Thursday, February 6, 2014

100th Birthday of William S. Burroughs Feb. 5, 2014: Comment and Links to Articles & Photographs

Like many Lawrence residents, I met William Burroughs several times, had dinner at his house, attended after-reading receptions, and also casually saw him driving to my neighbors' house--Susan Brosseau's and David Ohle's--or walking to the grocery store known as Dirty Dillons. His books and art were in the background for me, as I was raising kids and attending college (where he was NOT on the reading lists). His writings about alternative consciousness, especially Yage Letters, were the most simpatico, for me. The censorship trial, which broke down a serious barrier to free expression, was a milestone when I was in high school. His cut-up technique influenced the poets I read and my own writing. He was a major literary figure, and I appreciate his contribution to the range of American (and international) writing. He started the public dialogue about gay, lesbian, and transgender experience.

Wayne Propst holds a WSB autographed baseball from his collection.
Most of all, I celebrate the WSB I knew--a man of power who filled a room with his canny presence. I was aware of his consciousness as he scried us all, lowly to famous and all genders. He made a point to engage each guest in conversation, as a true egalitarian Westerner (he may have been from the far eastern edge of the West, but he had the cowboy-taciturn persona). I suspect his motivation also was curiosity. We talked about the koi in his pond, how they wintered over, and the mystery of hibernation. We talked about Native perspectives on the afterlife. I wrote a poem about our conversation about Einstein's brain, a true urban legend with Kansas episodes. He experienced the tragedy of his wife's death as a result of their addiction (they were very drunk)--40 years before I knew him--and he was an Oedipus figure, marked by perpetual sorrow. (James Grauerholz, Barry Miles, and others have described his grief.) Christians who believe in redemption might forgive him. I doubt he ever forgave himself, and he certainly never forgot.
Of the beat writers I've known, Burroughs was the most Buddhist. He did not proclaim this like Allen Ginsberg, but he set aside his ego to face experience with beginner's-mind, at least when I was around him. He was no angel, nor was he a devil. Today I appreciate memory of his continuous inquiry, his daily engagement with art and/or words, his refusal to fit into "beat" or any category. I remember his heart-felt, courteous actions when I met him. Wayne Propst, one of his close friends, has shared many more stories about him, and I owe a debt to Wayne for this, and also Tom King. James Grauerholz, Jim McCrary, David Ohle, Patricia Elliott Marvin--these and many other people have shared their thoughts in some of the links below.

BBC-America Oral History--with Barry Miles, Ira Silverberg, Jonah Raskin, Roger Shimomura, and Denise Low
Radio feature script and audio, NPR--with James Grauerholz, Jim McCrary, Marty Olson, others
Local Lawrence Journal World includes good interviews with James Grauerholz, Wayne Propst, Jim McCrary, others plus links to art shows, etc.
London show of Wm. S. Burroughs' photography "Taking Shots"
Paris photographs, 1959, from Life magazine
Lawrence Arts Center WSB art exhibit with links to videos, etc and catalogue purchase link.
"Beats in Kansas" Burroughs page with links, curated by George Laughed
David L. Ulin article and review of Barry Miles's biography,0,7917033.story#axzz2sYVxecd1