Drowning Like LiPo in a River of Red Wine (Selected Poems 1970--2010) by A.D.Winans 
Reviewed by Linda Lerner
In a book that spans forty years of a man’s life, we are given a close up of the American soul by this San Francisco poet whose vision ranges across a country he both loves and mourns.  “This Land is Not My Land,” (1996)  a collection of poems dealing with three years he  served in Panama during the mid fifties, encapsulates themes that recur throughout this unique collection. “Panama city could have been / any slum city in America;” disillusioned with the corruption he sees there, he views the price paid for not fitting in, being poor, black, elderly and refusing to “Buy...into the system” here as well.

“I have watched / listened / observed / only to return home/ and close the door” behind which he shares his revelations in poems written in a deceptively simple style  that startle us with the astuteness of his insights.  The book is divided  chronologically, beginning with Carmel Clowns (1970) in which we meet the poet in Golden Gate Park picking a flower only to look up into the face of a part-time policeman, the first of many authority figures. Winans tries to ignore him and to “Concentrate on the flower” as the poet throughout his life tries to ignore the dishonesty and hypocrisy he sees in the literary world, paralleled in America, and focus on being true to himself, to his own values.

This is a poet who has never felt comfortable with being called a poet, who would have preferred being blessed with “the skills of a union carpenter” and yet the contradiction:  “Poetry and writing have kept me going all these years” he writes in his  introductory essay. This dichotomy is at the heart of this collection:  how to keep from falling into the American literary success trap and yet be successful for the work one does.

For forty years he’s walked the same streets of San Francisco, of North Beach, “stoned on words” observing the misfits, those who’ve never quite made it into corporate America, people struggling to get by, to keep the demons at bay, walked out of the 20th century into the 21st. where everything and nothing changed.

Crazy John (from Tales of Crazy John, 1975) is a local poet who symbolically embodies them along with poets like Bob Kaufman, Jack Micheline, Bukowski,  Kenneth Patchen, A.D. Levya among others,  whose visionary genius puts them outside the mainstream and labeled crazy.  He’s the guy whose laugh “never failed to frighten the establishment” who can’t handle a simple job,  who “invented his own cloud” the guy who “could be seen / dancing a raindance only / flowers understood.” Doctors  locked him up in a padded cell, then “with unbelieving eyes (watched) him / create buterflies / from building blocks/ then turn into a frog / forced to devour his creation / in order to survive.” Crazy John represents those poets, jazz musicians, artists who’ve kept Winans going, helped him to believe in what he is doing, to keep his sanity.

The influence of LiPo, in the book’s title, can be seen in some of the latter poems where Winans has written several Haikus, and some shorter imagistic poems along those lines as in “Rain Poem.” In LiPo on my mind” The poet expresses a kinship with this Chinese poet when he concludes saying,  “I mark time / like LiPo / mixing words with / wine.”
As he does, he still hears “the shrill cry of dead / jazz greats ring out”, and  in North Beach sees “Ghosts at every bar stool” recollecting a time when it “was alive/with creativity.”

There are the ghosts of women he’s loved,  poets, and Jazz musician friends who’ve passed on. Tribute is paid to them in his very moving poem, “I Kiss the Feet of Angels.”Among the poets is Bob Kaufman who took a Buddhist vow of silence for ten years after Kennedy was shot, D.A. Levy who knew that you can’t beat the system and was killed trying, Charles Bukowski who twenty days before his death from Leukemia, sent a poem to Wormwood Review, “ perhaps a wry smile /on his face/ for the doctor/ and a hand on the ass/ of the nurse” a man who  played “out the game to the end /like only the old man / was capable of doing,  Jack Micheline, “A shaman a con man / a vagabond poet ...His poems racing across the / Streets of America / Pure innocence / Pure genius, ...Drunk on the / Pollen of life,  Kell Robertson wondering around the country with his guitar, “Nearly 66 / Hard as the highway...Still scrapping / Like the rest of us / For whatever / time is left.”

They are not dead for Winans.  As he walks along those same San Francisco streets he’s walked along his whole life, he writes
           “I hear the drums
              I feel the beat
              I kiss the feet
              of angels.”

Early in his life, Winans wrote, “america is no place for / a poet to grow old in” which in the new century, by his own admission, he has become.  The poet who in the 1970’s watched old men eat their last meals,” now in his seventies, has become one of them. But, it hasn’t lessened his anger, his determination to stay true to his own values. In “How to Spot a Yuppie” (from South of Market, 2006) he writes, “they are young and have ambitious / looks about them.... like they want something / and are willing to kill / to get it.”

So, go out and get this book;  walk along with A.D.Winans down those same streets. Cross one decade into the next; leave one century behind and begin a new one. Take a  journey you’ll never forget.

Drowning Like LiPo in a River of Red Wine (Selected Poems 1970--2010) by A.D.Winans, Bottle of Smoke Press,  902 Wilson Drive Dover, DE 19904, www.bospress.net, 2010, 364 pp. Trade Paperback. $25.00 with shipping.
ISBN  0-97773000-8-5  hardcover
ISBN  0-97773000-9-3  paperback

Winans Photo at The Beat Museum

Creative Editing by Ginger Eades

Charles Plymell on Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine by AD Winans

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 (Click for more info)

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.

Mason Street San Fran Circa 1960s
 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.

AD Winans with Jack Micheline
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.

Gino and Cralos Bar
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.  

-Charles Plymell on Winans's latest publication
Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine: Selected Poems 1970-2010 by A.D. Winans
To Purchase online click HERE for Bottle of Smoke Press
Dover, DE
$25.00 (Paperback) (Shipping Included)
365 pgs
ISBN: 0-9777300-8-5