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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Number 77: Richard Brautigan "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace"

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

-- Richard Brautigan

Hap Notes: Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) has a name that even sounds like poetry to me but it may be because I loved his stories and poems and books when they were refreshingly new and somewhat shocking. I kept battered copies of Brautigan books (Most notably In Watermelon Sugar and Revenge of the Lawn) with me, in my purse or backpack or slipped into a pouch on the cover of a three-ring binder, for many years. I always think I've outgrown him. Then, I re-read something of his that hits me just right and I fall in love with him all over again.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Brautigan grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He moved to San Francisco in 1956 but before you nod knowingly about the "Beats" and the hippies I'm here to tell you that Brautigan, when he's good, transcends all that. He has a "whistling in the dark" positivity that is un-Beat-like. He's not a "flower child", he's more of a tree. He has a whimsical bent which is often childishly referred to as "childish." There's a wounded, still hopeful soul under most of his stories and poems and while this IS childlike, it's no more so than any other person on earth.

Brautigan was diagnosed as schizophrenic/depressive and given shock therapy in his twenties. He was a shy man with a very gentle soul. His personality came to life when he read his own poetry aloud: Here he is reading "Gee, You're So Beautiful It's Starting To Rain" His book Trout Fishing in America made him a counter-culture hero and famous enough to be featured in magazines. It has sold over 4 million copies. The books he wrote allowed him to travel and live. He visited Japan several times and loved it there.

Some writers, fans and friends of Brautigan's have expressed surprise at his suicide in 1984 but, quite frankly, I'm always surprised the gods allowed us to have him as long as we did. Here's a clue: he committed suicide in his home. When they found him, he'd been dead for weeks. He walked alone.

Brautigan's short stories are always my favorite. His stories are populated with old ladies who feed bees and people who replace their plumbing with poetry and movie directors' beautiful daughters. There's one in particular where he says he's trying to tell someone how he feels about a girl and he likens it to rural America first getting electric lights- how amazing it was that they could have bright lights on in the dark-the electricity! His work is charming, eccentric and fits into no particular genre.

He had a very rocky upbringing with several abusive step-fathers and the soggy sadness of poverty in the northwest. It's a little off but I always think of him being somewhat like Curt Cobain (Nirvana.) Brautigan, like Cobain, in spite of his fame, had no one to whom he could relate and even if he did, there was no way to put it into words as hard as he tried.

Here's a good Brautigan quote: "All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds."

You can find more Brautigan here:

Bonus poem because it's so hard to select just one Brautigan- he's like a candy store- so much delicious stuff:

Moonlight on a Cemetery

Moonlight drifts from over
A hundred thousand miles
To fall upon a cemetery.

It reads a hundred epitaphs
And then smiles at a nest of
Baby owls.

--Richard Brautigan

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