Modern Beasts Have No Memory: A Laurence Weisberg Dossier / compiled by Brian Lucas

Modern Beasts Have No Memory: A Laurence Weisberg Dossier

compiled by Brian Lucas

Bria Lucas lives in Oakland, CA. His most recent book is Now Land (ink drawings with an accompanying CD of music), self-released under the moniker Old Million Eye. Eclipse Babel, a book of ink drawings and poems, was co-published in 2015 by Bird & Beckett/Bootstrap Press. Gaze Emanations, a series of drawings, were recently exhibited and performed as graphic scores at the Center for New Music (San Francisco). Aside from painting and poetry, he has also played on numerous albums and toured with the “cosmic free-rock” group Dire Wolves. He is currently finishing up two Old Million Eye albums set to be released in 2021.

L.W. in 1981 with Marcel Duchamp’s Small Glass (…). Photo: Alice Farley

This dossier on Laurence Weisberg was originally published in 2012 on an early version of the City Lights Books blog, Abandon All Despair Ye Who Enter Here. The original blog has been defunct for several years now unfortunately. Recently (February 2021) I wrote an appreciation of Weisberg’s poetry for the Caesura website so for a new introduction to his work and to read samples of his poems please follow this link. What follows here are excerpts from interviews I conducted with Weisberg’s friends, along with photos and artwork.

Allan Graubard: Laurence had a peculiar ability to transform language through sonic images whose purely visual properties were one aspect of a complex moment. He found in that complexity a way to resist cliché. And he sang. There’s music in his lines, a rich loam where strange flowers grow.

I met Laurence at Cal Arts in 1970. He had left the school just prior to my arrival. Nonetheless, his name preceded him. Once, at Clayton Eshleman’s place, a month or so before the school year began, I asked him what students of his were poets. He named two, one of which was Laurence. At that time Laurence had already identified himself as a surrealist. Recall that Eshleman published him with Philip Lamantia in his journal Caterpillar. Laurence was interested in poetry and read poetry. He was attracted to surrealism because it revealed the true magic of poetry and the poetic. Remember also that this was a social thing based on elective affinity, poetic evidence, and friendship. There was a group in San Francisco before I got there: Philip Lamantia, Stephen Schwartz, Richard Waara, Nancy Peters, also Pete Winslow and David Volpendesta. The city lent itself to the kind of reverie that surrealism framed, too. You lived it; you wrote it. This is an essay I wrote on that time, Elective Affinities:

Peter Garland: I don’t recall the exact moment Laurence and I met, nor even which year. At some point, certainly by the 1971-1972 school year we were good friends. We did participate in several of Clayton Eshleman’s classes (including one on translating Cesar Vallejo). Early memories of our friendship? Good hashish. Listening to music. I probably turned him on to world music, the American “modernist” composers (Partch, Harrison, Ives, Nancarrow, et al), and the then-new “minimalist” scene. Laurence caught on immediately—of my poet friends he probably had the best appreciation for truly radical music. We were also fans of the early psychedelic-era Grateful Dead. Laurence was also a good source for LSD and we did our fair share of tripping together. We both moved to the Bay Area around 1973. He and Alice Farley both took part in the Harvey Milk/Dan White riots, where Alice notably set fire to a bank.

BL: You consider some of your early 70s compositions to be “surrealist.” Was automatism a compositional tool? What aspects of these pieces do you consider “surreal”?

Peter Garland: My first early piano pieces (1972-72) were very Harold Budd influenced (He was my teacher). I broke away from that with my 3 Songs for Percussion (1972-73). The second piece, Three Songs for Mad Coyote had a strong Native American influence; and the third piece, Obstacles of Sleep, took its title from a poem of Laurence’s. A certain element of automatism and creative “delirium” were part of the composing process; but I eventually moved away from surrealism in that sense.

Alice Farley: Everything I write is not true enough.

There is poetry that is not realized in ambition. There is poetry that is understood so deeply that it can be awakened in others. There is a poetry that is given away as freely as a drink of water. There is poetry that is contagious truth.

Laurence was a true poet. A poet of the living moment. He loved the conversation of the street. His poems on the page speak for themselves. But the living dialogue with him was something else.  He challenged the common wisdom, he seduced timid thought with infinite possibilities. Laurence’s books were never published while he was alive, but everywhere he awoke poetry in those he met.

For his friends he changed everything. He always had an antenna for pretense, and none of us escaped.  Poetry was never a credential, it was the burning ground. He could convince you. Truth does exist.

The beauty in Laurence, (after the compassion and humor) was the speed of his thought, instantaneous access to a roar of knowledge. To hear him in conversations with Philip Lamantia, or Radovan Ivsic and Annie Le Brun,  was to be in the volatile center of some surrealist storm of  thought unwinding….  Leaps and dancing though esoteric, political, philosophical or literary worlds, but passing through, just there… ideas not claimed. They were in pursuit of elsewhere.

farley danceWe met at 19, dancer and poet reading Samuel Beckett. Our professor is disappointed LW is so distracted by love. Laur breaks through the window of my bedroom and covers me with flowers while I sleep. This is no gesture, this is what we already know we are. The web between us is fully formed.  30 years later, we always knew (even across continents) the moment when the other saw lightning.

Alice Farley Dance Theatre at Land’s End, S.F. Photo by Raman Rao

Clayton Eshleman:  I met Laurence in late 1970 or early 1971 while I was teaching at the new California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. My wife Caryl and I had rented a house in Sherman Oaks and I think that 18 year old Laurence was living with his parents in Sherman Oaks as well. He knocked on our door one day, introduced himself, and asked me if he could sit in on a poetry class I was teaching. I got the impression that he was not enrolled at Cal Arts, but I could be wrong. He visited my class occasionally, told me that he was taking LSD regularly, and showed me some of his poetry which I thought was interesting, especially given Laurence’s age. He had discovered French Surrealism and the poetry of Philip Lamantia. His poetry at this time had a rich, irrational vocabulary and a cosmic curiosity. He was already working the romantic surrealist grid of transpersonal confrontations with destiny that he would elaborate over the decades to come.  Sometime during my first semester at Cal Arts I was visited by a group of students who told me at the door that they had come to declare that no books should be used in our poetry class. Laurence and Steve Fredman (now a significant scholar) were part of this group. These were strange times. Walking onto campus one morning I passed a circle of students sitting on the grass. They were passing a dead small snake around, from person to person, while their instructor, crossed-legged inside the circle, chanted. Laurence was quite likeable, even sweet, but also adrift, and increasingly caught up in drugs. In the fall of 1973, Caryl and I went to France for a year and when we returned to Los Angeles, to the bottom half of a duplex on Los Angeles’s West Side, Laurence looked us up. He would drop by our apartment and chat for a while. I was never clear as to where he was living, or with whom. He seems to have moved to NYC in the early 1980s, for during one of our visits we ran into him on the street in the Lower East Side, and he invited us to visit him where he was staying. I recall him showing me a sheaf of poems and telling me that he was working on a book to be called Phantomatic. He introduced us to his dear friend, the dancer Alice Farley and we put a photo of Alice in one of her fantastic tube costumes on the cover of Sulfur #6, 1983.

Peter Blegvad: Did we meet at the reading Clayton Eshleman gave with Helen Adams? Not sure. I was emphatically unsober on that and most occasions of our paths crossing. I remember sitting with him outside a bar a few blocks from St. Marks Place, quaffing lubricants and talking about poetry and Laurence was so appalled to discover that I hadn’t read Philip Lamantia that he leapt up and disappeared. About ten minutes later he ambled back with a collection that he’d coolly lifted from the nearby bookshop in order to remedy my lack with minimum delay.  I remember playing Exquisite Corpse writing games with him and Dana Johnson in a John Street loft. I remember “burnt black by the fire of his mask”. He had a good sense of humour, but I remember his disdain or disappointment when on a subsequent meeting he noticed I had altered the text of one of my bits — editorial interference with the automatic process being a betrayal of Surrealist principle. He made me nervous. He could be sensitive and tender, but he was somehow always a bit scary. I was a neurotic bourgeois ephebe, after all. I couldn’t compete with him and I didn’t feel I could trust him. He was vivid and intense, uncompromising. I sensed he was gonna follow the line of greatest resistance wherever it led, something like that. Self annihilation, in the Romantic tradition, seemed to be part of his program. I could dig that, on some level, but I didn’t wanna get too involved.

BL: Why did Laurence not publish more during his lifetime (books, chapbooks, journals/magazines)? What was his involvement with the poetry scenes in NY and SF (any affiliations with the Beats, Language poets, NY School)?

Allan Graubard: He didn’t care for literary or poetry journals. He didn’t care for any scene that did not reveal to him marvelous values. And he was a bit anti-social when it came to other poets and writers that he did not immediately take to in terms of poetic evidence.  He was not out to make a career for himself as a poet. But he also took things a bit too far in that regard.  And it hurt him in the end.For Laurence, the “poetry scene” was just another sad sideshow; the Beats over and done with and, for just a few, never as interesting as too many people made them out to be; the Language poets were an excrescence of vapidity; and literary careerists could stuff their “careers.” He was the other voice. And he lived that.

Will Alexander: The first time I met him was in the late 70s/early 80s in San Francisco. He was an elegant cat. He saw the world through surrealist lenses. And it shows in all the work. There’s a stream of a singular mindset. His writing was a private activity, but he would read his new creations to me on the phone. I was always encouraging him to go out and move stuff around, get his work out there. After the World Surrealist Exhibition in 1976, a falling out with the Chicago Surrealist Group, and as other groups dissolved he went into a more socially hermetic kingdom. That’s the Laurence I knew. He had a magnificent library. I have a book on Tibetan dream interpretation from his library I’m reading right now.

The Heart is the Only Master by L.W.

BL: Can you comment on Laurence’s peripatetic life? His travels to Indonesia and Mexico (what prompted them, etc.)?

Allan Graubard: For Laurence, travel was a dream until he met Alice, they became a couple and both entered the surrealist group around Philip Lamantia in San Francisco. They didn’t have much money either. Who did? During summers, they went east to Alice’s family “farm” in rural Pennsylvania. Walter Farley, Alice’s father, was a successful author—the creator of the “Black Stallion” line of novels—and wrote in a small studio behind the house with its big windows and deck and swimming hole surrounded by trees. A beautiful, isolated, somewhat wild spot…

They went to Mexico in 1976, where they met their friend Peter Garland, prior to the World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago. When Laurence left on that trip, he gave Tom Burghardt a manuscript of poems for safekeeping, which later reappeared in his collected papers after his (Laurence’s) death.

L.W. in Mexico

Laurence would return to Mexico, visit Paris, and Indonesia. It fed his wanderlust, which we all shared. He was planning to move back to Oaxaca when he died. From his travels he tasted a kind of freedom and despair that fed him and his writing. Laurence was very good with people he liked and could make do in a foreign society with ease despite his elementary Spanish.

Always, he sought the exotic, the magical, and the poetic. He had a keen eye for locality and culture, and enjoyed them. Once, in order to help him cure his drinking, he sought out a Mexican curandero; I don’t recall the drug she used with him. He mentioned it helped him. His poems reveal other experiences. He hated being a tourist; he wanted to travel more widely than he did. Otherwise his life in the US—moving between LA, SF, NY, with visits to Arizona (where he twice viewed Katina ceremonies) —were a result of two things: desire for change of place and failure to find a way to make a living in anyplace.      

Jon Graham and L.W. in Paris

Jon Graham: Like many of Laurence’s friends our relationship was characterized by many upswings and downswings. Laurence was an incredible source of knowledge on almost every conceivable subject; he was also prone to making intoxicated phone calls in the wee hours of the morning. In all respects he was an “awakener” par excellent. Being a friend of Laurence meant sacrificing a good night’s sleep, or stumbling through life like a sleepwalker. My meeting with Laurence was a turning point—thanks to him I was able to focus and hone abilities that had been only available before in ways that were obscure and scattered in their effect. For a long time we were neighbors in an inhospitable region of Pennsylvania, where we had hoped to be able to advance our collaborations to a much more advanced degree. I say inhospitable because it proved to be a harsh exile for both of us. It seemed everything inacceptable about the human condition—especially in its American variant—was present in its quintessential form, and the struggle to survive prevailed far too often over our personal creative efforts. For me it presented a hard contrast to the stimulating atmosphere of Paris where many former members of the French Surrealist Group, and others were then still alive—for Laurence, it was the relentless isolation that gradually destroyed the small haven he and Leslie Yudelson shared.

Shortly before this time Laurence had visited us in Paris at a time when Group Hydra was flourishing and it energized our discussions with the people I introduced him to in Paris. We spent the bulk of our time with Annie Le Brun and Radovan Ivsic, who had already met Laurence, Leslie, Alice Farley, Allan Graubard, and other Group Hydra members in New York. During their visit (Laurence came with Leslie), we also met with Jean Benoit, Jacques Herald, and Elisa Breton. I was still uncertain about how to proceed with this short text when I saw Jean Claude Carrière at the Salon du Livre by chance, and that was too strong a clue to dare overlook. 

I had already visited Elisa Breton several times during my sojourn in Paris, and when Laurence confirmed that he and Leslie were coming, I began making preparations to take them there. Elisa was happy to welcome some more young surrealists in her home, especially given the direction Group Hydra activity was taking. Breton’s apartment was still the same as it was the day he died in 1966, and the poetically charged atmosphere was one of the few environments where I can remember seeing Laurence perfectly at ease—almost as if it was his natural setting. Several years ago there was a controversy surrounding the auction of Breton’s collection shortly after Elisa’s death. Those who wished a way could be found to keep the collection intact—and the high poetic charge it represented—were criticized by others as proponents of a very bourgeois desire to create a state funded sanctuary that could not be more in contradiction to the stated aims of surrealism. But for me this space was akin to the sacred spaces revered by Native Americans in the Southwest, or ancient megalithic sites where something can still be felt. It was a place that had escaped the relentless pressure of our time to make everything banal and meaningless, a place that Julien Gracq once described as a haven from everything mechanical in the world. The wall of objects reconstructed in the Beaubourg can hardly even intimate the profound spell those objects cast when arranged as they had been by Breton, so that their unsung qualities could speak to each other in ways that normally remain unperceived. Laurence was one of those rare individuals who could immediately grasp the profound play of thought that was expressed in the juxtaposition of objects and paintings there.

Elisa warmed up to him quite quickly during the afternoon we spent with her, and began bringing other objects out of drawers for us to see—the tail of a huge rattlesnake that Breton cut from a dead snake he found outside of the Hopi Reservation, stones collected on the banks of the Lot near St. Cirq la Popie, and strange ex votives from Brittany. She also decided Laurence had to be part Native American, calling him Laurence Whitebird, the name she continued to use when asking me how he was doing during my later visits.

While we were there Jean-Claude Carrière called to talk to Elisa; thus when I saw him recently, I took it as a sign of objective chance to use this episode as a way to shed light on the special qualities of Laurence as a seer in a world of the blind.  This was both his strength and weakness—as I believe it was his extreme sensitivity to the blindness of others that caused him the great despair that fueled his acts of self-destruction.

Beatriz Hausner: Laurence Weisberg in Oaxaca

Words that come to mind when I think of Laurence: handsomeness, luminosity, elegance, intelligence, glamour, in sum: sexiness.

My first meeting Laurence happened right here, in Toronto. He came with Alice Farley who, incredibly (because surrealism in the early 1990’s was still very much invisible, secret), had appeared on the cover page of NOW magazine, a publication of listings, cultural news, etc., advertising her dance company. We didn’t get to talk much, Laurence and I, as I was still very much involved in the busyness of being a new mother, but about a year or so later, we met again: I will never forget him and Alice Farley sitting on the fire escape of her wonderful dance studio in Chelsea, looking out for us, as we made our way up Broadway. From this second encounter came our impetus to collaborate on whatever might be. We started corresponding, not much in writing, but, rather, telepathically, as I remember, because Laurence was one of those miraculous people who lived entirely in a world of magic.

Sometime later, in 1994, I was organizing an event around translation, involving Canadian and Mexican writers and translators and, I don’t know quite why, it occurred to me to ask Laurence if he would like to come to Mexico City for the event. Or maybe he’d rather just go to Oaxaca prior, where we’d be visiting with my parents? To my surprise he said yes to both. Once in Oaxaca, I went to meet with him at a hotel behind the main square, a place he’d found through some kind of special global positioning system, available to seers of his rubric, I assumed (this was before the widespread use of the internet). The place was a perfect relic from simpler times in Oaxaca, when buildings were more beautiful, the spaces sunnier and open, a complete throwback to what I visualized Oaxaca must have been like when D.H. Lawrence lived there. “How appropriate,” I thought.

There was Laurence, completely settled in, reading and smoking, as if he’d been in that situation for months already, probably following a previous sojourn in Central China, or something. He seemed to have packed perfectly: a few but perfect clothes (he was a hip dresser) that he’d probably thrown into his suitcase at the last minute, with the casual flair of someone who travels all the time. Although he did travel light, he had a little trunk with him, where he carried a perfect library of the most interesting books possible.

That was the thing about Laurence: it seemed that he owned the space he occupied at any given time, that the world was his entirely and that, by entering his sphere, that world could be yours for the having. We visited the ruins of Mitla, walked (in circles, as it happens) in Oaxaca, went to the mercado de abastos together, all the while talking about all manner of fabulous books and people. There was never anything stodgy, or ponderous about Laurence, and he wasn’t resentful about things normal humans would be resentful of. He was a person touched by the sun. Laurence was a true poet.

His death came as a horrible shock to me. I assumed he would live forever. Here is the poem I wrote upon his passing and in his honor, which evokes many of those memories of our time in Oaxaca:

Man Swallowing His Tongue              

In memory of Laurence Weisberg

When he met us at the square

smoke rose from his shoes floated

in the air like a song suspended

he trod the beaded lining of

the ground. He claimed he came alone

though we knew that he walked alongside

the nurse from outer space visible only

when he opened his immense chest of

treasures. He carried fire inside him burning

deep and wound tightly like a fist pounding

at the growing silence of this age.

He pulled his tongue inward stretching

the limits of endurance suffering the song

as it imploded with his heart.

Here was a

lion whose pelt was lined with sun bird

feathers large cat accustomed to hanging

from lamps in the first house where he

lived with his sister priestess of the dance

and magic animals that shine in the night.

BL: I was told Laurence worked at the Samuel Weiser Bookshop in NYC. What was his involvement with the occult/metaphysics/Hermeticism?

Allan Graubard: He worked at Weiser’s? He worked at Books & Co. and another bookshop on the upper West Side. But perhaps he did work at Weiser’s where it may have happened that he met Leonora Carrington and they had a conversation. Laurence, us: we read alchemical and magical texts from the Renaissance, ancient times, any time – Gnostics, Zoroastrian, Cather, Courts of Love, the birth of Trouver poetry – and mined them for images and perspectives and talk. Poetry revealed a magical connection with indigenous ceremonial cultures and esoteric European symboliques.

L.W. by Ira Cohen (used with permission of the Estate of Ira Cohen)

BL: How did Laurence become interested in Native American lore, ritual, et al? Did he stay for any length of time with Native American groups?

 Allan Graubard: Can’t say how he got interested though it probably came through Peter Garland and his interest in Native American/Mexican music, and it came through Philip and his tales of eating peyote with the Washo and Cora Indians, and experiences in Morocco. The face to face came later, certainly when he was with Peter Garland in Mexico and then when he visited Thom Burns and Jack Dauben in Flagstaff – where they had moved. He witnessed two Katsina ceremonies on two different dates with one or both of them. He was compelled by Tarascan and Yaqui cultures, and saw the Deer Dance. Laurence looked Mayan or had some Eurasian heritage, you know. It seemed to be something in his blood by way of his Jewish family heritage. One of his uncles was a noted cantor in Chicago. From what Thom Burns told me, after Laurence’s death, when they went to collect his writings at his mother’s place, on the desk in his study was a photo of his uncle.

Peter Garland: Why wouldn’t he be interested in Native American ritual, etc.? Especially given the surrealists’ long fascination with it. Also, the early 70’s was the era of “ethnopoetics” and books like Technicians of the Sacred had a strong influence on a lot of us. The last time I “saw” Laurence, we actually didn’t see each other.  He called in the summer of 1997 and I mentioned that I’d been at the Niman Kachina dances at Hotevilla (I believe) on the Hopi Reservation.  Laurence couldn’t believe it.  He said, “I was at those dances too. How come I didn’t see you?  Were you wearing your ‘invisibility powder’ or something?”  At that point I think he was somehow staying/hanging out at Hopi.

In 1970’s Laurence was part of a rarely documented surrealist group in San Francisco (also with members in LA and Columbus, Ohio) that included Allan Graubard, Tom Burghardt, David Coulter, Bob Sharrard, Raman Rao, Alice Farley, Thom Burns, Richard Waara, and many others. Many of their activities are documented in “Invisible Heads:  Surrealists in America, An Untold Story” (2011-2012, Anon Editions).

Gemini in the Streets of Taurus Thom Burns

San Francisco, twenty-five years ago. I had just departed some now forgotten Cinco de Mayo* party. As

I walked well into the middle of the night, somewhere in the Western Addition, I became acutely aware

of entering a zone of clarity one enters only very late. It’s when the streetlights sizzle, giving off that

white-hot illumination; hyper-calm palpable to the point where one is not only charged by it, but

becomes, under its light, truly invisible. (Akin, with esoteric indulgence, to the inverted light of day as

the afternoon of pelicans** was akin to the inverted dark of night.) I crossed, diagonally, an intersection

at the top of a rather steep hill. Before continuing on toward my apartment I paused to see, without the

least surprise, two raccoons walking fully upright on the sidewalk below. They walked away from me,

side by side, no more than a few yards from where I stood, as if, at this late hour, it was their normal

stride. I stood watching for a moment, long enough for the nocturnal couple to stroll in this way for at

least another few yards. Then, as they sensed me, my invisibility disappeared. They stopped and over

their shoulders glanced back at me, only then lowering themselves to all fours. Their own invisibility

thus interrupted, they scampered away. It was one of those rare moments I will not forget. Whether or

not it is rare for raccoons I do not know, but it seemed to be worth mentioning to certain friends at the

time . . .

. . . for, later that spring, on the 14th day of June, a call came from New York while we were gathered for another momentous occasion. Over the phone a voice read the following poem ***:

Through fire

The shiver and calls of the raccoons

      reach the streets

Where the twins of the late hours Taste

          the shadows of plants set in

          ice for combat and eternity

We undertake the unveiling of the sister-stars

—erotic and unlimited in their

attractive deaths

Please HEAR their contractions

They are the blossoms of harmonic shoes!

                                    for Thom Burns

                                    28th Birthday

*Weisberg was born on May the 6th.

**1974 Occurrence on the bluffs above Lime Point at Battery Cavallo, overlooking the Golden Gate

Bridge on a day the skies were filled with vast flocks of pelicans. It was the occasion of a psychedelic

parallel vision. As Allan Graubard was about to join the pelicans to see Ornette Coleman back at

Keystone Korner, Laurence and I, independent of each other and at precisely the same time, saw the

bridge sunken in the bay and the city of San Francisco reduced to smoldering ruin.

***The hand written manuscript of this poem, found by Raman Rao after Weisberg’s death in 2003, was

sent to me and triggered this recollection.

Richard Waara: The only strong idea that came to me regarding Laurence was that, while he was always passing on referrals to books, movies, music and art, Laurence significantly introduced me to both Will Alexander and Ronnie Burk. Laurence, while he was staying at my place, invited Ronnie over whom I had not then met. Before he came over, Laurence showed me a xerox copy he had of a collage he had made and given to Ronnie. He then showed me a poem that Ronnie had responded with, and dedicated to Laurence. The poem was dated April Fool’s, 2000, which, by the way, was also Ronnie’s birthday. Fast forward a little less than three years later, Allan Graubard called me on the phone and told me that Laurence had died. Several weeks later I received a card in the mail for Ronnie’s memorial. I was unaware that Ronnie had died; I had lost touch with him when he moved to New York. On the evening before the memorial, the close proximity of the date that both Laurence and Ronnie had died on suddenly dawned on me. I don’t think I then knew Laurence’s actual date. It turned out to be March 13th, but there was a question of which date he had died on because he checked into a motel on the 12th and was discovered dead on the 13th. Ronnie it turns out, died on March 12, 2003. Philip Lamantia died less than two years later on March 7, 2005. It makes one recall Shakespeare’s Soothsayer’s “Beware the Ides of March.”

L.W. at the Gregory Corso Memorial, photo by Allan Graubard

David Coulter: Laurence Weisberg was a poet in the truest sense of the word, casting the broad net of his imagination to gather the infinite and multifarious gems of human knowledge and expression. Whether it be inspirational historical figures, obscure ancestors of the revolutionary imagination, the treasures of indigenous cultures, the fulminate and spectral beauty of the natural world, or the mysteries of Eros. Laurence’s allegiance to poetic wonder led to a moral stance and perspective at once vertiginous, immediate, and visceral. Language is the primary instrument of expression for this bricoleur; a propulsive and effortless lyricism that illuminates the signs of magic with which the universe dazzles and seduces. The collection of poems published after his untimely passing bear witness to an effortless transmutation of language, a lyricism that ignites the mind with philosophical torches aimed at the heart of the marvelous. I first met Laurence Weisberg in 1974 while visiting my friend, Allan Graubard, in San Francisco while en-route to Morocco and an eventual three-year exile from the United States. Allan showed me the City Lights Anthology Surrealism issue which contained one of Laurence’s poems that immediately captured my imagination with the first lines of his poem, “Greeted by horned effluvia…” Upon resettling in San Francisco in 1977 I was re-introduced to Laurence while I worked on Alice Farley’s dance performance at Land’s End. From 1977 to 1984 I came to better know Laurence through the collaborative work of the San Francisco group of surrealists and fellow-travelers. Laurence later relocated to New York City where he collaborated with the Group Hydra of which I was also a participant. Through the 1990s I lost touch with Laurence until receiving news of his death in 2003. Serendipitously or not, the book Poems was sent to me as I was undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Laurence’s poetry is one of the inspirational gifts that has allowed me to survive, thus I can add a Paracelsian quality to these gems of creative genius.

For Laurence Weisberg

by David Coulter

I see you entering the cave of diatomaceous wolves through the portal guarded by Sheila na Gig, her vulva dripping a broth of diamond water. Within the chamber lit by torches of hemlock and brain coral there is a mirror that beckons you to pass into the twelfth century where your hands are bathed in galactic foam and quicksilver, giving you the power to pass through matter and unshackling the manacles of time. There you are, “In the flaming dimensions carved beyond time”, shaking hands with Cathar troubadours across the centuries. Solidity like the trapdoor of permanence is an illusion kept in a cabinet labeled “The Credibility of Strange Facts.” You rifle through several drawers overflowing with recipes and formulas for “Sour Emerald” tart, photons of Cynocephalus bratwurst, datura empanadas, and one titled Council of Trent in sardonyx butter. Generally, you would refuse an invitation to sit with Francis Bacon and the Borgias at the quagmires’ table preferring to ride into battle with Pancho Villa, but his cavalry of giant armadillos and javali are now in estrus although their bellows of ecstasy and orgasm attract the attention of Conlon Nancarrow reclining on a dragon-shaped cloud, musing hypnagogically on the vagaries of curiosity and the preternatural. He asks you to perform your trick of passing a hand through a block of steel and then tosses you a magnetic hurley ball requesting that you rearrange their molecules into a maquette of the Alhambra. A few seconds later you check your megalith wristwatch, and seeing that the tiny shadows are aligned to midnight announce that you must depart for Rome where you will rescue Giordano Bruno from immolation with the aid of Buster Keaton and his “Druidic bicycle”. You escape to the secret grove of redwoods on which the songs of Maldoror are carved in Ogham while you are serenaded by Huarascan fiddlers.

Jean Jacques Jack Dauben: I find it difficult to effectively speak or write about certain of my friends and collaborators that have departed this fragility we call life. They have had a place in my life, an internal location that was an exhaling and inhaling space which now has been replaced by memories no longer quite charged by the blood of their presence. Even if we were miles apart it felt as if they were here with me. Now that they are missing they loom even larger by virtue of the expanse they have abandoned, which will continue to belong to them even as they are in part gone. When asked to speak about them they seem too large. It is like being asked to describe the entire world. For me, Laurence Weisberg is such a friend. As a young man he was like Artaud, thin and attractive in appearance yet also a man whose very body seemed to cause him at times intense physical pain. Pain of no known origin or cause. His addictions and some of his excesses I think can be explained by this unearthly affliction. Yet no matter how lost he sometimes appeared, he ultimately never lost track  of the Marvelous, of Surrealist revolution and poetry. Whatever his condition, he remained true to the things he loved. Once he approached a concrete enclosure in which a black bear cub was being kept. For some reason the little creature upon seeing Laurence became very animated and overjoyed as if he was reuniting with a long lost comrade. Laurence, too, seemed to find in this bear a powerful kinship. I watched him and his bear friend exchange their interest and affection with amusement. I had never really before seen Laurence so enthused with an animal quite like that. Still after 15 minutes or so I reluctantly was forced to declare that we had to leave. Before departing Laurence leaned so deep into the enclosure that he was in danger of falling in. He extended his hand to the bear who immediately placed his paw upon Laurence’s open hand and for a few moments it remained. That was Laurence always reaching towards the wild, the other in hope of contact.


At last it seemed we would be rescued by that shadow that rained all night at the flickering window of hope and despair. The shadow came dressed as a half eaten raven. He entered the room, instantly shedding his skin of rye and black wool, fortifying the air with his bleeding numbers and colors. He was our shield of revolt at the lost crossroads or our dream-deaths. Hidden suns opened in the night of our bodies, entered or arms and legs, entered the night through our fingertips. But then as we flew over the radiant arc of the last setting sun we realized that we were tied by the wrists with a green thread to an enormous red anchor of screams plunged into the interminable beating heart of the dead.

Special thanks to all the contributors, Allan Graubard, Garrett Caples, and Andrew Joron.

All photos, poems, and art works used by permission.

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