Friday, July 27, 2007

Andrea Wyatt

Andrea Wyatt was the first Washington poet I ever knew. We met in London at the end of April in 1972. Andrea was there to record British poets for the DC audiocassette poetry magazine, Black Box. I was living there, working at the BBC.

Andrea was born in Brooklyn and raised there and in DC. She lived for a while in San Francisco, then London, and has been back in DC since 1973. During her teens, Andrea became well acquainted with many of the folk music luminaries who would travel to Washington to participate in civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, including Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow, Judy Collins and many others, Many of them stayed at Andrea’s family home in Georgetown. Bob Dylan did so on one occasion. Not surprisingly, Andrea learned to play guitar and became a songwriter and poet. She performed regularly around DC. This experience informed her performance capabilities as a poet, and would combine with her striking looks and natural charisma to make her a compelling presenter of her own work.

In the mid-1960s, Andrea moved to NYC, where she worked at two magazines, Crawdaddy and Cavalier, before becoming a Montessori teacher. Then she started a Montessori school for poor children (The Puppet House of Children) in conjunction with the Black Panthers and with help from the Bread and Puppet Theater, at the B&P Theater's building at 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue. Judy Collins gave her the money to start the school. Andrea also supported the B&P Theater in their anti-Vietnam War activities and their rage against the government. After that, Andrea and photographer Richard Bellak, working on assignment for several magazines, traveled first to Northwestern Mexico, where they helped care for the Tarahumara Indians who lived in caves in the Sierra Madre. This was after an outbreak of spinal meningitis among the Indians. And from there they went on to Guatemala and later to what was then British Honduras. Andrea did not write poetry during this entire period (1964-1969), although there is a poem called “Copper Canyon” about her experiences in Mexico. Andrea started writing again in the spring of 1969, just before she moved to California, where she worked on the Larry Eigner bibliography for Oyez Press. She returned to DC in 1971, and was poet in residence at the Antioch College satellite campus in Baltimore for a while, while also working for NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Her first two books were published in Berkeley by Oyez, a press associated with Black Mountain and California Renaissance poets. The back cover of her first book, Three Rooms (1970), advertised Oyez books by William Everson, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov and Samuel Charters. Three Rooms contained twenty-seven pages of poetry, untitled – twenty-seven poems, or maybe a single poem. It is lyric poetry, with an inclination towards romanticism. The spacing and line breaks have a similar look to the work of Larry Eigner. If Andrea’s work might be placed in context, I would be inclined to first say that it would be with the poetry of the Beat Generation, in terms of its autobiographical character, and especially because of a passion for the American spirit (the idealism, the landscape, nature, the movies, baseball,) that is similar to Jack Kerouac’s. In terms of line (and breath) her work belongs more with the poets of projective verse. However, I have always associated her mostly with the California Renaissance, There’s a kind of Big Time Poetry disposition present in that particular poetry culture (and in Andrea’s sensibility) that I respect, but do not share. Also, it is greatly modified in Andrea’s work by intonation that is very direct and personal.

my guitar teacher
raised bonsai took ordinary
trees and somehow
made them grow small –
he gave me a
panacled goldenrain tree
and its leaves stayed

all winter
Koelrueterria, it is
called, in the flower catalogue –
it is one of the best medium-sized
flowering trees they say
mine stayed
all winter

from Three Rooms
(please note: I was unable to get Blogger layout to honor Andrea's word and line spacing)

Andrea’s second book, Poems of the Morning, Poems of the Storm (Oyez Press, 1973), is a more substantial collection, 57 pages, a book vibrating with sexual energy. It begins with a sequence of sixteen poems, all hewing to the left-hand margin, called The Malinché Poems. It is about La Malinché, the Mexican lover of Hernan Cortéz; it is about violence, oppression, and love.


are you here
it is late
where is cortez?

why do you no longer sing?

I cannot
my throat is dry
where is

is sleeping
beside your door

why are you here

to bring you a gift
the feather of an eagle

that is a knife

my lord
is is
the feather of an eagle

When we met, Andrea and I connected with each other immediately. One of the first things we learned about each was that we shared the same birthday, April 11 (I am five years older than her). Within a few weeks, we were living together. That was in May, 1972. We were married in Brighton in October, in a double ceremony along with my sister and her intended, Izzy Cartman. Andrea and I lived in London until the spring of 1973 and then we came to Washington. We lived here for a year, then we spent six months in Berkeley. We returned to DC in October, 1974 and we broke up a year later. Our marriage was exceedingly tempestuous. I could write a book. We worked together for a while, after our break-up, at Folio Books, where I conducted a poetry reading series. We have remained great friends.

Wedding day, October 20, 1972, Brighton
from left: yours truly, Andrea, her brother Mickey Silberstein, her best friend Ana Mara Saunders

Andrea was never part of the DC poetry scene. Soon after we arrived here, I got a job at the Savile Bookstore in Georgetown, and Peter Inman and I became fast friends. I got to know the poets connected with Mass Transit, and I soon became close to Terry Winch and enjoyed an immensely rewarding association with many other DC poets. She did have (and still has) good friends who were poets, especially (the late) Ahmos Zu-Bolton, Ethelbert Miller and Joanne Jimason, and others associated with the African-American poetry community in DC. And, as a matter of fact, there has always been a strong element of one convention that is characteristic of African-Americn poetry: testimony. Here is a recent poem.

Right of Return

I would like the right of return to a village in the Ukraine conceived by David Lean
sun flowers barley fields mill with great stone slowly turning—
I would like the right of return to a port on the Black Sea, smell of brine,
turpentine, good ships filled with something from or to Cathay—
I would like to return to a metropolitan city with ornamental ironwork
on the bridges and smug cafés that serve absinthe—
I would like the right of return to everything I love, I loved, I thought I loved,
I might have loved except for the climate, the people, I couldn’t get a job,
I lost my job, my boyfriend left, I left him, we both left for a place we thought we’d love
or had loved, or knew we’d never love but what the hell difference did it make? the point is—we can’t—
Can’t go back to the true love, old love, old face and grace of the
lilting selves we thought we were, or were, or hoped to be—
Can’t go back to the books and poems never written, badly written, half-written and discarded—
Can’t hear your mother’s laugh or smell your father’s pipe,
can’t sleep cuddled and safe between your grandparents—
But we persist and we endure, encounter one another and hold fast, as our life’s wheel turns around the bend of circumstance or despair—as fortune’s wheel spins slow the disk sublime,
Hear one another’s voices in the dark mark our short-lived time.

After Poems of the Morning, Poems of the Storm, Andrea published a series of chapbooks, starting with Founding Fathers: Book One (LLanfair Press, 1976). “Llanfair “ is a standard abbreviation of the name of a village on the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh), situated off the north-west coast of Wales : Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. People have been living in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch since the Neolithic period (4,000-2,000BC). The first ever Starbucks opened there in 3945 BC. This digression brought to you by the Charles Olson/Andrea Wyatt School of GeoPoetic Sensibilities. And, indeed, Founding Fathers: Book One is Andrea’s most overtly “page as field” work. Its “subjects” include John Burroughs, John James Audubon, and astronaut Scott Carpenter. It is a small big book, or, a big small book, with an intense, implicit belief in a project known as America.

The Movies came next (Jawbone, 1978). It is a single poem, an ode, an autobiography, and a fitting tribute.

“When I was a little girl my father saw
“& when I was a big girl,I spent $200.00 in
therapy bills to find out why NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
bothered me –“

Jurassic Night (White Dot Press, 1980), contains four poems (one about American artist Donald Evans, two love poems, and the title poem), and a sequence of poems called Sedna, based on Inuit mythology. In 1973, Andrea and I saw The Far North: 2000 Years of American Eskimo and Indian Art at the National Gallery. It was an extraordinary experience. Sedna was a perfect correlative to that experience, as well as to The Malinché Poems. Here is the title poem:

Jurassic Night

hanging in there
waiting out the passage of



ice, copper, stone, bronze

dies non… day on which no…

(a time that will never come)

either Argus or

dark amid the blaze of noon

complete stillness

(again, I was unable to get Blogger layout to honor Andrea's word and line spacing, although the space between lines is accurate)

Baseball Nights (Renaissance Press, 1984), is about writing poetry while watching Willie Mays and Willie McCovey play at Candlestick Park, about going to Ebbets Field to see Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers , “when I was a kid,” about Reggie Jackson and Shoeless Joe Jackson. I’m sure that Kerouac would have loved it. I know I do.

Although Andrea has not published much since then, she has been writing poems steadily. including this one, published online:

She is also a member of the DC Poets Against the War.

Andrea has been married for the last 27 (+ 3) years to Lansing Sexton, one of Washington’s premier booksellers. Lansing was the buyer at Savile Bookstore in the early 1970s, when the staff included Peter Inman, Michael Sappol, Lisa Shea, David Levi-Strauss, and myself. He now works at Olsson's on 7th Street. Andrea and Lansing have a daughter, Abigail, who is studying history at The University of Maryland.

The product of one of Andrea and Lansing’s mutual projects, a survey of cowboy comic books, may be found here:

Currently, they are writing about Charles Starrett, best known for playing the Durango Kid; and they are working on a book called 100 Pieces of Art.

Andrea has also returned to her guitar, and to songwriting. Recently, she has been collaborating with Washington singer/songwriter Donal Leace. One of their songs, “That's Cuba!” was on the CD Leace Renewed. It's really boppy .

Andrea Wyatt’s books:
Three Rooms (Oyez Press, 1970)
Poems of the Morning, Poems of the Storm (Oyez Press, 1973)
Founding Fathers: Book One (LLanfair Press, 1976)
The Movies (Jawbone Press, 1977)
Jurassic Night (White Dot Press, 1980)
Baseball Nights (Renaissance Press, 1984)
She is coeditor of:
Selected Poems by Larry Eigner (Oyez Press, 1972)
Collected Poems by Max Douglas (White Dot Press, 1978)
The Brooklyn Reader (Random House/Harmony, 1994)

As I was finishing this, I got the new Cortland Review via e-mail. In it, there's a new poem by Marge Piercy, a writer for whom Andrea and I shared great enthusiasm back in the day, and especially for her first novel, Dance the Eagle to Sleep, an almost SciFi vision of what America would be like after the revolution as it was imagined by the SDS RYM faction,

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I've been very lucky, having lived in Washington since April 4th, 1973 to the present (aside from six months spent in the bay area in 1974). In that time, I've enjoyed the many benefits and pleasures of having been associated with a vital, ever-changing community of poets* and writers. The idea of community is somewhat subjective, I will admit, but I think that it might be argued that a group of poets, centered in one location for more than thirty years in some cases, and with much shared experience, could be regarded as such. The DC “alternative poetry” scene has never been big enough to break into factions, but has enjoyed a steady infusion of newcomers over the last three and a half decades. The exception in the case of factions is the existence of a robust African-American poetry community that has really been separate from the one to which I belong, although there was a good deal of overlap in the 1970s.

"poets" replaced typo "pets"

I am very possessive, and still regard poets who’ve been here a while and departed as DC poets still, most recently Mark Wallace and K. Lorraine Graham. There are other poets, too, whom I regard as honorary DC poets, such as Tom Raworth, Ted Greenwald and Anselm Berrigan, just because of their close connections and regular visits. Of course, the honor is ours.

What “alternative poetry” means to me is that line which extends from the poetics represented in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, and goes back to Stein, Pound, Williams and Zukofsky.

The DC poetry homepage has some excellent documentation -- see the History Project at:

What I hope to do with this blog is pay tribute to those who have created and maintained this scene, and to document more of its history, albeit in my own sweet way.

The photograph above shows Becky Levenson, Jack Inman, Peter Inman, Phyllis Rosenzweig and Tina Darragh, back in the day.