Friday, October 23, 2015

Facts do not scale.

A fact that has been focus grouped is no longer a fact, it is an opinion.  The only fact that can be determined by a poll is which among several prepackaged opinions a test population prefers.  Facts (to use the popular marketing terminology of the present moment) “do not scale”.  They do not fail to be facts if they are unpopular.  They do not become greater or more factual inasmuch as opinion proves to favor them.  Because they do not, the tools of marketing can neither produce nor arrive at truths.  In fact, a Democracy of polling and focus groups begins to believe that truths are an undemocratic illusion.  We have entered a market driven age in which vast resources are available (for a price), and, except for a tiny minority of specially trained persons, only opinions can possibly result from their use.  Those opinions can only compete for market share in the fashion of all other products.  A Democracy based upon marketing methods can only arrive at dysfunction or empty ritual… or, as is the case at the moment, a struggle to determine which of the two will prevail.  The only question is which will win out in the end.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


While our sciences and technologies grow ever more incredible, human nature remains unchanged.

...destroying the last of our culture...

We are in the process of destroying the last of our culture because it does not allow for the maximal rate of production and consumption of (mostly cheap) goods.  The depth of the personal and social chaos this is creating affects our lives in ever more disruptive ways virtually every day.  As climate change (for just one example among many) manifests itself to the point that societal blindness to its existence is impossible, the balance provided by the civil society which we must depend upon in order to reduce the violence of the changes is collapsing even faster and with even more destructive results.

Perfect justice...

Perfect justice does not exist.  In a world that can no longer believe in an omniscient deity, justice does not exist at all.  There is no longer a referee, real or illusory, only players ever more aware that they can do almost anything in their desire to win, positively unconcerned for the wider consequences.  There is only escalation.  The vestigial remains of religion and its constructs linger.  There is the struggle to “find a way back”.  There is even a vestigial belief in the word “justice” as a power-word (thus a word emptied of meaning) available for a while longer as a tactic to support various factions engaged in a vicious struggle to have the one thing that remains possible: power.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A life without reflection...

A life without reflection is an animal's life.  Prevailing social constructs become the functional equivalent of instinctive behavior in the animal.  The person who lives such a life values it as an animal values its life.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Prospectus: Executive Summary

Two years ago, I began a start-up called The Virtual Vanaprastha.  The product line I offer includes a sane lifestyle-concept in an insane world.  The lifestyle I work daily to design, test and offer is intended not only to be sane for myself but sane for readers who might also realize that we are careening wildly about wherever our product and financial markets take us good and/or bad.

For just one of the almost numberless examples, we are altering the environment of the planet because our markets demand we do so.  This demand is coming both from democrats and plutocrats.  All available means of avoiding the climate change that market economies are causing threaten the profits of business magnates and corporations and the quality of life of the general population.  Because it threatens our own collective profits, as well, be we rich or poor, we are unable effectively to oppose the wealthy faction. 

Those who are not wealthy are divided against each other.  It is the normal course of things and amplified by our technologies and the rapid redefinitions of democracy they have driven. The plutocrats, being much more able to coordinate their small numbers, easily take advantage of these facts.  The concept of a mass protest or political movement is destined to fail unless the wealthy see a profit opportunity in allowing or even creating it.  Far more likely than not, a successful movement will have been created specifically by the plutocracy using the tools of psychology (advertising), or even propaganda, such as is the case with the well-known Tea Party movement.

Climate change is not even coming.  It is already here and still we cannot choose to take the necessary steps in order to limit its severity.  Droughts and floods (often alternately in the same locations), more frequent and powerful extreme storm systems, higher food prices, water rationing, and much more, have already begun.  They are now a part of our life and still we cannot assemble the political will to meaningfully limit the far greater damage ahead.

Climate change presents a business opportunity.  Corporations deny climate change while actively creating business plans in order to maximize profits from it.  This is the only large-scale collective planning we are capable of doing in reaction to climate change.

This same dynamic is repeating itself as potable water grows ever scarcer on the planet and possibly
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millions already die every year from the lack of it.  It is repeated as retirement programs and medical safety nets are disassembled in favor of greater wealth for the plutocracy and more money to fuel the cycle of new inexpensive products designed to become obsolete or irreparable in short order necessitating more production and more consumption.  As massively wealthy corporations move out of the states they’re pillaging, they are leaving behind impoverished populations, unable to change their citizenship with similar ease, solely responsible for paying the enormous debts created in the name of wealth generation.  It’s simply the best business strategy and it is being actively pursued.

The reader may reflect upon all that this implies and be quite open to a new lifestyle-concept, may have read to this point in order to understand The Virtual Vanaprastha’s promising answer as to how to put all of this right.  But my lifestyle-concept — my product — is even more revolutionary than that.  The Virtual Vanaprastha offers the lifestyle-concept of acceptance: there is almost no hope that any of this will be avoided. 

Remember, you yourself are reading this prospectus on a computer connected to the Internet.  You are likely to own an automobile of one sort or another.  It requires fuel.  If it is a recent model, it reports your whereabouts at all times.  Whether or not the vehicle is a recent model, your smart-phone reports your whereabouts at all times.  All of this, and much more, is yours only upon payment due.  Failure to pay on time will cripple your life and the life of your family. Sign the take-it-or-leave-it contracts, allow your day to day activities to be tracked and recorded and pay your bills on time and you have a quality of life unimaginable even 25 years ago.  Reject the package and life becomes a very uncomfortable, limited affair.

The plutocrats of the world are going to bank your payments, wield your data and make all decisions regarding all of this destruction for their own benefits, their own enhanced profits.  They could not be stopped before now and they are orders of magnitude more powerful now.  The trend is overwhelming and unmistakable.

While this may sound evil to those whose wealth is decreasing, as the result, they are the best ally of the wealthy.  They cannot want to make the necessary sacrifices in order to seriously modify the system that brings them inexpensive food, clothing, shelter and continuous stimulation.  They can only object to having too small a cut of the profits with which to buy more.  People cannot get enough of the latest products or the social networking that makes buying them an inherent part of being in-touch or receiving emotional responsiveness. They crave historically enormous amounts of emotional stimulation and strive to negotiate a satisfying persona.  To the point, in fact, that they fear those who do not experience the same cravings — a category of persons who might otherwise prove helpful — because they are so foreign to them, so inexplicable.

Those who see an historical sense of entitlement slipping away, who react by collecting personal armories, building bunkers and/or forming militias, offer only a deeply flawed and doomed concept.  At base, they have sufficient collective rational thought, in the aggregate, to realize that they are helpless against today’s government security forces and technologies ever more co-opted by large corporations.  In the end, they are not preparing to win some apocalyptic war and they know it.  New technologies are capable of defeating them with ease.  Instead they are preparing to win a guerrilla war against their fellow disenfranchised for the not inconsiderable scraps that will fall from the table.  It is in this manner that they imagine they will regain the physical advantages and emotional satisfaction that once came with their entitlements.

Those who continue to try through the political process and peaceful demonstration are strong and worthy of the greatest respect.  The Virtual Vanaprastha concept does not oppose engagement.  One of the most important aspects of the psychological side of the concept is a daily feeling of community.  But engagement as regards these massive issues is inherently dependent upon magical thinking.  What successes there are will be worthy of our praise and appreciation.  But they will only limit the harshness of the problems in small ways and only for short times.  It is vitally important to each individual and family unit to acknowledge and accept the realities of the conditions that lie ahead and to make plans to succeed in the face of those realities.

What lies ahead will be either a challenge to be met or the unwinding of fate.  Not everyone who addresses it as a challenge will succeed to overcome the daunting obstacles that they will meet.  Not all who leave the matter to fate will fare poorly.  Those who can properly analyze and prepare will only have a far better chance.  There can be no guarantees.

The first step, then, is analysis of what lies ahead.  The next is to build the resources to meet the challenges that might be expected.  Your work should build resources.  Your leisure should build resources.  Your celebrations should build resources.  Your mourning should build resources.  You must learn to have happy, rewarding lives building resources.

Inasmuch as power and wealth are not precisely synonymous (and that’s not much), the only other source of power is knowledge.  The answer is education.

So then, the following bullet list provides a sample from the propositions upon which The Virtual Vanaprastha concept is founded:

      ·        Strive to be completely rational.  Do not strive to be free of emotion.  In a T=0 healthy mind, this will result in a healthier balance between rational mind (which requires continual development and maintenance) and emotional mind (which is inevitable and inevitably demands more dominance than is healthy).
·        Use the new technologies but don’t let them use you any more than can be avoided.  Learn everything you can about the new technologies (hardware and software) and use that knowledge to have far greater resources available to you at far lower cost.
·        Use the legacy technologies inasmuch as they can profitably be translated into the present world.  Learn the concepts by which machines work just as you would learn how computer software and hardware work.  Know how to use the widest possible range of tools in order to build, modify and effect repairs.  Low tech is one of your more powerful resources.
·        Buy no cultural product primarily because it is popular.  It is an enormously destructive personal and collective behavior.
·        The single most powerful legacy technology is books.
·        The most powerful tool in any toolkit is disinterest.  There is no greater resource.  Learn how and when to use it.
·        Have fun.  Enjoy yourself.  Learn to enjoy yourself regardless of difficult circumstances.

If you have managed somehow to become a media personality, ignore everything I say.  Keep working on more ways to get nearly naked in public and to be outrageous enough to get in the next media cycle.  Just ignore me.  If you have not managed to become a media personality and think that you might like to try my product, ignore them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Henry David Thoreau and Two Other Autistic Lives giveaway, day 1.

Day 1 of the Henry David Thoreau and Two Other Autistic Lives: before the diagnosis existed FREE GIVEAWAY is underway.  BE SURE TO GET YOUR COPY WHILE IT'S FREE!
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In March of 1845, Thoreau borrowed an ax, walked to a parcel of property offered by Emerson, on the shore of Walden Pond, about a mile from town, and began cutting the materials to make a cabin. From time to time he returned to the spot to pick up where he left off until eventually he’d built enough of the cabin to provide shelter from the rain.  On the fourth of July he moved into the unfinished cabin, anxious to get started.  The rest he would finish while his experiment was underway.

      During the first six months he sometimes returned to eat and sleep at home, while the cabin was being finished for the approaching winter weather.  He bought simple food (until the beans he would plant the next year were ready to harvest), for his meals, to which he added the berries he picked and fish he caught in the pond.  His mother made sure he was provided with pies and other treats.  Most nights he lit his lamp and entered the day’s affairs in his journal and worked on the book about his excursion, several years before, on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers with his brother John.  Occasionally he walked to the home of one or another friend to pass an evening hour at their fireside.”

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject and a great read., November 28, 2014
By Laura L. Orem
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This review is from: Henry David Thoreau and Two Other Autistic Lives: before the diagnosis existed (Kindle Edition)
A fascinating subject and a great read. Particularly insightful in showing how those on the spectrum can do important work (and even achieve greatness) when provided with support and the room to grow. This is an important message in an age in which diagnoses of autism continue to increase. Highly recommend.

Check out The Virtual Vanaprastha Facebook page here:
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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Rapier and Dagger Final, Copenhagen Open 2015, NHFL

When Edward de Vere did combat with the Knevets and their retainers it would have been with these weapons and in a similar style. The old Medieval long swords and such survived only in field combat and tournament. This is also how the sword battle in *Romeo and Juliet*, almost certainly based upon the Knevet duel, would have been choreographed, as well as the contest in *Hamlet*.

 Yet another exceptional half-hour English language documentary from Deutsche Welle, this one on the changes occurring in the worlds of publishing and reading. Jam packed with information and visuals typifying the reading experience in Europe and the U.S. today..

Saturday, March 01, 2014

from the Asiatic Journal, V 21 (1826): "THE SOUTH COAST OF CRIMEA"

(From the Journal of a Russian Officer)

 Sevastopol, the first town of Crimea, and the most beautifully situated in all Russia, was not in existence at the conquest of the country in 1783. An insignificant village lay on the right shore of the bay, in the midst of a thick forest; and on this spot Sevastopol was built, which now contains above 20,000 inhabitants, mostly soldiers and sailors. The town is seated on the declivity of a hill, forming a promontory between two bays. The houses are chiefly of one story, white, covered with red tiles, and surrounded with fruit trees. The principal street (the houses of which are two stories) runs along the foot of the hill

Its advantages as a sea port are perhaps unequalled. The roads are formed by a bay about a werst and a half wide, by seven wersts long, and from seven to ten fathoms deep. The anchorage is excellent, and vessels are protected against every wind, except from the west, on entering. From the southern entrance, it comprehends four capacious bays, viz Artillery bay, South bay, Ship's bay and the careening-bay.

Go to the entire article>>>

Thursday, February 27, 2014

American Life in Poetry #217: Kevin Griffith


American literature is rich with poems about the passage of time, and the inevitability of change, and how these affect us. Here is a poem by Kevin Griffith, who lives in Ohio, in which the years accelerate by their passing.


I hold my two-year-old son
under his arms and start to twirl.
His feet sway away from me
and the day becomes a blur.
Everything I own is flying into space
yard toys, sandbox, tools,
garage and house,
and, finally, the years of my life.

When we stop, my son is a grown man,
and I am very old. We stagger
back into each other's arms
one last time, two lost friends
heavy with drink, remembering the good old days.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2006 by Kevin Griffith, whose most recent book of poetry is "Denmark, Kangaroo, Orange," Pearl Editions, 2007. Poem reprinted from "Mid-American Review," Vol. 26, no. 2, 2006, by permission of Kevin Griffith and the publisher.  Introduction copyright (c)2009 by The Poetry Foundation.  The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.  We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Front Page

Alex Castellanos Now Advisor to McCain Campaign
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Sun Jul 20, 2008
Daily Kos

Maybe Castellanos is a racist, maybe not. But if his research indicates that a racist ad will help his candidate, he's already proven once that it is not beyond him. [Go to the complete story >>>]

The Ballad of Big Dick
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Thu Jul 10, 2008
Daily Kos

Ev'ry mornin' at the White House you could see him arrive,
He stood five foot ten and weighed two twenty-five.
Kinda broad at the shoulder and broader at the hip,
And everybody knew ya didn't give no lip to Big Dick.
Big Dick, Big Di-ick, Big Bad Dick Big Dick. [Go the the complete parody>>>]

Man-Boy Love Advocate Accused of Using Wikipedia to Troll for Interested Parties
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Mar 4, 2007
Eye Online

Rookiee's boyloving propensities, it was decided, fell under the category of "sexual preference" and users were not to be prejudiced against due to sexual preference. [Go to the complete story >>>]

True Stone and Epitaph: the Poetry of Pablo Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, Mark Eisner, Ed.
San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2004. 222 pages
ISBN 0-87286-428-6

The year 2004 is the centennial of the birth of the poet Pablo Neruda. As a result, the already considerable amount of work published annually by and about the poet has increased exponentially. City Lights' 100th birthday gift is The Essential Neruda, a selection of poems, edited by Mark Eisner, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for Latin American Studies. [
Go to the review>>>]

Pierce Butler, Fanny Kemble, et al.
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

The Weeping Time: Elegy in Three Voices by Christopher Conlon.
Washington, D.C.: Argonne House Press, 2004.
138 pp. $19.95 paper. ISBN 1-887641-18-1.

In March of 1859, Pierce Butler, a Philadelphian, wealthy by virtue of two plantations in Georgia, auctioned some 430 of his slaves in one of the largest such sales in American history. That auction became known as 'The Weeping Time'. The poet Christopher Conlon memorializes that day with a book of poems bearing the same name. Butler is of further historical interest by virtue of his rocky marriage to the famous English actress, Fanny Kemble,... [
Go to the Review>>>]

Go to full Poetry Review Index>>>
Go to the Book Review Index>>>

Page 2

New Poetry:

For the Tattooed Man by Sharmila Voorakkara
Fried Beauty by R. S. Gwynn
Seeing the Eclipse in Maine by Robert Bly
Dead Butterfly by Ellen Bass
Go to the Poetry Index >>>

New Book Reviews:

Never Far from a Breakdown. Collected Poems: With Notes Toward the Memoirs, by Djuna Barnes. Reviewed by Brian Phillips.

Thrills and Chills and Home Movies. Strong Is Your Hold, by Galway Kinnell. -and- Interrogation Palace, by David Wojahn. Reviewed by Peter Campion.

Barnes on Fire. A Word Like Fire: Selected Poems, by Dick Barnes. Reviewed by Peter Campion.

The Cosmic I. Present Company by W. S. Merwin.
Reviewed by by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

Sex Trek: the Next Generation.
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

Sex Carnival by Bill Brownstein.
Toronto: ECW Press, 2000
250 pages. $22.95 Can, $18.95 US.
ISBN 1-55022-415-8.

Two factors changed our relationship to sex in the past century. The first was the introduction of cheap, effective birth-control. The second, market capitalism, has become the unchallenged law of the jungle.... [Go to the review>>>]

Go to the Book Review Index>>>

New Interviews:

Translating Poetry into Poetry. An interview with C. K. Williams.
Nature Poems in a Post-Natural Age. An interview with Gary Snyder.
The Poet of Green Bananas and Baclao. An interview with Victor Hernández Cruz.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jon Norman: tortured enfant anti-hero

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

This memoir was originally slated to appear in Days of Creativity: A Collection of Poems by Jon Norman ed. by James Stidfole. Little Red Tree Publishing. 2007.

1. Shortly after I was assigned to the Navy construction crew of the USS Groton, at the Electric Boat Naval Shipyard, in Groton, Connecticut, in 1976, a shipmate (a first-class electronics technician with a Dagwood Bumstead haircut and an even goofier laugh) informed me that he had seen a posting, on the local public access station, by a group that was starting a literary magazine. Surely, in his mind, it was goofier still for a sailor to read poetry and I will never quite understand what possessed him to write down the contact information in order to hand it along.

2. The journal, I would learn, was to be called A Letter Among Friends. I attended a reading, at the Groton Public Library, sponsored by the group. It was held in a meeting room strewn with carpeted modular staging of various shapes and sizes. (Everything was modular at that time: it was the in thing.) We spent the afternoon reading poems and aimlessly reconfiguring the staging. It wasn’t exactly an impressive experience but the idea seemed to have promise. My first published poem appeared in the first issue.

3. The founding editor had been Matthew Goldman. Matthew was a dedicated back-to-nature-type with long hair and a spreading salt-and-pepper beard. His wife, Jocelyn, was half his age, with a beaming smile and a penchant for canning and taking care of their two young sons. They lived on a small farm outside of nearby New London where they kept a huge garden and Matthew a hand-craft workshop.

4. Matthew soon withdrew as editor. The job fell to Jae Brown and Mary Jane Moore (née Anderson) who asked if I would help with production. This meant collating, folding and stapling the pages. Gerry Johnson, the Treasurer, spent days literally cranking them out on a hand-operated Gestetner machine and delivered them to us for the tedious task.

5. It was at about this time that the group formalized the occasional open mic readings. They would occur monthly, at various New London establishments, for nearly ten years. During the first several years, they were held in the bar of a Bank Street bistro called the Ice House.

6. It was in the doorway there that a dark figure, with shoulder length, dangling, unwashed hair, and wearing a black leather jacket, appeared toward the end of a monthly reading. His look was gaunt and slightly menacing. His smile was little more than a grimace. As I recall, he did not speak to anyone but the waitress that first evening. He left before the end of the reading.

7. He returned each month, when he was not “in painful chains ascending in madhouse degree the sacred mountain,” [1] until the readings came to an end. He read while straddling a stool whenever one was available, looked intently down at his text, periodically pushing his hair back from his eyes. At first, the poems were generally song lyrics he’d written.

8. It was during the second or third month that we found ourselves shaking hands. His name was Jon Norman, he said. He was impressed with the quality of the open mic. We didn’t know how fortunate we were to have a reading of this quality available in such a small town. He was self-conscious about not having a drink in his hand. He didn’t do drugs or alcohol anymore, he volunteered. Whenever he did drink even a sip, he went on, it took his body days to recover.

9. Jon’s family had been in New London since before World War II. His father, Victor Norman, he informed me in passing, was the founder and conductor of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. I had not been aware that there was a symphony orchestra in the area. I would only much later learn that his brother was Bob Norman, a well-known folk singer and one time editor of Sing Out magazine. As for Jon himself, he had been away from the area for years and only recently returned. The details were vague. He was working for a local plate-glass distributor.

10. I was not able to attend the readings quite as religiously as he. Submarines under construction tend to place extreme demands on the time of all involved. Eventually, I was onboard for systems tests as often as not. Soon after that came sea-trials, and, finally, deployment. My enlistment ended in 1980, and my wife and I decided to remain in the New London area. We bought a house on a street called (of all things) Cinderella Lane.

11. Each time I returned to the readings, I found Jon Norman considerably more at ease. He was creating a role for himself as laconic resident Beat guru. It was a role everyone seemed to appreciate, himself included. The grimace looked a bit more like a smile. At the same time, he was so careful to avoid confrontation that it was clear that he was somehow fragile.

12. This habit of avoiding confrontation should not be confused, however, with the painstaking courtesy Jon showed to others (with one rare exception) throughout the entire time I knew him. I had been at Cinderella Lane for about a year when I invited Jon to the house. When we came in the door the look on my wife’s face made it clear that Jon’s remaining in the house was not an available option. She and I had just added a screen house so that we could sit outside during the summer nights without being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I ushered Jon into the screen house where we spent a pleasant evening talking about poetry and social justice and I began to introduce the subject of Jon’s years on the road. My wife stepped out of the door, periodically, to direct a furious stare towards me meant to call an end to the visit. I apologized for her behavior but Jon wouldn’t hear of it. He was not sure he would want himself for a guest, he said, anymore than she did.

13. My marriage had been a difficult one from the first. The birth of my magical daughter, Rachel, and buying a house at the borderline between suburbia and the country, made it bearable for a time, after I left the Navy, but the final denouement was never really in doubt. I filed for divorce in 1983. Among the things I felt at liberty to do, as a result, was to spend my evenings as I saw fit. I had yet to accept an invitation to Jon’s home. The next time one was extended I did so.

14. From the outside, the Norman house looked very similar to the Monte Cristo Cottage (boyhood home of Eugene O’Neill) next door. Like all of the “cottages” on that stretch of Pequot Avenue, in New London, it was an over-sized, modified Victorian home with a wrap around porch the size of a boardwalk. The front door opened into a spacious foyered living room: large enough for a full-sized grand piano to the immediate right, surrounded by dark, built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and followed, at a comfortable distance, by unpretentious but nicely appointed sofa and chairs around a broad tea table. To the left, across from the sofa, was a spacious fireplace over which hung a copy of an Assyrian mosaic showing a lion rearing to strike.

15. Visit by visit, I was introduced to more intimate areas of the house. Jon’s mother was herself quite fragile at the time. She had a specially furnished sitting room upstairs into which I was ushered, on each occasion, in order to be greeted by her. She was a small woman, made tiny by a stoop, who made one feel like a dear friend from the first moment. At the beginning of each visit (until she passed away) Jon escorted me up to pay my respects. On each occasion, she also asked if he was well and gently reminded him of one or another thing he should remember to do. There was never the slightest trace of rebuke on her part or offense on his.

16. During the first several visits we sat in the living room discussing poetry and social justice as we had done so often in various locales. The coffee was navy-strong and we smoked cigarettes until a cloud enveloped the room. Having known Jon for some time I felt I could encourage him to talk at greater length about his years away. He was always careful not to let the topic monopolize too much of the conversation. He was conflicted, neither wanting to reject all that his youth had been about nor to glorify it.

17. One day he brought out a copy of Art Kleps’s cult classic: Millbrook: The True Story of the Early Years Psychedelic Revolution. (I still have the copy he lent to me.) He leafed to page 161, where he pointed out the following passage:

John [sic] and Vinnie [sic]. Ashramite couple. A pair of clean-cut American kids who never seemed to think of anything except how best to enjoy themselves. Vinnie was one of the sexiest little creatures I have ever met in my life, an opinion universally shared. She moved in a sort of continuous wriggle and her mouth was always open. When she discovered I was a writer, she suggested I collaborate with her on the story of her life. It would be a masterpiece of pornography, she assured me. John didn’t approve. He thought we should sell her as a Playboy centerfold instead. John and the Drucks had visited Israel together, before their Ashram lives began. [2]

‘That’s me and Vennie,’ he said. He’d spent about a year, during his travels, at Timothy Leary’s experimental, LSD-based community at Millbrook.

18. The Hitchcock Estate (Millbrook, NY), as Kleps describes it, in 1968, was a place of lies and filth. Drugs and alcohol had long since come to be hoarded by various groups and individuals in order to avoid rampant theft of the same.

Just being in the Big House depressed me. Since the electricity and heat were off, the remaining Leaguers were living out in the woods in teepees and the fifty room mansion was full of dog shit, cat shit, goat shit… [3]

If there had been glory days the young couple soon found themselves living in the offal of them. Little was left, in the end, but the heavy drinking, drugging and paranoia.

19. Jon had mentioned Vennie from time to time. It was difficult to nudge details out of him. He was preparing a book of poems for the press, though, and I learned more about her from the proofs he presented to me as work progressed. After Millbrook the two of them eventually moved to California. Vennie was pregnant with their child. Jon needed to become a provider, to settle down, to grow up. He called from work during the nights to make sure she was all right. Then suddenly it happened:

An empty bed beside me, curtains waving in the pane,
I called the house from work all night. [4]

What the poems didn’t make clear was Jon’s sometimes frightening struggle with his addiction to heroin. Vennie left him. Their daughter would be born somewhere in the redwood forests of California:

And I was left inside the whirlpool of the city,
you out in the forest with child. [5]

He’d come to depend on Vennie being there, had expected to hold their newborn daughter in his arms. These were the treasures he’d managed to come away with from the prodigal journey of his youth. Now even that had proven illusory.

20. Every time I suggested that the breakup was a terrible event in his life, from which he was still fighting to recover, Jon wouldn’t hear of it. Vennie was a good person. She and their daughter, Forest, lived a good life among the redwoods. His problems were his own to account for.

21. In retrospect, the pair of clean-cut American kids Kleps recalled can not help but bring to mind such observations as the following from a 1967 New Republic article, by Lisa Biebermen, then editor of the Psychedelic Information Center newsletter:

A community is a place for people to live and work together, put down roots, raise their children and grow old. There is no psychedelic community, least of all at Millbrook, a madhouse place that nobody can stand for long. Of the group that started there, none remain except Leary and his daughter and son. In the mad scramble to be In, nobody asks what became of the people who were In last year, and the latter are silent. How long can this farce be played out? Apparently indefinitely; the turnover of Leary's followers goes on, each new group of converts as true-believing as the last, until their turn comes to fall out through divorce, rejection, psychosis or disillusionment. [6]

Both Jon and Vennie could have fallen victim to any or all of these in their turn. They seem to have arrived at Millbrook as innocents, more or less. Who knows how they left?

22. The volume Jon had been preparing was entitled Forest Songs. In the prose poem "Les Mains Sales" he gives his own perspective on how he came to the impasse he did:

I’d played with marked cards in the recurrent cyclic spiral downward through the magus’s funhouse stageset to ego’s inevitable cul-de-sac; cornered and exposed, all conscience’s thousand whispering monoliths descended (mala fide) in hard crystal hailstones from my neighbors’ hundred-windowed structures, tall accusatory sentinels above my bare-headed Outcast’s fear. [7]

He’d certainly mentioned other addresses over the years — Haight Ashbury, Echo Park, Stinson Beach — that suggest a way of life that might not have begun and ended at Millbrook.

23. I wrote a brief review of the book that appeared in the pages of A Letter Among Friends. My words were those of a reviewer rather than a friend:

Whether writing a song lyric, a prose poem, or a lyric after the style of Rimbaud, the poet of Forest Songs is too scrupulous to opt for the easy way out. He refuses to round off his life or our history to justify either. His celebrations are often ambivalent while his accusations are not. In short, his book was all the rough edges of honesty. [8]

I, too, was intent upon honesty. There is a lot of exceptional poetry in the book.

24. What Jon did take away from those years was a hard-earned wisdom and a humanity of the sort few achieve. As painful as the fact may be, the profoundest poets — or, for that matter, people — are the product of coming to terms with their own suffering. More deeply wounded, they often remain unusually vulnerable, as well, in spite of their remarkable accomplishments.

25. Jon had a large bedroom upstairs which he had also fitted out with a few sparse pieces of furniture. Eventually we took our conversations up there. He kept a small library in his closet and was fond of pulling volumes down to quote from them. He was fonder still of impressing upon me how important it was for me to read them: Henry Miller’s Time of the Assassins; Rimbaud’s Illuminations; Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen; Ezra Pound’s Cantos. With the exception of Pound, I was only vaguely familiar with the authors. I bought my own copies of everything I could find by them. The conversations would soon begin in better earnest.

26. He didn’t need a prop in order to go on about Bob Dylan. There was more to Dylan, he repeated, than I knew, both as a song-writer and a poet. He spoke of this album and that, this song and that, with close attention. I should take the time to really get to know the music.

27. These evenings grew more frequent after I was asked to become the editor-in-chief of A Letter Among Friends. Others had been asked first. None wanted the position. I was informed that either I would take it or the journal would cease publication. I had been encouraging the New London poets to take their work more seriously for years. To the point, it turned out, that they were sick of hearing it. Now was the time to put my time where my mouth was, it seemed. I agreed (very much against my better judgment) with the proviso that Jon and one other poet would serve together with me.

28. Our first declaration was that we intended to publish on time — a feat that had thitherto proven impossible. We next announced that we intended to publish engagé political poetry should it prove to be of sufficient quality — a feat that had thitherto proven unpalatable. Finally, we brought an entire new staff onboard (the old staff being a combination of exhausted and aghast).

29. I believe it was during the last reading before the official turnover that it happened. A saccharin fifty-ish poet, who was then a regular at the readings, announced that his family had printed a limited and numbered edition of his poetry. They materialized there around him, beaming. The book was brandished. His work was lauded in the highest possible terms. It was everything that poetry should be: filled with Hallmark love and puppy-dog tails.

30. Then Jon took poetry seriously. He rushed the ad hoc table of honor. The gentleman’s wife and daughters gaped at the assailant. Pointing an accusative finger, neck veins bulging, Jon challenged the man’s right to even so much as call himself a poet. His stuff was the worst sort of rubbish. It was an insult to those who put their lives into trying to write actual poetry. Everyone in the room stood riveted to the spot. After several minutes of the same, I crossed the room, took Jon by the shoulder and walked him away. He seemed to have been waiting for me to do so. Everyone else in the room surged in the opposite direction, toward the doggerel laureate, like a gentle soughing wave. Was he all right? How terrible it had been! In retrospect, our effort was doomed before it started.

31. Not that we failed, exactly. Four issues came out very nearly on time during the following year. It was the first time in the history of the journal that this had been accomplished. They were easily the four finest issues the journal ever published. I was out of the area for several months but we’d managed to select the poetry and covers before I left. The subscription list grew at a gratifying rate. But while we gathered at a Mountain Avenue flat with our coffee, pipes and cigarettes, to shepherd the new literature of our time, there was the creeping sense of a hostile world outside of the room.

32. A previous staff-member was outraged by the changes and lobbied anyone who would listen that the journal should be turned over to ‘someone responsible’. We had published two of Jon’s prose poems excoriating American imperialism. During the monthly open mics he was regularly reading “Munitions Factory”, a protest poem against Electric Boat. I, for my part, had begun writing ‘disturbing’ poems in the vein of Rimbaud. Worse still, as a respected engineer and ex-nuclear submariner, my pronouncements on the military-industrial complex were garnering attention. This was not what A Letter Among Friends had been created for.

33. Half of New London, it seemed, was buzzing around like so many angry hornets. Anyone with the slightest destructive bent was suddenly and gloriously released to pursue their particular art, as well. Within the year, I was unceremoniously voted out as editor. I was only too pleased to give up the onerous position but was otherwise defiant. I began to present poems at the monthly readings that left no excuses available to anyone with a bit of conscience left. The monthly readings were suspended indefinitely. They never were revived.

34. I found myself without a job into the bargain. I took up cab-driving, the only job I could get any longer, locally, that paid more than minimum wage, and enrolled in a local college. In actuality, I found myself pursuing a post-graduate degree at the University of Hard Knocks. My specialization was “Mob Psychology”. My thesis is still in progress being published piece-meal.

35. Jon retired to the family house from which he sallied out occasionally to introduce me to open mic readings at St. Mark’s, in New York City, or a concert by Dave Van Ronk (‘a real folksinger’) in a tiny Hartford club. I was woefully uninformed about the world his poetry came from and it seemed as good a time as any to give me a short course.

36. Jon cut his hair. After years of abstinence, he began to allow himself a single glass of wine some nights. His wife, Gloria (they largely pursued separate lives), and their son, Daniel, began stopping by. I would sometimes arrive to find Jon teaching Daniel how to play chess on the sunbathed porch. Our evenings, for some reason, shifted to daytimes in the kitchen. The grimace was replaced by a boyish grin. He began to speak of writing a Handbook of Social Justice. I’d never seen him so happy. Victor Norman invariably stopped to chat for a while and to let me know how pleased he was that his son and I had grown to be such good friends.

37. Eventually, however, a remnant of the hornet’s nest, associated with the local drug culture, that had somehow become headquartered in an old farmhouse, a short distance from the Old Colchester Road, in Oakdale, just north of New London, managed to deal me a sundering blow. As a result, my thinking became slow, labored, barely thinking at all. There was ‘such a thing as “situational ethics,”’ I was informed, at one point, as I sat trying to focus my attention. I was taunted with descriptions of the bleak life ahead for me as a drooling, gape-mouthed moron. Detailed lectures were included on the most humane methods of ending one’s own life.

38. Afterwards I was an exposed nerve one moment, exquisitely sensitive to any stimulation, and in an anesthetic cloud the next. The simplest task required enormous effort. The police dismissed my claims with derision. I decided to move to upstate New York where my daughter had been relocated after the divorce and my own family resided. I remained in New London, in a rental cabin, for several months trying to recover sufficiently that I would be able to manage the rigors of a move, ventured out as little as possible. I saw Jon, once, briefly, before I left for New York. ‘It’s called “drug-bombing,”’ he said.

39. Some 10 months after I left, I received a call from Jon. He was nearly incoherent, clearly panicked. In all the time I’d known him I‘d never heard him in such a state. They’d gotten him, too, he said. He’d moved out of the house and they’d gotten him. He was living in the car. He wasn’t sure he was safe. He would be in my area in a week to attend a folk concert. Could I meet him there? He needed to talk to me. It was important.

40. I said I would try. I had no car. The fair ground at which the concert was to be held was thirty miles away and not near any bus line. The price of a cab was well beyond my means. I was barely able to get through my days as it was. I did not go to meet him at the concert. Three weeks later, I received a call from my mother. Victor Norman had called to say that Jon was dead.

41. I would later learn that Jon had drowned in a meditation pool at an Ashram, in Hunter, New York. It was a place he had often mentioned during our conversations, a place of peace and healing to which he felt he needed to return.

42. As for what Jon had told me during that final telephone call, I have reflected upon it many times over the years. I’d never known Jon without the resources of his loving family and home immediately available to him. Perhaps it was my own condition, at the time, that made me want to believe that he had been unwise to try to return to a crazy and often emotionally brutal world which would seek out and test, if not attack, his weakest points; to believe that his claims were the result of a degree of confusion that I’d never detected before in him which arose from those more normal (however difficult the fact is to accept) circumstances. Even now, the alternative possibility seems overwhelming.

[1] Norman, Jon, Forest Songs (Mystic, CT: Private, 1985). No pagination.

[2] Kleps, Art, Millbrook: The True Story of the Early Years of the Psychedelic Revolution (Oakland, CA: Bench Press, 1977) 161. The following e-book version, “© 1995 His Highness Arthur J. Kleps”, is posted at “John [sic] and Vinnie [sic]. Ashramite couple. A pair of clean-cut American kids who never seemed to think of anything except how best to enjoy themselves. Vinnie was one of the sexiest little nitwits I have ever encountered, an opinion universally shared. When she discovered I had literary inclinations, she suggested I collaborate with her on the story of her life. It would be "very pornographic," she assured me. Wouldn't John mind? Why should he? Despite my libidinal lassitude, there was something about this concept that appealed to me, but John, it turned out, did mind. He thought we should sell her as a Playboy centerfold instead, he said. John and the Druck brothers had visited Israel together, before their Ashram lives began.” It is this version that I quoted from in the text I sent to Michael Linnard for inclusion in Days of Creativity: a Collection of Poems by Jon Norman. Little Red Tree Publishing (2007).

[3] Kleps. 7.

[4] Norman.

[5] Norman.

[6] Bieberman, Lisa, "The Psychedelic Experience", The New Republic, August 5, 1967. Council on Spiritual Practices, documents,

[7] Norman.

[8] Purdy, Gilbert W., "A Review of Forest Songs by Jon Norman", A Letter Among Friends Vol. 6, No. 4 (1985) 18.