Exemplar, Barney


Robert Gibbons


To remember Barney Rosset is to drive back toward my rebellion against the potential bad education ahead of me in my youth, where as consistent alternatives to ugly classrooms, that cost back then $275 a semester, I’d haunt used bookstores strewn in & around Harvard Square, or walk across the street to the MFA on free days or nights. There in Cambridge Kierkegaard showed me the way to the power of the immediate erotic in a $1.50 copy of Either/Or. Dostoevsky & Genet taught that self-same criminal tendencies lurking under the surface bordered on saintly, creative realms. & Barney, via Evergreen’s O’Hara & Kerouac, Grove’s Lawrence, & Miller, became the paradigm dispensing culture, a high priest in my youthful mind. Longed in my mute state to ultimately find my voice imprinted in pages of the magazine, or Grove at large. Saw Barney as a man of action & courage, & that was whom I found there standing before me holding a glass of red wine at Janos Gat Gallery years ago, even just after his first heart attack, brave, indomitable. In his Paris Review interview Barney recommends the next publisher needs an inheritance, essentially to throw at work he likes. That stray comment tossed me back, yet again, to a box of stuff I inherited from another guy I admired at the time, a few years older than I, Rick Eaton died in a motorcycle accident, & his girl thought I should have this box of books & maps & letters. I’d eventually use his wonderfully detailed map of Paris to locate favorite wine bars on narrow rue Bertin Poirée, & later even more hidden Passage de la Bonne Graine. That box of goods, which represented perhaps my sole inheritance, included Donald Allen & Barney’s earthshaking anthology, The New American Poetry. So long before I went to Gloucester, just out of college, to teach high school English, run into the vast presence of Charles Olson, then recently deceased, before Søren Kierkegaard’s immediate erotic transmogrified into Julia Kristeva’s bodily cathexion via the book Desire in Language found at the Village Voice Bookstore in Paris, I was prepared. Open & ready to take on the world in writing. Thanks in great measure to the legend I refer to in “Ode to New York City,” which I told Astrid Rosset & Jim Feast could just as well have been titled, “Ode to Barney Rosset.” Exemplar. Barney.