From Jess (Collins): A two-sided collage, plus a memoir

In celebration of a new book of collages

The two-sided collage shown here was in the possession of myself and Diane Rothenberg for something like a half-century before we sold it earlier this year with the intention of divesting ourselves of some of our accumulated art works and in this instance turning the proceeds toward the funding of a granddaughter’s college education. We had first met Jess and Robert Duncan in 1959 on what was also our first visit to fabled San Francisco. Before that Robert and I had begun a correspondence around the miniature magazine, Poems from the Floating World, that I was then editing, and when Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights published my first book, New Young German Poets, a trip to the Bay Area became inevitable. That was in early summer, following a crosscountry car ride with friends and a bus trip up the coast from Los Angeles. We stayed in a small hotel on Geary Street and I rented a still smaller room nearby to use as a writing studio. On our third or fourth day there we went over to City Lights to meet with Ferlinghetti and ran into a photo shoot by Harry Redl that included Philip Lamantia along with Robert and Lawrence. It should be noted that Robert was fully bearded at that time and that I was fully beardless, a circumstance that changed for both of us within a year or two. By the end of the City Lights session, Robert had invited us to their place in Stinson Beach, for which we borrowed a car from another friend and headed out the following morning, stopping serendipitously to pick up Robert, whom we found hitchhiking on a local road. I knew by then that Robert was deeply if literarily attracted to magic, and so the night in Stinson Beach was, for Diane and me at least, a night of magic. Jess was also bearded at the time, and while Robert resembled a young Walt Whitman, Jess I thought was like a young D.H. Lawrence. The meal prepared by Jess and decorated with orange nasturtium flowers was new to us, and the evening was illuminated further by a net of phosphorescent plankton off the nearby coast and a shower of meteors in the distant night sky. I was struck as well by the degree of overlap I felt with both of them, and the exchange that began then was, I hope, fruitful for all of us, as it certainly was for me. After Robert came to visit us for several weeks later that year, Jess sent us the two-sided collage, which stayed with us until 2012, though it was only late into that stay that we became aware again of the side displaying the shepherdess in full and magical color. At that time too I commissioned and published O!, a collage book of Jess’s, under the imprint of Hawk’s Well Press, a small press that I had founded and was publishing from our headquarters in upper Manhattan.

It was a great surprise, then, when we came on Jess: O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica, a magnificent new gathering of collages, edited by Michael Duncan and published last year by Siglio Press in Los Angeles, and found that the cover image was our untitled shepherdess and that the book included a full facsimile insert of Jess’s O! The original two-sided collage is now in the possession and care of Frances Beatty and Allen Alder, where I trust it will be safer and as much admired as it was by its previous owners. We do however have still another, much more casual collage by Jess, an extra gift from him, that has never otherwise been on public view. I’ll post it here as a conclusion to this accounting and a further expression of our gratefulness and love for Robert and him.