Richard Brautigan's first poems were published early in the 1950s. He moved from his boyhood home in Eugene, Oregon, to San Francisco, California, where his first books of poetry were published, midway through the decade. More information and resources about Brautigan, his life, and work during this decade are below.
Use the links above to access information and resources about Brautigan's life during other decades.
Highlights: Mother married William Folston . . .
Times were hard after World War II, and Brautigan fished and hunted
frequently, bringing home his catch for the family table. Brautigan and his sister Barbara pushed an old baby buggy along the roads looking for glass bottles to recycle for money, an experience he described in the poem "The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth's Beer Bottles"
and recounted in So The Wind Won't Blow It All Away
. Brautigan did yard work and odd chores for a Mrs. Manerrude, widow of a wealthy Eugene lumber and fuel family. She lived in a large house near the University of Oregon campus, and Brautigan included her in the "Trout Fishing in the Street of Eternity" chapter of his novel Trout Fishing in America
when he described an eighty-two-pound woman living in a mansion of at least thirty rooms. With money earned picking string beans he bought a used bicycle so he could have a paper route. When he was old enough he started working in a Eugene Fruit Growers Association cannery, and continued every season until he graduated from Eugene High School, 17th and Charnelton (Ianthe Brautigan
193, 199, 202).
School year 1950-1951
Brautigan entered Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School on 12 September 1950. Eugene High School was located at 17th and Charnelton.
A new high school opened at 19th and Patterson in 1953, with the first class graduating the following year. This new high school was named Eugene High School and then renamed again, in 1957, as South Eugene High School, after North Eugene High School was built.
The original Eugene High School was renamed Woodrow Wilson Junior High, replacing the original junior high school of the same name at 12th and Madison.
Brautigan's Grade 10 courses included Speech and Language, Biology, Speech, Typing, and Physical Education.
Brautigan's mother, Mary Lou
, married William Folston, Jr., 12 June 1950, at the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nevada, in a brief ceremony performed by District Judge A. J. Maestretti. Folston worked as a tire changer at Wyatt's Tire Company. The family lived together at 1287 Hayes Street, Eugene, Oregon (Eugene City Directory
Their marriage application stated "Mary Lou Porterfield" as previously married and her husband deceased. All Mary Lou's husbands by previous marriages were still very much alive, however: Bernard F. Brautigan died in 1994, Robert Geoffrey Porterfield died in 1969, as did Arthur Martin Titland whom Mary Lou apparently never officially married. When she married Folston Mary Lou's divorce from Porterfield was not final; that came a full month later. Furthermore, she was already pregnant by Folston.
Highlights: Met Peter Webster . . .
Brautigan, over six feet tall, played basketball at the First Baptist Church in Eugene. Because of his height, Brautigan played center. During one of the league games, Brautigan first met Peter Webster, who played for First Christian. Brautigan and Webster met again in 1953 when both worked for the Eugene Fruit Growers Association and became best friends. Peter Webster and his family, especially Edna Webster
, his mother and Linda, his sister, would, within two years, become central to Brautigan's life.
Willliam Hjortsberg notes that Brautigan played played center for the Woodrow Wilson Junior High school basketball team in the fall of 1947. But, after only one year, Brautigan switched to the First Baptist church team who played against other Eugene, Oregon, denominational teams in a YMCA-organized league. Brautigan and the First Baptist team won the league championship but lost any further opportunity at the regional finals in Walla Walla, Washington (William Hjortsberg
Brautigan's picture, in his high school annual, noted his name as "R. Porterfield."
Brautigan worked for the Eugene Fruit Growers Association.
Highlights: Established "Brautigan" surname . . . Earliest publication
Grade 11 at Eugene High School (17th and Charnelton). Courses included English, United States History, Algebra 1, Physics, Health, Physical Education, and Radio and Speech.
Brautigan worked for the Eugene Fruit Growers Association.
Brautigan learned that his real last name was "Brautigan" and not "Porterfield," the surname of his mother's second husband Robert Porterfield
. Brautigan may have asked his mother for information about his real father, or she felt his high school diploma should bear the correct name (Ianthe Brautigan
197). William Hjortsberg suggests that later (William Hjortsberg
56). Either way, nearing the end of high school, Brautigan changed his last name from "Porterfield" to "Brautigan."
Tuesday, 19 December 1952
Brautigan's poem "The Light"
was first published in Brautigan's high school newspaper, the Eugene High School News
19 December 1952: 5. This is Brautigan's earliest known publication and the first bearing his surname "Brautigan." The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Highlights: Graduated high school . . . first publication in a book-length collection
A self-portrait, circa 1953, the year of Brautigan's graduation from high school. Taken in a coin-operated photo booth. From the collection of Craig Showalter.
Grade 12 at Eugene High School (17th and Charnelton). Courses included English, Speech, Chemistry, Bookkeeping, Creative Writing, and Typing.
Brautigan was remembered by his classmates as being tall, blond, quiet, and a loner. His mother said Brautigan read a lot and often helped school mates with their homework (Ianthe Brautigan
influential person may have been one of Brautigan's English teachers, Juliet Claire Gibson (Don Bishoff
1B). Possibly through her Brautigan discovered the poetry of Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams. Both influenced his own writing: Dickinson with her persona of the poet as an eccentric outsider writing telegrams from a parallel universe and Williams with his insistence on forgoing outdated poetic forms to write in vernacular about subjects that had an immediate impact on readers. Brautigan wrote throughout high school, and according to his half-sister, Barbara, often wrote all night (Lawrence Wright
40) in his unheated bedroom (Ianthe Brautigan
His parents did not support Brautigan's writing efforts. "My folks rode him a lot," said Barbara.
They never listened to what he was writing. They didn't understand his writing was important to him. I know they asked him to get out of the house several times. (Lawrence Wright 59)
Brautigan was rejected for military service because of scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spinal column to one side) and kyphosis (excessive outward curvature of the spinal column, causing hunching of the back).
Brautigan's poem "The Ochoco"
was first published in Young America Sings: 1953 Anthology of Northwest States High School Poetry
Los Angeles, CA: National High School Poetry Association. 1953: 120.. This was Brautigan's first appearance in a book-length publication.
An article in the Eugene High School News
(10 April 1953), titled "Poets' Prize Poems Published," noted Brautigan as one of ten Eugene High students whose work would be included in a forthcoming anthology. Published later in the spring, the book, Young America Sings
, included Brautigan's poem, "The Ochoco." This was Brautigan's first appearance in a book-length publication.
Tuesday, 9 June 1953
Brautigan graduated from Eugene High Schoolhigh school in an 8:00 PM ceremony at McArthur Court, a large auditorium on the University of Oregon campus (William Hjorstberg
57). The surname on his diploma read "Brautigan," as did his picture in the school yearbook. His senior picture showed him dressed in a jacket and tie, pale, and smiling. He was not listed as a member of any clubs, or having had participated in any school activities. His only extracurricular activity was the acceptance of his poem, "The Light"
for publication in the school newspaper.
Brautigan worked for the Eugene Fruit Growers Association.
Accounts vary as to the nature of Brautigan's work. Ianthe Brautigan says her father worked in a pickle factory run by the Association and at other odd jobs (Ianthe Brautigan
Lorna Webster, sister of Linda and Peter, does not recall the pickle factory. Instead,
As I recall [the Eugene Fruit Growers Association] produced "Diamond A" brand green beans, and other fruits and vegetables which were grown locally. Beans were a big product from the farms in the area. My brother Pete worked with Brautigan there.
Deanna Hershiser, daughter of Peter Webster, writes that Webster worked on the green bean canning line, while Brautigan worked canning beets. Webster and Brautigan met again while working this summer. Their friendship was sealed when Brautigan invited Webster to join him for a day of fishing on the South Fork of the McKenzie River (Deanna Hershiser
Brautigan and Webster became best friends and Brautigan often visited with Peter and his family, sisters Linda, and Lorna, and mother Edna Webster
at their 41 Madison Street residence. Edna became Brautigan's surrogate mother. Peter, was one of Brautigan's best friends and they fished the lakes and streams around Eugene. To earn money, they sold earthworms and Christmas trees (Bob Keefer and Quail Dawning
2H; Deanna Hershiser
76). Edna's youngest daughter, Linda, is often cited as Brautigan's first girlfriend.
Monday, 24 August 1953
Brautigan's poem "A Cigarette Butt"
was first published in The Register Guard
August 24, 1953: 8A. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Sunday, 11 October 1953
Brautigan's poem "Moonlight on a Cemetery"
was first published in The Northwest's Own Magazine
October 11, 1953: 10. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Sunday, 29 November 1953
Brautigan's poem "Winter Sunset"
was first published in The Northwest's Own Magazine
November 29, 1953: 11. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Highlights: Worked for Eugene Fruit Growers Association . . . In San Francisco?
Brautigan was determined to be a writer of poetry, short stories, and novels. He felt attending a university would not help his career goals, and money for tuition was not available. So Brautigan concentrated on writing poetry—"as inevitable perhaps for anyone caught up in the Beat generation as learning to play guitar would be for the generation a decade later." (Foster
With a desire to be a writer, it is natural that Brautigan would consider going to the center of writing on the West Coast: San Francisco. Jennifer Foote says, "Brautigan had tried to leave home and live in San Francisco's North Beach four times before he actually had enough money to stay there. He circulated among the Beats
and wrote constantly" (Foote
D8). Foote provides no evidence of these four attempts by Brautigan to leave Oregon and establish residency in San Francisco.
Several other writers make the same claim. For example, Jay Acton, Alan le Mond, and Parker Hodges say Brautigan "moved to San Francisco in 1954" (Acton, et. al.
Helen Donlon also said, "In 1954, Brautigan left his home, his mother and younger sister, Barbara, and headed for the city—arriving in San Francisco" (Helen Donlon
Janusz K. Buda said "Brautigan moved to San Francisco in 1954, and was soon involved in the literary groups that were springing up in the area" (Buda
Warren French said Brautigan moved to San Francisco
from the state of Washington [actually, Oregon] in 1954, when he was nineteen and the Beats were just gathering. He quickly became associated with them and lived for a time with Philip Whalen. (Warren French 84)
French also said "In 1955, he [Brautigan] was included in the book Four New Poets
from a local press" but that book was not published until the fall of 1957. This was Brautigan's first inclusion in a poetry anthology.
Craig Thompson said Brautigan moved to San Francisco in 1954 and "at one time, shared an apartment with Philip Whalen" (Thompson
Ingrid Sterner said,
Brautigan, in 1954 moved to San Francisco, the destination of many of the disaffected youth of his generation, and became involved in the Beat literary movement. (Sterner 97)
Edward Halsey Foster said
In 1954, he [Brautigan] moved to San Francisco, then on the verge of becoming the literary center of the Beat generation. . . . Brautigan had not been drawn to San Francisco by the Beat movement, but we was soon involved with it. He became friendly with Lawrence Ferlinghetti poet, publisher, and owner of City Lights Books, poet Michael McClure, and Beat poet Philip Whalen, a fellow Northwesterner with whom he shared an apartment, reportedly south of Market Street. (Foster 7)
While many of the details in these accounts can be verified, the date in each, 1954, is unsubstantiated. Even though he was not in San Francisco in 1954, Brautigan was apparently thinking about leaving Eugene, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest. According to Deanna Hershiser, daughter of Peter Webster, Brautigan's boyhood friend, Webster recalls Brautigan asking him to come to San Francisco.
Feedback from Deanna Hershiser
I asked my dad about his memory of Richard's trip(s) to San Francisco. He recalls the last time the two of them had a face-to-face conversation. It was in 1954, and Richard urged Dad to come with him to the Bay Area. Dad was fully involved then with college and dating my mom (they may have just become engaged). So he told Richard no thanks. He doesn't know whether or not Richard made it soon after that to San Francisco. The next time Dad spoke to him was in 1970, when they had a long phone conversation.
Additionally, there are good indications that Brautigan spent 1954 in Eugene, Oregon, and not San Francisco, California. For example,
Sunday, 7 February 1954
Brautigan's poem "The Ageless Ones"
was first published in The Northwest's Own Magazine
February 7, 1954: 21. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan worked for the Eugene Fruit Growers Association.
Highlights: Leaves family home; takes up residence in a rooming house . . . More poetry published . . . Oregon State Hospital
Saturday, 29 May 1954
Brautigan's poem "So Many Twilights"
published in Northwest Roto Magazine
May 29, 1955: 9. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan left his family home at 1287 Hayes Street, Eugene, Oregon, and established his residence in a boarding house run by Hal Barton, a Quaker, at 467 West 17th Avenue, near Lawrence Street, where he lived alone and worked at his writing.
Brautigan's move was predicated by disfunction, and alleged threats at home. By his own accounts, Mary Lou was an alcoholic, whose abuse and abandonment ruined any opportunity for a healthy connection between she and Brautigan.
My mother left me in Great Falls alone with one of my stepfathers [Robert Porterfield], who was a fry cook. I would eat meals at his place and lived in a hotel room by myself. I was seven years old. (Ianthe Brautigan 89)
Brautigan wrote a short story, called "trite story," later included in The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
, about spending a winter in Butte, Montana, after his mother "had run off with a man named Frank, or Jack." Brautigan described his father, Robert Porterfield, as a cook whom he seldom saw "except when I ate my meals, because he was living with a whore named Virginia." Virginia did not like Brautigan, and so he had his own hotel room (68). Of note, the winter was actually spent in Great Falls, Montana, but in the original manuscript, Brautigan scratched out Great Falls and replaced it with Butte.
Brautigan also wrote poems about his mother. One, titled "dear old mommie" compares her to a mole (The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
10). In another poem, "farewell to my oedipus complex," Brautigan wrote about giving his mother "a time bomb" for Christmas (The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
Neither Mary Lou nor William F. Folston, Jr. (her third husband) understood Brautigan's bohemian lifestyle, his refusal to seek gainful employment, or his insistence on becoming a writer and suggested he seek psychiatric help, or leave the family home. Brautigan choose the latter, moving into a rooming house at 467 West 17th, in Eugene, operated by Harold Barton, a Quaker and member of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization committed to social justice and humanitarian service. Both Harold and his wife Lois were friends and supporters of Brautigan and sought to help him establish a stable living environment. Brautigan used the room as a place to continue his writing.
remembers sitting in Brautigan's rented room, listening to him read his writing. "He was a good poet even then and I loved the sound of his voice," said Webster (Bob Keefer and Quail Dawning
2H). Webster, a college sophomore, often visited Brautigan in his rented room. Webster typed his college papers there, and while listening to Brautigan read his poems and stories, thought he would one day be a famous writer (Deanna Hershiser
Sometime during the summer, Brautigan fell in love with Peter's sister, Linda Webster. Linda was fourteen, just beginning high school. Brautigan was twenty, with some publication success, but struggling to become a writer. Brautigan wrote poems for Linda (and Edna) and other writings in which she is clearly a character. He shared his writing with Linda and sent stories to magazines in her name. None were ever accepted or published.
Beyond sharing writing, their relationship was innocent. Brautigan, raised Catholic, knew Linda was too young, that he would have to wait before they could be involved in a proper relationship. Worse, Linda was not interested in Brautigan. He struggled with confused emotions, unrequited love, and a broken heart for the rest of the year.
Sunday, 14 August 1955
Brautigan's poem "First Star on the Twilight River"
was first published in Northwest Roto Magazine
August 14, 1955: 23. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Sunday, 2 October 1955
Brautigan's poem "Butterfly's Breath"
published in Northwest Roto Magazine
October 2, 1955: 14. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan's poem "Someplace in the World a Man is Screaming in Pain"
published in Flame
2(3) Autumn 1955: inside back cover. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan's poem "The Second Kingdom,"
a love poem inspired by Linda Webster, was accepted for publication in Epos,
a literary journal edited by poet Evelyn Thorne in Lake Como, Florida. The poem was to be published in the winter issue, the following year, 1956.
Brautigan submitted a short story entitled "My Name is Richard Brautigan" to Playboy
. The story was rejected, but a personal note from the editor encouraged Brautigan to revise the story.
Lack of publishing success, lack of money, and a broken heart over his love for Linda Webster made life hard for Brautigan. His parents stopped paying the rent for his boarding house room and Brautigan was forced to sell his typewriter. He had little or nothing to eat. Embarrassed and confused over why Linda was not interested in him, Brautigan wrote her letters and poems, but never shared them. Instead, he took them to Edna Webster, her mother and asked that he give them to her daughter. She never did.
With a note dated this day, Brautigan gave Edna Webster
several manuscripts of poetry and story collections, short novels, and experimental dramas written in the mid-1950s, as well as photographs and personal items. Several of these writings were dedicated to or referred to Edna and/or Linda.
Webster kept Brautigan's writing for years, selling them in October 1992. Many of the items in the collection were later published. One manuscript was published as Would You Like to Saddle Up a Couple of Goldfish and Swim to Alaska?
in 1995. Another was published as I Watched the World Glide Effortlessly Bye and Other Pieces
in 1996. A third portion was published as The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
in 1999, which included both the previous publications.
A facsimile of Brautigan's hand-written note opens The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
On this third day of November, 1955, I, Richard Brautigan, give all of my writings to Edna Webster. They are now her property, and she may do what she wishes with them. If she has them published, all of the money derived from publication is hers.
Many of the items in the original collection were written prior to this date. Others were written later and perhaps given to Edna Webster for safe keeping when Brautigan moved to San Francisco, California. Others were manuscripts rejected by various publishers and returned, as per the return envelop Brautigan provided, to Edna Webster's Eugene, Oregon, address.
Tuesday, 22 November 1955
Desperately in need of cash for rent and food, Brautigan sold his typewriter. He began hand writing in spiral-ring school composition notebooks. He started a book of poetry today, i love You
, dedicated to Linda Webster. He planned to write the book in three days. On 27 November, two days beyond his self-imposed deadline, Brautigan finished the manuscript, noting that the book belonged to Linda, that he would not give it to her until he knew that she loved him.
this is Linda Webster's book
it is a symbol of my love for her.
i will not give this book to Linda
until i know that She loves me.
it the world is going to get this book,
Linda will have to give it to the world.
will i give this book to Linda?
will the world get this book?
only God knows.
november 27th, 1955
Brautigan gave the notebook manuscript of poetry to Edna Webster
, who, like the letters, earlier, never passed it along to Linda. Linda knew nothing of Brautigan's love for her until much later in her life; she never told him she loved him.
Malnutrition and emotional stress contributed to Brautigan's poor mental and physical health as fall gave way to winter. Brautigan developed a new religious fervor, praying for attention from Linda and recognition as America's next great writer. By the second week in December, he felt he was half-done with a new book of poetry, titled Behold This Place
. He changed the title of a collection of short stories originally titled These Few Precious Days
to What a Strange Place This Is
. Unable to sleep, Brautigan frequently roamed the streets of Eugene, starving, broke, an unknown author, emotionally distraught.
At approximately 9:30 this evening, Brautigan broke a window at the Eugene Police Station. He was arrested and placed in the Lane County Jail. He was fined $25.00 and given a ten-day jail sentence. After serving seven of the ten days he was declared mentally ill and ordered committed to the Oregon State Hospital for observation and treatment. What are the details behind this story?
Earlier in the evening, hungry and needing money to buy food, Brautigan sought out Pete Webster at his dormitory on the campus of Northwest Christian College where he was enrolled. Deanna Hershiser notes in her memoir about her father, Peter Webster, and Brautigan that Brautigan asked Webster to loan him $20.00. Webster answered, "I'll loan you twenty dollars after you pay me back all the other money you've borrowed" (Hershiser
Rebuked, Brautigan walked to Edna Webster's home, hoping to find solace in conversation with her.
Conversation with Edna Webster apparently did not help. Later that evening, still upset, Brautigan was arrested for disorderly conduct at the Eugene Police Station inside City Hall, corner of West 11th Avenue and Willamette Street. Built circa 1891 as Eugene High School, the impressive brick and stone building was converted into City Hall in 1915. Shortly after the new City Hall, 777 Pearl Street, was completed in 1964, the building was razed.
According to the report filed by Officer William Smith, Brautigan entered the police station at approximately 9:30 PM, approached Smith, the duty officer, and demanded to be put in jail. Smith replied that Brautigan could not be put in jail since he was not a criminal. Brautigan left the police station and returned with a rock, which he hurled through the glass panel of the station front door. Smith arrested Brautigan for disorderly conduct and jailed him overnight.
Other reports suggest that Brautigan filled his pockets with rocks before entering the Police Station, apparently determined to be arrested and placed in jail.
Thursday, 15 December 1955
Brautigan pleaded guilty to his charge during morning municipal court. Judge John L. Barber, Jr. continued the case until Saturday, 17 December. Brautigan was returned to the municipal jail.
A front page story in the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard
was the first news of the situation.
A Eugene man who said he wanted to go to jail got his wish Wednesday night.
Police say Richard G. Brautigan, 20, of 467 W. 17th Ave., went in the city hall police station and announced, "I am a criminal. I am going to break the law."
Then he hurled a rock through a window in the station and asked police to lock him up.
Brautigan was jailed on a disorderly conduct charge. He pleaded guilty to the charge Thursday morning in municipal court and the case was continued to Saturday. (Anonymous. "Eugenean's Wish Granted." The Register-Guard 15 Dec. 1955: 1)
On of the more enduring questions surrounding Brautigan asks why he broke the window. As there were then, there have been since several different explanations. His daughter, Ianthe, said Brautigan told her he broke the window purposefully, in order to be arrested. In jail, he thought, he would be given meals. He was hungry, a starving writer in Eugene, Oregon (Ianthe Brautigan
Another answer was suggested by James Sullivan who wrote that "Brautigan threw a tantrum and got arrested" over a disagreement about money loaned to him by his friend Peter Webster (Sullivan
E6). This answer connects with Webster's recollections noted above.
An often heard explanation begins with Lawrence Wright who said Brautigan showed his poetry to a girl on whom he had a crush. When she criticized his writing he was deeply affected. He turned himself into the police, asking to be arrested. When told there was no cause for his arrest, Brautigan threw rocks at a police station window. He was arrested and spent a week in jail (Wright
explanations speak to a larger story. Brautigan was
a starving writer, literally and figuratively. He lived alone in a boarding house. He was a loner, belonged to no clubs or social groups, and had few friends. He worked at odd jobs to earn a meager existence. Money was tight. He often could not afford to buy enough food. Still, he stuck with his dream of becoming a writer.
for the girl, she was Linda Webster, fourteen years old, just beginning high school, daughter of Edna Webster
, Brautigan's surrogate mother and sister to Pete Webster, his best friend. "Richard was madly in love with my daughter," recalled Edna. "But she was only 14 then. He thought he was crazy to love my daughter so much. I said, 'I don't think so, especially at your age'" (Bob Keefer and Quail Dawning
twenty, knew Linda was too young, but struggled with confused emotions, especially when they took on sexual overtones which he expressed in his writing. Both Linda and Edna Webster read Brautigan's writing. Neither admitted to any criticism of Brautigan's poetry although Edna did object to his vernacular references to sexual intercourse, saying it would not be understand or appreciated by readers.
parents' probably did not help. They were confused, perhaps angered by his moody silence, his refusal to pursue a lifestyle other than bohemian, and a career other than writing. As Barbara said, they rode Brautigan hard, even attempted to get him psychiatric care.
This may have pushed Brautigan to action, or toward falling apart. If everyone thought he was crazy, maybe he should be.
"He decided he was crazy," [Edna] Webster said. "He went down to the police station. They said, 'You're not crazy.' So he threw a rock through the police station window." (Bob Keefer and Quail Dawning 2H)
In conclusion, Brautigan's actions can be seen as deliberate, an act of emotional distress, anger, frustration, hunger. He asked to be arrested and be placed in jail so that he could eat, and perhaps to prevent him from harming himself or others.
Friday, 16 December 1955
Judge Barber was known for being tough on young offenders, and Edna Webster worried what this might mean for Brautigan. Hoping to influence Brautigan's release, she contacted Lois and Harold Barton, both noted for their community social and mental health work, and asked them to follow up on Brautigan's case and help however they could. One form of help, she thought, would be for the Bartons to provide a temporary home for Brautigan. She thought, and the Bartons agreed, that providing Brautigan a home away from the tension of his own family, would be a good step toward his recuperation.
Either Edna Webster or Lois Barton contacted Judge Barber and reported that he felt Brautigan needed to be taught a lesson, and perhaps needed psychological help. Seeking a better understanding of the situation, Harold Barton visited Brautigan in jail after his court appearance, coming away with the impression that Brautigan had committed a crime, in a highly agitated emotional and mental state, seeking help from suicidal thoughts.
Peter Webster also visited Brautigan, who was embarrassed by the visit and asked Webster not to visit again (William Hjortsberg
83). Perhaps Edna and Linda Webster visited as well. Brautigan recounted the visit from "my girlfriend" in the poem "there was a wire screen between us" noting his white jail uniform and the wire screen between them, concluding, "I could have just died" (Edna Webster Collection
Saturday, 17 December 1955
Brautigan appeared in municipal court a second time, again in front of Judge Barber, who, not impressed with Brautigan's excessive vocabulary, and put off by his pretentious actions, thought he needed to be taught a lesson. Barber sentenced Brautigan to ten days in municipal jail, and fined him $25.00. Ten days, Barber thought, was sufficient time for Brautigan to think about his actions, and, insinuating that he felt a sanity hearing necessary, give family or friends time to arrange for whatever treatment they desired.
Friday, 23 December 1955
Brautigan was briefly examined by two court-appointed physicians in the Lane County Courthouse. Based on their recommendation, Brautigan was ordered committed to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem for observation and treatment of mental illness.
In his novel, I Watched the World Glide Effortlessly Bye
, Brautigan described sitting in a room in the Lane County Courthouse. "There were some men in the room. The men told me that they were committing me to the State Insane Asylum. Then I was standing outside the room" (I Watched the World Glide Effortlessly Bye
). From this we can conclude that his examination was cursory, and pro forma.
Brautigan was committed to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the same hospital used for filming Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
. While in the hospital Brautigan received electric shock therapy treatments (Wright
59; Ianthe Brautigan
155-156, 162; Don Bishoff
1B) and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic (Wright
Highlights: Left Eugene, Oregon . . . Visited Reno and Fallon, Nevada . . . More early poetry published . . . Settled in San Francisco, California . . . Poetry criticized by Robert Duncan . . . Unpublished manuscripts
Still at the Oregon State Hospital, Brautigan
was given a total of twelve electric shock treatments and medication. He wrote letters to Linda and Edna Webster
, asking both not to think him crazy. He wrote letters to himself, describing what he was thinking and feeling, mostly as a way to judge whether he was suffering memory loss from the shock therapy.
Mary Lou Folston
(known as Lulu Mary or Mary Lou), Brautigan's mother, said that she and her husband, William Folston, Jr., visited Brautigan each week while he was in the hospital (Ianthe Brautigan
202). Lawrence Wright portrayed a different scenario when he quoted Brautigan's half-sister, Barbara, saying
I didn't know he was there until after they let him out. I know he had shock therapy. After that he seemed real quiet. The only thing he told me about it was that he learned to dance in there. But he would never open up to me again. (Wright 59)
On one of her visits, Mary Lou brought Brautigan mail from Lilith Lorraine, editor of Flame
. She had published "Someplace in the World a Man is Screaming in Pain"
in the Autumn 1955 issue of her journal and wrote asking to see more work. Brautigan sent her four poems.
Lorraine also forwarded a letter (dated 29 December 1955) from D. Vincent Smith who wanted to republish the poem in the first issue of his own literary magazine, Olivant
. In response to Smith's request to see more work, Brautigan sent him a group of poems, titled Tiger in the Telephone Booth
. After his parole from the hospital, Brautigan sent Smith a manuscript titled The God of the Martians
but the novel was never published (see below).
Based on this opportunity, and thinking ahead, Brautigan wrote Evelyn Thorne, editor of the literary magazine Epos
, in Lake Como, Florida, requesting a change to his author biography included with the poem "The Second Kingdom,"
to be published in the upcoming winter issue. The revised biography read: "Richard Brautigan, 21. I have been writing poetry since I was 17. Olivant will publish my first book of poems, Tiger in the Telephone Booth. Making paper flowers out of love and death is a disease, but how beautiful it is."
Brautigan sent a manuscript titled Linda
, a collection of fourteen poems with a dedication page reading "for Linda," to The Macmillan Company, New York, New York. The manuscript was rejected and returned in May of 1956.
Brautigan was paroled from the Oregon State Hospital into the custody of William Folston, his step-father. Brautigan later told his daughter, Ianthe,
I realized I made a big fucking mistake. So I did my best to get out of there as fast as I could. I became a model patient. [I was there] three months. (Ianthe Brautigan 155)
Hoping to provide a less stressful home environment, Edna Webster asked Lois Barton and her husband, Harold, to provide Brautigan with room and board at their ranch on Fox Hollow Road/Harry Taylor Road, outside of Eugene, Oregon. Harold ran the rooming house at 467 West 17th in Eugene where Brautigan lived just prior to his commitment to the State Hospital. Brautigan stayed in a one-room cabin behind the Bartons' house. He ate meals with the family and worked at off jobs about the property.
While living with the Bartons, Brautigan compiled and/or wrote manuscripts for novels, as well as poetry and short story collections:
All were hand-written in spiral-bound composition notebooks. Brautigan gave all these manuscripts to Edna Webster prior to his departure from Eugene, Oregon, for San Francisco, California, in June 1956. Portions of these manuscripts were later collected and published in The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
and/or in speciality publications.
Brautigan also wrote three experimental dramas, "Please Let Me Walk," "Everybody and the Rose," and "Linda," all of which he sent, under the title Experimental Dreams
, to the University of Oregon's Speech and Dramatic Arts Department. All were rejected in May 1956 by Professor Horace W. Robinson who wrote to Brautigan saying his dramas were too brief and devoid of character development to be useful. All were later collected in The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
Despite these setbacks, there was good news. Brautigan's poem "The Second Kingdom,"
accepted in the fall of 1955, was published in Epos
8(2) Winter 1956: 23. Although reprinted in Epos Anthology 1958
, this poem was never collected in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Wednesday, 29 February 1956
Lillith Lorraine, editor of Flame
, a literary magazine based in Alpine, Texas, wrote Brautigan rejecting the four poems he had sent her earlier. She had published "Someplace in the World a Man is Screaming in Pain"
in the Autumn 1955 issue of her journal, and wrote that she wanted to see more poems like this one with its "exquisite satire."
Using Edna Webster's
typewriter, at her house while Linda was away at school, Brautigan typed four manuscripts from his hand-written notebooks, apparently targeting a specific publisher for each manuscript. The first, Tiger in the Telephone Booth
, was meant for Olivant House, a literary venture of D. Vincent Smith who had earlier expressed an interest in publishing a book of poetry authored by Brautigan. This project never materialized.
Why Unknown Poets Stay Unknown
, dedicated to Edna, was the second manuscript Brautigan prepared. The manuscript was sent to Random House in New York, New York, but was rejected and returned in September 1956 with a letter from editor Albert Erskine. Part 1 of this manuscript, forty-three of the original fifty-three poems, was collected in The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings
The third manuscript was titled The Smallest Book of Poetry in the Whole God-Damn World
and was sent to New Directions, also in New York. This collection was also rejected and returned to Edna Webster's Eugene, Oregon, address. The manuscript dedication read:
An American genius.
Dead at twenty-four.
A fourth manuscript was Little Children Should Not Wear Beards
, a collection of poetry. This collection was intended for Scribner's, another New York publishing company, and was to be sent by Edna Webster
, but she never did. The manuscript remains unpublished.
The manuscript Linda
, a collection of fourteen poems with a dedication page reading "for Linda," sent by Brautigan in January to The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, was returned with a polite rejection letter by R. L. Walton, Assistant Editor-in-Chief.
Tuesday, 12 June 1956(?)
Allegedly, Brautigan left Eugene, Oregon, bound for San Francisco, California, on this day, his parents' wedding anniversary (Mary Lou and William F. Folston were married 12 June 1950). Brautigan took only two small cardboard boxes, one for clothes, the other for selected manuscripts and works in progress. All other writings he left with Edna Webster
In leaving, Brautigan cut off all contact with his family. His mother, Mary Lou, said,
I guess he hated us. Or maybe he had a disappointed love affair. Whatever. Richard practically abandoned the family when he left here. I haven't the slightest idea why. (Lawrence Wright 59)
Brautigan offered no goodbyes to anyone in his family, except for his sister Barbara, whom he saw by accident on Willamette Street in downtown Eugene, Oregon, immediately before he left town. According to Barbara, she had not seen her brother since his release from the Oregon State Hospital. They used to be close, but were no longer so. Brautigan said, "Well, I'm leaving" but offered no information that he was bound for San Francisco. "He said, 'I just wanted to say goodbye' . . . and that's the last time I ever saw him" (Hjortsberg
Beyond his desire to pursue a career as a writer, there are several reasons for Brautigan's desire to leave. Certainly his life of extreme poverty and parental abuse would be a factor. As already noted, Brautigan, his sister, and mother, on more than one occasion, lived in welfare hotels or motor courts (Abbott
by both parents: beatings by his "stepfathers" and abandonment by his mother are often often cited by friends and family.
My father told me that during the Depression he and his sister were boarded out to a family for awhile. She was beaten every morning for wetting the bed. One of his drunken stepfathers came to visit and wrestled with him, almost breaking my father's arm. Luckily, the people he was boarding with stepped in and stopped the stepfather. (Ianthe Brautigan 128)
Keith Abbott, quoting Brautigan, said one of his stepfathers "would just thrash him and thrash him" and once tried to break his arm. Brautigan remembered being "rented out" with his sister to do household chores and once watched a neighbor whip his sister (Abbott
also said Brautigan claimed his mother loved young children but "ignored and feared them as they got older" (Abbott
101). And there was his mother's drinking. "The only two concrete things he mentioned about her was that she drank a lot and smoked cigarettes" (Ianthe Brautigan
"He just left is all," Folston said. "Didn't say where he was going. He just disappeared, like people do." Still, she never wondered about Brautigan after he left home. "When you know your child is famous, you don't worry, do you?" (Jennifer Foote
Although he said little or nothing to his family, Brautigan had apparently shared his desire to leave with the Bartons, even talked about his plans to pursue his goal of becoming a writer in San Francisco, California. Lois Barton drove him to the downtown Eugene, Oregon, bus station, but rather than taking a bus to San Francisco, Brautigan rode with his friend Milo Stewart who was driving there to visit his sister. In Sacramento, California, Brautigan got out of the car and hitchhiked to Reno, Nevada (Hjorstberg
In Reno, Nevada, while reading a copy of Brushfire
, the literary magazine from the University of Nevada, Brautigan learned that one contributor, Barney Mergen, lived in Reno. Brautigan decided to visit and introduce himself as a fellow poet. Mergen, who wrote about Brautigan's visit following his death, said Brautigan was on his way to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon. He and Brautigan spent a lot of time together talking about writing. Then, said Mergen, Brautigan sought work in Fallon, a town east of Reno (Mergen
An account by Keith Abbott in his memoir of Brautigan, Downstream from Trout Fishing in America
, overlays that of Mergen. Abbott said Brautigan visited Reno "one spring" in the late 1950s. Brautigan, said Abbott, was "totally broke in San Francisco and a friend had called and promised him a job in Reno as a laborer on a construction project." Brautigan borrowed money to travel to Reno, but once there had to wait three days for the job to start. With an advance against his wages, Brautigan rented a motel room (Abbott
Wednesday, 25 July 1956
Brautigan's poems "Storm Over Fallon"
(July 25, 1956: 6) and "The Breeze"
(July 25, 1956: 6) were first published in The Fallon Standard
. Neither poem was included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan established in San Francisco, living probably at different places in North Beach before his first registered address at 1648 Grant Avenue, apartment 38. "His life began in 1956 in San Francisco" (Ianthe Brautigan
San Francisco was a rich network of streams to "trout about" in. Richard must have loved it all as much as I did. Vibrancy of thought was in the air. Consciousness of California landscape and Oriental thought were in the air we breathed, and it was made dark and moist by the Pacific beating on the coast of Monterey. Steinbeck country was nearby, Henry Miller lived down on Partingdon Ridge, Robinson Jeffers was in his tower in Carmel. (Michael McClure 44)
Right in San Francisco were philosopher Alan Watts and poets Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Robert Duncan (who had a class in poetics at San Francisco State University), Jack Spicer
, Joe Dunn, Brother Antoninus
, Philip Lamantia, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
, and Robert Creeley
These poets and artists met and cross-pollinated each other's work and thinking at several cheap restaurants and bars, as well as galleries and book stores, around North Beach which served as extended living rooms and cultural centers in the mid-1950s. The more popular gathering spots included Mr. Otis', Vesuvio (255 Columbus Avenue; across Alder Alley, renamed Kerouac Alley 31 March 2007, from City Lights Books
; the most popular North Beach bar; Brautigan maintained an upstairs office;), Deno & Carlo (728 Vallejo Street), The Old Spaghetti Factory (just off Grant at 4789 Green Street), Miss Smith's Tea Room (1353 Grant), Café Trieste (corner of Grant and Vallejo), and the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, a former Jewish deli, (1398 Grant Avenue; at the corner of Grant Avenue and Green Street).
Brautigan (left) at the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, circa 1950s.
Copyright © Lisa Law
. Used by permission.
The Co-Existence Bagel Shop, noted for its bargain breakfasts, was a social center for the North Beach Beats until it closed in 1960. Jack Kerouac mentions the place in his novel, Desolation Angels
. Rod McKuen wrote a song entitled "Co-Existence Bagel Shop Blues." Poet Bob Kaufman immortalized the place in his poem "Bagel Shop Jazz" describing its customers as "shadow people . . . mulberry-eyed girls in black stockings, smelling vaguely of mint jelly . . . turtle neck angel guys . . . coffee-faced ivy leaguers . . . whose Harvard was a Fillmore District step."
the full text of Kaufman's poem.
The most popular
gathering spot for poets and artists was "The Place," 1546 Grant Avenue, opened by painter and abstract photographer Leo Krikorian in 1953 and operated by him until the bar closed in 1960. Knute Stiles joined Krikorian in 1954, running The Place every night; Krikorian ran it during the day. Artists like Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, Robert LaVigne, and others showed their work at The Place.
Brautigan read his poetry at the Monday night "Blabbermouth Night," an extemporaneous public speaking event where artists, poets, and others could make statements or entertain in hopes of winning the night's prize: a bottle of champagne. Each speaker mounted the loft above the room, the blabberbox, where a yellow soapbox served as the lectern.
Artist Kenn Davis
drew this pencil sketch of Brautigan standing on the staircase at The Place, reading, during Blabbermouth Night, circa late 1956-early 1957.
He did this several times as I recall, as did Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Bob Kaufman, and many others. This is a recreation from many scribbled pencil thumbnail drawings I did at this time. This is before Richard was published, but possibly around the time he was working on The Galilee Hitch-Hiker. (Davis, Kenn. "Sketches of Richard Brautigan." Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life. Ed. John F. Barber. McFarland, 2007. 72)
at the Black Mountain College Project
, an historical essay at the Foundsf
Brautigan met poet Ron Loewinsohn on Grant Street, and handed him a notebook in which he had written the poem "A Correction."
Loewinsohn enjoyed the poem and he and Brautigan became good friends, spending much of their time together.
Brautigan and Loewinsohn joined Jack Spicer's
"magic circle," a group of writers discussing poetry each night at The Place. Brautigan and Spicer immediately connected and Spicer later helped Brautigan with the final editing of his novel, Trout Fishing in America
and arranged for its first public readings after its publication.
According to Ron Loewinshon,
There was a circle of people led by Jack Spicer who were literary, college-educated, and gay. Spicer and that crowd were really very suspect to Richard and me, although Richard went to their meetings (Peter Manso and Michael McClure 65).
Poet and friend Michael McClure
also commented on Brautigan's relationship with Spicer saying,
Richard was a disciple to some extent, or more aptly a pupil, of Jack Spicer. He must have met Jo Anne [sic] Kyger through Spicer, and maybe Joe Dunn that way too. (Dunn published Richard's first book in his White Rabbit Press series.) (Michael McClure 36)
Prior to their first meeting, Loewinsohn had seen Brautigan at The Place and a party hosted by Robert Stock where Brautigan read a few poems in his living room, perhaps his first public reading in San Francisco, and said he "almost never spoke, and walked around with his hands in his pockets, like he was hiding from everybody" (Peter Manso and Michael McClure
This impression of Brautigan as an outsider was echoed by Nicholas von Hoffman.
. . . he stood to one side like a nineteenth-century statue without a pedestal, an objet d'art neglected, put in the back of the barn like a rusty threshing machine. (Nicholas von Hoffman 129).
Other comments about Brautigan's shyness were less kind. Allen Ginsberg called Brautigan "Bunthorne" after the winsome poet in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta "Patience" (Lawrence Wright
34). William Hjortsberg notes that Ginsberg called Brautigan "Frood," and thought him a "neurotic creep" (Hjortsberg
Although he knew
many of them personally, including Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, and his good friend Michael McClure, frequented The Place and the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, participated in their poetry readings, and was included in the historic photograph "The Last Gathering of the Beats" by Larry Keenan, taken in 1965 in front of City Lights Books
owned and run by poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti
, Brautigan always maintained that he was not a Beat, or a member of their movement.
The Beats did not like Brautigan's writing style, or appreciate his efforts to develop a new style of prose poetry, although they did appreciate his occasional use of shocking humor. Ferlinghetti later published some of Brautigan's poetry, and chapters from his novel Trout Fishing in America
despite the fact that he never felt Brautigan developed fully as a writer.
As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naif, and I don't think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally (Peter Manso and Michael McClure 65).
Conger Beasley, Jr. agreed:
He was a close to being a genuine naif as contemporary American culture is likely to produce. He relied on his marvelous instincts to propel him through a story; that, plus his droll humor and off-beat characters, gave his novels a funky rhythm. (Conger Beasely 3)
On the recommendation of D. Vincent Smith, Brautigan sent a 600-word, 20 chapter manuscript for a novel titled The God of the Martians
, written apparently April-May, to Harry Hooton, a Sydney, Australia poet, for possible publication in Hooton's magazine 21st Century: The Magazine of a Creative Civilization
. Like many other of Brautigan's submissions to other publishers, this novel was never published.
It was the potential for success that kept Brautigan going, the belief that he would one day become recognized as a great writer. The previous month, he received a letter from D. Vincent Smith saying that he planned to publish Brautigan's Tiger in the Telephone Booth
soon and that he would keep Brautigan informed.
A collection of poems titled The Smallest Book of Poetry in the Whole God-Damn World
, submitted earlier to New Directions in New York, New York, for publication, was rejected and returned to Edna Webster
(per Brautigan's addressing of the return envelope). The manuscript dedication read:
An American genius.
Dead at twenty-four.
Feeling settled, and emboldened by his success reading at The Place, Brautigan wrote Edna Webster
and requested that she send his manuscripts to his 1648 Grant Avenue address. She sent him only The Shortest Book of Poetry in the Whole God-Damn World
, recently rejected by New Directions. She kept all the other manuscripts and writings Brautigan had given her
before his departure from Eugene, Oregon, for San Francisco, California. Many of these writings were published in three different books after Brautigan's death.
Brautigan's poem "A Correction"
published in the winter issue of The Caxton Poetry Review
1(2) Winter 1956: ***. Brautigan was paid $1.00. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan moved from his apartment at 1648 Grant Street to the Hotel Jessie, 179 Jessie Street, an alley off Third Street, south of Market Street. The $6.00-a-week rent was more in line with his low income as a struggling writer. Brautigan sold his Type A blood to the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank of the San Francisco Medical Society and delivered telegrams for Western Union on a bicycle throughout the financial district to earn rent money. At night, Brautigan wrote poetry which he mailed to magazines around the county.
Encouraged by Jack Spicer, who credited his own success as a poet to being mentored by poet Robert Duncan, Brautigan sent several of his poems and a cover letter to Duncan on 29 November, seeking an opportunity to read his poetry at The Poetry Center.
Duncan responded in a letter today, criticizing Brautigan's poetry and urging him to attend Jack Spicer's
Poetry as Magic Workshop to be offered in Spring 1957. "I suggest that before you think of reading you go into the open Forum of your contemporaries" (Duncan, Robert. "Letter to Richard Brautigan." 6 December 1956. Poetry Center files, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).
The Poetry as Magic Workshop
was scheduled every Tuesday night the following spring, 7:00-10:00 PM, in the San Francisco Public Library. Participants were to explore the new school of magical poetry practiced by, among others, Robert Duncan. Brautigan did not seek admission to the workshop; he was mentored by Spicer every evening at The Place.
Highlights: Met San Francisco poets . . . White Rabbit Press established . . . Met and married Virginia Dionne Alder . . . Published poems in small magazines . . . Anthologized in Four New Poets
Brautigan's poems "They Keep Coming Down the Dark Streets"
and "15 Stories in One Poem"
were first published in Danse Macabre
1(1) 1957: 18-19. Neither poem was ever included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections. This photograph of Brautigan was taken in 1957 and apparently was the front of a card signed by Curt Gentry and his wife Gail Stevens and given by Brautigan to Masako Kano.
Feedback from Masako Kano
Richard gave me [this card with his photograph on the front] to remind me he was once young.
met Virginia Dionne Alder
(also called Ginny or Ginger) at a North Beach laundromat where Brautigan and Ron Loewinsohn were washing their clothes. Loewinsohn introduced Brautigan and Virginia, who invited them both to a party that night at her apartment on Filbert Street. They both attended and Brautigan and Virginia immediately became a couple.
Virginia had moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles where she attended the University of California Los Angeles. She worked as a typist at a financial district law firm, Weigel, Ripley, and Diamond. She lived in an apartment on Filbert Street, in North Beach, high up on Telegraph Hill, below Coit Tower, overlooking Fisherman's Wharf and San Francisco Bay. She shared the apartment with a roommate, Lenore Yanoff, and Lester Rosenthal, her former college boyfriend.
Brautigan, financially distressed, had left the Hotel Jessie and was living rent-free in the apartment of a single mother in exchange for babysitting. Soon after they met, Brautigan moved into Virginia's apartment and Rosenthal moved out. Ginny supported them both with her job, and typed Brautigan's manuscripts while he continued his quest to become a successful writer (Abbott
44 and Hjortsberg
Caroling (Lind) Geary
, a student in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota, moved to San Francisco in January, where she lived until April or May. Geary lived first in the YWCA before renting a tiny apartment in the bottom of a house on Filbert Street for $30.00 per month. Her upstairs neighbors were Brautigan, Virginia, and, for a short time, Lenore Yanoff.
Feedback from Caroling Lind Geary
In January 1957, I got a severe Van Gogh complex and had to escape academia. My painting teacher was Cameron Booth. He was a student of Hans Hoffman and taught New York school abstract expressionism. He really was a closet romantic visionary under his neat business suit, lab coat and clipped moustache and non-representational art. He did a painting called "Crystals of Earth and Sky" where he tried to imagine the process of coal turning into diamonds. Imagine something happening underground over eons of time in a single painting? When I saw Booth's painting in an art show, I started to understand what he was talking about. It seemed like I could learn what I needed by living with the painting, so I bought it. He gave me 50% discount on the price. I mentioned this to set the context of the San Francisco scene. We focused there, freed by wealth of the industriousness of the immigrants and the natural resources of our country. We were longing to invent our culture. So, with my teacher's painting I took a bus to San Francisco to paint full time. The move was an early Beat version of the next decade's hippie drop out to Haight Street. After being robbed and working as a bus person in a restaurant, I realized I was not Van Gogh and missed the University Art Department. I took a bus back and was accepted back into the program that summer, with teaching assistantship and all. Everyone liked the work I had done in San Francisco and I got in touch with the scene, so it was great.
I answered a newspaper ad for an apartment on Filbert Street. It was owned by a landlord woman in a huge mansion on some San Francisco hill. She first showed me the upstairs unit. It was old and dusty. The interior rounded off by layers of different colors of chipped paint. It was a railroad flat. Stepping off the side of the hill into it was like going into a big railroad car or ferry boat into the sky. There were no buildings to either side. Each room had windows that looked out into the brilliance of the reflected bay waters. It is close to Fisherman's Wharf. The place was big, empty and dark in the interior. I vividly remember a line of clear glass jars on narrow open shelves in the kitchen, each jar filled with things I'd never seen before, like oriental spices, little silver fishes, tiny octopi, and strange smelling herbs. I didn't know what these things were or where they came from or why they were there. Later I learned they came from nearby Chinatown, and I bought some.
My "apartment" was just a bunch of doors filled into the support posts below. What I used as a studio was probably just an old storage place, a tiny little square room with a door. Just whomped up by this old lady to get an extra rental unit. What I loved was that all the doors had the upper part as windows and the view of the bay and the light was great. My view was all three sides, except uphill to Coit Tower. At the top of the hill, below Coit Tower, was a small convenience store. Walking down the hill from the store I turned left into a small lane or alley to get to my apartment. I could also get to the Wharf by going downhill; can't remember the name of the major street down there. It was more difficult, or didn't connect to transportation as well, so I didn't go that way, only a few times. I didn't have a car. None of us did.
When Brautigan moved in, shortly after I was settled, it was with two women: Ginger (childhood nickname for Virginia Dionne Alder
) and Lenore Yanoff. Lenore moved out maybe in February and went back to LA [Los Angeles], where I got to know her later, when I moved there. Brautigan and Ginger were not married at the time. As I remember, it was not a triangle, not menage a trois
. My impression was that Lenore and Ginger were friends previously, and Lenore was rather left out of Ginger's new partnership with Brautigan. It's probably quite a minor detail of the story of a life.
Brautigan had a constant energy about him. I can't remember him sitting down. I think he liked the empty Fillbert Street apartment for the windows. He did look out a lot. Could "lanking" be a verb, that is, participle? I would then say Richard Brautigan was lanking around. As in, he was being lanky. If I had been there for Halloween, Ginger would have come as a pumpkin, a lantern smiling light. Richard would have come as the farmer/scarecrow/ghost, a hover person that is always a couple of inches up from earth. Gliding. The Grateful Dead Song plays in my head, "In the Attic of my mind, where all of my dreams are stored." That would be my song for Brautigan.
A photograph by Geary of her Filbert Street neighborhood, 1957. Used by permission.
Brautigan introduced Caroling to Beat
poets and she bought their books at City Lights Books
and listened to Brautigan and others reading their poetry at The Place, just up the hill from the apartment. Such readings were the inspiration for "Which Poet?"
a painting of Brautigan and other poets at The Place by Geary.
The Return of the Rivers
published. A single poem, printed as a broadside in black construction paper wrappers. Because of the wrappers, this is generally considered Brautigan's first published "book" of poetry. One hundred copies were printed by Leslie Woolf Hedley of Inferno Press as a favor to Brautigan, who, with Alder Alder and Ron Loewinsohn glued the broadsides into the folded black construction paper covers and affixed white labels in the center front of each over. Brautigan signed each label, just above the Inferno Press colophon. In the fall of this year, Hedley published Four New Poets
which included four poems by Brautigan.
Brautigan married Virginia (Ginny) Dionne Alder
in Reno, Nevada. The ceremony was performed by Methodist minister Reverend Stephen C. Thomas, a Methodist minister. Witnesses were Ace W. Williams, a chapel visitor and Agnes Thomas, the Reverend's wife. Neither Brautigan or Alder had been married previously. Both were twenty two years of age. Both gave San Francisco as their place of residence.
Following their return from Reno, Brautigan and Virginia Alder moved into an apartment at 1565 Washington Street (Hjortsberg
Brautigan's poem "A Young Poet"
published in Epos
8(4) Summer 1957: 6. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan's poem "The Final Ride"
was first published in Mainstream
2(2) Summer-Autumn 1957: 14. The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan's poem "The Horse That Had A Flat Tire"
was first published in Berkeley Review
1(3) 1957: 14-15. The poem The Return of the Rivers
was reprinted in the same issue.
Brautigan and Virginia Alder traveled to the Big Sur area of California, south of Gorda, to visit with Price Dunn who was staying on property owned by Pat Boyd, a painter. Brautigan and Dunn met in the spring at a party at Virginia's apartment and became good friends. The events of the month-long visit became the basis for Brautigan's novel A Confederate General from Big Sur
. Price Dunn was fictionalized as the novel's protagonist.
Brautigan participated in the 11th Annual Arts Festival in North Beach held in Fugazi Hall on Green Street. He participated in the daytime readings "by young poets" with Ron Loewinsohn and Ebbe Borregaard (Ellingham and Killian
Brautigan's poems "The Daring Little Guy on the Burma Shave Sign"
and "The World Will Never End"
were first published in Existaria, A Journal of Existant Hysterial
(7) September-October 1957: 14. The poems were never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Four poems by Brautigan: "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth's Beer Bottles," "The Mortuary Bush," "Twelve Roman Soldiers and an Oatmeal Cookie,"
were first published in Four New Poets
Ed. Leslie Woolf Hedley. San Francisco: Inferno Press, 1957. 3-9. This was Brautigan's first book appearance.
Four New Poets
was an anthology featuring poetry by four poets the editor described as "representing an articulate segment of a sometime-called 'silent generation'."
Of Brautigan the introduction said,
Richard Brautigan is a young poet who was born January 30, 1935 in Tacoma, Washington. He now lives in San Francisco where he is working on a book of poems, The Horse That Had A Flat Tire.
The other three poets were: Martin Hoberman, Carl Larsen, and James M. Singer. At the time of publication, none of the poets was over the age of 25. Larsen edited Existaria, a Journal of Existant Hysteria
, in which, in summer 1957, Brautigan published two poems: "The Daring Little Guy on the Burma Shave Sign"
and "The World Will Never End"
Highlights: Involved with Dharma Committee . . . Published poems in small magazines . . . The Galilee Hitch-Hiker published
Brautigan and Virginia lived at 1470 Washington Street (Polk County Directory
Brautigan and Virginia Alder returned to Big Sur for another visit with friend Price Dunn. During the visit, Brautigan wrote the poem "The Castle of the Cormorants."
Brautigan's poem "Kingdom Come"
was first published in Epos
9(3) Spring 1958: 20-21.
Brautigan's poem "Twelve Roman Soldiers and an Oatmeal Cookie,"
originally published in Four New Poets
, reprinted in Hearse
Brautigan's poem "The Mortuary Bush,"
originally published in Four New Poets
, reprinted in Hearse
The Galilee Hitch-Hiker
, a single poem in nine parts, published. A theme was the changing presence of Charles Baudelaire in each part. Brautigan completed the poem in February.
Brautigan and Virginia Alder gave up their Washington Street apartment and hitchhiked from San Francisco, California, to Nogales, Arizona, where they crossed the international border into Mexico. They traveled by bus to Mexico City, stopping in Mazatlán and Tepic. After a week in Mexico City, Brautigan and Virginia traveled, again by bus, to Oaxaca, where they stayed for three months. Their return trip took them back to Mexico City, from there to Ciudad Juárez where they crossed the border into El Paso, Texas. From there they hitchhiked to Las Cruces, New Mexico, Phoenix, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, and finally, to San Francisco.
Brautigan and Alder rented an apartment at 461 Mississippi Street, on Potrero Hill, which they shared with artist friend Kenn Davis
Brautigan joined the Dharma Committee, an ad hoc group of writers and poets associated with the weekly Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan poetry readings and organized by Joanne Kyger and George Stanley. They sometimes met at the Bread and Wine Mission, 510 Greenwich Street, on the corner of Grant Avenue and Greenwich Street, in San Francisco's North Beach area, for the free spaghetti dinners and poetry readings. The Mission was led by a young minister, Pierre Delattre
, and was a center for discussion of and participation in the evolving literary scene during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mission-hosted Sunday dinners brought together poets and artists. The literary magazine Beatitude
was published here on an old mimeograph machine. Brautigan read his poetry at these meetings, along with Joanne Kyger
, Gary Snyder, and Ebbe Borregaard (Ellingham and Killian
Brautigan found part-time employment at Pacific Chemical Laboratories, 350 Clay Street, San Francisco, where he worked for several years preparing doses of powdered barium (Hjorstberg
Highlights: Published poems in small magazines . . . Lay The Marble Tea published
Three photographs, all taken by Virginia Dionne Alder
, Brautigan's first wife, show Brautigan in San Francisco, in 1959. Brautigan and Virginia lived at 461 Mississippi Street (Polk County Directory
and Bill Morgan. The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Literary Tour
. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2003). These photographs were possibly taken at that address.
Brautigan's poem "Psalm"
was first published in San Francisco Review
(2) Spring 1959: 63.
Saturday, 9 May 1959
Brautigan's poem "The Whorehouse at the Top of Mount Rainier"
published in Beatitude
(1) 9 May 1959: n. pg. The poem was collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.
Saturday, 30 May 1959
Brautigan's poem "The American Submarine," "A Postcard from the Bridge," "That Girl,"
and "The Sink,"
were first published in Beatitude
(4) 30 May 1959. All but "The Sink" were collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.
Lay The Marble Tea
, a collection of 24 poems, published. These poems, as did most of his subsequent work, blurred the boundaries between poetry and prose.
Brautigan and Virginia Alder moved to a new apartment at 575 Pennsylvania Street, on Potrero Hill, San Francisco. Virginia was pregnant and the couple wanted more privacy for their family. Perhaps thinking of a family, Brautigan and Alder acquired two black cats, Jake and Boaz. Jake figured in Brautigan's poem "The Quail"
Brautigan's poem "Swandragons"
was first published in Beatitude
(9) 18 September 1959.
The poem was never included in any of Brautigan's poetry collections.
Brautigan's poems "The Rape of Ophelia," "A Postcard from Chinatown," "The Nature Poem," "Horse Race,"
and "The Last Music is Not Heard"
were first published in Foot
(1) September 1959. All were collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.
Brautigan's poem "The Fever Monument"
published in J
(1) September 1959. All were collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.
Brautigan's poems "The Pumpkin Tide," "The Sidney Greenstreet Blues,"
were first published in J
(4) November 1959. All were collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.
Brautigan's poem "1942"
was first published in
(5) December 1959.
The poem was collected in The Octopus Frontier
, published in 1960.