Kevin Pennington Interviews Charles Plymell for The Sunflower Collective.
Charles Plymell is a poet, novelist, and small press publisher. Plymell has been published widely. He has collaborated with many Beat poets, writers, and artists, including Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke and William S. Burroughs.
Charles Plymell (CP): As compared to what? I don't know what is relevant. People do write about it as a scene that happened over a half-century ago.
KP: Beats have been criticized for the way they treated their female associates and for the lack of women writers in the group. How far are these allegations valid?
CP: There’s lots written about this. Brenda Knight wrote a whole book about it. Our friend, Janine Pommy Vega was always complaining about it, though when in high school, she went with Herbert Huncke and Peter Orlovsky. The (sexual) identification of the group was homosexual, so what would you expect?
KP: Why do we need to read the Beats today? Do you think Beat Generation literature is limited to an idea of an era that has passed or, do you see a growing influence of these styles among new writers/poets today?
CP: People like people who were/are interesting, I suppose. I lived most of my years as I pleased, not learning about them until later in life. Rt 66 was my commute when Kerouac discovered it as his epiphany. I don't read them much and have never read "On The Road" as I was on it since 1939, my first trip to California when I spoke my first verse. I drove all over the West by myself at 13 years old. I guess "styles" are passed on. I never thought of myself as a Beat, but understood the old word as hipster Huncke spoke it first to Ginsberg & Kerouac. I had traveled as a rounder when they were going to school. Most of them I would have pegged as squares. Burroughs said that he never thought of himself as "Beat" too. He was part of the brand. I was associated with it.
KP: What was the Wichita Vortex? Why are so many Hippies from Kansas?
CP: The Vortex is explained in my Tent Shaker Vortex Voice book published by Bottle of smoke press. With the help of an acquaintance at The University of Pennsylvania, Loren Eiseley, I found the voice of the Game Lord heard in Kansas. Others have a different, more analogous meaning of it as seen on here.
KP: Could you tell us more about the poetic process and techniques that the Beat poets used? (For example, Ginsberg had often mentioned breath as a measure for line breaks)
CP: Yeah, he (Ginsberg) ran it to the end of the line for a line break. He liked spontaneity too. We were on my motorcycle once going to meet (Thelonious) Monk at Monterey Jazz Festival making poetry from words on signs through towns shouting them out. His prosody has been written about by those more knowledgeable about that stuff than I.
KP: Can the Beat aesthetic exist without the musical form of Jazz?
CP: Kerouac had a good ear for jazz...Neal liked rockabilly & Chuck Berry. Ginsberg asked me about the Schubert Quintet I was playing once when he & Neal Cassady moved in with me in S.F. 1963. That was the time he first heard Dylan that I played for him. He kept on playing Dylan. I didn’t.
KP: Who were the Beats that you were in touch with? Could you tell us a little about your association with them, at a personal and professional level?
CP: All of them. I felt closest to William Burroughs and Neal Cassady. I guess because they were middle westerners from St. Louis & Denver. I didn't know of any of them during my formative years in Kansas, nor any of their work. As a Kansas hipster & rebel, I read the poetry of Pound & the prose of Henry Miller, for example. I was mainly interested in philosophy.
KP: Tell us what made you interested in comics and graphic novel world. As the printer of Zap and other underground comics, what was the scene like back in those days?
CP: I first printed S. Clay Wilson in Lawrence, Kansas when we were living there. I printed the 1st Zap Comics on an old Multilith in S.F. Robert Williams did the cover of the Mother Road Edition of my Last of Mocassins first published by City Lights. I went to many Comix shows in NYC. One had lines two blocks long. It was too crowded to find Wilson whom I went there to see after some years. I found Robert Crumb talking to Allen Ginsberg. Allen turned around gesturing at the jam-packed room and said "See what you started!'" Where were the cameras! Ha!
KP: What do you think about the women of the Beat generation? Tell us about their contribution towards the movement and their art and poetry?
CP: I didn't know any of them personally, except Janine Pommy Vega, a late close friend of Pam & mine. I knew Diane Wakowski & Anne Mennebroker, Lyn Lifshin, and Linda Lerner, but I don't know if they consider themselves Beat. Their poetry can be easily found.
KP: What are your thoughts on the future of Beat Poetry and the legacy?
CP: As I said, it happened over a half century ago. I guess its legacy has been written about quite a bit. I remained cordial with Allen Ginsberg, who I thought was always looking for a master. I think he found one, and with the help of the CIA set up Naropa for him. That's what he told me. I guess the Beat poetry continues at Naropa, an institution quickly to be assigned an accredited college? I wouldn't know, nor want to. It's an odd legacy for a Beat, I think. One time Burroughs was staying with us here in Cherry Valley when Peter Orlovsky came running in our place and asked Bill if he'd heard about Trungpa who was ill. Burroughs, with his English cigarette & glass of vodka, snarled "I don't give a shit if he lives or dies." So there you go, you want reality instead of virtual reality? That was a snippet.