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tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

December 31, 2008

quit the sickness

photo posted from my iPhone
This is the abandoned military hospital about twenty blocks from my house. They’ve knocked down two wings and are leaving the main structure standing to be converted to housing. I’ve had some great adventures in those old empty halls but I suppose it is time to put it back to use.

December 30, 2008


This is from a 1956 Mad Magazine. Someday I’ll make a spoof of a modern grocery circular. Or flyer. Or whatever you call them.

rhubarb anne

by request, unless i misunderstood the request….

December 29, 2008

the passion maker

Stop me if I’ve already put this up. I can’t remember. I can’t even remember where this came from, but it is an envelope with a description of an old pulp fiction novel on the outside. A review of sorts. A letter grade. Unfortunately only a C+ for this one… Inside are the steamy scenes. It’s like a greatest hits album on paper. It’s like the highlights reel. It’s like one of the best things I’ve ever found cleaning out someone’s garage.

a product of vacationland

Mr. Hawkins sent along a little taste of New England. Thank ye.

December 28, 2008

my vocab never hurt no one

There are some that I know that feel like I only care about money. That everything I have is for sale and nothing is sentimental. But I bought myself something last night, a book fat like a tuna can full of Jack Spicer’s poems, and as I walked out of the store with the hard covers in my hands pushing back against my grip I thought I might even build a shelf for it.

    The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer.

Jack Spicer is dead, dead at 40. Dead in the 60’s. Gay in the ’50’s – an era not even our poets could be homos. A dead drunk died from drink. He wrote poems he claimed couldn’t leave San Francisco. He had an ethos outside his work, which is what makes him interesting to study.

He was a San Franciscan poet in a time when Poetry mattered. He ran a salon where Ginsberg first read “Howl”, the opening words of which I put into Archie’s mouth yesterday. My years at San Francisco State were spent looking for these figures, so I consider building a shelf in my house to hold my diploma, so to speak. The poets revealed to me. Jack Spicer’s book. A Gottfried Benn collection. Jimmy Santiago Baca’s latest.

I gave up the MFA program. Sitting in class one day I looked around at my misfit classmates:

The kid who wore suits and cowboy boots and wrote poems like automated spam content and then set them to schematics such as wiring diagrams. It became an exercise in the visual. They were poems in the least traditional, there was no meaning in the words. Textual art. A guy looking for something to do with a dead medium.

Then the guy with a great long blond mustache that busheled down his face like the men in old photos who wore top hats. He carried a naturalist’s torch lit with Buddhist incense. He went to the Sierras and counted frog populations on Spring Break. Built cabinets and surfed in the cold Northern Pacific Ocean.

An older woman who wore perfect makeup and wrote wonderful timeless poems, accessible, natural. We aren’t a goddess society. We don’t venerate our elders. What I could have learned from her I passed over in my search for hotshots and pretty girls who would let me tongue poems across their clitorides*.

There is no longer a sense of the crowd, an audience, in academic poetry. Perhaps it is the Poetry Slam movement that has created this divide. It feels gaudy to MFA students. Like Karaoke.

We were students with ideas we couldn’t place into a larger framework. We were an isolated pack in the fallout shelter. 80 students in the program. No one had the idea of presentation.

We were entrenched in a system – sitting in class rooms we’ve come to know since first grade. A chalkboard, student desks, a teacher’s desk. That is the familiar crowd we all played too. So what if a progressive grad student had us arrange desks in a circle? We read poems like piano recitals for Mom and Dad in the living room. “Very nice Johnny”. “You’ve really improved, haven’t you?”

There was no grandstanding, no one stood to read. No one picked out an outfit that matched their quatrain. We were good students. No one brought a pistol to class. Poems for poets. Girls who wore purple. Boys who wore capes. Classmates with a feather in their actual hats. Overweight girls who had stacks of journals in their closets. Gay men lamenting the decline of Greeks.

I gave up. The whole dang shebang. I didn’t want to be a slam poet either – graffitti street culture hip hop references were just another club to join. I gave up the day I looked around Maxine Chernoff’s* classroom and saw an association of Bigfoot hunters. A school studying a debunked mythos.

As I wrote tough guy poetry, (my attempts to speak like a dumb angry brutal man who might someday cry- I wanted there to be hope), as I wrote my poems I felt like a guy in a shaggy rented ape costume running in front of a camera set on a tripod out in the woods behind a high school. “This will look so real!” I told myself.

I brought poetic footage to my peers in the classroom and showed them evidence of a tough guy in the wild. Like a Bigfoot convention, like people staying up late to catch Art Bell talk to aliens on the AM radio waves, we were a congregation of already believers.

“Very good Johnny.”

My Ponzi scheme is still in action, I bought in for two years sold to a dreamy undergrad at a small profit. He’s probably sold his boxing poetry to a guy from the Midwest who thirsted for the belief San Francisco confers on it’s emigrants. He will write about hitting women.

Spicer said:
“The ghosts the poems were written for are the ghosts of the poems.”

The dead the poems were written for are the dead poems.

I don’t know if what I said is what Spicer said. When I try to understand something, I say it a different way than its been said to me. How that helps I don’t know.

What I’m trying to say is I don’t write tough guy poetry for the Bigfoot Hunters anymore. How you’ll say that to yourself so you understand is something else I don’t know. I bought a book last night because I still believe. That much I know.

*plural of the Greek for “little hill”.
*Department head of Poetry at SFSU

archie’s howl

December 27, 2008

two birds

let’s hold hands again and make love like you weren’t a conquest. i won’t try to impress you, i’ll put on a corn husk mustache and farm boots and talk about plowing as i lay my weight upon you. you can mock me and tell me my crooked seeds can’t swim. “i’m jumpin’ in your swimmin’ hole nevertheless darlin'” i say and we shut up and do it.

December 25, 2008

santa stiffed me

photo posted from my iPhone

What with Rusty Sunshine staying too long at the Pioneer Saloon and backing over the town’s Nativity scene, we know Santa didn’t bring him this ’53 Deere. Must’ve gone out and bought the damn thing hisself.

san franciscan pool

This looks like it is down on Fisherman’s Wharf, with Coit Tower in the background. Does any old-timer out there know why there was a glass walled pool there? You’ll notice everyone is wearing jackets because SF is never pool weather, and these people seem content to stare at the empty box of water. Perhaps it is their first encounter with such a thing.

holiday update

Merry Christmas for those of you that care. Let’s get back to innocence this new year.

December 24, 2008

wrestling with the issues

Do I recognize Andre the Giant in the center of the ring?

It looks like things keep falling apart, and it didn’t matter to Glenn and I. We drove around the city yesterday with hardly a care in the world. Went to the dump and dropped a refrigerator there. Looked around at the mounds of cast off items.

“We can always come back here when things get bad,” I told Glenn. We stopped and got meatballs over rice just up the street. We drove back to my place and went up on the roof to look at the city stretched out to the ocean. We made the busses look small standing up there. It didn’t feel like someone stealing fifty billion dollars really made a difference. It was a big shakeup but we didn’t have any dust on us and we were still on our feet.

Of course accountants were already at work recouping through tax write-offs huge sums of money for the wealthy who had been taken for a ride by one of their own. The numbers represented power and didn’t need to actually exist for the wealthy to retain their power. People would be spoken to and the numbers sorted back out. Mean while Glenn and I laughed. The view is great up on my roof. The tall buildings downtown don’t matter. Glenn is a carpenter. I am a junk man. We like to work. Life is good.

dog in a cone

photo posted from my iPhone

December 21, 2008

burger inferno

Dave from New Hampshire sent along a pic of his latest burger creation. What it lacks in hot dogs it makes up for in cheese and veggies.


Jesse and I went to the dump yesterday, dropped off a ten person hot tub that had been sawed into small pieces to fit through the house. Years ago it had been brought through the neighbors back yard and installed on the deck. The neighbors no longer wanted anyone in their backyard, so we took it out in handfuls. At the dump we came across an old suitcase. It had these great tags on it. Jesse made sure I saved the string. That was his favorite part.

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