ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery
Edited by Alan Moore and Marc Miller
New York: ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects, 1985
Since the turn of the century, the Lower East Side has been the home of poets and a locus of poetry. Publisher Josh Gosciak organized the first season of readings at ABC No Rio, and in the years since then the gallery has become a frequent venue for both the new and the venerable voices of the neighborhood. In this elegaic essay Gosciak evokes the poetic heritage of the'50s and '60s, lamenting the passing of a deep-rooted bohemian tradition.
In the pages following the editors, with Gosciak's help, have selected poetry specific to the Lower East Side in an effort to supplement the images and essays we present in the rest of the book. If those images and essays intimate what happened here, these poets tell us how it felt.
By Josh Gosciak
In the Mid-'60s Allen DeLoach put together a collection of poets writing on the Lower East Side, titled East Side Scene. It was the ultimate and sadly final recognition of a literary phenomenon taking place in the side bars and cafes in the East Village and Lower East Side. When the book hit the shelves at bookstores across America, the scene had already evaporated. The cafes, bars, little magazines and the poets themselves slipped into oblivion, untouchable fame or drugs and drink. Yet for some 15 years, the book proved the legacy. Poets and would-be poets flocked to the mecca of the Lower East Side: the demented, hip cool infuzed, defuzed, confuzed. They settled in, like oldtime immigrants, took up residencies like perspicacious interns and churned out poem after poem. The Mimeo Boom began along with an idiosyncratic counterculture of cool, jazz, drugs and assorted crazies...
...The modern tradition of poetry on the Lower East Side begins somewhere back in the early '60s when the then LeRoi Jones, Diane DiPrima, Frank O'Hara, Paul Blackburn and Calvin Hernten, and later the Last Poets and Young Lords put their anger to rap, blues and jazz. It was oral and fluid. More than about things-about people and events. They railed against the middle class confines of the culture, and consequently many of them were spurned as "political." Later, there were Puerto Rican poets like Tato Laviera, Miguel Pinero, Lucky Cienfuegos, Jose Figueroa, Sandy Esteves and Bimbo Rivas writing and pronouncing explosive manifestos. Today LeRoi Jones, now known as Amiri Baraka, is still attacked as too political for poetry-Baraka being the connection between the jazz scene and white poetic culture-he was the alchemist who moved Coltrane into the brains of deprogrammed intellectuals to set the bohemian scene on fire, circa 1965, in the East Village.
Freeform. Poets on every corner. Music. Revolution. No tongue in cheek lip-sucking institutional drivel. This was the joint. When the Five Spot had readings every week, the Living Theater breathed poetry, and Le Metro on Second Avenue and 10th Street, Les Deux Megots, Ikon and Peace Eye, had something going almost every night of the week...
...The St. Marks Poetry Project and the poetics of the Lower East Side are today synonymous. In its twenty years, the Poetry Project glorified New York, its buildings, its energy and its quaint ambience-but left the denizens out on the stoop. They sucked the exhilarating high of the streets, but left a sorry mess of decomposed syntax. A few poets attained international fame, became superstars, bolstered St. Marks as a power center, and managed to imbue a false moral relevance to poetry, literature and art.
White middle class morality culture, when injected into funky working class nabes, makes Art and Culture, albeit counter. St. Marks was the beginning and the end of Bohemia in the East Village. Its rise as a state-funded institution meant the institutionalization, subsidy, and-though they deny it strenuously-the standardization of poetry...
...What is the literary tradition of the Lower E? Immigrant? New Wave, Bohemian? As DeLoach told me, "There seems to be two parts to the Lower East Side now-the East Village, which has remained cliquish and an in-group dominated mostly by St. Marks, New York school of poetry, and Language poetics, who are mostly interested in imitating each other rather than extending the boundaries of original work.
Then there is the other lower Lower East Side, more culturally tribal, where there is no pressure politics and more room for creativity and vitality. Unlike the upper Lower East Side, which is superficially oriented, there is an ongoing cultural richness here." The poetry that is rooted on the Lower East Side is innately political-by its existence, in a legislative or cultural sense. It has no value to the rest of the country nor to politicians or landlords. Great poetry machines can't win it over or consume it. But it unites tribally, across geography. And when you're talking about poets who have laid out roots, whether it's someone like Ted Berrigan or Miguel Algarin, it unites such utopian concepts poetically, be it tenant control, solar conductors, or sweat equity.
All this happens slowly, very slowly, sometimes too slowly, on the Lower E. But it's the one thing that unites them, the universal tie-in that would after years of divergence coalesce young hipsters such as Bob Holman and old wandering troubadour Puerto Rican poet Jorge Brandon in a magical rapport. It happened briefly at ABC No Rio, on the Lower East Side, and there's a chance it might happen again. Ah, the oral tradition, beaten and battered, reawakens!