Interview with Charles Plymell 2011

The Return of the Outlaw Poet: Charles Plymell reads from over a half century of hard riding poetry at the Readers Cafe & Bookstore on May 22

Originally published in the Northside San Francisco newspaper in May 2011

Photo courtesy of Gerard Malanga

“Spun out of that vortex which is Wichita, Charley Plymell reached San Francisco on that road that ran through the astonished heart of America, riding his chopper (at least in my Midnight Cowboy movie of him) … His vision of the apocalypse rose of America … Gough Street blues … Kansas madman’s dream … Neal Cassidy down, Kerouac down, all down the great American drain–and the vision goes on” -Lawrence Ferlinghetti from the introduction to “Neon Poems” by Charles Plymell.

“Plymell has as much to say about death as Hemingway did and a lot more to say about it in terms of the present generation stillborn into a world that can offer nothing.” -William S. Burroughs from the introduction to “The Last of the Moccasins” by Charles Plymell.

After a fifteen year absence, poet, publisher and artist Charles Plymell is returning to San Francisco to read his poetry in the town he once called home. The Northside’s Sharon Anderson spoke to Charles Plymell about his experiences in San Francisco, past present and future.

When was the last time you visited San Francisco?

The last time I visited was in 1996 with Ralph Ackerman. In 1962-63 at his Mission Street studio, I printed underground avant garde publications Now and The Last Times to which Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, McClure, and Whalen contributed as well as Bukowski, Dean Stockwell, Wallace Berman, Bobby Driscoll, George Herms and others. I also made a couple of 8mm movies that was all the rage in 1962-63 and remember giving Robert Frank a ride on my motorcycle to San Francisco premiers like 8 1/2 and Flaming Creatures. Things seemed to converge rather quickly in tune with the mind altering drugs and the release of Naked Lunch. So in 1996, S. Clay Wilson lettered “Charley is back” on an ad space near his flat. Ackerman had sponsored my poetry reading during which some old friends re-united. Glenn Todd attended, the last man standing at Gough St. after Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg and I moved on following the Kennedy assassination. Don Donahue, who started Underground comics with me printing the first Zap Comix was there. S. Clay Wilson was there and continued a Wilson trip as heavy as LSD, avant garde movies and underground comics combined with more agony and ecstasy than could, unfortunately, be recounted here. Al Cohen from the Oracle attended while Goblin conducted a noted interview.

You mentioned that San Francisco was just one stop on that trip.

On the way back the train stopped at Lawrence, Kansas and we visited Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. It was the last time Allen and Bill would see each other and I recount the dinner in my book “Some Mother’s Sons”. I plan to read excerpts on May 22.

Can you give us some background about the beginnings of your writing career?

I had dropped out after my freshman year of high school. After roaming in the West, I went to a university for a few years– not working toward a degree, but mainly to keep out of jail. Tuition was nominal and work was plenty, gas was 15 cents a gallon in New Mexico so everything was easy in the 50’s. There was still a future that even fools could hold. Like many, I gravitated toward the English Department and began writing poetry and printing little magazines during my night shift printing job. I was influenced by Bob Branaman and Allen Russo who moved to San Francisco in the early ’60’s. I joined them there and met the Beat Generation principles when Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy moved into my flat in San Francisco. Prior to that I had visited Kenneth Rexroth and had a collage exhibit at the Batman Gallery. I experimented with all the legal hallucinogens and with Brautigan watched the Hippies emerge. He became one and wrote a famous novel for them, and I got a job on the docks. I was linked to labels, but tried to avoid them. My main influences in life had been rounders when I traveled the Western states with my sister who worked for madams, and I worked various jobs while grooving with jazz hipsters of the 50’s from Kansas City to Lost Angeles. Route 66 was my commute, and I read Loren Eiseley who grew up on the plains as I did, and I read the hip poets, Patchen, and cummings and the surrealist, Hart Crane from Ohio, but Bennies, Boo and Bebop were my style.

Tell me more about the poetry you’re selecting for the Readers Cafe and Bookstore.

I’ll be reading the title poem from “Apocalypse Rose”, Allen Ginsberg wrote the introduction to that volume. I’ll read a bit from “The Last of the Moccasins”, first published by City Lights. Also, I’ll be reading from Neon Poems and from my new publication through Ecstatic Peace, “Eat Not Thy Mind”.

Don’t miss the rare opportunity to hear Charles Plymell at the Readers Cafe & Bookstore on Sunday, May 22nd at 1:00 p.m. at the Fort Mason Center, San Francisco (415) 771-1076

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