In the weeks before heading to Cuba I regularly stopped by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee offices – just to hang out and chat about Cuban and other revolutionary matters with a guy from Texas whose name escapes me now and who was in charge of things in the absence of Richard Gibson who I believe was an FPCC founder and ran the main New York branch. I’d pick up books or pamphlets and gossip with others that came by. On the day that I discovered that New Directions publishers were in the same building I got off at their floor and stared at the lettering on the frosted glass window for a minute or so, then got back on the elevator – I had nothing to publish yet. During another visit I met a girl who invited me to stay at her place and when I hooked up later that day with Murray and a friend of his in Times Square, Murray’s friend warned me that New York was full of crazed chicks that invited young guys like me home and whacked their penises off with a butcher knife in the middle of the night. He was neither the first nor the last of the guys I’d meet in my life that seemed to enjoy scaring the shit out of you with their insane beliefs for no good reason. I confess I was a little nervous later that night when I went to the address she’d given me on the Lower East Side but the worst she did was make me a great-tasting cup of coffee.
It was at the FPCC that I met Howard Schulman. Howie was a few years older than me, had an exhilarating energy and enthusiasm for poetry and revolution and I thought I’d met my own personal Neal Cassady character. Howie edited the magazine Pa’lante, put out by the League of Militant Poets. He asked me to take a stack with me to Cuba. “Hand them out to anyone you want but give at least half of them to Maria Rosa Almendros, a great woman — you must meet her!” The cover was a black and white photo of some anonymous pistol-packing hombre and inside were writings by Cubans and Americans, including Ginsberg, Leroi Jones, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and other hip radicals. (This was the only issue of Pa’lante to see the light of day.)
One night walking around somewhere in the East Village, Howie and I, we were discussing poetry, specifically the so-called new american poets and Howie asked if I was a poet. I said I was. “Who do you want to meet? I can introduce you to anyone – I know all the poets. How about Paul Blackburn? He lives just over in the next block.” We walked the block and from the middle of the street Howie hollered at the sky, “Blackburn! Hey, Blackburn!” It was a six-story walkup, no intercom, and that’s how you did it. Blackburn was one of the poet luminaries I knew from the magazines and anthologies and it was like Howie, my personal guide, was calling up to the poet gods in heaven so that I could myself be admitted there.
Blackburn’s studio was all white with crammed bookcases and a desk that ran the length of one wall and made an ell down the other and was piled high with papers, manuscripts, books, scribblers, and paperback volumes in the centre of which was his typewriter. This is where poetry got made. Blackburn told me about the Tuesday night open readings at the Deux Magots. I went every Tuesday after that and it was there I discovered poet and underground film legend, Taylor Mead, star of The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man, and other essential cinema classics.
I’d go up to Times Square and meet Howie in cafeterias around the corner from the office in which he from time to time worked at a business I believe owned by his uncle. He proved to be a great inspiration for me because he never doubted my poetic gifts even though I had none. And his high spirits and love of everyone on the scene was infectious. In spite of haphazard efforts on my part to write anything remotely interesting or beautiful, in his presence there was no room for doubt and eventually the great cop-out that sustained me into the future, that I could live like a poet even if I was incapable of writing or understanding anything, served me well thanks to his inspired if misplaced confidence. (If this makes no sense to you then you know how I feel!)
A month later, after the Howard Schulman, Paul Blackburn, Lower East Side butcher knife wielding sex criminal days I was in Havana, taking the bus from the Hotel Riviera to the Casa de las Americas to meet Maria Rosa Almendros and give her a stack of Pa’Lantes. And when I got back to New York a month after that with all my luggage and camera and film and cigars and everything else I had with me stolen by the Yankee pigs somewhere between Miami and New York it was Howie who dragged me around to the Canadian Consulate and U.S. Department of Something-or-Other to demand explanations and the return of these confiscated goods – to no avail but he tried, he was furious whereas all I did was shrug and stare dumbly North at Canada to where I eventually returned.
If I had taken a picture of Howie I could have shown it to you now, but it would have been stolen with everything else and exists perhaps in a file cabinet hidden somewhere under the labyrinthine imperialist cesspool of america. So all I have are some vague and some vivid memories and a face I can’t even recall.
Less than a year before he himself passed on Allen Ginsberg, in reply to my query as to the whereabouts of Howie Schulman informed that he’d died sometime before that. So that’s my Howie Schulman story.
Well, I remember Howard´s face and also have photographs. I lived with Howard on 1299 3rd Avenue in New York from 1968 to 1970. The last time I saw Howard was in 1984, when I visited the States, and he died in 1988, I think. His cousin Susan Brownmiller wrote to me to tell that he had died.
By the way, I have a copy of P´Alante.
December 17, 2008