Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stephen Bunch on Bly, 1960s-1970s Lawrence

Friend and poet Stephen Bunch, former editor of Tellus,
sent this response to news of the Robert Bly 80th birth
day party,posted below. Stephen works with Continuing
Ed.at KU these days and still writes solid, inventive

He recalls the days when KU was a crossroads for
traveling poets Robert Creeley,Robert Duncan, Galway
Kinnell, Allen Ginsberg, and Diane Wakoski. George
Kimball ran for sheriff. Ed Dorn and his dog drank at
the Rock Chalk tavern.

Thanks,Stephen, for this memoir and links.

Hi, Denise, I enjoy your 'blog.

I remember Bly's reading at KU in 1969, when he read
primarily from "The Light Around the Body" and "The
Teeth Mother Naked at Last." I can't describe how
heartening it was for a person of my generation (19
at the time) to hear such a voice with such poetic
and moral authority declaiming from his generation.
I don't remember if I sent you this memoir earlier,
but it encompasses that semester when Bly and other
poetic champions landed in Lawrence.


In yesterday's news, linked above, comes word that a
storied Lawrence, Kansas, watering hole may be about
to vanish from the north edge of the University of
Kansas campus. Among its distinctions the Rock Chalk
Café, now known as The Crossing,holds a place in local
literary history.

Edward Dorn's poem "The Cosmology of Finding Your
Spot" celebrated the Rock Chalk and its denizens
http://www.ku.edu/heritage/beats/dorn.html and was
published (typos and all) as a broadside in
connection with a reading in support of the Draft
Resisters League in 1969. The reading occurred just
across the street from the Rock Chalk, at the United
Campus Christian Fellowship building. As I recall,
Robert Bly also read that evening. Robert Creeley,
Robert Duncan, Galway Kinnell, and Diane Wakoski
also came through Lawrence that spring.

George Kimball, poet, sportswriter, Yippie
candidate for Douglas County sheriff in 1970,
presided at the Rock Chalk
He wore a revolver in a holster on his hip and had one
eye. His campaign slogan was that he would keep an eye
on crime. He lost the election, but a fellow Yippie
write-in candidate was elected justice of the peace.
After he announced he would marry gay couples, the
state of Kansas quickly eliminated retroactively
the office of justice of the peace.

In the early '80s Allen Ginsberg was the honored
guest at a large lunch gathering at the Rock Chalk
(by then it may have become the Crossing, I don't
remember). At lunch he signed my old copy of "Grist"
magazine, edited and published by John Fowler out of
the old Abingdon Bookshop,which was formerly just
down the street from the Rock Chalk. This particular
issue of "Grist" contained an excerpt from "Wichita
Vortex Sutra." Ginsberg then joined Kemp Houck,
English professor at the time (before dropping
out of academia to become an anti-nuke activist),
and me that afternoon to record an interview about
his memories and thoughts regarding Charles Olson.
Unfortunately,Kemp managed inadvertently to erase
much of the tape. Somewhere in my files is a
transcript of the tail end of the interview. That
evening AG read to a standing room only audience,
probably around 800 or so,in the Kansas Union
Ballroom, also just down the street from the Rock
Chalk Cafe. William Burroughs and Andrei Codrescu
were in attendance. Steven Taylor played guitar.

The Rock Chalk was a center of culture, celebration,
and commotion during the Vietnam era. An energy
radiated from it every bit as perceptible as the
sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon
Rising" thumping from its jukebox, which I could
hear from my future (and current) wife's bedroom
window a half block away down Oread Street in 1969.


  1. Nice post. I enjoy Lawrence literary history.

  2. Thank you Stephen and Denise --

    Question: Wasn't it Abington Book Shop ? John Fowler lists it that way in his Grist No. 1 On-line:

    "Any reference to the original GRIST would be incomplete if
    there were no indication of the contribution made by co-
    editors George Kimball and Charlie Plymell. For many issues
    they were, in fact, the editors, while I acted as publisher
    (from the thin bankroll of the Abington Book Shop which was
    too soon exhausted). " http://www.thing.net/~grist/golpub/golmag/homegol.htm

    More importantly, where/how is John? Is he still with us? Much more on his work should be on the W3 - and I've not been able to find him. Best, Beats In Kansas: http://www.vlib.us/beats/

  3. Uncle George, yes, it probably was the Abington Book Shop. That was either a typo or misremembrance on my part (don't have the source materials at my fingertips). I don't know the whereabouts or howabouts of John Fowler, though maybe some other wayfarer may be able to answer those questions.

  4. I'll ask around River City for John's whereabouts. John Moritz of course is a live & wellish.

    Oh, I remember the first time I went into the Abington. I was a freshman, 18 yrs. old, exploring the far end of the KU campus, and wandered in there, saw the row of City Lights books on the shelf and almost wept. I'd read Seymour Krim's anthology THE BEATS in high school, so I was primed to see the array of serious beat writing. I was broke as hell, but bought my first copy of Ginsberg's HOWL. Ahhh. I loved the frame building that housed the Abington, and then I became friends with a woman, I think named Carol, who was a grand square Aries, who ran the head shop next door for awhile. How wicked this place got destroyed. Denise