THE UNKNOWN SAN FRANCISCO RENAISSANCE POET

 

A few years ago, San Francisco Renaissance poet Landis Everson was yanked out of obscurity in California by an ambitious young poet and editor from Cambridge, MA: Ben Mazer.  Ben’s not an intellectual, but he’s ambitious and he’s got a nose for the scene and writes poems as good as anyone alive today and he’s also a musician and eccentric and personally intense;  he’ll write the most famous poets in the world and get them to blurb his work.  Thanks to Ben Mazer, who writes for the defunct-while-it-waits-for-more-funding Fulcrum, Landis Everson of Jack Spicer’s circle came back to us for awhile.

I knew a gay Boston poet, Antonio Giarraputo, who went to Harvard with Frank O’ Hara, knew Robin Blaser, when Blaser worked at Harvard’s Widener library and Jack Spicer, when Spicer worked at the rare book room at the Boston Public Library and John Wieners from around town, because Tony moved in his circles.  Tony had lots of stories about them.

I rented a room in his Coolidge Corner, rare-book-african-art stuffed apartment during the last decade of his life and made some tapes of his reminicences, which I have somewhere.  Tony spoke his mind.  To John Ciardi, when John said he was going to translate Dante, “But, John, you don’t know Italian!”  Tony did, and several other languages fluently besides; he also sang opera, and once John Wieners told Tony he wasn’t wanted by his circle by writing Giarraputo a note: “Renaissance Man, go home!”  Tony was too blunt, too classical, too ‘old school,’ for the ‘revolutionaries’ of the San Francisco Renaissance.   Tony was put off by O’ Hara cruising the men’s room at Widener.  Tony was a proud Harvard graduate, a Fulbright scholar, and he fought in World War II, at D-day.  

When I knew Tony, in the last years of his life, he was an overweight diabetic who lolled about watching his favorite TV show, “All in the Family,” passionately hating on Archie Bunker (Tony was a die-hard Democrat) the tough Irishman who represented the bullies who picked on Tony when he was a sensitive kid of Sicilian immigrants from the slums with a bricklayer father who hated the fact his son wrote poetry.  Tony used to boast that he was a bigot: “I hate everybody.”  He was a erudite bigot: he could tell you what was wrong with the Florentines, and what was wrong with the Venetians.  But Tony walked the walk.  He wasn’t a professor, or a poet who won prizes; his career was teaching black kids in the Boston public schools, and he started local poetry clubs to which every street urchin was welcome: and they all came, and eventually the mayor of Boston proclaimed an Antonio Giarraputo Day

I wasn’t wild about Tony’s poetry in English; most of it was too ‘modern-zen’ for my taste: he returned the favor by ridiculing my love of Poe.  I once came upon some exquisite lyrics in Italian (metrical, rhymed) he wrote.  “Tony, these are beautiful!”  Tony just waved his hand, “Oh, those…”  

It was rare that Tony went to a party, but when he did, he was the life of it.  He was sad most of all in his last days because he mourned how the gay lifestyle was unkind to the old and the ugly.  He did not remember O’Hara, Blaser, Spicer, and Wieners kindly; personally he couldn’t stand them.  I can still hear the way he spat out their names.  Did Tony give into bitterness and self-pity to a certain extent?  He was traumatized by his war experience; I didn’t know him when he was young, so it’s hard to say where he was coming from.  Maybe he was jealous.  I don’t know.  Perhaps that’s why Tony is forgotten and no poem of his can be found on the web, except the one below, which I happen to have, and am keeping alive.

Tony always meant to write a book on Cambridge and Boston’s poetry bohemia of the 40s and 50s.  Tony, however, was a gregarious lyric poet, not a meticulous scholar, and he burned-out teaching public school in Roxbury, where they “pelt you with rocks and bury you,” as Tony would say. The book was never written (though there must be notes somewhere) and a lot of history was lost forever.   Tony predicted that when he died, the “vultures will descend.”   They did, scooping up his rare books and art collection and his personal papers.  I had moved out, by then, and sadly remember how his writing life just disappeared. 

Epitaph for an Unknown Soldier
(St. Lo, Normandy, 7/17/1944)

First of the fallen angels I have known,
I came upon you in obscurity
and found your arms embracing all the sky
as life escaped you.  In the midst of dull,
engulfing battle, thunder and black flame,
this peace is terrible.  Your eyes are glacial lakes;
your lips are dry: you are still beautiful.

I twist my helmeted neck to meet your gaze,
but stand dark, unreflected in those lakes
now frozen by an age which has no end.
I bow and hover, too afraid to touch,
unable to breathe life on wrinkling lips,
to see them tremble–and return to pain.
I bend to drink your death, and numbly wish
to halve my useless living and to share
what I have too much of, if you have none.

Antonio Alfredo Giarraputo
1925-1989

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10 Comments

  1. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I conversed with Tony several times,
    And though he thought Christianity idiocy,
    He urged me to cling to it if I felt I needed it.
    He’d seen too many despairing souls die hideously.

  2. Marcus Bales said,

    July 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Christianity

    I have a very personal relationship with God,
    Who says I´m fundamentally, indubitably flawed;
    But not to worry, Jesus has forgiveness, if high rent –
    Where I can buy redemption at the rate of ten percent.
    Oh ten percent, it´s ten percent, yes, ten percent for me:
    I get three gods in one when I buy Christianity!
    Oh ten percent, it´s ten percent, yes, ten percent for me,
    I´m purchasing salvation and my immortality!

  3. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” — Antonio Gramsci

  4. thomasbrady said,

    July 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    man does not live by bread alone

    ***

    I, WHO erewhile the happy Garden sung
    By one man’s disobedience lost, now sing
    Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
    By one man’s firm obedience fully tried
    Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled
    In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
    And Eden raised in the waste Wilderness

    —opening lines of Paradise Regained, John Milton

    “By what trivial circumstances men are often led to assert what they do not really believe! Perhaps an inadvertent word has descended to posterity. But, in fact, the Paradise Regained is little, if at all inferior to the Paradise Lost and is only supposed so to be because men do not like epics, whatever they may say to the contrary, and reading those of Milton in their natural order, are too much wearied with the first to derive any pleasure from the second.”
    –Edgar Poe

  5. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 19, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Here’s something I’d never heard of before.
    I wonder if there’s a recording I can score?
    I knew Krzysztof did “The Devils of Loudon”
    But never would have guessed that he set Milton.

    “Paradise Lost” is an opera in two acts with music by Krzysztof Penderecki and an English libretto by Christopher Fry. The opera is based on the epic poem of the same name by Milton. Penderecki himself characterized the work as a Sacra Rappresentazione (sacred representation) rather than an opera. He wrote the opera on commission for the 1976 US Bicentennial celebrations. The first performance was given on 29 November 1978, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The same production was given at La Scala, Milan in 1979.

    The opera is set in heaven, hell, and on earth at the dawn of creation, and is divided into 42 scenes.

  6. dylanissimus said,

    July 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I remember Tony from the New Writer’s Collective reading that used to be held in Copley Square in the 1980s. Opinionated man, but fascinating. Loved Dante Alighieri, Emily Dickinson, and E E Cummings. Disdained William Carlos Williams. Was addicted to the old pentameter, and it usually served him well!

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Dylan,

      We probably crossed paths at New Writer’s Collective. I was there a few times. Tony died in December, 1989. The last time I saw him was when he gave a talk at the Dante Alighieri Society. Some youtubes exist of Tony reading poetry at Jack Powers-run readings.

      Tom

  7. donald langosy said,

    August 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    hi Tom…. it’s me donald langosy…Antonio’s friend… my wife just found your blog…. his poetry is safe… protected… and although i have been slow to get it back to the public…. i have never for a moment wanted anything else except for its recognition… Toni and I spoke by phone often several times a day… but then silence came… i called and called… i sensed his death and went with the police to enter his apartment only to find he had been laying dead for a couple days…. the vultures did descend… but i walked out with his poetry… it was what Antonio begged me to do if he died… the notebooks are safe… and i got the family to put all the scattered pages in garbage bags so i could bring them home with me… they appointed me his literary executor… they acted like the work might be worth millions….. we scattered Antonio’s ashes at halibut point… his wish… Jack Powers, Vincent Farrini and Billy Barnum were there… they knew what was going on…. so please rest assured my beloved friend’s life work is safe…. i think my slowness is in a way my desire to have the vultures reseed completely….

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Donald,

      Thanks for writing! I remember you, and Tony often spoke of you very fondly. He loved you and trusted you and I’m so happy to hear his work is safe in your hands.

      I remember some short lyrics Tony wrote in Italian, which I thought were very beautiful.

      How are you doing? Are you still living in the Boston area?

      I’d love to publish some of his work here on Scarriet, some small pieces, perhaps. I’ll leave that decision up to you.

      Tony used to say, “if Muhammad won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad.”

      Maybe this applies here, I don’t know.

      Good to hear from you, Donald!

      Tom

  8. August 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I met the author one late night in Boston we spent hours talking until dawn. He gave me a hand written copy of TO AN UNKNOWN ST LO JULY 1944. I just rescued it from my flooded basement


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