Richard Brautigan

by Bob Schwartz

Do you have $10, or whatever that is in your local currency? Buy a copy of this collection of three books by Richard Brautigan (Trout Fishing in America/The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster/In Watermelon Sugar). Published in 1967 and 1968, one is poetry, the other two are prose so lyrical that they might as well be.

The Poetry Foundation offers a lengthy summary of critical views about Brautigan, including:

Certainly Brautigan’s work, perhaps due in part to his association with West Coast youth movements, generated a multitude of critical comment. Robert Novak wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography that “Brautigan is commonly seen as the bridge between the Beat Movement of the 1950s and the youth revolution of the 1960s.” A so-called guru of the sixties counterculture, Brautigan wrote of nature, life, and emotion; his unique imagination provided the unusual settings for his themes. Critics frequently compared his work to that of such writers as Thoreau, Hemingway, Barthelme, and Twain.

If you’re one who doesn’t need to hear what others think, just try these books. But you might want to know how the Brautigan story ends:

Brautigan’s critical and commercial success peaked with Trout Fishing in America and began to decline following the 1971 publication of The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Brautigan’s close friend novelist Tom McGuane succinctly summarized the collapse of Brautigan’s career with the observation that “when the 1960’s ended, he was the baby thrown out with the bath water.” Brautigan continued writing throughout the 1970’s, producing such books as Sombrero Fallout and Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942, but friends of the author reported he had grown increasingly withdrawn and depressed over his fading career. He apparently committed suicide in September of 1984, but his body was not discovered until October 25th of that year.

There’s a kind of serious creative playfulness that is gravity and yet is anti-gravity. This is that.


The Galilee Hitch-Hiker
Part 1

Baudelaire was
driving a Model A
across Galilee.
He picked up a
hitch-hiker named
Jesus who had
been standing among
a school of fish,
feeding them
pieces of bread.
“Where are you
going?” asked
Jesus, getting
into the front
seat.
“Anywhere, anywhere
out of this world!”
shouted
Baudelaire.
“I’ll go with you
as far as
Golgotha,”
said Jesus.
“I have a
concession
at the carnival
there, and I
must not be
late.”

The American Hotel
Part 2

Baudelaire was sitting
in a doorway with a wino
on San Francisco’s skidrow.
The wino was a million
years old and could remember
dinosaurs.
Baudelaire and the wino
were drinking Petri Muscatel.
“One must always be drunk,”
said Baudelaire.
“I live in the American Hotel,”
said the wino. “And I can
remember dinosaurs.”
“Be you drunken ceaselessly,”
said Baudelaire.

1939
Part 3

Baudelaire used to come
to our house and watch
me grind coffee.
That was in 1939
and we lived in the slums
of Tacoma.
My mother would put
the coffee beans in the grinder.
I was a child
and would turn the handle,
pretending that it was
a hurdy-gurdy,
and Baudelaire would pretend
that he was a monkey,
hopping up and down
and holding out
a tin cup.

The Flowerburgers
Part 4

Baudelaire opened
up a hamburger stand
in San Francisco,
but he put flowers
between the buns.
People would come in
and say, “Give me a
hamburger with plenty
of onions on it.”
Baudelaire would give
them a flowerburger
instead and the people
would say, “What kind
of a hamburger stand
is this?”

The Hour of Eternity
Part 5

“The Chinese
read the time
in the eyes
of cats,”
said Baudelaire
and went into
a jewelry store
on Market Street.
He came out
a few moments
later carrying
a twenty-one
jewel Siamese
cat that he
wore on the
end of a
golden chain.

Salvador Dali
Part 6

“Are you
or aren’t you
going to eat
your soup,
you bloody old
cloud merchant?”
Jeanne Duval
shouted,
hitting Baudelaire
on the back
as he sat
daydreaming
out the window.
Baudelaire was
startled.
Then he laughed
like hell,
waving his spoon
in the air
like a wand
changing the room
into a painting
by Salvador
Dali, changing
the room
into a painting
by Van Gogh.

A Baseball Game
Part 7

Baudelaire went
to a baseball game
and bought a hot dog
and lit up a pipe
of opium.
The New York Yankees
were playing
the Detroit Tigers.
In the fourth inning
an angel committed
suicide by jumping
off a low cloud.
The angel landed
on second base,
causing the
whole infield
to crack like
a huge mirror.
The game was
called on
account of
fear.

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