An interview with FUGS founder, writer, musican, historian Ed Sanders.
(Ed Sanders-right Allen Ginsberg-Left)
Somerville Poets Host: Ed Sanders and his “Tales of Beatnik Glory.”
The Squawk Coffeehouse is a throwback to the bohemian coffeehouses of yore, with ample doses of the off-key, off-the-wall, outside-of-the box poetry and song. Presided over by resident Somerville bohemes Lee Kidd and Jessa Piaia, Squawk located at the Harvard Epworth Church, 1555 Mass Ave., Cambridge ( just outside Harvard Square) is a refuge for those of us who are still beatniks and hippies at heart. The doors for the reading opens at 9PM on Thursdays, and the readings usually last till 12 AM or so.
On Thursday, March 27th, “Squawk” is going to host the poet, historian, and musician Ed Sanders. Sanders is the doyen of the sensibility that “Squawk” embodies. Sanders is the founder of the “FUGS” ( a variation on a popular four letter word coined by Norman Mailer in his groundbreaking novel “The Naked and the Dead”) an influential 60’s avant-garde folk/rock band, as well as the publisher of the much sought after “Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts.” Sanders, cut his teeth in the Lower East Side of NYC from around 1960 to 1970. In his introduction to his autobiographical novel “Tales of Beatnik Glory” he writes of this once in a lifetime milieu:
“ Many of the stories are set in the Lower East Side of New York City, where I lived from 1960 to 1970. The 60’s were particularly intense in the Lower East Side, and I was in the middle of it as a publisher of numberless mimeographed tracts and literary magazines, and as the operator of the Peace Eye Bookstore, a cultural center and the location for some of the stories… It was at the Peace Eye Bookstore in late 1964 that Tuli Kupferberg and I founded the satiric anarcho-poetic folk ensemble known as the “Fugs”
Besides “Tales of Beatnik Glory,” Sanders is the author of “America, A History in Verse,” “1968, A History in Verse,” “The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg,” “The Family: The Story of Charles Manson Dune Buggy Attack Battalion,” and others. He currently lives in Woodstock, NY with his wife where he publishes “The Woodstock Journal.” He also invents musical instruments including the Talking Tie, the Lisa Lyre, ( a musical contraption involving light-activated switches and a reproduction of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.) I conducted an interview with Sanders recently:
Doug Holder: What made you drop out of the University of Missouri and head to Greenwich Village?
Ed Sanders: I headed for New York University, at first to study math and rocket science; but switched to classics after a few semesters of the glory of Greek. I had many good times at the University of Missouri, but, since I was already steeped in current poetry movements, I wanted to be close to where I perceived the glowing nexus resided, and that was New York
DH: You wrote your first poem (a long one) on toilet paper. You sent it to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the founder of City Lights, and he published your first book. Can you tell me about the poem-- and what brand of toilet paper?
ES: Jail paper. I wrote Poem from Jail in two formats: on the backs of the insides of cigarette packs, and on toilet paper, which I kept hidden in my cell, since writing was forbidden. The poem is a long meditation on the Demeter-Persephone myth, plus material on Herman Kahn's Doomsday Machine, and from I.F. Stone's "Hidden History of the
When I was released, I managed to smuggle out one copy of the Poem from Jail in my tennis shoe, all wadded up under my foot; then typed it, and mailed it to Lawrence Ferlinghetti who, to my everlasting gratitude, published it in 1963.
DH: Your book "Tales of Beatnik Glory" deals with your times in the Lower East Side of NYC in the late 50's and 60's. It seemed possible then to live the "Bohemian" life on the cheap. Can kids "afford" to live that way in today's climate?
ES: No rent control now. A person of youth needs three jobs: one for the rent, one for the art, and one for the fun.
DH: Ginsberg's " Howl" was a great liberating influence on you when you were a kid. Did it break you out of the corseted 1950's Midwestern sensibility?
ES: The story, "A Book of Verse," in Tales of Beatnik Glory, Vol. 1 pretty much describes the effect reading "Howl" had on me when reading it for the first time in 1957.
It seemed to liberate my consciousness in a way that many of the strictures of my upbringing had prevented, although I was raised by literature-encouraging, liberal parents. It helped me became an "American Bard," that is, a poet who takes public stances.
DH: I have run a small literary press "Ibbetson Street" for the past 10 years now. Everything is high tech these days. You were part of the "Mimeograph Revolution" You put out a magazine "Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts."
Can you tell me about the nuts and bolts of putting out a small press magazine back then. What did “Fuck You” offer its readers?
ES: We were on the cutting edge, as they say, of the then-current poetry scene: published Ginsberg, DiPrima, Robert Duncan, Creeley, Olson's 'Maximus,' William Burroughs, Auden, Snyder, Dorn, and many, many others. It was given away free, and was much sought out during its three year run.
The actual mechanics of typing stencils and operating a small
hand-cranked mimeo machine can be found, say, in my story, in “Tales of Beatnik Glory, Volume 1, "An Editorial Conference."
DH: You wrote a book "1968: A History in Verse." Why a history in verse? Is '68 the most pivotal year in that decade?
ES: 1968 showed the best and worst of a great nation. With its assassinations and broken dreams, riots and rebellion; but also itsmusic and poetry, it's awful war that went on for another 7 years; but also the Prague Spring, Columbia, Paris, the riots of Chicago and the rise of Nixon, the break-down of the Democratic Party just three years after Johnson's Great Society.
DH: At the Democratic Convention in 1968 in Chicago did you have any contact with the Yippies Abbey Hoffman and Jerry Rubin?
ES: Yes. I was one of the founders of Yippies, in early 1968. It's traced in my 1968, a History in Verse.
DH: You were influenced by the Beats. Do you pick up "On the Road" with the same enthusiasm now as you did when you were a young writer?
ES :"On the Road" is not quite as good as many other novels of the century. I was more of a "Howl" fan than a Kerouacian.
DH: I have a column in our local paper in The Somerville News, in which I interview artists, writers and poets. You publish "The Woodstock Journal" that publishes poetry and art. Ever publish Donald Lev of the "Home Planet News"? What do you find attractive about community journalism and the small press...
ES: Donald's a good old friend. He published my long poem, "In Praise of William Morris" in the current issue. Doing a benefit for Home Planet News in March in High Falls, New York, near where Donald lives.
Community Journalism is a good term for it. if it's done right it can help protect the water, protect open spaces, encourage home occupations, help all to survive and thrive, while creating a sustainable non-threatening, peaceful future.
DH: Can you describe how you became associated with SQUAWK, and what keeps you coming back?
ES: Well, I love that beautiful church. Its vibes are so powerful and historic. And Lee and Jessa have been friends since the time of the 1995 Beat Conference at New York University. They embody the best of the Community Spirit—helping all enjoy the fruits of poesy and center-left political power: the joy of freedom, and the strength of community action.
* Opening for Ed Sanders will be the musical group Dagmar2, the duo.
Poetry is Back!
(By Ed Sanders)
Osgood brings a smile
reciting poetry from his files,
He brings news that you can use
in a way that will amuse.
Poetry is back.
Jessee Jackson promotes,
preaches and orates,
using woven words
to help his message be heard.
Poetry is back.
The cowboy poets from all over
gather in Elko annually
to recite a verse,
tip their hats and houdy.
Poetry is back.
The rappers rap,
the hip hoppers hip.
Poetry is back.
These strange bedfellows
use verse and rhyme,
to preach their politics
and enjoy a good time.
They save for society
and for all time,
poems with proper meter,
and rhymes that really rhyme.
All the while they work
and write and speak,
the properly "educated" poets
write poems that truly reek!
Without any attention
to meter or proper time,
they write and recite
poems that don't even rhyme.
They gaze over their upraised noses
to us rabble far below.
writing verse that makes no sense
except to their friends in the know.
Many of these self appointed poets
who can't even make a poem rhyme,
suckle from NEA grants, writing
poems that only whine.
If their work had to pass the
free market test they wouldn't eat.
But they live high in fine clothes,
as they suckle the government teat.
In spite of the professional poets
talent or their lack,
Cowboys, preachers, radio folk and musicians keep on...
And poetry is back.