Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On December 10, 2004, I posted the following note here:

It was twenty years ago today that I last had a drink. Not that anyone’s counting. Well, as people who know me must understand by now, I tend to count everything, so why not this? I was seeing a therapist at the time, one Charlie Vella out at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco, & he suggested stopping “while we’re meeting,” but, once I stopped, I never went back. Something, curiously enough, I have in common with both Howard Dean and George W.

“Better to read Jack Spicer than to be Jack Spicer” is the way I’ve explained it to more than a few people over the years. That’s a sentence that’s underscored, in my case, by the coincidence that Jack Spicer & my father died on the same day.

When I was coming up as a young poet in the 1960s, there was still a romance to the myth of the hard-living poet, who drank ravenously, did drugs constantly & certainly did not practice what was not yet known as safe sex. I remember when first I met Paul Blackburn, seeing him rotate a quartet of substances – beer, whiskey, doobie & cigarette – constantly in motion. He was always sucking on something. As it happened, I never met Jack Spicer, precisely because alcohol killed him at the age of 40. Never met Kerouac for the same reason. Brad Gooch has detailed, accurately I think, how Frank O’Hara’s prodigious drinking made it impossible to keep him alive after he was hit by a dune buggy. Who knows what the impact of their habits might have been in the early deaths of Ted Berrigan or Charles Olson? There are at least three contributors to In the American Tree whose friends despair of ever getting clean & sober. And every poet in my age cohort recoils at the memory of how Darrell Gray destroyed himself. This is a list that, once you start drawing it up, never stops. And it always cuts close to home. I have a half-brother who is a late-stage alcoholic & there’s nothing I can do to counter that.

Over the years, I’ve had a few poets – three or four – tell me that it was important to them that I talked about this. So today feels like a good time to mention it here.

In the meantime, my brother has died of the disease and the number of poets who’ve mentioned that my talking about this helps has climbed well into double digits. So I will repeat it again today. There is no reason you have to die for your art. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.