The Don Allen Dance Party|
by John Thomas
Donald greeted everyone at his door, gave us each a copy of a Japanese poem he had translated. A sort of party favor. I lost it, sometime over the years, but I looked it up last night and here's my translation:
Kaishito mo Even these days, at such a party,
It was a festive poem composed at a party for Otomo Yakamochi, in May 749 (Man'Yoshu 19:4153). The "boats" were the wine cups floated downstream in celebration of the third day of the third month. Any who failed to produce a poem before the cup reached him had to drink its contents as a forfeit.
Well, none of us improvised a poem that night, but we did (as it were) drape ourselves with garlands. And we all got pretty drunk.
Who was there? Donald, of course, and his houseguests Mike Goldberg and his wife. Mike was a well-known New York "action painter." He and the missus (whose name I forget) were the dedicatees of Gregory Corso's hilarious poem "Marriage." They were very 'Noo Yawk.' Very aggressive, even belligerent, they had heavy New York accents -- which are painful to a Baltimorean. They talked about New York, "action painting" and Mike's towering genius.
Lew Welch was there, and Philip Whalen. Robert Duncan, Kirby Doyle, Larry Ferlinghetti.
Lew Welch? He came with Phil -- they hung out together in those days, when Lew was in the City and Phil wasn't in Bolinas or Japan. That evening at Donald Allen's, Lew got ripped on sake, was alternately jovial and professorial. Once, late in the evening, in his magisterial mode, he drew me aside. With great sincerity he described and attempted to formulate his discoveries about pain, suffering, and compassion. After half an hour he began to giggle into his sake cup, then sat abruptly on the floor.
Robert Duncan was wearing his invisible jester's cap and affecting to be an affected queen. He did say one thing to me. In my youthful enthusiasm I locked myself in the bathroom and scribbled it down, right after. I still have the scribble.
"I'm sort of a closed-door man, John. Sort of making heirarchy ideas all the time. I want to be just plain old cross old me, in an antiquated territory."
Early on, Phil Whalen stretched out on the couch, where he lay gazing blissfully at the ceiling.
The climax of the evening came very late. Donald said, "Excuse me for a moment, everyone," and shut himself in his bedroom. It was a very long moment. Then we heard Japanese music in there, coming from his phonograph, and the door re-opened. Donald emerged ... transformed into a geisha. Really, the whole shot. Fancy kimono, with a stiff obi, tabis, and getas on his feet. A little ivory fan. A huge geisha wig sat atop his head, long pins and all. And his face was a mask of white greasepaint, with penciled lips and eyelids and tiny penciled eyebrows.
Gravely smiling, he did a slow and formal Japanese dance to the music. He was great! Then he bowed and retired. The drunken applause was loud and long. When he re-emerged, he was in his "real" clothing, but he had not removed his makeup, which he wore until the party broke up at dawn.
© - 2004 The John Thomas Estate