Tag Archives: Beat Poets

Remembering Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan is best known for his novella, Trout Fishing in AmericaI like his poems. He is said to have bridged the gap between the beatniks and the hippies.

This Saturday (January 29th) would be his 89th birthday if he were still with us. Sadly, he took his own life with a handgun in 1984. He was 49 years old.

Brautigan’s poems are terse, highly conceptual (some of his abstract metaphors border on synesthesia), and often marked by his famously quirky gallows humor.

His unconventional verses resonate with me, but not with everyone. Here are a few. Decide for yourself:

The Mortuary Bush

Mr. William Lewis is an undertaker
and he hasn’t been feeling very good
lately because not enough people are

Mr. Lewis is buying a new house
and a new car and many appliances
on the installment plan and he needs
all the money he can get.

Mr. Lewis has headaches and can’t
sleep at night and his wife says,
“Bill, what’s wrong?” and he says,
“Oh, nothing, honey,” but at night
he can’t sleep.

He lies awake in bed and wishes
that more people would die.

— Richard Brautigan

Romeo and Juliet

If you will die for me,
I will die for you

and our graves will
be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
in a Laundromat.

If you will bring the soap,
I will bring the bleach.

— Richard Brautigan

The Donner Party

Forsaken, fucking in the cold,
eating each other, lost, runny noses,
complaining all the time like so
many people that we know.

— Richard Brautigan

15 Stories in One Poem

I hate to bother you,
but I just dropped
a baby out the window

and it fell 15 stories
and splattered against
the sidewalk.

May I borrow a mop?

— Richard Brautigan

A Cigarette Butt

A cigarette butt is not a pretty
It is not like the towering trees,
the green meadows, or the for-
est flowers.
It is not like a gentle fawn, a
singing bird, or a hopping
But these are all gone now,
And in the forest’s place is a
Blackened world of charred trees
and rotting flesh—
The remnants of another forrest
A cigarette but is not a pretty

— Richard Brautigan

Critical Can Opener

There is something wrong
with this poem. Can you find it?

— Richard Brautigan


She tries to get things out of men
that she can’t get because she’s not
15% prettier.

— Richard Brautigan

Waiting Potatoes

Potatoes await like edible shadows
under the ground. They wait in
their darkness for the light of
the soup.

— Richard Brautigan

Cannibal Carpenter

He wants to build you a house
out of your own bones, but
that’s where you’re living
any way!
The next time he calls
you answer the telephone with the
sound of your grandmother being
born. It was a twenty-three-hour
labor in 1894. He hangs

— Richard Brautigan

San Francisco

This poem was found written on a paper bag by Richard Brautigan in a laundromat in San Francisco. The author is unknown.

By accident, you put
Your money in my
Machine (#4)
By accident, I put
My money in another
Machine (#6)
On purpose, I put
Your clothes in the
Empty machine full
Of water and no
It was lonely.



The Lightning that was Leroi Jones

Amiri-BarakaOn January 9th, 2014 Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka, died at the age of 79. (Like Muhammad Ali, Jones changed his name when he embraced Islam.)

Upon his death,  The New York Times described him with the sort of words one might use to describe lightning: illuminating. . . incandescent. . . pulsating. . .  incendiary.

The FBI once dubbed him “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.” Others dismissed him as a gadfly.

Articulate and prone to rage, this streetwise beat poet helped pave the way for the rap, hip hop and poetry slams that came to follow. His work makes a good starting point for discussion about “art for art’s sake” vs art as activism. (Dan McCleary, founder of the Tennessee Shakespeare Company recently published an excellent related essay addressing this issue.)

Jones/Baraka’s humor was spare, incisive and brutal––as in his best known poem,  Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note.  While I usually feature just one or two selections in my HIA blog posts, this time around you’ll need to get at least elbow deep. The poems in text below are from a collection entitled, “Transbluesency” — (Marsilio Publishers, New York, 1995.) Beneath them is a selection from YouTube followed by links to two more of his works.

A Poem for Speculative Hipsters

He had got, finally,
to the forest
of motives. There were no
owls, or hunters. No Connie Chatterleys   
resting beautifully
on their backs, having casually
brought socialism
to England.   
                  Only ideas,
and their opposites.
                he was really

Wise I

     WHYS (Nobody Knows
The Trouble I Seen)

If you ever find
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won’t let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues
& instruments, who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
deep trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep deep


probably take you several hundred years
to get

Snake Eyes

That force is lost
Which shaped me, spent
in its image, battered, an old brown thing
swept off the streets
where it sucked its
gentle living.

And what is meat
to do, that is driven to its end
by words? The frailest gestures
grown like skirts around breathing.
We take
unholy risks to prove
we are what we cannot be. For instance,

I am not even crazy.

Audubon, Drafted

It does not happen. That love removesitself. (I am leaving, Goodbye!
itself, as rain, hard iron rain
comes down, then stops. All those
eyes opened for morning, close with
what few hours given them. With tears,
or a stone wall, shadows drag down.

I am what I think I am. You are what
I think you are. The world is the
one thing that will not move. It is
made of stone, round and very ugly.

The People Burning

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note