cover art: Summit Lake -watercolor inks- Edwin Forrest Ward
Larry’s Lake is Leaking
The way men meet surely colors the nature of their friendship. This is the story of how I come to meet three of the more influential men in my life: Larry Lake, Jimmy Morris, and Robert Alexander.
I meet Larry Lake at a poetry reading I host in Englewood south of the Denver County line, at a bar a friend of mine manages just off Broadway on West Floyd, the Casual Lounge. Half way through my roster of mostly morose and self-absorbed poets, Lake injects himself one night into the somber sobriety of words like a shot of ecstasy. Even though he’s come to mess with my event, I take notice and am inspired by what happens. I appreciate the way he settles onto the backless barstool, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth one moment and dancing in his fingers the next. After fumbling in his ditty bag to produce a handful of small press poetry chapbooks that he places reverently on the cocktail table in front of him, Lake says nothing while he stares around the room, slowing time almost to a standstill, smoking the next in his perpetual chain of unfiltered Camels.
Lake begins speaking with an irreverent diss on one and all: “There’s not a poet in the house. You all know nothing. So listen up, pay attention and learn!” before presenting some of the finest poetry I’ve ever heard. Ignoring my agitation at his assertion, I’m enchanted by his delivery, its meter, cadence, tone and imagery, its candor and originality. Nonetheless, I’m still pissed, as this reading - of which I am the host - is the product of my and Marcia’s very hard work. I’d drawn and hand-lettered a dozen posters that, after bicycling from the Highlands to Wash Park, we’d hung in scattered bars and hipster hangouts in the hopes of gathering together those interested in poetry. And we’d succeeded, if fifty people in the side room of an Englewood bar are any measure. And here’s this arrogant, albeit talented, bearded cross of a boxer and an artist, one third hippie, one third beatnik, one third US Air Force asshole, dumping on my scene. His countenance (a cross between Al Pacino and Charlie Manson) and physical presence (broad chest-ed and muscular) invite no rebuke from me or anyone else in the room, and Larry Lake leaves the lounge after his performance without anyone challenging his contention that we all are clueless.
Returning home with Marcia, I stay up late turning my anger into art and write one of the first fine poems of my life, the first lines of which I still remember although the poem itself was lost years ago in a fifty gallon drum fire I’d set to un-clutter my life: “Larry’s Lake is leaking/ a puddle of piss in an adolescent bed sheet.”
The month after Lake’s first appearance at POEMS LIVE, he returns and attempts a redo of his challenge and put down: same smoke and spreading of chap books, same delay and stare, but after his assertion that “there is not a poet in the house,” I leap upon a cocktail table in the middle of the room and rattle off from memory my “Larry’s Lake is Leaking” poem with a blistering ferocity that brooks no dissent. My five-minute attack without benefit of burning cigarette is delivered with smoke and awe, so much so that Lake abandons the stage and leaves the room, the bar, and Englewood, but not without first catching my eye and oddly winking.
Not long after this defense of my authority as a poet, things happen for me in the literary world. I’m offered a gig as the host of a bi-monthly poetry series at a downtown town all night coffee house, Café Nepenthes. The new art magazine in Denver, WESTWORD, publishes a story about poetry in Colorado wherein Allen Ginsburg and I are characterized as the figureheads of two flourishing and complementary literary scenes. But most importantly, I am asked by Denver’s Society for the Advancement of Poetics to do a feature reading with one James Ryan Morris, one of Colorado’s most celebrated poets, his infamy equal to the fame of Thomas Hornsby Ferril. Morris’ face can be seen on the side of the Colorado Convention Center’s tile mural homage to the men and women who have shaped Colorado culture. In the mural Morris hangs with Neal Cassady, Corky Gonzales and Stan Brakhage.
Now I had heard James Ryan Morris read twice, once at a reading in Boulder as a substitute for William Burroughs who had been hospitalized after an overdose and at Denver Poets Day in Civic Center when Morris read mano mano with no one other than my personal poetic nemesis, Larry Lake. Apparently Lake and Morris were old friends who had published and edited Denver’s first alternative art newspaper, The Mile High and Underground in the late Sixties. Both times I heard Morris recite, it was so archetypal and powerful, I had looked hard at my own abilities as a writer, leaving me to wonder: Do I have anything really to say? Morris was the perfect modern poet, his art characterized by his exacting use of the vernacular wherein less was certainly more, the antithesis of the Whitman-esque long line espoused by most contemporary poets. To this day I use a Morris poem, “A Poem on Love”, in all my wedding ceremonies:
She said:“you’re sexy
and I dig you.
“you too, and I’ve eyes.”
Now I ask you,
what can come of that?
Now let me tell you, when I was asked to share the stage with Morris I couldn’t fit my head through my front door as it swelled with pride and a false sense of accomplishment. But then, as it always does, reality set in: that I was but a novice, hardly even a journeyman, compared to the master poet Jimmy Morris, shrunk more than my head. I mean the night I heard him read in Boulder, Morris was the Big Bang compared to the Black Hole that was Gregory Corso and Antler, the poets he shared the stage with. And at Denver Poets Day where I thought I had burned brightly, Morris’ poetry - and Lake’s likewise - so overshadowed mine that I never again performed any of the material I had presented that day.
Knowing that we were going to read together at Global Village I took it upon myself to go meet Morris and, unannounced, I showed up at his bookstore, Croupier Books, on 17th Avenue a few blocks east of The Brown Palace Hotel. Having biked from my Washington Park abode on South Pearl Street, I walked into Morris’ storefront still wearing a mask, a surgeon’s facial dust mask, an act which prompted Morris to un-holster a thirty-eight and aim it in my general direction. Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball were cracking wise on a small black and white in the corner of the sparsely appointed bookstore; still I could hear the cocking of the trigger above the canned laughter. No one ever removed a mask as quickly as I did before raising my hands as a show of submission. Morris had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen on a human being as well as the most intense stare. His body language asked “Are you crazy?” Coincidentally he reminded me of my father on a very archetypal Irish level, especially given the hat he wore and the importance of alcohol in his life. Well, to quicken the story of two poets meeting, we made short work of getting acquainted, not to mention sharing the drugs of which we were in possession.
In the weeks leading up to our reading, I visited Morris many times, all the while knowing my work was not even in the same universe as his. Intimidated with a capital I is what I was. And rightly so. I filled all my spare time trying to create new work but knew it all to be contrived and vain and sophomoric. But as fate would have it, I never got to fail in comparison to Jimmy, as I never got to share his stage because Morris overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates and died a week before our scheduled reading. For me, that I was let off the hook of having to read poetry with Morris was the silver lining in the cloud that was his death. I did however attend his funeral a result of which was that Marcia and I became acquainted with his widow Diana and other denizens of Denver’s older bohemian scene.
A month or so after Morris death, my ex wife, a Hollywood film producer - Frank Stallone was her leading man in a half dozen films she produced - contacted me. Apparently Dylan Dog, a female bearded collie Carol and I had raised in Jersey and whose ownership Carol won in our divorce – had taken a vicious dislike to her second husband, a wealthy and cocaine addled talent scout who filled the contestant slots on sundry television game shows. The dog just knew the devil in him, I guess, because D Dog snarled and growled whenever Mr Talent Scout came in the room. Carol had called to inquire if I wanted Dylan back as she could no longer keep her. For Carol it was either her husband or the dog and for the dog it was either Denver or a shelter. Although I already had two large dogs, a black lab and a blue-eyed Malamute that a short term girlfriend had saddled me with upon her departure from our relationship – after conferring with Marcia – I agreed to come to Los Angeles and rescue Dylan Dog.
Now when our new friend, Diana Morris, learned of our plans to travel to Los Angeles to retrieve D Dog, Diana insisted that we visit one of her deceased husband’s good friends in Venice, Baza Alexander. Baza, the founder of The Temple of Man – the religious organization in which I would eventually be ordained as a minister - was quite famous as an artist and a beatnik and a minister. On the day I arrived in Los Angeles when I rang the bell of Baza’s door, I had no idea of what to expect: perhaps a shooting gallery or an orgy, as I associated both scenarios with Jimmy Morris. But what I found was Baza, the artist (his collage and print work are in the Smithsonian) who immediately treated me like a brother. A few minutes after informing him of what was up with mutual friends in Denver (Diana Morris, Steve Wilson, Stan Brakhage and Angelo di Benedetto) he suggested I visit Frank Rios, one of Jimmy’s best friends and connections, who lived in the neighborhood.
Five minutes and a short walk later Marcia and I are in the living room of Frank T. Rios, one of Los Angeles’ most famous poets. I’m filling Frankie in on what’s doing with the people he knows in Denver, when he interrupts and calls out: “Hey Larry come here. There’s a friend of Jimmy’s here from Denver who you might know,” a request that heralds the arrival from the kitchen of one Larry Lake, who passes through the beaded curtain of the doorway like a bear through beetle kill pine: effortlessly and with no regard for civility or damage done, barking, “Hey, I hear there’s a guy in Denver who’s been goin’around reading a nasty poem about me. Do you know anything about him?”
“That would be me,” I respond as I look him in the eye and wink, somehow knowing that we will become the best of friends, which we are - on and off - for the next ten years.
In fact, I introduce Larry to his last wife and the mother of his only child. Lake publishes my first book and broadside and nominates me for ordination in the Temple of Man. He sees to it that I am given the very first Tombstone for Poetry an annual award given by the James Ryan Morris Memorial Foundation. After Larry is shot twice by the film maker, Continental Catterson, in an argument over art, it is my hand Larry holds upon awakening from surgery, and it is I who convince the docs to double his post surgery morphine dosage given my knowledge of his tolerance for opiates. Marcia and I attend the home birth of his only son. On the dark side, the boxer in him sucker punches me only once, an act I respond to in kind and two-fold. Our families on occasion spend holidays together and summers we watch our sons play little league. There are those times we do acid together welcoming dawn from the roofs of different downtown Denver skyscrapers (you’d be surprised how easy access is). As brothers in ministry, we drive non-stop together eighteen hours to visit a dying Baza Alexander, and, most importantly, Lake teaches me the duties of being an artist, things Morris had taught Lake, things Morris – like my own father - would have taught me had not their addictions laid them low and early.
Indeed, I could say, Jimmy Morris gave me insight into what it means to be a poet and artist and Larry Lake leaked passion all over that perspective. Together with Baza Alexander, Larry Lake and James Ryan Morris produced the contract I signed with my muse.