I became interested in joining SUNY-Albany’s doctoral program in English after participating in a fruitful collaborative computer-network writing session with the Awopbop Groupuscle — a collective comprised of students and faculty — on campus in late 1991. Nine months later I left glorious Santa Cruz to pursue graduate studies in Albany; a decision I far from regret. While the University at Albany had not the clout, prestige, and name-power that SUNY-Buffalo’s Poetics Program offered, its smaller scale, uninterrupted access to faculty, and emphasis on experiment and collaboration in a networked environment (before the birth of the Web) greatly appealed.
Through Katie Yates, a friend and collaborator from Naropa, I met two of Albany’s poetry professors, Don Byrd and Judith Johnson. Byrd, I eventually learned, was a heavyweight in Olsonian and Duncanian poetics; I knew Johnson had nurtured and inspired many writers, and admired the way she encouraged formation of performance groups (e.g., Snickering Witches, Architext) and was dedicated to providing publications for students to work on, such as The Little Magazine and 13th Moon.
My wife and I first met Amiri Baraka in November 1997, standing in line to get our tickets to a Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, and Maria João/Mario Laginha concert at New Jersey Performing Art Center in Newark. Baraka was directly in front of us! Both Amy and I had been readers of his work since college, were aware of his intensity, and struck up conversation with him. I explained I had been a student and friend of Ginsberg’s, and that I was living and working in Newark. He told us about monthly salons he and his wife Amina hosted at their home, Kimako’s Blues People, gave us his card, and invited us to come over — which we did many times during the next few years.
Charles Bernstein and I met for the first time as I was considering leaving Santa Cruz to pursue a Ph.D. at SUNY-Albany. He mentioned he was helping to organize a major conference of young writers at SUNY-Buffalo the following year; this festival was among the factors enticing me into academia. More than twenty years have passed since the Poetics program at Buffalo sponsored the New Coast festival, and my recordings of the readings have recently been posted on PennSound (video footage is, thanks to Peter Gizzi and Kristin Prevallet, forthcoming).
I can still recall how build-up to the festival was exciting—partially because some of it transpired in newly-arrived online discussion boards, like the Poetics listserv (the 1993 archive of which is now unavailable). I was particularly interested because organizers Juliana Spahr and Gizzi, who I did not know, were assembling a group of writers I was largely unfamiliar with (I had read or heard only five of the thirty-nine invitees, listed in the announcement at the link above, beforehand).
As mentioned before, I studied with Allen Ginsberg at Naropa in 1986. He was my teacher and friend from then onward. There’s no question my sense that poetry could (if not should) be an electrified-multimedia-collaborative performance came from Ginsberg. With so many years of practice, he had great stage presence was extremely focused when it came to using language and a microphone. His energy was seemingly always in demand, from one quarter or another. His literary life transpired around-the-clock, with endless requests for interviews, and he was amazingly responsive to those who made contact with him. I learned much from Ginsberg (particularly about tolerance), and have a few memorable experiences that involve the audio/recording realm.
For a decade, I pursued any chance to be in his company and visited with him on many occasions in Colorado, New York, and California.
My previous entry should have acknowledged We Press as one among many independent and often disconnected DIY publishers of fringe literary audio. Over time, some of us got to know each other from afar, making contact through common friends via the mail or perhaps by chance at a performance. The pre-Web era, for those working in the no-commercial-potential realms, involved relying on grassroots, word of mouth micro networking to make productions known to a wider audience.