Jack Micheline

I never wanted to be a poet.
I just wanted to be a human being.
Anyone who wants to be a poet is out of his mind.
Either you are one or you are not.
Most poets are not poets.
To be a real artist is a unique and valuable asset to this planet.”

– Jack Micheline

Here’s a true voice of the Beat Generation, a poet who has remained “underground” since he published his first book (River of Red Wine) in 1958.

Jack Micheline has never been published by the bigger presses, and according to himself he never will. He thinks he’s living in “Siberia in the United States” – the loveless hell of people trying to get by in this greedy world. You’ll never see this guy in a shoe commercial – that’s for sure!

Jack Micheline was born Harvey Martin Silver on November 6, 1929 in the Bronx. The reason for the name change was his father, a postman in whom Micheline saw the money-grabbing that could be found everywhere in the ghetto. He never liked the cruelty and injustice in his own streets. So, like many before him, he went on the road.

He began his travelling at the age of seventeen and didn’t rest until he was twenty-six. Now he found a home in the streets of Greenwich Village, where he lived the next five years. Rapidly Micheline identified himself with the tradition of American street poets, such as Vachel Lindsay and Maxvell Bodenheim. He walked the streets of the Village and Harlem listening to jazz, digging the vitality and humanity amongst poor people. He found a friend in the black poet Langston Hughes, who encouraged him in his writing. In 1957 he also won the “Revolt in Literature Award” at the Half Note Club in the East Village (one of the judges was Charles Mingus). Shortly after that he showed his poems to the publisher of Troubadour Press. He wanted to print them under two conditions: Micheline had to stagger his lines to make them look more unconventional, and get a famous person to write an introduction. Micheline was then living in the same building as poet Howard Hart, who was sharing his apartment with… Jack Kerouac!

Micheline showed his poems to Kerouac who began yelling, “Wow! A new poet!” Kerouac also wanted to write an introduction for the collection. Drunk and in a good spirit Kerouac wrote a page-long introduction. In Kerouac, Micheline also found a new friend.

The book ‘River of Red Wine’ was published in 1958. Soon Micheline found himself at fashionable literary and artistic parties, and just like Kerouac, he had a habit of getting drunk and trying to liven things up. He could run across the room shouting, “To be alive is to lead an exciting life!” or trying to get the proper girls into bed by using offensive language.

After a while he got bored with the stiff parties and started to hang out alone with Kerouac instead. They would walk the Bowery, drinking and talking to the bums. Because of his new friendship with Kerouac and his writer friends, he now was a Beat, meaning he was being published in anthologies covering the Beats. He wrote a lot at this period, and most of it is still unpublished. In the early sixties he continued his travels across the States and kept getting rejected by the publishers. He lived in rooming houses, stayed with friends and got in touch with other underground artists. In 1963 he married Marian Elizabeth Redding, a politician’s daughter, and went to Europe with her. Just a year later the marriage broke up. The reason was that an earlier girlfriend gave birth to a child that was Micheline’s (it was a boy and is his only child). Now he lived alone in the Village again. He continued to write poetry, fiction and even plays.

Micheline was an enthuastic participant in the counter-cultural movement of the sixties, but he realized quite early that the movement was being commercialized and wasn’t going to make it all the way through. “They say we opened up society. What did we open up? We opened up the banks for some people in Hollywood.” he said in the eighties.

At the end of his life Micheline lived in San Francisco, writing poetry and painting while still being ignored by the bigger presses. “Good work doesn’t sell well they claim. I am a rare human spirit, the work is open, free and alive. I’m sorry if I frighten them. Maybe they want stories with condoms on them, clean and safe. My work is ALIVE! This animal is alive. Sad for this unbrave world. Sad state indeed. It makes one scream…”

He died on a San Francisco BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train on February 27, 1998.

Remembering Jack Micheline

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