more and who has been neglected more. Jack is the last of the holy preachers sailing down Broadway singing the song. Going over all the people I’ve ever known, he comes closer to the utmost divinity, the soothsayer, the gambler, the burning of stinking buckskin than any man I’ve ever known.”
Their friendship transcended their different philosophies. Micheline saw poetry as a holy message to be delivered to the masses, while Hank saw poetry as just another job that was no different from a carpenter or electrician, and certainly saw nothing holy about it. Hank hated giving readings, and only read for money. Micheline read for the pure love of it.
In his youth, he was by his own admission a wild man. One of his favorite sayings was, “To be a poet is to be mad.” One evening, in New York, after leaving a literary party, he found himself dancing up West Eighth Street, on his way to the Cedar Tavern, when two cops attempted to place him under arrest for being drunk and disorderly. He wrestled the two officers to the ground, suffering cuts and bruises, and in the process, bit one of the officer’s on the nose.
He was taken to a nearby hospital emergency room, and his wounds attended to by a doctor who by chance had heard him read his poems at a local club. The doctor told the officers that while he was drunk that he was otherwise okay. The two officers disagreed and took him to Bellevue Hospital where he was admitted to the psychiatric wing on a 72-hour hold.
In a short story, he recalls his short stay on Ward Nine (the violent ward) as a place for the damned: “The stale smell of antiseptic prevailed. Everyone was shot-up with drugs.” There is no denying that he found a wealth of writing material from his short incarcerations in jail, and his experience in the mental ward. He recalls a man named Doc, who from his wheelchair, at Bellevue, made regular rounds of the other patients, and a tall, skinny patient named Moe who moved his fingers up and down on an imaginary saxophone.
These are the kind of people who became subject matter for his poems. After his release from Bellevue, he walked the streets back down to the East side, “spitting into the darkness of death,” vowing that life must encourage more life.
“I drank, wept, and pissed and created in the darkness of a world which seemed bent on destroying itself through its ignorance, fear, greed, futility, and insensitivity.”
After moving from New York to San Francisco, he was again arrested, this time by the San Francisco Police, outside the Co- Existence Bagel Shop, charged with indecent exposure, for pissing in public. He was taken to the Hall of Justice and forced to spend the night in the drunk tank. The next morning he appeared before the judge and listened to the charges being read, “Urinating on the corner of Grant and Green.”
When he showed no shame, the judge became outraged, and ordered him sent to County Hospital for mental observation. When he next appeared before the judge, he said that he swallowed his pride and apologized to the judge, who gave him a ten-day suspended sentence.
He remained a wild man well into the 80s, when he became ill with diabetes, and was forced to give up drinking. The wild times became but blurred memories, like the time he visited Hank in Los Angeles, arriving unannounced at Hank’s apartment, and carrying with him a stack of paintings and poems. After a day at the races, and a night of heavy drinking, Hank told him that he could sleep overnight, and offered him his living room sofa. According to Hank, he sensed that Micheline might vomit, and placed a wastebasket near his head, and told him that if he had to vomit to make sure he hit the wastebasket.
Hank said that the following morning he got up and drove Micheline to the airport to catch his airplane back to San Francisco, and on returning home, he discovered that Micheline had vomited, and, completely missed the wastebasket, and had wiped up the mess with a magazine Hank had been published in.
It was incidents like this that cost him more than a few friendships, but his real friends found it hard to stay angry with him. While there is no denying that he was sometimes loud and abrasive, it is also true that what he said was always honest, even if sometimes blunt and brutal. If one could get past his sometimes-abrasive personality, they found that he was a force to be reckoned with.
It had to hurt him not to receive the recognition afforded peers like Ferlinghetti, Corso, and McClure, and he didn’t make it any easier on himself by offending those in a position to help him. He would have one believe that the slights he received from the literary establishment didn’t hurt him, but I know better.
In his last years his fight with diabetes had taken a toll on him. He looked all his age and then some, but he was still indomitable, giving readings and presenting art shows throughout the city.
Sharing a cup of coffee with him, a few short months before his death, I looked out the window of the café, and saw two punk rockers walking by. It reminded me of the time a group of punk rockers came to one of his readings, intent on hooting him down, but who in the end found themselves wildly clapping their appreciation. No one, but no one, could turn around an audience like he could.
He was to many the reincarnated voice of Walt Whitman. a poet who understood Kerouac’s mad genius, a writer who refused to include an SASE with his work. He was the ultimate nonconformist. He believed and lived by the credo that to be a poet in America is to be an outlaw. His poems were his six guns, never backing down from anyone or anything.
The steps move the heart
The heart fuels the eye
The mirror of the brain
Listen to the rhythm of your breath
This is how rare poems are written
Not with words but with strange notes
That moves the pen on the page
This is the eye of the storm
God’s gift to nature
I’m proud to have been his friend. To have broke bread with him; to have drank with him; to have laughed and cried with him. There is and was no closer poet friend I have ever known.
Shortly after his death I submitted a proposal to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to rename a street in North Beach after him. On November 18, 2003, the City of San Francisco honored him by renaming an alley in North Beach after him. He now joins such noted Beat poets and writers as Bob Kaufman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Jack Kerouac, whose names adorn North Beach streets and back-alleys.
About A.D. Winans
A. D. Winans is a native San Francisco poet, writer and photographer. He was friends with Jack Micheline, Bob Kaufman, Charles Bukowski and other poets and writers of the 50’s and 60’s. The author of 45 books and chapbooks of prose and poetry, his work has appeared internationally and been translated into nine languages.
A poem of his was set to music and performed at Tully Hall, NYC. His book, The Other Side Of Broadway: Selected Poems: 1965-2005, was published in January 2007 by Presa Press.
He was a winner of a 2006 PEN National Josephine Miles award for literary excellence.
(first appeared in emptymirrorbooks.com)