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Jul/Aug 2012 Reviews & Interviews

The Poet Laureate of the Tenderloin Cafeteria

San Francisco Poems
A. D. Winans.
Little Red Tree Publishing. 2012. 190 pp.
ISBN 978-1935656159.

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy


Buy now from Amazon! "I find that Sandburg and I have a lot in common," A[llan] D[avis] Winans muses in a recent interview. "He loved and wrote about Chicago in the same way I love and write about my hometown, San Francisco." While he does not have the tremendous optimism that made the earlier poet's work so forceful, the comparison is not inapt.

In line with the more contemporary styles of populist poetry, Winans is happiest when getting laid, getting high and listening to his favorite music (jazz, blues and Haight-Ashbury rock-n-roll). In these poems, published as he nears 80, that happiness is found mostly in vinyl records and other fond memories. He is most affecting, in San Francisco Poems, when he writes about the people the street has treated harshly—some ghosts, some present neighbors, some both. People such as poet Kell Robertson:

Now approaching 66
Hard as the highway
Bearing his age
He calls Annie on the phone
Reads a poem about
A bird that died in his hand
Remembers the scattering
Of his daughter's ashes

Or Paddy O'Sullivan:

home again wearing the scars
of the past like an engraved bracelet
passed on from one lover to another
walking the streets of north beach
in search of old visions
now only memories in the nightmare
mirror of madness

He inhabits the storied landscape of Spec's bar, Mike's Pool Hall, Gino and Carlo's bar, and the Co-existence Bagel Shop. He is the poet laureate of the Tenderloin cafeteria, where

Busty TS crowds into
The line betrayed by
His Adam's apple

The old man in front
Looks disgusted
Adjusts his toupee with
Purple veined hands
Squints to see the wall
Menu special of the day

and,

A poet sits at an empty table
Writing on napkins
Talking into his coffee cup
A hooker works a crossword puzzle
Waiting for the rain to let up[.]

The lives in A. D. Winans' San Francisco Poems play out in the parts of the city Tony Bennett didn't leave his heart in.

The extensive, autobiographical prose and poetry "Prologue" to San Francisco Poems gives it context:

North Beach was a place where blacks and whites freely hung out together. Marijuana and wine were plentiful, and I spent many nights at Big Daddy Nord's pad, located near the old produce district, where bongo and conga drums played day and night. America was undergoing a revolution, and North Beach and New York's Greenwich Village were the focal points. By the sixties most of the Beats had left North Beach. But the post-Beat poets would keep the tradition alive for another twenty years.

Winans does not scruple at name dropping. Some of the names are famous, some approach fame. As the rule, those who approached fame were close friends, the famous he met once or twice in passing. Not only was Winans a poet of some standing among them but for 17 years he was the owner/publisher of a highly regarded small magazine Second Coming and the subsequent Second Coming Press (both of which frequently published Charles Bukowski). He himself was regularly placing his own poetry with numerous small magazines and book presses.

If the reader has spent any time on the open-mic circuit of a city (surely every city has one), these poems will sound familiar. The San Francisco circuit just had more belief in itself than most, once upon a time, and, as happens often enough, lived up to its higher image of itself. For influence Winans has William Carlos Williams, Bukowski, the Beats and mostly his fellow San Francisco poets of the 60s and 70s. Revision is foregone in favor of immediacy, and, in his case, the choice is often a good one. His subjects are the streets, the bohemian life of the small press poet, and the occasional political issue that has caught the interest of his audience. He escapes from oppressive day jobs into nearby bars, in the earlier work, and bristles throughout under the authority of a state that too often expresses itself brutally in his world.

Winans' growing recognition is deserved. As much as his poems will sound like so many that have passed for a night's entertainment, and left no other memory behind, they are better written than the vast majority that come out of the milieu. It is a very human record on many levels.

 

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