With Allen in Arkansas: An Ozark Diary, by John Wood (May 2011)
November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
May 2011 There was much more, of which I can only recall bits now. It became too exhausting to keep such a pace and then write it all up at the end of the day. I do remember that the next day Allen, Peter, Jim, Frank, Jack and Lynnice Butler, andSandy and I all went to Eureka Springs to see The Christ of the Ozarks, a tasteless monstrosity built by Gerald L. K. Smith, the anti-Semite. A brochure given out at the statue remarked how it could support two Volkswagen busses from each arm and withstand certain high mile an hour winds. Smith also owned an “art gallery” in Eureka called The Christ Only Art Gallery; however, the first painting you saw when you entered was a painting of Smith. I remember that Allen made a comment to whomever we paid the entry fee that he had a beard just like Jesus had. I also recall that on the drive to Eureka we saw a large Pileated Woodpecker and Frank told us about local woodpeckers. All day Allen had talked about wanting to go to Gabilee, but none of us thought that was a good idea. His interview had just come out a month or so before in Playboy, and we worried that his frankness and openness about gay matters could get us all in a fright. This wasn’t New York; it was the Ozarks and a party for fraternity boys. But he was determined, and so nervously we went. I don’t recall who drove—maybe Frank because I can only remember the three of us being there, though Peter must have been there, too. From the moment we walked on to the Fairgrounds, amazing things started happening. Allen was as much a celebrity there as he had been at the pizza restaurant. One frat boy came up and said, “Mr. Ginsberg, would you please take a drink out of my beer mug with me?” which Allen, of course, did. I can remember another coming up to tell him how much he enjoyed the Playboy interview. And it was like that the whole time we were there. We all got very drunk, and I remember Frank was saying “namaste” to everyone who came up to us. Somehow we got home, but I have no memory of it.
Earlier that day at the statue Allen took photographs of us and Jim took one of the group with Allen in it. Allen told me he’d send the photographs after they were developed. On September 25th he wrote saying, “I finally got the roll of film developed (camera broke with film inside)—Enclosed copies (not very sharp) and the original negatives.” But more importantly he wrote, “I’ve forgotten the name of the poet with dungarees—dark glasses but I liked his poetry. If he has copies, he can send to Charles Plymell, c/o Johns Hopkins Writing Seminar, Baltimore, MD. Charlie would appreciate them—there’s something akin in their poesy.” It was, of course, Frank Stanford he was referring to. I wrote Allen back that day reminding him of Frank’s name, and I called Frank and he came over for supper—a crazy meal I still remember cooking for us: biscuits, milk gravy, and sweet Greek wine. On October 9th Allen wrote me: “Frank’s poems seem slightly electric—curious what he’ll make of Plymell’s poesy. Stanford might try sending out to Poetry or Evergreen or anywhere wherever it interests him if it interests him to publish some.” And in a surprisingly short time Frank had published poems in many of the finest journals in the country, though I believe his first published poems were in the University’s journal Preview (1970), edited by Leon. Frank’s contributor’s note read “Frank thinks, ‘most of the people in this book, and most of the people in this school, are tight-assed honkies.’” My copy fortunately is inscribed “to a good friend, from Frank.” In 1971 his remarkable and beautiful book The Singing Knives was published. My copy includes another kind note: “I would like you to have this as a gift from me for taking a genuine interest in my poems. Thank you for writing Allen. Cordially, Frank.”
Allen, Peter, Frank, Jim, John Little, John Holmes—all gone. But these jottings I made a lifetime ago bring back a good place, good times, and sweet memories—especially of those who are gone, and most especially of Allen and Frank, two gentle, good men I’m happy to have known.
Originally published by “The American Poetry Review”