a.d. winans | drowning like li po in a river of red wine

A.D. Winans – Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine

Poetry (2010), 396pp. This career spanning book compiles the best poems from A.D. Winans over 50 books from 1970-2010. Cover is letterpress printed dustjacket over wraps. Limited to an edition of 50 signed hardcover copies ($40 + shipping) and 100 paperback copies ($20 + Shipping).


MAY I SUGGEST: Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine: Selected Poems 1970-2010, featuring poems from all 50-Plus books and chapbooks I have published over the decades. The limited edition hardback has sold out, but paper back copies are still available for $20, plus $5 shipping. Not that high, if you consider the book is 397 pages and published by Bill Robert’s BOS Press, the premier publisher of fine quality books these days. Or if you don’t already own a copy, consider purchasing one for yourself.

And as a Christmas gift to you, have the publisher write me that you have orderd a copy, and I will send you Free a signed limited edition broadside of my choosing. Contact Bill Roberts at: Bill@bospress.net for ordering information. Pay Pal payment is accepted. — A.D. Winans

Please visit the BOS Press by clicking here…

San Francisco poet A.D. Winans

is best known for his poetry about the invisible amongst us; he speaks for those who have no voice of their own, for the downtrodden abused by society and its uncaring institutions. His poems come from the heart, not from some workshop assignment that cranks out the stale academic poetry he so detests.

This limited edition of his latest book is a comprehensive selection that includes poems from his early Carmel Clowns and some of his outrageously entertaining Crazy John poems.

I’ve been an A.D. Winans admirer since I first met him at a poetry reading in the early seventies in San Francisco. I liked the emotion in his voice, that slight tremble that gave authenticity to his plainspoken words. Here was a real poet, I thought; not one of those hip, slick, cool academics trying to impress female students. A.D. is a poet of his convictions who wants justice for the people. We’re lucky he’s stuck around this long and is still feeding our souls.

A treat for those of us lucky enough to own a copy of this limited edition collection is an introduction by the author himself. He calls it “A.D. Winans on A.D. Winans.” As we would expect from his poetry, he writes out of a sense of loneliness, sadness, and anger. He tributes the love and humor in his poems to the late Bob Kaufman. A.D. states that he wants to be remembered as a poet of the people, and he considers his poems as the wife and children he never had. His poetry and prose have appeared in over 1,000 magazines and articles. In addition, he published The Second Coming Magazine and Press for 17 years.

Part of his charm as a poet of the people is his easy use of ordinary spoken language. His words give us commonplace images that can be appreciated by all, especially city dwellers. He shows us “one yellow-stained wash basin” and “empty shoes/sitting under the bed” and “single light bulb rooms sealed/Like tombs.” And then there’s the shocking image of a Panamanian hooker: “Naked legs spread open/Labia lobster red.” Winans’s stark images stay with us.

A.D.’s disdain for pseudo-intellectual poets, as opposed to his respect for blue collar poets, comes through in his condemning lines in “Coffee Gallery Blues.” He writes:

I heard one of them say
poetry isn’t for the masses
it’s been raining intellectual
snobs all day

Yuppies don’t fare any better. In “How to Spot a Yuppie” we read: “they look like they want something/and are willing to kill/to get it.”

It’s interesting to see the poet and his poetry mature over a forty-year span, during which the poet continues to write about the agony of seeking love and of aging in existential loneliness. As an old soul suffering the angst of a godless universe, Winans gives us tender irony in “Trying to Let Go”:

Tied to death’s umbilical cord
That refuses to let me go
Knotting itself like a noose
Around my neck
Too tight for comfort
Not loose enough
To set me free

He gives us more angst when he writes in “City Poet” that

You walk her streets a hungry vampire
Lapping up your own blood
On nights when blood transfusions
Are not enough.

The smell of death lingers in yet another startling image: “Death crouched low/Like a sprinter waiting the/Starter’s gun.”

A.D.’s poem “The Old Italians of Aquatic Park” holds much rich imagery, with the refrain, “The old men of Aquatic Park,” echoing the title, while lending a sense of timelessness to their bocce ball games. A.D. writes “lady death striking them down/like bowling pins.” And from the same poem:

the bocce ball rolls slowly
along the grass
coming to rest like a hearse
parked next to an open grave

A.D. has an uncanny ability to summon metaphors that work so well in context. In “Old Joe” he conjures up Vietnam when he writes “nightmares that whirl inside/His head like helicopter blades.” He ends with: “Left tired withered/Like an unattended/Kansas grain field,” leaving no doubt that Joe was a Kansas farm boy before Vietnam. And now he’s a homeless drunk in the big city.

A.D.’s range of theme is broad; there’s the suffering of others caused by an uncaring universe, the commercial poets whom he sees as sellouts with “ideas as sterile as surgical gauze” and there’s the love-seeking, lyrical A.D., who writes of “The falling away of our clothes” and “inside the heart where/all language stops”

One of my favorites:

a love affair so fragile
it was like trying to thread a needle
in the teeth of a storm

A.D. tells us in his “40th Birthday” poem that “america is no place for/a poet to grow old in.” In 2006 he writes, when he was 70, that “Having escaped the nursing home/Is a small victory in itself.”

Because of A.D.’s intensity it might be easy to overlook his wry humor. In his “Dick Tracy” poem, he writes about a transvestite dressed as a cowgirl taking Tracy home:

In the morning when
Dick Tracy wakes up
He isn’t sure which side
Of the law he’s on

Here’s a favorite of mine about a dog’s dream:

a fire hydrant
a buried bone
Snoopy defeating the
Red Baron
Over the skies of Paris

Several of the selected poems honor dead poets, including Bukowski, Patchen, and Micheline, all of whom he admires. Of Micheline he writes:

Spinning words that
Hung in mid-air
Like a humming bird
Drunk on the
Pollen of life

The poet struggles against the tides of time throughout this dynamic selection of poems. He gains comfort, not from nature, but from his beloved city streets and its denizens. “For Kell” from his 1997 collection, A.D. promises us:

Still fighting
Still scrapping
Like the rest of us
For whatever time
Is left

Long may this poet live. No one else can replace the genius loci of the San Francisco beat. Reviewed by Sharon Ramirez

Drowning like Li Po in a River of Red Wine

by A D Winans is a book to be proud of. It’s a pick-it-up-random poem book that gets right to it, with selected poems organized chronologically from past publications, 1970-2010. One might think that 364 pages of verse (and colophon page) would be a lot to take in, but it is not. Everything is all right, like the years went by, exactly right, bringing it all back home. San Francisco was home to us all. She opened her doors to everyone, alone, weary, and timeless… from Jack Black to Jack Micheline. Everyone got a taste of that home, but Winans is the only one I’ve met who was born there. He must share her coiffed comeliness and spiritual highs, splashing her nacreous pearls from deep black water splayed into the fog of love, the mist from her eddies pressing back the lusty egalitarian thrust until it obeys. It always seemed a small town because it’s vertical, on different planes, each neighborhood seething with scenes. During my limited tenure, it seemed I lived on every street, if not neighborhood, or knew someone who was in this or that scene. And floating through those different planes were layers to its natural beauty that gave off the essence of love but could also sink down darkly and cruel as hell. Through Winans’s eyes one can live those streets again, like a Bob Kaufman looking out the window of a Muni bus in silent study of all action passing on her streets to the last window-framed panorama.

The book too, is exactly right, as a book should be made. The poems aren’t tucked in as a filler to the pretentious pages of slick magazines; they are presented in the best selection of typeface, the poems placed correctly on the page. Li Po would have approved. It has the right feel, the right dimension, and the right geography to go back to and turn the pages like wrapping dreams.

Winans and I are about the same age, and we both discovered the Beats in the late 1950s. We both had unconventional childhoods. My best times were in the fifties. We heard the McCarthy hearings in real time. We developed a similar political philosophy somewhere between Li Po and Upton Sinclair. Like most poets in the Bay Area grown into the sixties there was politics in our poetry. He served time in the service. Mine in the ROTC … a Clinton/Bush deferment. I arrived in his old middle class neighborhood, the Haight, as the decade of the sixties began, before the kids took over the streets from little Russian ladies. He knew poets I did and the bars they read in, and the magazines they published in. San Francisco was constantly changing, sometimes overnight.

I didn’t know Winans in San Francisco but met him later at an Independent publishing event, “Small Press.” We took part in some of their organizations. We learned how the game was played and over the years watched it change into the “Politburo of Poetry” as all things government do with friends rewarding friends. Over the years, we’ve corresponded and shared our views on poetry, political scams and awards. We spot the phonies and neither of us much cares for labels. We’ve seen “revolutionary” poets & middle class kids get permission to protest. We’ve seen famous poets howl against Moloch and the government only to receive several thousands of government money and keep the Beatnik flack, not black, flying at the landmark tourist bookstore in North Beach. We’ve seen hypocrisy in all flavors in all the poets the city spawned. I’ve often wondered how he sees the invasion on his home turf.

My biggest regret is that I wasn’t with him when the great jazz clubs flourished in the days of Billie Holliday that he remembers in his poems, or the great blues legends like Johnny Lee Hooker. Yes, the times were always changing there. By the time Pam and I went to Mike’s Pool Hall with Ferlinghetti (Pam was underage), the GoGo girls were dancing in every joint. I got to see Sonny Rollins at an embarrassing two-drink minimum gig in North Beach when he was either too sick or too broken to wail. Yes, the city was built on Rock n’ Roll, Fillmore and the Avalon et. al. But the poets knew that it was really re-built, again and again. It all comes back in the works of Winans. It comes back as subtle and real as Bo Diddley’s words at the Avalon, a thriving line-in the street psychedelic hall bringing us the new sounds and lights. His words haunt me when he came to play to a handful, this “unknown” who said “and here I am now playing for you. Mercy Mercy Mercy.” I think I know what he meant. You will get the full history with Winans’s poems. They tell it real. San Francisco was always home to the outcasts from any origin. They became family. The moon on the water beckoning for all comers. The sun over the hills and bridges all bringing commerce, ships going to war. Friends and families living and dying. A changing city like the long nights and sunny days. My sister died in that Chinese Lantern of the Western Moon.

Jack Micheline came by to rally me to read and bring the “word” to the people. I had a good job on the docks and was starting a family. Besides, I said to him, how would you compete with the fame of sensational book trial no matter the poet and poet storeowner were (out of town) and let the Japanese-American clerk who sold the book stand trial, just in case it backfired. The days of Life and Time are over. They just want the tourist version. Micheline left dejected, but hopefully to Gino and Carlos bar to have a drink with Winans and revitalize the words again. Or the Anxious Asp to hear poets insult the poets from Cleveland in their hippy drag. It was like that. It could be a tough town. We didn’t walk to the docks with Longshoreman hooks in our belts for nothing. The town was built on many layers of compassion and destruction, giver and taker, almost religiously. I wonder sometimes how a poet would live all his life there. Probably by writing lines to William Wantling, an example of the many poets who walked the streets of his town: “Looking into the cracked lips of sorrow/I walk the harsh streets of tomorrow.” (Pg. 297) Pick it up and open it anywhere. But to really find out how the poet down South who wrote about the poet up North and what happens with the poets from the East who come to the West and drank at the bars in Winans’s home town, you’ll just have to open the book in a river of red wine on pg 183. — From the shadows of a home town always rising from ashes with eternal fog lying in them like a heavy spirit comes… The Frisco Kid! An appreciation by Charles Plymell

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