By the time of Ted’s visits to City Lights I had attended at least one of his readings. Usually he would read at Cody’s Books in Berkeley. I remember good turn-outs and a general delight with Ted’s charismatic renditions of his poems of profundity and humor. He always seemed borne up by everyone’s appreciation.
He was singular in many ways not the least of which was that he got Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy Peters to put him up at City Lights Bookstore itself. Alone among the various visiting poets (and needy local poets) he got to bed down on a secretive futon in the editorial office upstairs as it was configured in 1980s. I remember later borrowing the futon for a guest at my home and Nancy suggesting that I not return it.
During these visits Ted would often hang out at the store and spend time chatting with whoever was working the front counter and often that was me.
During one of Ted’s visits to City Lights he had one of his Teducation sessions at the apartment of V.Vale. Vale was another former City Lights employee who went started Search and Destroy San Francisco’s first Punk paper and was at this time getting started with his RE Search journal and publishing imprint. It was an amusing night and another of the three great Black poets of the Beat era was in attendance–the legendary Bob Kaufman. As was his way, he didn’t say much but hung out with us in wordless and benign blessing.
Ted showed videotapes of his adventures in Europe spoke and read a little. Afterward I heard Vale insisting that he not take up a collection from these invited guests. Ted had to keep his show on the road and I don’t blame him but then nobody shook me for any donations.
He could be a biting at times. I recall showing him a catalog from an artist-sponsored artist-curated touring art show that I was in that was on sale at City Lights called “San Francisco Science Fiction”. Ted reacted strangely and asked “Don’t you know that science fiction is fascism?” I think he was repulsed by the dystopian images of technological society in it by artists like Survival Research Labratories. The intent with such works was dissent and rejection of this nightmarish vision but it wasn’t always clear to the observer I suppose just as I wonder if it is always clear to the artists involved.
I recall Ted sending a postcard to Ferlinghetti perhaps in response to a submission or verbal book proposal. The postcard blasted the poet/editor and challenged him to publish a great black poet while he still could. Of course, Ferlinghetti will outlive us all.
Years later seeing Ted when I was at NYU in 1994 for the big Beat Generation Conference where I spoke about the recordings by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac that I was working with Rhino Records to rerelease in the 1990s.
(“I know a man who’s neither white nor black/and his name is Jack Kerouac”–Ted Joans)
I had just finished my hour plus talk with tapes and the whole conference had convened in the big auditorium for the first panel with Ginsberg and Ann Charters the two co-chairs of this academic-media spectacle. The panelists spoke and opened it up to questions from the audience. Soon a guy asked to take the stage microphone to make a statement and he was invited to do so. He launched in a complaint that the Black contribution to the Beat Generation was being ignored at this conference (although papers had been delivered on Bob Kaufman). “Why wasn’t Ted Joans invited?” he asked stating that it would be valuable to hear from this founder of the movement. I had spotted Ted sitting a few rows behind me and at this point I stood up and said, “Why don’t we ask Ted what he thinks?”
Ted rose somewhat shyly–he was never a trouble-maker, really– and said so softly that it had to be repeated by some l ouder voice for the room to hear it, “I’m the Crispus Attucks of the Beat Generation.” Then he calmly sat down again. I’m not certain of the spelling of his name at the moment but Crispus Attucks was an early participant in the American Revolution who was African-American. I believe he was killed early in the war and despite this heroic singularity is very seldom remembered in the historical accounts.One can easily see the parallels to Ted’s role in the Beat revolution and his relative obscurity in the proliferating accounts of the period.
Anyroad an attempt to remedy this was devised by the end of the conference and an ad hoc panel was added that included Ted, the woman who spoke on Bob Kaufman, and the guy who had complained (perhaps indicating his original motivation in complaining.) Cecil Taylor had also always been scheduled to participate in the conference and he spoke and read poetry in his inspired style a few days earlier.
AS the whole thing wound do wn I stood in the back of the emptying auditorium with Ted and photographer Chris Felver as Ted exhorted him to take pictures of police on horseback getting into formation below for some unknown reason–no ostensible protest or popular uprisings were going on. It was an appropriate chuckle to end a puffed-up academic conference on the Beats we all seemed to agree.
So it was one of the last I saw Ted until that reading talk at UC Berkeley which was fecund and ended with a cordial spread of victuals laid out. What a blast whenever he was around.
“You are not a butterfly/you are a flutter by” – Ted Joans
All of Ted Joans and No More!
Here are 10 items by Ted from my bookshelf:
1. All of Ted Joans and No More. NYC: Excelsior Press, 1961.
2.Black Pow Wow, Jazz Poems. NYC: Hill and Wang, 1969.
3. Afrodisia. Hill and Wang, 1970. (Signed 1980–that’s when I met him! At the SF International Poetry Festival)
4. A Black Manifesto in Poetry and Prose. London: Calder & Boyars, 1971.
5. Flying Piranha. Ted Joans & Joyce Mansour. NYC: Bola Press, 1978.
6. vergriffen; oder: blitzleib poems. Kassel, Germany: Loose Blatter Press, 1979.
7. Dies & Das. Berlin 1984. Ted edits his idea of a surrealist journal..
8. Double Trouble. Ted Joans and Leroy Hart Bibbs. Revue Noir/Editions Bleu Outremer, 1992.
9. WOW. with drawings of Ted by Laura. Quicksilver/Quartermoon Press, 1999.
10. Lost & Found: “In Thursday Sane”. UC Davis, Swan Scythe Press, 2001. This last one an amazing production reproducing pages from a copy of Amos Tutuola’s Palm Wine Drinkard that was found in a used bookstore. It contains a poem in Ted’s hand, a drawing by him and his ownership stamp. All reproduced in color.
Ted Joans- Lover of Life, Lover of Truth. Fearless and tireless in spirit, you sparked my passion for life and illuminated my path. I am so thankful for my teducation. Thank you Ted for hipping me to the beauty in the struggle for what is truth. Never ‘problematic’ (you just happened to be born in a problematic society) but rather the most generous soul I have ever encountered, you continue to inspire my poem life. To you, I pour libations of Black Velvets. I smile fondly when I picture you embraced by the ancestors. Ted Joans Lives!
These photos were taken March 1981 at the Amerikahaus in Hamburg, where Ted gave a lecture – I find them very appropriate for this sad situation. They were published only once in the second edition of “Blitzliebe Poems”, then called “Mehr Blitzliebe Poems.”