Hats – Brief Poems by Richard Brautigan

brautigan-240x160Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) is best known for his novel Trout Fishing in America (1967) a counterculture classic which, according to poet Billy Collins, “had a huge impact. It achieved a kind of instant cult status, not just for adolescents but I think for a whole generation that was weaned on a much more traditional kind of fiction. And I think it also had to do with something of the drug culture, that this was a kind of refracted and drugged way of looking at things. It was a disruptive and surrealistic vision.

That vision is also evident in his poems, one of which – “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” – presents a prescient and optimistic view of a future society. While many of the poems may have dated, like the hippie fashions of the sixties, there is something appealing about his goofy and whimsical approach. By the mid-’60s he was a San Francisco celebrity. He printed poems on seed packets and gave them away in a collection titled Please Plant This Book. In a letter, the critic Malcolm Cowley called Brautigan’s poems, “pensées, like grasshoppers in flight.” This particularly applies to the shorter poems. Novelist Ken Kesey, who had his own brush with fame, fortune and the hippie zeitgeist, once compared Brautigan to Basho, the greatest of Japanese poets. “Five hundred years from now, when the rest of us are forgotten, they’ll still be reading Brautigan,” Kesey said.

That’s unlikely. Raymond Carver, attempting a balanced view, said that some of the poems resemble “little astonishments going off in your hands,” while others are “so-so, take them or leave them,” while still others, “I think too many—are just filling up space.”  Another poet, August Kleinzahler, is more circumspect. He observes that by the early 1970s, “the critics were already having a go at him,” and they were, he says, “on the whole, quite right: he wasn’t really very good after all. The work is not without charm or felicities of style, but it is pretty thin stuff, precious, self-indulgent fluff.” But the charm of the fluff survives, especially in the shorter pieces where the haiku was a favourite form. (Brautigan travelled regularly to Japan where his work was especially popular.) The charm and the fluffiness just about saves some of them from an inherent gaucheness and sentimentality. There are many more and, if you think I omitted any good brief poems, you can contact me below.

And the hats? One poem too long for a tweet is “Kafka’s Hat” which I will slip in here because I like the first stanza:

With the rain falling
surgically against the roof,
I ate a dish of ice cream
that looked like Kafka’s hat.

It was a dish of ice cream
tasting like an operating table
with the patient staring
up at the ceiling.

Another poem “Man” (see below) is a humorous haiku depiction of a man who increases his height with his hat. And then there are the wide, broad-brimmed tall hats he used to wear in the self-portraits that accompanied many of his books. At the height of his popularity a volume of poetry like Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt (1970) could be counted on to sell 50,000 copies and thousands attended his poetry readings. Now only the odd novel is widely read. But the poems, particularly the brief ones, deserve an audience. I raise my hat to his memory.

 

cowboy-hat-clipart2

 

BRIEF POEMS BY RICHARD BRAUTIGAN

Color as Beginning

Forget love
I want to die
in your yellow hair

***

Haiku Ambulance

A piece of green pepper
fell
off the wooden salad bowl:
so what?

***

Please

Do you think of me
as often
as I think
of you?

***

15%

she tries to get things out of men
that she can’t get because she’s not
15% prettier

***

-2

Everybody wants to go to bed
with everybody else, they’re
lined up for blocks, so I’ll
go to bed with you. They won’t
miss us.

***

Boo, Forever

Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a
top,
I’m haunted by all
the space that I
will live without
you.

***

Just Because

Just because
people love your mind,
doesn’t mean they
have to have
your body,
too.

***

Love Poem

It’s so nice
to wake up in the morning
all alone
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don’t love them
any more.

***

Widow’s Lament

It’s not quite cold enough
to go borrow some firewood
from the neighbors.

***

if i should die before you do

When
you wake up
from death,
you will find yourself
in my arms,
and
I will be
kissing you,
and
I
will be crying

***

Star Hole

I sit here
on the perfect end
of a star, watching light
pour itself toward
me.

***

Impasse

I talked a good hello
but she talked an even
better good-bye.

***

For Fear You Will Be Alone

For fear you will be alone
you do so many things
that aren’t you at all.

***

Everything Includes Us

The thought of her hands
touching his hair
makes me want to vomit.

**

It’s Time to Train Yourself

It’s time to train yourself
to sleep alone again
and it’s so fucking hard.

***

April 7, 1969

I feel so bad today
that I want to write a poem.
I don’t care: any poem, this
poem.

***

Xerox Candy Bar

Ah,
you’re just a copy
of all the candy bars
I’ve ever eaten.

***

Man

With his hat on
he’s about five inches taller
than a taxicab.

***

Surprise

I lift the toliet seat
as if it were the nest of a bird
and I see cat tracks
all around the edge of the bowl.

 

 

cowboy-hat-clipart2

 

LINKS

Nils T. Devine claims to have the largest collection of Richard Brautigan poetry on the web.

The Official Richard Brautigan Page is on Facebook.

There is a page on The Richard Brautigan website devoted to his poetry.

The Richard Brautigan Collection from poet Joanne Kyger includes an extraordinary archive of original artwork, inscribed books, rare ephemera and magazines, photographs, typescripts and more.

There is a balanced critique of Richard Brautigan’s work on the Poetry Foundation site.

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