Tag Archives: S.A. Griffin

Frank T. Rios — Venice West Poet (March 22, 1936 – August 20, 2018)

Frank T. Rios, a poet who joined the Venice West poetry scene in the late 1950s and remained one of its most loyal advocates, died early this morning, at age 82, according to his friend, the poet S.A. Griffin. Rios was born in New York and grew up there; he moved to Los Angeles in the early months of 1959, where he found kindred spirits, such as Stuart Z. Perkoff and Tony Scibella, who guided his unflinching imagination towards lyrical epiphanies that eventually appeared in collections of poems such as Memoirs of a Street Poet. By turns, the Venice West scene was both contumaciously avant-garde and nostalgically archaic. In the latter manner, their brotherhood of effusive devotion to the Lady, the muse from whom they fervently believed that all of their work flowed, evoked a kind of romantic poetics that one would hardly expect of young poets whose ideological proclivities were more influenced by the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s than the Beat poetics of Kerouac and company.

Perkoff (1930-1974) celebrated their comic confrontation with the straight world in a long poem shortly after Rios and Scibella teamed up with him to rule the Venice Boardwalk.

almost every day frankie & tony & i
three stooge it down the beach into the world
on the sharp lookout for
poems & dope & love &
colors reflecting off the laughter

.. . . .

We’ll water pistol ‘em
We’ll seltzer bottle ‘em

The Venice West scene became well enough known by the late 1950s that Donald Allen, the editor of this past century’s most influential anthology, The New American Poetry, referred to it without feeling any need to demarcate its location. It was, in point of fact, a nationally known Beat scene, largely because Lawrence Lipton had devoted himself to publicizing all of its most transgressive aspects in a book entitled The Holy Barbarians (1959). The scene’s origins never quite recovered, even though other poets showed up to bolster the ranks of those devoted to remaining outside the clutches of literary acclaim. It must be said that the surviving poets of Venice West never relented in championing underground poets; Rios, for instance, was one of the major forces behind Black Ace books, which produced several issues of a magazine that embedded younger poets in their provocative utopia.

There are very few people from that scene who still remember Frank T. Rios, but a whole new generation of readers was introduced to him a few years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Rios gave a very fine reading of his poems. He announced that his usual ritual of burning a poem before beginning a reading almost caused him to decline the museum’s invitation to read his poems underneath the classic mural from the old Venice Post Office. At the last minute, he said, the Muse instructed him that he would be exempt this one time, and be allowed to tear up a poem and scatter the pieces wherever they may flutter. He did so, and then read with as solid an intonation of heart-beleaguered vision as I have ever been fortunate to overhear. As Rios intoned his poems, they were already on their way elsewhere: a double journey of time and eternity that only those blessed by the Muse are permitted to record.

About the same time as Rios read at the LACMA, the museum also mounted the first production of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s one-act play, “Round Bout Midnite,” which was directed by S.A. Griffin. If anyone in Los Angeles is attuned to the impact that Venice West had on younger poets such as Scott Wannberg and Ellyn Maybe, it would be Griffin, who has sent me the following tribute: “Frank was truly one of the greats, the real deal, committed heart and soul to his wife Joyce, his sobriety and the Lady muse until the last. An inspiration for us all as we carry on in process.”

Frank T. Rios is survived by his widow, Joyce Castagnola, as well as his first wife, Carolyn, and their two daughters, Prima and Zana.

Farewell, Frank. Your poems remain mid-flight.

POSTSCRIPT:

For those who never heard Frank T. Rios talk about his life in Venice West, here is a link to some tapes produced at KCET:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/beat-poet-frank-rios-the-holy-three

For the record, some of the other poets of the Venice West scene were Bruce Boyd, whose poems appeared in Allen’s anthology along with Stuart Z. Perkoff’s major poem, “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love”; Charley Newman; Saul White; John Thomas; Maurice Lacy; Bob Alexander (the founder of the Temple of Man); Eileen Aronson Ireland; Bill Margolis; Jimmy Ryan Morris; and Barbara Bratton. As significant as this scene was, it probably constituted less than twenty percent of the total activity focused on poetry in that decade in Los Angeles.

Past Lives: Poet, Editor, Publisher, Continuation School Teacher, and the Beat

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Although I am working on new poems and thinking about which of my past academic talks I should begin revising in hopes of publication, the challenge of setting aside time to make those endeavors my sole concern remains as complicated as ever. A year and a half ago, one of the members of Beyond Baroque’s Board of Trustees asked me to join the Board, a move that I can hardly afford to undertake on a financial level, let alone how much time that requires. Even during times when the GDP of the United States indicates the system’s general economic stability, non-profit arts organizations must negotiate and bargain with a culture that did not particularly want them to last more than a decade or two. To attain the half-century mark is no small achievement, but Beyond Baroque is hardly assured of a sufficient budget for its future programming.

This weekend has been one of the highlights of the spring season. Funded completely out of his own pocket, S.A. Griffin has organized a celebration of the Beat movement, which concludes tomorrow evening with a musical performance by David Amram. Yesterday afternoon, I gave a talk on Venice West, and then moderated a panel at which two of the original members of that community recalled their experiences in considerable detail. Frank T. Rios Joseph Patton, and Gayle Davis talked with each other in an honest manner about the glorious sense of freedom that Venice West exuded along with the eventual confinements of drug addiction. Paton acknowledged that Rios has pulled him out of addiction. Rios, in turn, credited the Poem with saving his life.

Fortunately, UCLA had sent out a camera and a one-man crew to record this conversation, so future scholars of Venice West will understand how much visual art mattered to this scene. It was a pleasure to hear the work of Don Martin and Saul White cited so frequently. I am not certain when the tape will be available for viewing, but I hope that someday it can be posted on-line so that scholars and students have easy access to it.

Oddly enough, Venice West often gets summed up by a quick reference to a handful of poets, and yet the conversation yesterday barely got around to discussing John Thomas, and William Margolis was not mentioned at all. Margolis, who was a close friend of Bob Kaufman’s when he lived in San Francisco, is hardly neglected this weekend, though. He is the subject of a documentary film by Don Rothenberg that will be shown today from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. There will also be a discussion of the Beat and Buddhism with Marc Olmsted, who was also read with Steve Silberman and Tate Swindell in a segment on Gay Beat writing (4:30 – 6 p.m.).

Considering how skittish L.A. residents can be about a rain storm finally showing up after months of a renewed drought, the audiences have been surprisingly large enough to make this festival of the Beat a satisfying occasion and more than worth S.A. Griffin’s extended efforts in putting it all together. Paul Vangelisti, for instance, was supposed to be part of the panel on Venice West, but a dead battery kept him tethered at home. He told me, however, that 30 people had shown up for his reading with Neeli Cherkovski.
About three dozen poets will have read their poetry or talked about the Beat and the Neo-beat by the time David Amram gives a musical performance tomorrow night (Monday, at 9:30 p.m. I truly wish that I had enough time to have been at all the events of this festival. I regret especially not being able to attend the opening ceremonies featuring Frank T. Rios and George Herms, as well as the “Women of the Beat Generation Reading.” I would have loved to have heard Yama Lake, Larry Lake’s son, read, too, as well Marc Olmsted. In addition, Michael C. Ford and Will Alexander were giving talks.

One of the highlights of this festival, however, was probably the “Punk & Beat reading” by Linda J. ALbertano, Iris Berry, Jack Brewer, Michael Lane Bruner, S.A. Griffin, Doug Knott, and A. Razor. All I can say is that I want an extended encore presentation at a time that allows me to absorb the full ramifications of these lifetimes of contumacious poetics.

It was perhaps appropriate that I began the day by meeting with Pedro Paulo Araujo, who is working on a short animated film based on the final two stanzas of Leland Hickman’s poem, “The Hidden.” That poem was one of ten “Elements” that was published in Hickman’s Great Slave Lake Suite in 1980. I met with Pedro at 10:00 a.m. at Portfolio Coffeehouse in Long Beach to discuss Hickman’s poetry in general and that poem in particular. I gave him a copy of “Lee Sr. Falls to the Floor,” which Lee had written in the mid-1960s, as a means of providing some background for Lee’s life-long wrestling with the sudden death of his father. Pedro became interested in Lee’s poetry because his film company is working on digitizing the audio tapes of readings at Beyond Baroque. One recent tape he worked on was a reading Lee gave with Barrett Watten in 1984, on one of the coldest nights that anyone in Venice could recall. The audience was very small – maybe about eight people – and almost all of us at one point or another had to get up and walk around the read area of the folding chairs in order to warm up. We were bundled up in sweaters and jackets, but it wasn’t enough. Still, it was one of the best readings I ever attended.

Before heading off to my meeting with Pedro, I took a quick look at the first set of galleys for my forthcoming book from What Books. The typeface seems on the comfortable and familiar side, and perhaps that will work out for the best. The poems, which appear in both English and Spanish, are varied enough in their shapeliness that a more unusual typeface might prove distracting. I’ve waited a long time for this book and can’t wait to send my closest friends a copy.

Finally, I want to mention how much I appreciated seeing Carolyn Rios at yesterday’s event at Beyond Baroque. I worked with Carolyn’s students at Venice Continuation High School for several years (1989-1996). Most of the time I was an artist-in-residence funded by the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles. The CPITS (California Poets in the Schools) program had largely lost its impetus, at least in Southern California, by the mid-1980s, and I had turn to other sources for support in order to teach poetry to young people. Although I worked at other continuation high schools, too, Venice Continuation High holds a special place in my heart. I guess I have indeed aged, though. Carolyn at first did not recognize me, even though we were in Beyond Baroque’s lobby for several minutes before we happened to start talking to each other. On the other hand, until she took off her beret, I did not recognize her, either. Once memory had adjusted to present perception, though, we both felt as young as ever.

“Round About Midnite” — TODAY, 2 p.m. – LACMA

7:45 a.m.

Linda and I will be heading off soon to LACMA to start a last-minute (the one and only, in fact) run-through of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s “Round About Midnite,” which will have a staged reading at the Bing Auditorium this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. The event is free and features the Eric Reed Trio. The play, written in the late 1950s and last presented in public in 1960 in Venice, CA, was written as a homage to Thelonius Monk, and in the printed version of Stuart Perkoff’s Voices of the Lady: Collected Poems, it is dedicated to Tony Scibella, Charley Newman, as well as Monk. Newman was a poet and painter who came up with the term “Venice West” to distinguish their “community in transition.” 

I am pleased that S.A. Griffin has joined this project during the past two weeks. Any chance that this presentation has of becoming memorable in the slightest degree will owe itself to the hard work he has put into it the past week. He consented to help out on a moment’s notice and has proven himself once again to be a stalwart member of the extraordinary clusters of poets in Los Angeles. I have yet to meet in person the majority of the actors in the cast, so this presentation will certainly partake of the improvisatory quality that characterizes jazz.

A special note of thanks goes out to Rachel DiPaola, Stuart Z. Perkoff’s daughter, for her permission to present the play, and to Perkoff’s brother, Si, a jazz musician who works in the Bay Area. I wish LACMA’s budget would have allowed him to come down and play the music today.

The event is free. If you attend, plan to linger at the museum afterwards.