If I had a library, I’d visit it mornings, evenings, I’d look for books by David Henderson, co-founder of the Umbra writer’s workshop, a group that met on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1960s. At one point Henderson was married to the black feminist scholar Barbara Christian. I have a book of his on Jimi Hendrix somewhere in my basement. By the 1980s, though, Henderson started publishing with North Atlantic Books, a press founded by Miranda July’s father, the writer Richard Grossinger. I retrieved a book of Grossinger’s from my basement earlier this week. He seems to be quite a character — a magician of sorts who apprenticed under Robert Kelly. At some point I should also look for work by Calvin Hernton, another of the writers associated with the Umbra group. Hernton studied with R.D. Laing, participating in the Institute of Phenomenological Studies and the Antiuniversity of London before returning to the US in 1970. Ishmael Reed once described him as “a modern-day warlock…the man faltering governments keep their eye on. The native who has his own cabala.”
Finished with midterms, I wander the neighborhood, admiring a field of periwinkles (never mind others’ designation of them as weeds). See me there, walking in the streets, whistling and singing, banging on a tambourine, telling the story of the society that opts for peace. Can one get there without a fight? Joanna Russ includes an epigraph at the start of The Female Man: a passage from R.D. Laing’s book The Politics of Experience. Laing was a thinker of the New Left: one of the era’s radical “anti-psychiatrists,” best known for his studies of schizophrenia. Check out Robert Klinkert and Iain Sinclair’s short film Ah, Sunflower (1967), shot on location at the Dialectics of Liberation conference, with appearances by Laing, Allen Ginsberg, Stokely Carmichael, and others. Sinclair also published a diary he kept during the filming called The Kodak Mantra Diaries. Sinclair says of himself that he was “captured” by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain Poets, writers who served as some of his “first enthusiasms” when starting out as a writer in the early 1960s. Olson taught him that life is an allegory — a large, potent myth. The “amniotic fluid,” as Sinclair says, through which we swim and struggle. Is this sifting of texts a kind of purgatory? Are we characters in a ghost story?