Q&A with San Francisco award winning poet and writer A.D. Winans, one of the most acclaimed poets of our time

"The world is a melting pot of love, hate, joy, sadness, and everything in between.  I chose the path of enlightenment, a long, winding road with many forks and no shortcuts."

A.D. Winans: San Francisco Blues

A.D. Winans is a native San Francisco award winning poet and writer. He is the author of sixty books and chapbooks of poetry and prose, including North Beach Poems, North Beach Revisited, Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine, In The Dead Hours of Dawn, San Francisco Poems, and Dead Lions. He is a graduate of San Francisco State College (now University). In 2014 he won a Kathy Acker Poetry and Publishing Award. In 2006 He won a PEN Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. In 2009 PEN Oakland awarded him a lifetime achievement award. From 1972 to 1989 Winans edited and published Second Coming Press, which produced a large number of books and anthologies, among them the highly acclaimed California Bicentennial Poet's Anthology, which included poets like David Meltzer, Jack Micheline, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ishmael Reed, Josephine Miles, Bob Kaufman, and William Everson. He worked as an editor and writer for the San Francisco Art Commission, from 1975 to 1980, during which time he produced the Second Coming 1980 Poets and Music Festival, honoring the late Josephine Miles and John Lee Hooker.

(Photo: A.D Winans / Artist Rendition © by Robert Wilson)

He has read his poetry with many acclaimed poets, including Diane DiPrima, Bob Kaufman, Jack Micheline, Harold Norse, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and all of the past and current San Francisco Poet Laureates. His work has appeared in over 1500 literary magazines and anthologies, including City Lights Journal, Exquisite Corpse, Poetry Australia, Confrontation, The New York Quarterly, The Patterson Literary Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.  In April 2002 a poem of his was set to music By William Bolcom, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, and performed at New York’s Alice Tully Hall. In January 2009 Sound Street Tracks released a mastered CD of Winans reading from his book, The Reagan Psalms. Writers like Colin Wilson, Studs Terkel, James Purdy, Peter Coyote, Herbert Gold, and the late Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski have praised his work.

Interview by Michael Limnios                     Archive: A.D. Winans, 2012 Interview

What characterizes A.D. Winans ' philosophy of life and poetry? What touched you from the POETRY?

I can't say I have a philosophy when it comes to life and poetry. We are born into death from the moment we come out of the womb. It is what you do in between the first and last breath that defines one’s life.

I did not choose to be a poet. I dare anyone to define what makes one a poet.  Like the poet William Wantling said, “I'd carry a lunchbox like the rest of them if only these strange voices I would leave me alone.” I too feel possessed with these strange voices that invade my thought process, and demand I write down their thoughts.

I am not one for labels. Some people have described me as a Beat poet while others have defined me as a Meat poet, but those who know my work, and the different forms it has taken, know I cannot be pigeonholed... I write poetry because I have to. I did not choose to be a poet. It chose me.

My life and my poetry cannot be separated. They are one and the same. It was at the age of eighteen, while serving in the military in Panama, that I experienced American Imperialism first-hand as expressed in my award-winning book “This Land Is Not My Land.” It was here I witnessed the poverty and injustice the lower class endured at the hands of the power elite.

On my return to San Francisco, in 1958, I witnessed the plight of the poor blacks in the Fillmore, the Latino's in the Mission, and the impoverished and downtrodden in the Tenderloin. It touched me deeply, and resulted in the large number of political and social issue poems I have written.

I discovered North Beach where I met Bob Kaufman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the first time... I met Ginsberg and Burroughs at City Lights Bookstore, but had limited experience with them. Other Beat poets I became friends with included David Meltzer, Diane di Prima, Harold Norse, and Herbert Gold.

An early influence on me was Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind along with the works of Charles Bukowski who I had a seventeen-year friendship with. Beyond the Beats, I was influenced by William Carlos Williams, who said, “Write like you speak|,” and by Carl Sandburg who brought to life the streets of Chicago as I have hopefully done in writing about my home port, San Francisco.

I was touched by the honesty and conviction of these poets, and was inspired by the oral skills of Micheline and Bukowski. Panama charted the course of my life, and the poet Shamans showed me the way forward.

"The Beats and Jazz were wed to one another. Jazz inspired the Beat writers and they, in turn, inspired musicians like Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. Springsteen said, “On the Road changed my life like it changed everyone's.” Kerouac said in the historic readings album for Verve Records, “Jazz was the wild music of America.” Kerouac was deeply influenced by jazz musicians like Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie. In his book Mexico City Blues, he relates his intention was to capture how jazz sounded. (A.D Winans, Haight Ashbury 2002, California / Photo © by Ulvis Alverts)

How has the Beat movement and Counterculture influenced your views of the world?

The Beat movement freed me from the society propaganda I was indoctrinated with from childhood. My experiences in Panama awoke me to the injustices of Capitalism. The two forces led me to become a poet.

The world is a melting pot of love, hate, joy, sadness, and everything in between.  I chose the path of enlightenment, a long, winding road with many forks and no shortcuts.

What do you miss most nowadays from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The past is best left in the past. At 88, I live in the moment. Each day is like a rebirth. 

The past is a series of rainbows mixed in with passing storm clouds. I have no regrets on how I have lived my life and would not change anything. The past, both the good and the bad, made me who I am today. I do, however, miss the camaraderie that existed back in the sixties and seventies.  A brotherhood that has sadly disintegrated. 

Politics, a messy witches brew, took a sharp turn to the right in the eighties with the election of Ronald Reagan as President. A second-rate Hollywood actor who chipped away at the progress made under the Great Society, leading us today on a path toward fascism. The trend

accelerated under the stewardship of Donald Trump. Today we are a deeply divided country with one-third of the people supporting a criminally indicted President who sees himself as a King. Every Empire in history has fallen, and the U.S. Is no exception. It is only a matter of when.

Are there any memories from the late great poet Jack Micheline which you’d like to share with us?                                 (Photo: A.D. Winans' book "Dead Lions", 2014)

You can find intimate information on my friendship with Jack Micheline in my memoir Dead Lions published by Punk Hostage Press.

Jack was the living definition of “street poet.” A title that all but died when he passed away on February 27, 1998.

Jack grew up on the fringe of poverty. He made his name in New York, and in San Francisco's North Beach. He saw the Beat generation as a media fantasy that had little if anything to do with the creative spirit.

He hung out in New York's Greenwich Village, and frequented the Cedar Tavern where he met Langston Hughes, the legendary Harlem poet. The Cedar Tavern was a meeting grounds for creative poets, writers, and musicians, it was here Jack met and became friends with Kerouac and Charles Mingus, among other noted poets and writers.

In 1957 Jack was awarded the Revolt in Literature Award presented to him by Mingus. The two of them would become lifelong friends, and in the seventies, performed together at San Francisco's California Polk Hall.

Jack read his work at many venues in San Francisco, out of State, and abroad.  Like many other Beats, he was influenced by jazz, and would often read his poetry accompanied on the Sax by Bob Feldman.

I published his only U.S. Collection of short stories, Skinny Dynamite, and he frequently appeared in my magazine Second Coming. He was a powerful oral poet who had the ability to hold an audience captive.

Jack was loyal to his friends, but was often brash and outspoken, a trait that gained him more than a few literary enemies, and cost him publication in many circles.

There are many stories I could relate in our twenty-five-year friendship. One of them centered around an AA meeting in North Beach.

Jack and I were drinking at the 1232 Club, when he turned to me and said, “There having an |AA meeting in Chinatown, lets go.”

I asked him why I would want to go to an AA meeting. He replied, ”It's a great place to meet women.”

When we arrived, they had rows of folded chairs lined-up in the center of the room, and a table with coffee and sugar cookies laid out. Jack Insisted we sit in the front row.

It was my first experience at an AA meeting where each person gets up and introduces themselves in a like manner: “Hi, I am (X), and I'm an alcoholic.”  When it came my turn, I rose and said, “My name is A.D. Winans, “I don't know if I am an alcoholic or not.” Jack was next, and loudly proclaimed, “My name is Jack Micheline and I’m a poet.”

It was at a time when the Vietnam War was at its peak and the streets filled with anti-war protesters. Jack continued, “If you people were serious you would be out bombing distilleries and not napalming women and children.”

There was a sense of uneasiness in the room that could be felt by all. Needless to say, the only thing we scored that night was sugar cookies.

After Jack passed, I submitted a proposal to the Board of Supervisors to name a street in North Beach after him.  It took nearly three years, but Pardee Alley was renamed Jack Micheline Way. He joins Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Kenneth Rexroth as Beats with streets named after them.

Are there any memories from Gregory Corso and Bob Kaufman which you’d like to share with us?              (A.D Winans holding up a copy of "Oracle" / Photo © by Ulvis Alverts)

Bob Kaufman was one of the original voices to come out of the Beat Generation.  Like many of the Beat poets, he started out in NY before migrating to San Francisco and making North Beach his home.

He was an amazing poet who early in life served in the Merchant Marines, and traveled the world over. Like Kerouac, he was greatly influenced by Jazz. He was known in North Beach as the be-bop poet. In France, he was referred to as the American Rimbaud.  He is rightfully acknowledged as the equal his Beat peers including Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg.

Bob considered himself a Buddhist believing a poet had a call to a higher order. Like the Buddhist, he accepted a vow of poverty, and a non-materialistic life. He was unlike many other Beat poets in that he never attempted to push his literary career. He was an oral poet who did not write for publication or expectations of fame, which is what drew me to him.

He was not a prolific poet, but is regarded as one of the best Beat poets of the time. His early books Solitude's Crowded with Loneliness (New Directions Press) and Golden Sardines (City Lights) caused an immediate stir in local literary circles.

He was the undeclared Poet Laureate of North Beach who held court at The Co-existence Bagel Shop on Grant Street where people came from near and far to hear him read.

He soon became the target of a bully cop named William Bigarani, who I went to High School with, and knew to be a racist.  It did not take long for Kaufman to become a marked man after he wrote on the bathroom wall of the Bagel Shop, “Adolph Hitler grew tired of fucking Eva Braun, and moved to San Francisco, and became a cop”.

He was arrested many times and taken to the old Hall of Justice where he was beaten with nightsticks. In later years, he became the victim of drugs and forced shock treatments at New York’s Bellevue Hospital that left him a shell of his former self.

In November 1963, he witnessed on television, the assassination of JFK, and took a Buddhist vow of silence. A vow that lasted until the end of the Vietnam War. 

I was at Spec's bar in North Beach the day he broke his vow, and began reciting from memory, the works of Blake, T.S. Eliot, and other Master poets. I stayed behind after he left and penned a poem for him on cocktail napkins. The next day I typed the poem; a poem that was put on display, in a glass casing, in the outside courtyard of Spec's, where it stood for over a decade.

Kaufman received richly deserved recognition when Billy Woodberry directed and produced a documentary on his life, (When I die I Won't Stay Dead). The film was shown at the International Film Festival in San Francisco, New Youk Los Angeles, and abroad...

There are many stories I could relate. Here is one example.

I was having a drink at the 1232 Club on a balmy afternoon. Gregory Corso was in the back room holding court, trying to impress a small number of admirers, rattling off the names of Major and Minor poets. Not surprisingly, he listed himself and Ginsberg as Major poets, and relegated Micheline and Kaufman to minor status.

He was not aware Kaufman had entered the bar, and was standing in the open doorway listening to the conversation. I turned and asked Bob how he would rate Corso. He flashed a wide smile, and said, “Major/Minor,” exiting the bar to loud applause.

"I am not one for labels. Some people have described me as a Beat poet while others have defined me as a Meat poet, but those who know my work, and the different forms it has taken, know I cannot be pigeonholed... I write poetry because I have to. I did not choose to be a poet. It chose me." (Photo: A.D Winans, San Francisco poet and writer, at the old Beyond Baroque, Venice Beach, California)

What is the impact of Music on Literature? What is the relationship between the Beat movement and music on the socio-cultural implications?

I can only speak to the Beat poets and their relationship with jazz. I'm thinking of the lyrics to a Dean Martin Song, “Love and Marriage Go Together like a horse and carriage.”

The Beats and Jazz were wed to one another. Jazz inspired the Beat writers and they, in turn, inspired musicians like Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan.  Springsteen said, “On the Road changed my life like it changed everyone's.”

Kerouac said in the historic Readings album for Verve Records, “Jazz was the wild music of America.”

Kerouac was deeply influenced by jazz musicians like Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie. In his book Mexico City Blues, he relates his intention was to capture how jazz sounded.

Although Kerouac and Ginsberg are the best-known Beat Generation poets and writers associated with jazz, they were not alone. There were many others like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal Cassady, Bob Kaufman, Kenneth Patchen, Jack Micheline, and Gregory Corso who were inspired by jazz.

Rexroth described as the “Father of the Beats” by Time magazine was greatly influenced by Dizzy Gillespie and wrote poems for many jazz musicians as well as promoting the work of the famed bass musician Charles Mingus. He was no stranger to the Black Hawk Club, once sharing the stage with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In l959, he and Ferlinghetti performed at the Black Hawk with sax musician Cannonball Adderley. The event was recorded and later released as an LP.

The Beats from the beginning paid homage to the jazz greats in both verse and prose, as was the case with Burroughs.

Rexroth perhaps put the pieces together better than most others.

“Poetry and jazz together return the poet to his audience. It takes the poet out of the bookish, academic world and forces him to compete with “acrobats, trained dogs, and singer's midgets, as they used to say in the days of vaudeville.”

The A.D. Winans Fansite - Home

(A.D Winans, Haight Ashbury 2002, California / Photo © by Ulvis Alverts)

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