Q&A with Rosemary Manno - poet, artist, lover of foreign tongues, the natural world and revolutionary struggle

"I’ve learned that all perspectives are definitely not equal, that culture is the quality of life. Love and respect are most important, the sin of pride is the most dangerous, common courtesy is a given. To love and be loved is all. I’ve never personally had anything to complain about besides social conditions. I’ve learned it’s too easy to be weak and decisiveness is key. Class struggle and solidarity show the way to a better world. I’ve learned that poetry gives life to existence."

Rosemary Manno: Power To The People

Rosemary Manno has lived in San Francisco since 1983. She grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in Paris whenever possible. Most winters she travels to her beloved Mexico with artist-musician Roger Strobel. They've shared a home life in North Beach for many years. She is poet, artist, lover of foreign tongues, the natural world and revolutionary struggle. Her work has appeared in numerous chapbooks, magazines and anthologies. In her debut major collection “Marseille”, that was published in 2019 by Barncott Press of London, the poems of Rosemary Manno offer disquieting and sometimes humorous images in the spectrum of existence great and small.

Photo: Rosemary Manno

Manno surveys subjects both ethereal and quotidian… angels, the animal realm, sacred sites… charged with the telegraphic logic of dreams. Whether an elegy for poet friends or exploring unsparing self-examination and divine longing, these poems engage the reader with an urgent honesty and power. She lives with artist-musician Roger Strobel and their dog Blanca, and sometimes works at Galileo High School. Also, a visual artist, Rosemary is preparing an homage to Fidel and is presently working on her next collection, El Sol.

Interview by Michael Limnios     Special Thanks: Rosemary Manno & Robert Yarra

How has the Beat Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

This influence happened very early. I was born in 1949 so the timing of our generation with Beat culture was a great blessing. Even to dress for Halloween was a given, I was always a beatnik with black tights, one of my father’s white shirts, a cigarette holder, the insouciance, the “look.” A beatnik was above the fray of the rat race, above it all, that small minded conformity of post war America. When I first read Marriage, I knew I’d never marry. Beat culture was wise. It was an easy natural seduction. It was obviously a superior sensibility to the hypocritical, square, mindless, materialistic, chauvinistic American way of life. It made me an internationalist, a student of history, especially revolutionary history and liberation struggles. Beat culture made me a poet.  

Where does your creative drive come from?  What touched you emotionally from the poetry?

Probably a lot of it comes from the pleasure principle, from the land of escape, out of this world, to go to a better place. I said it in the Preface to my collection Marseille.

“…What I love, that which gives pleasure, a name loaded with meaning that inspires association, pain, beauty, sense of place, the world I live in, to make a memory, to talk more about something in the patience of a poem, to escape and return, life that’s every- where and nowhere, a place that lets you forget yourself, to remember others, these are some of the polestars…”

It’s a vocation, a calling, to see the world in poetic terms, the flight of language as witness, to remember, to listen. Today I’m a non-believer but I had a Catholic girlhood. I found poetry in prayer, so easy to memorize, the spell it cast. Off we go to a higher place. After Confirmation I stopped Catholic practice, questioned everything and knew I was poet. I kept a pink diary with a lock. When my sister broke into it I threw it away. From this trauma, for years I’d haul all my papers back and forth in travel, lest some infidel should violate the privacy of what’s undone.

Any plane can come down. My words would come with me. Radical change became my bell, poetry was the breath of life. All lives converged in a poem… imagination, the mind, the heart, the soul. The universality of poetry is a lost and found thread in humanity. Beat culture conquered and exposed the hypocrisy of society in a brand new tongue. Naked was born.

How has music affected your mood and inspiration? What do you miss most from the music of the past?                                  Photo: Bob Dylan / Blonde on Blonde

If Beat Culture was a root guru, rock and roll was the spaceship, the ultimate boarding pass to where I wanted to be. I had a turquoise transistor radio the color of the Caribbean. It came to bed with me, upon my pillow. I’d listen to poetry by Dylan, Leonard Cohen, later on Serge Gainsbourg. I love the French chanteurs. I love Lou Reed very much. He’s a beautiful synthesis of poetry and music like Patti Smith.

In this bedtime intimacy with my turquoise transistor I’d listen to teenage love songs that would stoke reveries. Music from the British Invasion was thrilling. I especially love the Kinks. I loved it when Dylan went electric at Newport. I didn’t call him traitor. Later I got into reggae, Afro-Cuban music, in fact I admire most African music. Once during apartheid, I heard township residents sing the South African anthem. This was very affecting, more than inspirational.

As a girl I’d ride my bicycle to the record store, pick up a couple of 45s and the hit parade sheet with the ratings and new releases. Obsessiveness about a beloved song made me play it over and over, no end in sight. I never liked headphones. Once my very gentle mother couldn’t bear it any longer and broke the record in two. Blonde on Blonde was a favorite album.

Back in the day disc jockeys were important curators. There’s nothing today like the great dee jays of yore, spinning music over my turquoise transistor. I somehow missed the hip hop era, a time of death and constant travel. An exciting poet I know, Tongo Eisen Martin, told me about Drake. I definitely have gaps that I’m always looking to fill and I definitely embrace rock and roll progenitors.

To ask what I miss most about today’s music and the luxury of my music era I can only say in one word, YOUTH and I don’t even miss youth. It’s much better now. But it was the obsessive passion in the youthful embrace of music that I don’t have as much today. This is a logical, predictable progression. Now music is more recreational, serendipitous. I can’t read books and listen to music at the same time. I have so much more to read.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? Any memories of Gregory Corso?                                                     Photo: Zen master Taisen Deshimaru

I had a soto zen master from Japan, Taisen Deshimaru. He’s dead now though the sangha he founded in Paris still flourishes. There’s also a chateau for retreats in the Loire. Meeting Deshimaru put me on the Buddhist path. Later I was ordained by his top disciple, Etienne Zeisler. This was in Montréal. Today Deshimaru’s disciples carry the master’s teachings to points beyond Paris where new sanghas have been established to share the master’s mission. Etienne died a few years after Deshimaru. This Buddhist path all began with a dear Paris friendship with one Richard Ridenour, dead as well now.  When I returned to New York from Paris I called on the important painter Alan Lynch. Richard had written to him about me. Alan had been a soto zen monk for many years and was a serious student of Deshimaru. Alan Lynch and I shared an exciting meaningful life for 18 years until his death in 1994. So today I practice zazen and I’ve been privileged with a Buddhist education.

Roger Strobel is the most significant person I’ve ever been blessed to meet.  We’ve shared a life for 26 years. This wonderful man is a brilliant artist and musician. I can’t imagine life without him. Then there’s the house servant in our modest Madras hotel who slept in front of my door. He was the very soul of India, a place I call Delanesia in my poetry. I’d see him in the courtyard under a banyan tree grinding spices with a small wooden stick. I never learned his name. Bobby Yarra, most beloved friend, is a very significant person in my life since 1983. He’s extremely courageous, decisive and honored by all. He’s also a passionate writer, epicurean, far wanderer and deep poetry lover. I’m sorry for all who don’t have him in their lives.

To name the interesting people of my life would sound like name dropping but I’ll talk about Gregory as you asked for surely the bounty of my life includes him, the most naked poet, the Beat Daddy, orphic prince of poesie. I’m the Daddy, Gregory would boast in his brilliant street cadence. One birthday I went into the Trieste and announced this to a few friends. Gregory instantly gave me his amazing tricolored gold linked Italian ring. One friend was so jealous he threw wine in my face. The day Gregory died the ring broke. The repair was very expensive. Now I wear it on a chain around my neck. I’ll take no chances of ever losing this great gift. I spoke of this in an elegy at his San Francisco memorial. 

Gregory was at SUNY Buffalo for a teaching job that Allen had arranged. I was a student there as was George Scrivani who met Gregory then and went on to become his life long trusted friend, secretary and general life saver. Paris was one of Gregory’s spiritual homes as it was mine and though I had read Marriage in my youth, it wasn’t ’til years later in North Beach that we became friends. When he arrived in San Francisco with baby Max in his arms he had the wisdom to choose the perfect mother for Max, the very fine, beautiful Lisa Brinker, a very dear friend.  Gregory’s girlfriends/ wives were always distinctive women. Gregory was beloved and cared for ’til his death. He died like a barone, tended by loved ones in New York City, core of the universe, back home in his natal Greenwich Village, having slept on its rooftops as a boy abandoned by his mother. Here is the elegy I read at his San Francisco memorial.

Memories of Gregorio

                                        for Gregory Corso, 1930-2001


In dark overheated Chelsea room

we share dead Bob Kaufman news

get high again

then Chino Cubano airstream trailer comida at noon

on sunny 8th Avenue…

we talk about Bobby’s wife’s stolen jewels

you said no one could blame you here

safe in New York City


We drink in your room

we drink in mine

we stop in another bar

then a Chelsea bodega

we pour out half the coke in the can

to make room for the rum

for the walk

O playmate


One night with flickering votive candles

in Grant Avenue hotel

you talk about the Italian broccoli farmer

in snowy white tee shirt

somewhere on Long Island

This is the mafia you solemnly say


You drag me to City Lights

to share the book on your early life

and your mother Michelina

before she left you to save herself

to escape the bully Fortunato

in New York City…

when we leave the store

you tell Suzette at the counter I’m clean


You gave me your Italian ring

tricolored gold of white, yellow and rose

banded by links many years ago on my birthday

in the Caffé Trieste…

you said I own nothing this year that I owned last year

Moon said it was my best thing, my poet’s ring

Last Wednesday morn I put it back on

as I do each day and it broke…

you died that night

thanks for saying goodbye


Briefly today it felt like spring

the kind of day we’d wait for when first we met

through Marriage and the Happy Birthday of Death

Your special fatalism went so far back all boundaries were lifted

The waitress in Yuet Lee missed you right away

“Where’s the funny man?” she asked after you left

Peggy wanted you to dance on her grave so she could come back

I know you’re still making everyone laugh

tonight you would’ve noticed my winter fat

you always said what you saw


Now we say goodbye in your public way

on the corso

at street corners

bellisimo de la strada

tumbling poesia

ciao Gregorio

                                                                       24 January 2001

William Burroughs & Gregory Corso front of the West End Bar, NYC 1973 / Photo by Mellon Tytell

What were the reasons that made Paris, New York City and San Francisco to be the center of  artistic researches?

New York City was my teenage escape from Buffalo. One of the airlines had a 12-21 Club. Between those ages one could fly round trip to NYC for $42- It was a very short flight. Sometimes heavy air traffic kept us circling for ages. Once we force landed in Boston to wait it out and of course to refuel. Some Village clubs were open all night. My poor mother would call the hotel at dawn and I wasn’t there.  We had great adventures in the New York City nights. It felt like the core of the universe. The clubs were world class. Most had no cover charge. I heard Cream, Richie Havens, Hot Tuna, and others, all before they knew fame. Some who never did were just as good of course. Once Soloman Burke invited us back to his place in Harlem, where we enjoyed take-out barbecue. He lived in one of those great Regency buildings. Years later Bill Clinton opened an office in Harlem.

After graduating college, I had a life with my then boyfriend, a political refugee in Algiers. It was a very interesting time. Algeria was still a young country back in 1971.There were liberation struggle groups from many countries. I taught a couple of American literature classes at the university. The story of my time in Algiers has yet to be told but it was here I became comfortable speaking French. My mother was always worried about me so I returned to Buffalo twice for a week or two. The second time I was too cowardly to say I was going back to North Africa, so I left a note. A short time later a government worker from the U.S. Interests Section came looking for me in our hotel that was at the bottom of the Casbah steps. He came to assure my mother I was okay. Those were exciting times.

New York was waiting for my return when the atmosphere in Algiers became repressive. I always knew I’d live in New York. I had a wonderful studio on Waverly Place in the Village, and a poetic tenement on Elizabeth Street in what was then Little Italy. Today it’s called SOHO, as in south of Houston. Later after a long stay in Paris I returned stateside when my mother died and I lived in a wonderful room in the Chelsea Hotel. It was on the 10th floor with a balcony, a large room with a beautiful fireplace. Maybe there’s no better place in the world for a poet than the New York City of my salad days. Of course, it was such a different place than today. Musicians, poets, painters, filmmakers, the whole city felt like a creative international sector. I had a childhood friend living in NYC, a significant poet who lived a hermetic existence. Through the years when I lived in other places, I always had a welcome stay at his place. Paul Zaccagnino is dead now. I’ll always miss him.

Paris was love at first, the city of dreams I first visited in 1969. Some May ’68 graffiti still remained. She was everything I imagined, how I always knew it would be. There was an immediate intimacy, a deja vu, a place I felt native from the beginning. The French Revolution, the Paris Commune, the tortured history of the occupation, May’68, Surrealism, the Situationists, the fertility of the place that inspires all who have the privilege and honor to be there. Her internationalism, political culture, glaring contradictions, the very special light of Paris… it’s not a cliché to quote Hemingway that Paris is a moveable feast... all her movie houses, beautiful train stations that go everywhere, the once cheap hotels, the chestnut trees, her fountains, the bridges, the river. For some years I had a very poetic place on rue Cels in Montparnasse. I’ve been very blessed. What follows is a piece published in 2008. It still speaks to my love for Paris. We were last there in 2013.  Hopefully we’ll be there in June 2021. This is the longest exile I’ve had from her.

Love at First Sight

                                      -O life, my beautiful life,

                                                            I’m beginning to feel alive.


     It was 1969 that Summer the first time in Paris.  I knew what was coming.  Nothing was foreign.  I was still 19.  Che was dead and his face was everywhere.  Adgi waited for my return while he played chess and saved money.  That Winter mother would help him escape the FBI.  But now was a Summer idyll, beyond all dreams, all imaginings,  destiny of the lucky American  gypsy.  I wore a knapsack and a small cloth shoulder bag that I’d wash along the way.  This made me feel like a true internationalist.  I was entering a memory of place and time. 

     I learned the meaning of here and now when I took the night ferry from Dover to Dunkerque to Gare St. Lazare and the metro to Montparnasse on our side of the river.  We were three in a wonderful $12- room with continental breakfast included on the rue du Départ.  We  had a small balcony overlooking the hole that would later become the Tour Montparnasse, for a time the tallest building in Europe.  That first time the l4th was still old, an unmolested beauty full of light. Rooftops, bird choirs and cemeteries became something new.  Orchid and lavender were born, an intimation from the summer curtains on my bedroom windows in Buffalo.  Twilight was a new idea.  I walked down the street to the public baths.  I was a Parisian.  

     Paris became the template for the rest of the world, a standard like gold.  French naturally insinuated its way into my life, first in poetry, then Paris.  Marseille and Algiers would follow, prophecy of the other.  All perceptions deepened in the gift of tongues whose mother was Latin.  Nothing was remembered, just an overwhelming sensation of  Now that was Then and forever tied to my Future.  Dream life deepened as well.  I had no family, no boyfriend, no waiting school year in September, only that intoxicating feeling of oneness that comes from a brand new familiar sense of place.That summer I even learned how to walk.  What came before was a shadow.  I wore Jesus Christ sandals and loved to soak my feet in magnificent public fountains.  It was hot every day and night.  We bought hashish from a Senegalese on the rue St. Jacques, then smoked by the river.  This place, this river, this light, felt like the reason I was born.  I became a Sartrean the day I arrived in Paris.  To walk out the door of a perfect, humble hotel on the rue du Départ was an existential act.  Graffiti everywhere was often profound.  So this is freedom, I thought.  All those disaffected hours of my youth dissolved.  I would read  Nausea  that Fall.  At night, strangers would take us to dark caves with music and red wine.  I saw an uncircumcised penis and heard Serge Gainsbourg for the first time.  It looked like the whole world was here, Parisian sons who stayed in town for the American girls, Africans, Asians, Delanesians, Saracens, the world became home.  I felt close to these strangers.  So this is freedom, I decided.  I kept up with my journal and knew I was poet. 

     Years later, collaborators and resistors would reveal themselves in the afternoon light at Place Denfert beneath the mighty gaze of the Lion of Belfort, one of the Surrealists’ elected places.  So this is true love, unqualified love, I understood.  By then, Paris was my eternal address.  Exile is mine when I’m not there.  That Summer of ’69 the first time in Paris was a rebirth, in the l0th year of the Cuban Revolution.  I lost my identity and became unborn and the timeline of life became a wheel of return and my gypsy soul was the only control.

                                                                  -Rosemary Manno

                                                                    San Francisco 2008

Rosemary Manno with the late Csaba Polony, long time editor of Left Curve Magazine

As for San Francisco, I came here, the end of the line, to create distance, to begin a new life. The poetry community here is disproportionately large for its size.  When I arrived I never intended to stay. Of all the places I had lived, in many ways California was the most foreign. The cheap housing and poetry community were very seductive, so I stayed and stayed. San Francisco gave me México. Living here since 1983 has made me witness to the death of a city. Of course, this can be said of New York and Paris but those are huge places. It can be said of many wonderful places if one’s old enough to remember a different time, but I’ve lived in San Francisco the longest, 37 years despite absences, this small beautiful place on the bay that has sold its soul to real estate and tech greed. The poetry community has kept me here as well as my life with Roger Strobel, a native San Franciscan I’ve already introduced earlier in the interview, and our precarious rent controlled apartment. Alan Lynch died in this home. Roger and I are both attached to our Greenwich Street apartment. But the neighborhood and city are a shell of what they used to be. In San Francisco these days there are many who have too much and many who have nothing. It’s an extremely polarized town.

What emotionally touched you from the RPB? If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

I joined the Revolutionary Poets Brigade to be part of a poetry collective committed to engagé poetry. I have too many bêtes noires to choose a single one.  Patriarchy, sexism, racism, greed, envy, ambition, war, exploitation, the death of child abuse, monarchies, imperialism, hypocrisy, self-interest, the usual things we hate, nothing so original. So many monstrous things lose meaning.

What are some of the most important lessons you learned from your experiences in life and poetry?

I’ve learned that poetry is even more precious than before, like love or Revolution, a process, a praxis to protect and defend in a vulgar world. How I’ve missed live readings during the pandemic. A friend holds a reading every Thursday at twilight in the park. They’re not optimum conditions but it’s better than nothing. We had an outside reading on the waterfront this past Sunday as memorial to another fallen bookstore so fuck Amazon. There’s another outside reading this Saturday in the Mission District sponsored by the Black & Brown Social Club. Slowly after six months poetry readings return. There’ve been many zoom readings all along but I don’t do zoom. I’ve learned that I can’t expect others to be what they’re not, nor can I expect such from myself. I’ve learned that all perspectives are definitely not equal, that culture is the quality of life. Love and respect are most important, the sin of pride is the most dangerous, common courtesy is a given. To love and be loved is all. I’ve never personally had anything to complain about besides social conditions. I’ve learned it’s too easy to be weak and decisiveness is key. Class struggle and solidarity show the way to a better world. I’ve learned that poetry gives life to existence.

What is the impact of poetry on socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Other countries, other societies give poetry more import, more respect. It’s not like that here. How great if there were a general audience for poetry the way there is for reality shows, sports, etc. At readings the majority of the audience are fellow poets. I remember in Sandinista Nicaragua 1984 the Minister of Culture was the exquisite late poet Ernesto Cardenal. Poetry was very revered in the new society they were trying to build.  It’s like this in Cuba, poetry workshops, respect for the poets. Gregory is the best example in some ways, fêted in Italy as great poet and hardly the same in his own country. This is ironic since Gregory always identified as American first, specifically as New Yorker, and then the rest of the world. I feel I digress reminiscing about Gregory but as to how I’d want poetry to affect people, may it be the way I was indelibly affected, with beat wisdom.

Where and why would you want to go in a time machine and what would you take?

I’d love to arrive in Paris a week before the liberation in August and stay through November 1944. I’d take notebooks and pens, a good small camera with many rolls of film. I’d travel very light. To choose the books I’d bring along is more difficult. Paris is full of books but I’d surely bring along Rimbaud, Verlaine, Breton. I’d only want to be gone a few months, from August through November 1944, to return to my own crippled era, the one of my experience. I love liberation, kicking out the Nazis in the land of the French Revolution, the Commune, May’68, the French complicity, the Milice, the collaborators and the heroic few who vanquished them. The liberation of Paris has been called the party of the century. I love a good party, I love Paris. I hate Nazis and fascism. Those four years of occupation made me see how anything can happen anywhere.  Nowhere, no one’s safe. How thrilling to have survived and witnessed that time when the occupation ended. 

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