Diane di Prima reading for DivaFest

Diane di Prima does one long solo reading per year in San Francisco and for the last 7 years that’s been at DivaFest at the Exit Theater. The little theater was packed with wistful and wild-eyed poets and hardcore di Prima fans as Diane led off just talking about stuff and asking us all for any spare kleenexes before she started out reading. She talked a bit about being the poet laureate of San Francisco saying that she loves the poetry folks of this town and it honors them and it honors poetry. But the parts that are political or B.S. and that it doesn’t have very much money to support her going in to teach poetry writing to kids and so on, that part isn’t so great. It’s nice but the greatest honor she has ever received was knowing someone typed out her first book on carbon paper to pass it around Leavenworth prison.

Diane then said that she is thinking of what’s new, poems as news, poets as antennae and is reading a bunch of unpublished work and the new things that may go into Loba or the next Revolutionary Letters. “A lot of things that are news are very old. They’re new and old at the same time.” I really love poet talk and Diane can’t even help doing it and at the same time is just plain not full of shit. (Reminding me of my friend Greg who died… should be on his grave stone, “He wasn’t full of shit.”) I respect the ability some people have to just talk and then to read their writing in a way that isn’t bullshitty or different than their usual self. Just write it! And then when you’re talking, saying something! That’s so good.

I kept imagining wishfully that Diane would come to WisCon where she would be strangely happy among fantastic strong writer matriarchs in lavender quilted vests and iron grey hair and wild imaginations that range through all time and space!

Diane di Prima reading at DIVAfest.jpg

Notes on the poems!

The first poem was “My Andalusia” which was written as an exploration of writing about things as you imagined them when you were younger. What you thought about Egypt or New York when you were 6. Diane’s Anadalusia was an alternate history coming up to the present and future where sufi and kabalah and christian and scientific communities flourished uninterrupted by war. “to make light brighter, distance more vast.” Maybe it was “vastness more vast.” “And About Obama” “and if you were living in the enemy’s house wife and kids there too guarded by assassins … for what *were* after all dreams …” I slipped in and out of knowing what she was talking about and then felt quite unsure that other people in the room knew either though they “Hmmmmmmmm!”ed as if they did. “At least the Bay Bridge snapped… somebody had to say something”. And then some old news – “a deer and her young hesitate” which I think then had some radioactive waste. It worked even past my reservations. LOTS of hmmmm-ing on that one which reaction made me wince. (Though, I love people who love poetry so should not criticize. )

“Don’t turn away” (with brief explanation of Kurosawa biography and earthquake story and his brother saying, “Don’t turn away – You want to make films, don’t look away – LOOK!” If you are working on something, don’t turn away. Hyena -vulture – guardians – the race of forbidden – where we keep the dead – warm mud – Look, tears magnify what you can see – Don’t look it up don’t study it’s all before your eyes. (Well and yes I suppose Earth is a mass grave, really. ) Diane read this long prose poem so well and powerfully, forceful, the words building up and poem tumbling over itself. Well done and never maudlin / self righteous / guilt ridden-yet-self-absolving which is the trap so many middle class poets fall into automatically.

“The daughter” – couldn’t wait till she died, pulling weeds, “didn’t I think it looked a whole lot better.” Oh my.

Poem for Sheppard, healer & beloved. Treebark rule (an herb tea he makes her) Touch the crown of their heads as they have not been touched since newborn / they are worth all care / they are gold of gold ” Now here I cried at the poem a bit not knowing Shep but knowing he is sick and that she is not perhaps in the pink of health either and knowing what it means to be in pain and cared for (vs. not cared for) and the other way round And that it is one of the best things. Mia Mingus said it very well in Access Intimacy

Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives. Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations. Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access. I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.

Interdependence is worth fighting for and certainly good to write about. I liked the poem.

Then a long poem for a benefit for Haiti for which the organizers kept adding on new countries so it is called Haiti Chile Tibet. I cheered mightily at the bit at the end with the list of Just a Few Suggestions. 1) All hands on deck means just that. It’s a really small boat. 2. Anyone bringing help is welcome – OBVIOUSLY. Don’t ask where they’re from. (HHAHAAH so true – thinking bitterly of the red cross during katrina! lord!) 3) All borders disappear in catastrophe. They are stupid and irrelevant anyway. 4) There is no such thing as looting in a disaster. 5 on the police 6) on guests 7) Give up confusing your property with your life. This will save a lot of problems! I like a poem that describes the world with a little lyrical perspective and humility and then ends with practical wisdom!

“Homeland Security to T’ang Dynasty Princess” – short & sweet. take off your dew covered slippers, step away from the window. Funny then not then funny again, indeed

Lot’s wife doesn’t have a name Who was she how did he greet her when she came in from the field?

“Why money makes me feel bad.” I feel bad when I get some . Then feeling bad when not having any. Yup.

War haiku – July 2006. Lebanon. Even an hour of this / would be too long /White phosophorus. Great lords of the sea /it is Tyre they are burning. Don’t ask if I have bad dreams…

Millenium poem. Revolutionary letters # 83. In the wink of an eye. If Iliad Odyssey… harmony.. and Blake says Fuck all this! & Baudelaire & Rimbaud comes back from outer space he’d rather die a sleazebutt human! American cats et in on it (Melville) They don’t know from order! (laughter uncontrollable there!) Brightness fell from the air. magical will…

I like that poem and want to read it on the page! It was tremendous!

June 3 1966 To the unnamed Buddhist Nun who burned herself to death (she called the NY Times and then called the reporter who told her that buddhist nuns don’t have names.) (not) O monk is it hot in there? (koan about it being a stupid question)

Diane noted that part of her wants to apologize for being so dark. She has this bit of Loba *(unpublished) about the painter who painted Mary out of elephant dung (Chris Ofili) (Turmoil!) And thinking all the other things people might not realize are also sacred. Litany – Our lady of the elephants. Our lady of the armadillos. Our lady of subways… Lady of largest heart. (Yes- Inanna reference!!!!! Right on)

Freaking awesome poem called Fire sale – everything must go. I long to publish this one.
Well, we can’t build the new society from the shell of the old” “I love those old Wobbly songs” Let’s stop looking over our shoulders! Let’s stop copying Scandinavian socialism, it’s too sad! You all talk too much!” Oh, man, I love it.

We then had some questions and conversation. Conversation hard though in Authority/Audience format (alas) I asked what Diane is reading and she said lots of Ursula Le Guin (YEAH…. instantly I go back to my WisCon imaginings and pictured them both at the Mad Scientist Otaku Tea Party Cafe laughing over tea with robots and mad scientists serving little cakes) And all of Shakespeare in little Arden editions because you can hold one at a time and they don’t hurt your hands to hold them up. someone asked about plays and Diane said she has some plays one called Whale Hunting about the death of Shelley just before he drowns with Mary Byron and Shelley. Oh man! I’d like to see that play. And another one which I did’t hear about because I was imagining the Shelley one. A very dear woman stood up in the back and said her name is Grace HArwood and she has been witness to Diane’s aweseomness since 1970 and is so happy she is poet laureate and it’s about fucking time! (cheers and applause) Another question , what do you think is possible? Are you writing more memoir? (Yes but slowly and don’t tell anyone, she does not want her agent to know so there is no pressure) It has a lot about the shape of life and the demands of old age and is around 200 pages now. Diane asked us what we are writing and doing and where we published and after what was perhaps not a long enough pause I said I am making tiny books and held up my Burn This Press stuff. (Then wished I hadn’t and that i had explained my whole earth catalogue poem and my difficulties with it ) Another guy talked about a small press cooperative he is in up near Yosemite with 35 authors, Poetic Matric Press and he named a poet who does something interesting with Damascus I think (then I was remembering the excellent Damashq story from the Lesbian Steampunk book.) Someone up in the back asked about Denise Levertov and whether they knew each other. Diane said they were at readings together and she was very proper and without meaning to or knowing it she often upset Denise just by having some 4 letter words in a poem. also “she could have gone further”. I got excited and wondered what she meant there b/c I am fond of Levertov but get very frustrated by her and want to give her a shove and go “okay… now go further”. She wraps it up too fast and doesn’t get out of a certain comfort zone (though that is arrogant of me to say) What poetry would she recommend for kids? What poetry would be NOT for kids? (maybe Kaddish… i dunno…. lol) They’re just people! Just give them poetry! They come with all the equipment. (I agree) She said when she was little people read her shakespeare quite young and she read all the robert louis stevenson and poe things that kids usually read.

Best question from audience especially since asked by very young dude, or best response I guess, Do you ever get embarrassed by things you wrote when you were younger, you wrote it 40 years ago? “No. That’s who I was. I love those who-I-wases. (swoooon) I worked on it till I was pleased with it. It still stands. (reads a poem). I liked that person. She thought she was a lot tougher than she was, but she got along somehow. Take your own side. That’s the hardest job of a writer. ”

“Things are different because, I’m not sure about the because. There were very few of us writing. in 61… the newsletter me and Leroi Jones put out had 114 names across the country, poets, painters, dancers, choreographers. Lots of indie bookstores and they all wanted 5 copies. Libraries doing special collections of American Lit. Now it’s harder. Why? I don’t understand the use of cyberspace as a publishing medium. I don’t get the shape of it and how the poem is with it. You have a book, that’s the poem in space. You have a reading, that’s the poem in time. I don’t understand what shape I am working with when I’m in there and in what shape things are cut. ”

Afterwards I gave some books away and Diane was so mobbed it was hard to talk with her but I will write her a letter. I did hang about to say thank you and to give her a tiny blank book (made from scraps of Burn This Press books). A guy came up and told me about Exit Press and someone else told me about the Brown U. bookstore and who to write to to send books for their small press section. Someone else invited me to the Lunada readings at Galeria de la Raza, which sound great… All the Divafest plays and shows look fantastic – it is a celebration of women writers. There is a pirate play and one about Eleanor of Acquitaine and it’s going on all this month – take a look. Also Diane runs weekend workshops periodically – I went to one in around 2002 and heartily recommend it – “hanging out and writing” was exactly what we did.

I unfolded my bike and rode the 5 blocks back to my car which was down 6th across Market – legs shaking and my right foot unable to really do its thing correctly and my hip aching fit to bust – But feeling very free and scared in the good way & as if I were cloaked in secrets.Taking my overcaffeinated self and sinus infection back to bed now for utter collapse as the sudafed wears off.

Driving around, I waste more time

This afternoon we drove around searching for the building I’ve seen and wondered about for years. It’s visible from Highway 101, is topped with giant panels of stained glass, and says “STUDIO” on the side in white letters. “Studio” is not very google-able. It’s in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Silver Terrace, just west of Bayview and east of Portola. STUDIO, after we tracked it down and did some sleuthing, turns out to be Church Art Glass Studio owned (or formerly owned?) by Nick Lukas. Above the front door there’s an awning made of the same colors of glass as are on top of the building, throwing intense colored shadows. Framed stained glass panels were in the dusty windows. The hill was very green & lush. I love corners of neighborhoods that are mostly full of industrial buildings and warehouses for floor tile and stuff like that. This area has the added bonus of being mostly underneath a highway.

church art glass studio

The majority of windows at St. Michael [in Livermore, CA] were done by the Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco, which has designed windows for the churches on the West Coast and Hawaii since the turn of the century. The original owner, Edward Lopolka, advertised as “artists in stained glass, German and English antique.” The business was sold in the 1940’s to the father of Nick Lukas, who continues to operate the business in the shadow of the 280 freeway.

I felt like I solved a mystery only to come up with several more mysteries.

Mystery #1: Is the Studio still open? It looked deserted. A post from 2009 says Lukas was trying to sell his entire stock of art glass. It looks like we only just barely missed a very cool art show hosted there, Virtuoso.

Mystery #2: What is the hill of Silver Terrace called? It doesn’t seem quite like it would be named “Silver Terrace” but that’s what I’m going to have to call it. (ETA: I think it’s Mount St. Joseph! Source: How Many Hills are in San Francisco?

Mystery #3: What is that funky deserted building at 432 Paul Avenue that looks like an old school next to an equally funky factory? It’s beautiful!

Silver Terrace was in the Rincón de las Salinas and Potrero Viejo Mexican land grants, sold off by the Bernal family in the 1860s. Actually it sounds like General Sherman foreclosed on the Bernal mortgage and then sold it off to J.S. Silver who subdivided it into lots, so it’s a very old San Francisco neighborhood. You can see from old maps that Bernal Hill is on one side of the bay inlet where Islais Creek was, that was eventually filled in to become Bayview, and the mystery hill that isn’t called Silver Terrace is on the other side, just east of Hunters Point Ridge.

San Francisco coastline and crreks

Here is a fantastic history of the area!

History of Bayview and Hunters Point (pdf)

We ended up going through McLaren Park which we had looked up beforehand – making fun of videos of hippies dancing to very boring music at Jerry Garcia auditorium – And pausing to look out over the valley below & trying to figure out what everything was. It was mostly Visitacion Valley, Bayshore, and the Cow Palace. I’ve never been there. We drove through and the most I can say for it is that I plan on going back to the huge Savers thrift store on Geneva. If there was a there there in Visitacion Valley I didn’t find it. I did wonder about what the Visitation was – something like the Annunciation which I do know is when Mary finds out she’s preggers – It turns out it’s when Mary’s pregnant and knows it, and goes off for a visit with another pregnant lady. I could rewrite that in my head to be all about pregnant ladies being supportive of each other instead of all the stuff about creepy babies leaping in the womb because of getting weird telepathic messages from other babies!

Back on Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood we were tempted by the Chicken Coop restaurant which looked amazingly retro. I couldn’t park though so we decided to go home and make omelettes. Signs informed me that Excelsior Welcomes the World. I will definitely return to work my way through all the small grocery stores on Mission. They look great. Anyway, we changed our minds about dinner again a few blocks later when we passed Joe’s Cable Car. Joe’s Cable Car turned out to be not the greasy cheap diner I thought it was. It is more the Dr. Bronner’s of Burgers. Everything at our table was covered in rambling, old-school sales talk and folksy wisdom about the magic of GROUND STEAK from, presumably, Joe. By the time we ordered our food I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “burger” because of the incredible amount of text about GROUND STEAK I had just read and all about the sharp knives, the way they butcher it all and grind it right there practically at your table, and how Joe himself and his jolly butchers were ready to Down-Home-ily bring a cow right to your house straight from the Gold Rush, and grind it up, unlike the evil fast food industry and its evil, evil breadcrumbs and midwest factory slaughterhouses, so please fork over 14 bucks for your Ground Steak while you enjoy the wolf-whistle of the doorbell and the singing santa christmas lights and the giant neon signs shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge, while sitting in something that in 1965 used to either be, or look like, a cable car. I had a great time and the burger was delicious.

The myth of the place and what I was about to eat had completely sold me on the restaurant before I had even sipped my coke. It was overwhelming especially to sensitive, neurotic artists who had gone to look for America and been driving around all day. It reminded me a little of the 1000 mile trip I took around the Southwest where through three states I saw billboards advertising “The Thing!” and then finally got to “The Thing!” roadside attraction and was so freaked out by its Americana-ness that I wrote several chapters of an autobiographical novel about it.

As usual, Oblomovka navigated and looked things up on his G2 while I drove and made a lot of spontaneous decisions which way to go, and we made things up about the stuff we were looking at and tried to imagine everything about all the neighborhoods and imagined our future hacker artist co-ops in all the funky old buildings. I have an especially good time because we can both get passionately attached to some imaginary and pointless goal, like figuring out where the headwaters of some cemented-over creek is, or how to get as close to the top of a hill as we can, but we don’t actually care that much and so are happy to change our minds and do something else as soon as what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

Cranky Lightning

I’m at the Quiet Lightning reading in a VERY CRANKY mood ready to liveblog. It smells like pot in here and I’ve had a gin and tonic and about 100 hipsters with scarves on are blocking my way to the bathroom so get ready for me to bitch like hell and become even more unpopular. So far halfway in I’ve wanted to slap everyone except Bucky Sinister. The format is a nice idea, rapid fire switching readers with no introductions and MC-ing or writerly apologias for work to come. The writers hop up on stage and read in order as declared on the event’s handy postcard flyer. At least in theory. The organizers make a tiny perfect-bound anthology every month and as we all know, the perfect-bound book published by someone who isn’t actually yourself is the Holy Grail, and regular readings are good, so I guess this is a literary scene now.

two handfuls of baby owls

Alia V. read a very annoying memoirish “fiction” about being the Spanish-English interpreter in a doctor’s office while a mom explained that her physically and developmentally disabled 9 year old son has a huge penis and is hitting puberty early. Alia intermittently rambles about her own teenage son and how they don’t talk about anything, then goes back to obsessing on and sniggering about the 9 year old’s huge penis and laments with “irony” that Pablo will never have a lover so his gift is wasted. The audience actually “hmmmmed” as if she had said something profound instead of bigoted and ignorant. Whatever, heinous ableist HIPAA-violating wench, even if it’s “fiction” you can blow me and I see why your teenager doesn’t talk to you. What a waste of ink.

Bucky Sinister read a sweet amusing well structured piece of prose, Grey Side of the Moon, about leaving arkansas on the tornado and saying Fuck You Dorothy for going back to your grey land while meth girls with homemade tattoos and dudes with cat whiskers die for technicolor. He did not quite say that but close to it. “Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery wearing ruby red Doc Martens. I’m looking for the good witch. Everyone raises their hand.” Oh Bucky you are so punk rock and I’m sorry your friends fucking died from ODing and AIDS. The audience laughed in all the wrong places. I even liked the Fake Tits Haikus in the middle. You know how some people can write about their lives like “Oh, I did so many drugs. Body fluids. The end.” and it’s so pretentious because the bit past “the end” is probably “and now I am a Ruby developer and complain loudly if my pumpkin latte is not quite right”? Bucky’s stories don’t do that. Instead they make me feel the world right here is simultaneous with the rest of the world. Bucky is good. You should go to his Wednesday night comedy show at 8pm at the Darkroom.

Jonathan S. earned my instant tired loathing for some kind of fake-ass audrey hepburn Bostonian theatre class accent mixed with other accents all horribly dominated by jim morrison-like doggerel recited in the portentious tones of the Slam Poet as the audience Hmmmmmmmed. Humdrum poets! Quit that! go start a band or something! Fuck! People Hmmming all over like something deep was expressed. OMG someone just shit out a little rabbit pellet of emoto-philosophy in rhyme! Quick! Everyone hmmmm!

Ian Tuttle. A sweet poem to the road, like a route 66 paean, too young and earnest to be annoying. I liked his Death Valley poem and think he has a nice line break once in a while. Suddenly I worry that some MFA program will ruin his soul. He could stand to go listen to my friend Arntsen’s bursts of geographical brilliance. And either pack more density of ideas into a long poem or take it somewhere; ie think of it as a narrative.

Ali Liebegott did the forbidden intro about being a paleontologist or something. The sweetest dinosaur that ever lived. I pretend he was a cardigan wearing painter, an effeminate dinosaur, a friend. When people weren’t assholes, because there weren’t any people. Okay this is fucking great. Hahahhahahah. Got me. Then an excerpt from a novel called “Cha-ching”. About her boss that called everything “you fucking faggot”. The faxed prices of semiconductors entered on a prehistoric computer. Reminds me of zines about “unworking” from 1992. “I pretended to be Nawal El-Saadawi….” Ahahaha . I just snorted out loud. That was pleasing. Insane bookkeepers and swishy nylon sweatsuits with a booger-eyed white terrier and the desperation of scarfing breakroom donuts. Dude I’m flashing back to my 80s and 90s temping days. “My life was sad in Yonkers.” Not like fake-edgy, but actually reality-bending! Someone remarks that Leibegott is the poor man’s Michelle Tea, which seems a bit unfair. Anyone who pretends to be Nawal El-Saadawi while being oppressed by data entry is good enough not to be compared all the time to Michelle Tea.

Kim A. gets a lot of frat boy cheers from the crowd. Her poem is called Blues for Robert Johnson. That inspired dreamy voice. I swear i will never fucking do that… shoot me if so. It’s an okay poem. With harmonica. Why does everyone read in that VOICE? Shooooot me. What if people just went around always talking like that? It’s like I imagine the elocutionist sounded from Anne of Green Gables. I could read this paragraph like a slam poet elocutionist and people would applaud it. She plays the harmonica charmingly! I applaud the harmonica part. Then a poem about the great penis famine of 2008 and a dick-tater joke. Penis blues. I feel impatient for this audience. This poem would get an A in a creative writing class. I feel fairly certain she’s grownup enough to have written something much better than crowd pleasing BS. Now a train song on the harmonica, very good! Awesome! Robert Johnson would approve.

Intermission. Starved-for-pussy 60 year old silver foxes in black turtlenecks with 20 years out of date pickup artist techniques consider me and back slowly away. Correctly spotted, old dudes! I do not get invited to any tantric zen sex poetry workshops by any of the facelift set. They found other prey. Instead I talked with Monica Storss my new neighbor & a poet who just moved into a boat called Bohemia and who was sporting an epic tiny velvet hat with peacock feathers and jewels on it, and her awesome cleavage; talked with Sara Moore who is also a literary translator, and Charlie Jane. I gave them all inside-out books. Saw Stephen Elliot but did not manage to get across the room to say hi. People were talking vigorously and having a nice time! Books were for sale at a table near the bar.

Baby owls in a little hutch animated gif

2nd half

Andrew D. A chapter from his novel about a homeless man on ecstasy. Written in 2nd person. “You can feel the ocean. This is the moment. This is home. Not where you grew up in Montana.” If you go back to Montana, turn to page 37. If you stay here by the ocean, turn to page 129. The elocutionists’ intonation. I wonder what this would sound like if I just read it out loud as I do books at bedtime to my son. That might improve it. The intonation stretches out vowels and weirdly de-emphasizes the ends of sentences. It’s half an octave higher than people’s normal voices. It has a little sing-song to it as if an echo effect is about to repeat each line for a disco chorus. Anyone who writes about “The Homeless Man” as a sort of metaphor character should be fucking slapped. It’s like the magical negro. But metaphorical homeless guy. When did “homeless man” become this particular placeholder rather than “hobo” which had something a lot different to it while perhaps over-romanticizing the jumping on boxcars aspect of poverty at least you could make a good blues song out of it yourself, rather than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for some haight street aspiring novelist to dehumanize you in immortal, boring prose.

Lauren B. “First, do not be beautiful.” Trauma! Drama! Dating! Do not be a nice young writer lady who dates married guys while you both pretend not to be damaged and maybe sort of don’t have an Affair. We are not all Anais Nin. We mostly regret this. It’s fine to try. I will never understand heterosexual women.

Peg P. Nice boots. Yes… yes the protocol IS that you are supposed to launch into your reading. OMG, not kiss ass on the organizers. We already applauded them. Okay read something. We applaud the organizers for her again. Whatever. Shut uuuuuuup. Read it! Story about some young heterosexual college people in some town somewhere smoking weed. I think they are about to go bowling and have some trauma on a lacy bedspread or a backseat. The mic has screwed up and half the audience is rowdily unconcerned while the other half, who have produced their own readings and shows and music for untold ages, itch and sigh that it is not rocket science to run a mic. Uh oh! What will happen at the bowling alley! Check, check, one two. Check. Start over! Tony and Joey down by the schoolyard, redux. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Exposition. Exposition. I expect someone will be named Vinnie next. Scenery description. Glass ashtrays. We are in a pizzeria’s back room smoking some weed. Rather than some kind of saturday night live gang rape scene in the back seat of a car we are suddenly in a conversation about Jane’s poetry. Existential moment. Sex is mentioned only obliquely. The mary sue insertion college student is still talking about her poems. Mary Sue Waspy Snotbag is now gawking at some working class italian lady’s house decor like she’s never seen a cut glass candy dish in all her born days. Maybe you had to be there. I’m glad I’m not a writing teacher. I have lost track of who Courtney and Zach are but I so don’t care. OMG Tony will not have sex with her right in the bedroom while his mom is calling from downstairs. I was right about the lacy bedspread. Write what you know I guess! The end!

Charlie Jane reads a story about Audrey and her unrentable donut-shaped apartment after her breakup with Mary. The chain of their broken promises. “We’ll only eat candy we make ourselves!” Not. Audrey sits down at the computer to search for new roommates and is addicted to internet porn. She finds “master doug and lady bee” who want a live in part time sex slave, french maid, and nanny. Her vanilla ex doesn’t understand. “Maybe you should go to a Munch!?” says Mary as they continue to codependently call each other, post-breakup. The suburban squalor of Master Doug and Lady Bee’s cul de sac house in Alameda. I didn’t think you’d have so much stuff! I hope you can fit it into your hutch! Sara and I are cracking up. The maid uniform is from the Halloween store. Audrey longs to be subsumed in lifestyle D/S and scoured clean of her doubts. But suburban slavery doesn’t transfigure her. At least not yet. Creepy and funny and sad!

Charlie Getter. He likes to yell. We’re radioactive! I prefer the yelling to sing-song daydream twee-land. He’s preaching it. Walls fall. A couple of people call & respond and go “Yeah” at the right points. Gravity! Why is this place so messy! Rant on! This man has been in church with some snakes. Or can fake it from watching it on TV. I don’t care if your stock options have risen to 300 dollars a share because we are on a mountain and gravity expands and contracts like the heaving chest of a sleeping puppy! And we might be its dreams. Yes you heard me. A puppy. You probably heard Mr. Yelly too. New poem. (recite-yelled.) The ocean. Landlocked places. The audience attends! Bolivia… well actually Bolivia is sort of not landlocked or it wasn’t and it does have that one patch of beach. He does not like Kansas either and is probably Bucky’s friend. At least this is not boring, and has an Idea. I like more density of ideas though, and something that is more of a new idea. Or at least one new idea slammed into an old idea. However, cannot help but clap for walls falling and the awesomeness of oceans. Unless you’re Bolivia.

Thus ends my critique.

I’m curious to go back to Quiet Lightning and see what new writers pop up! I wish for this event to take its own format more seriously. The publishing venture is impressive & a good thing. I enjoyed that many of the stories and poems were San Francisco-centric with recognizable Bay Area landmarks and culture at their heart.

Next reading of any sort that I go to, I’m going to record the “hmmmmm” noise so as to make fun of it better.

Hanging out in India Basin

I was excited to go to meet whoever would show up at Bayview to Breakers: A Ragtag Regatta which wistfully & grandly called for ambitious, weird boats to explore the San Francisco shoreline without motors. We did meet a few awesome people hauling kayaks down a muddy rocky hill to the water, and we puttered around the south bit of the India Basin Open Space trail, making tiny drifter boats out of sticks and grass.

drifter boat

India Basin itself is in Bayview, between Islais Creek and Hunters Point.
India Basin

Here’s a detail from a great map on a postcard from the India Basin Neighborhood Association – more about them later!

So, we started out in the Open Space III part of the park, down Aurelius Walker and looking south towards Open Space II and the power plant. The shipyard and docks between were very intriguing! I wish we could help fix those up. There are a few boats moored there and one hauled out on land. I wish there were still a ton of boats there.

India Basin Open Space

Check out what it used to look like in 1969! A lot more lively and alive. I wonder what changed between then and now? Awareness of the pollution issues? Some other “development” effort that came to naught but ruined what already existed?

We met Chris B., kick ass urban kayaker. Happy birthday Chris!

making drifters

It was cold and drizzly but we had fun. I was dying to get in one of the kayaks. INstead we took off, went to a school BBQ, and came back when it was sunnier a few hours later, to the northern bit of the park. In between were a 24-hour ghost restaurant, the Surfside Liquor store, some housing, and The Box Shop which looks like a great artists’ studio built from shipping containers. A couple of groups were in the park all day – America True, which runs boating events for kids, and the India Basin Neighborhood Association. They fed us, talked with us, gave us kayak and motorboat rides, and were great hosts.

America True kayak event

America True kayak event

I met a very smiley person in a life jacket:
kayaker at India Basin

Melita told me some of the history of the struggle over the area’s development. I always end up listening to long confusing meetings of the Hunters Point Redevelopment council on the radio and am a huge fan of Harrison Chastang’s commentary on city and other news. Later I googled around and read up on the very interesting battle over whether Shipwright’s Cottage was historical enough to be a landmark that would block some condo developer from building giant-ass condos on this bit of privately owned land on the San Francisco shoreline. Clearly the history of that is more complicated that I could absorb in an evening of reading. But I did find wads of city documents, meeting notes, EIRs, the fervid rantings of Francisco da Costa about White Lesbians (capital letters!) butting in to screw up India Basin, and this pathetic and hilarious plea from one of the land owners in question:
Hosted @ http://pics-or-gtfo.com
oKAY then… Anyway, as I looked at the shore and the docks, I imagined them all fixed up, not destroying what’s there but with some more boardwalks and cafes and neighborhood businesses and a working shipyard and marina. Okay, it’s polluted. Probably where I live is too. As long as I’m not smack on top of the radium dial disposal pit. (Or the bit that caught on fire underground in 2000, and they just dumped some more dirt on top of it and crossed their fingers.) I would totally live aboard there and run Community Kayaks. Get some historic ships in there but make it all integral to the community. Get a laundromat and a grocery store and fix up that amazingly cool 24 hour restaurant, not like some kind of attempt at a Fisherman’s Wharf of the Southeast. And … not some kind of nightmarish gentrification which everyone (except real estate developers) wants to avoid.

So about the real estate. How about Albion Castle… a stone castle right on India Basin with its own *caverns* and 10,000 gallons of water per day from the aquifer plus the rights to the brewery name. On sale now for only 1.8 million dollars…

This site, Community Window on the Shipyard has a focus on the Hunters Point Shipyard not India Basin, but it’s a really good site that makes the official “INFORMATION” about the environmental mess and cleanup plans and progress easier to understand.

Also, here’s a link to the India Bay Neighborhood Association

India Basin Neighborhood Association

And back to our beautiful day in the Basin!

India Basin Open Space

My son made a little boat, a two-master, that stayed afloat for an hour until the motorboat ran it over:

drifter afloat

In the riprap along the water by the parking lot there’s a gravelly slope that works well to put in kayaks. We met Dawn and Dan who were helping out and getting people into lifejackets. Dawn turns out to be Dawn Riley of America’s Cup fame. Dan is involved with BAADS, which I just recently joined. Cool!

I got into a 2 seater Old Town “Loon” kayak and tore up the Bay! Me and Milo went as fast as we could. He counted so that our strokes would stay coordinated. We checked out the docks at the old shipyards and went around a buoy. After crutching around the rocks kind of awkwardly, it was great to speed through the spray and I didn’t mind getting wet. Everything was sparkling in the sunlight. I like things like ruined docks and horrible old power plants and grungy marshlands and will definitely be back to kayak around this area. Then the kids had a ride in the motorboat, and I took another kid out in the kayak – he too was into going as fast as possible. We had fun and clearly he could have stayed out there a lot longer.

Motorboat

Afterwards we went to the EcoCenter in Heron’s Head Park, just north of India Basin. It was gorgeous, but closed and looks like it’s been closed since mid-July. I didn’t realize this from the EcoCenter Blog! We enjoyed walking around it anyway. I like the way the tanks look, and the wooden walls.

EcoCenter

However, I find that Da Costa the environmental activist and slightly off base and racist ranter really, really does not like the EcoCenter or the Heron’s Head park (or, really anything but the mythical golden past) because putting a park and a children’s education center in the middle of a toxic waste dump is horrible. He kind of has a point there — and yet visiting a park is a lot less horrible than building giant non-earthquake-safe condos in the middle of it all and seems like a good use of land that has been messed up. It means that someone goes there and has a reason to go there and a reason to keep cleaning it up. Here’s some alternate reports and data on Heron’s Head Park aka Pier 98 from Literacy for Environmental Justice, which you know is good and friendly because it’s all in Comic Sans.

My thoughts on the shoreline: we could probably figure out how to test the toxicity of things in the area ourselves. Not like I know how, but it should be possible. Do some soil and water tests now and keep doing them! My other somewhat flippant solution is to put free (and compulsory) housing for the main City government people right in the worst spots. Make their kids go to school there too. Then they will have to haul ass to improve the situation. As a side effect, cowardly do-nothings won’t dare run for office.

Since that won’t happen anytime soon, I wish the neighborhood association luck in their plans to keep the shoreline for public use, for a maximum number of people to enjoy rather than for some gated condo community that a few developers make an obscene profit on out of exploiting the housing market. The shoreline is held in public trust and I like the idea of recreational use combined with historical preservation. To do any of that I think people need an awareness of the neighborhood’s past and present and how environmental racism affects the community and the entire city.

Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.