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by Ben Pleasants, guest contributor.  [January 13, 2007]





[]  Out there is the poetry establishment. They decide. I could give you a fistful of names. Worms in a bottle, Bukowski called them. They live off grants. They write for the I'll Review Your Book, You Review My Book Review. Each one has a chair on a committee from some mediocre American university.

For Steve Richmond, they were the poetry mafia, the grinning face of evil. They were clichés.

They didn't want a rich, Jew boy, rent collector on the inside rail. Steve did begin to cry. I can say that. I was there. It was sad. He was so alone on the westside of L.A., alone in his heroin poems and LSD demons. I drove him to the UCLA Medical Center for thorazine. It helped.

Richmond was an explorer of inner space. Like Thelonious Monk.


       Hey, I woke up today!
       And there was the sun again
       shooting in through the shades
       and spearing me in the eye!
       And the clock!  Still alive!
       and the rug was not on fire!
       and the lawn!  The trees!  The gutter!
       All there!  Once again!

Check out the cadences, the left out space, the silences. It's like waking up from surgery when you were not sure you were ever coming back. Or from bad drugs. Richmond was an expert on bad LSD trips. He took his demons with him. 

And Grove Press missed all this? Wow. That's all I can say. 


Let's get down to method. Gagaku. Listen:



      who will follow me here
      no one?
      no one comes here.
      no one follows me here
      no one hears these cadences.
      I am quite happily alone
      I don't even have
      to smile.

The word that jumps out at you is cadences. Richmond's Gagaku poems derived from Japanese Court Music. He'd put on these rare Japanese court recordings. He got them from Kathy King at the UCLA Ethnomusicology Library. Bought them from collectors. Borrowed them. Brought them to his little house by the sea.


All his money draining away on rare books and recordings and punching bags and drums and colored chalk for his lovely charcoal nudes. And for his expensive and exotic and illegal chemicals.

The Santa Monica cops were always watching Richmond. They busted him over and over again. They busted him for profanity when he published his antiwar magazine with huge headlines: FUCK HATE.

"Smut Peddler Jailed" was the headline in the Santa Monica daily. 

But mostly Steve Richmond was busted for drugs. His family gave up on him. Everyone did.

No one listened but Bukowski. They wrote to each other like lovers. Like father and son.  There are more than 150 letters between Richmond and Bukowski, mostly written in the mid 1960s. You'll never read them. They've been censored out of existence by Bukowski Inc. The Richmond/Bukowski letters are bad for business. Bad for the Bukowski business. Bad for the rare books trade. 

Ask the boys and girls who make the noise what really happened to Richmond/Bukowski correspondence. Say the rare book & manuscript market in L.A. Maybe David Zeidberg of the Huntington knows. Or Victoria Steele at UCLA. They once worked together, decades ago. Ask why they never speak to each other. Why they dance around the rare book market leaving Richmond's erotic demons on the shelf. It's possible they don't even know. The king and queen of the rare book market in L.A.


Manhattan Sharks


My most recent tapes were recorded after the mid-May, Dan Fante party at my house. A hundred people showed up for a reading of Don Giovanni, Dan Fante's great play about his old man and siblings and a possible ex-wife. I wrote the intro. 

One guest, David Garcia, said Steve was fading fast. He arranged a meeting. I hadn't seen Steve in twenty years. We travel in different circles. I showed up at his motel room in East Santa Monica where he lives with a few Thelonious Monk like souls. This is how it went (edited version):


Ben Pleasants: .Let's start with your family.

Steve Richmond:  My mother and father died. My brother and sister…I haven't seen them for three or four years. They don't want to have anything to do with me. I was using heroin. For thirty years. I stopped using about a year ago.

Ben:  I always thought you were the American Rimbaud. The most important lyric poet writing in America since WWII. Especially the Gagaku poems. They're the most important things you've ever written. Microscopic examinations of the self. They had a lot to do with the drugs you were taking at the time. The drugs were the microscope, I think. They allowed you to look deep inside.


Steve:  I read that 99% of all art is created when the artist is intoxicated. I was exorcising my evil. It was therapy. LSD therapy. 

I wrote thousands of Gagaku. It became an ego trip, going deeper and deeper into myself. 

I said to Bukowski "it's selfish." He said "So, be selfish. That's what art is. Be a man. Be selfish. Go deeper and deeper down into yourself."

Ben:  Bukowski loved those Gagaku poems. You went so far down into yourself with heroin and LSD, it was like looking into another universe. You paid the price for it.

Steve:  Yeah. I did my work. Now I'm retired.

  the demons teeth
  are inverted and pointed
  like lime circles hardened but white
  and are glistened

  the eyes are black holes
  encircled by matter torn like a rag
  only their tongues are red
  lower lips are turned to orange

  green spattered on lower fringes
  staining upward like spider web
  hoods of white cloth pointed
  and flap with cotton muff at tip

  in groups they clap single fingered gloves
  gloves white but turn to leather
  the seam turns red, blue is soaked all over
  fingers scraping blue turned multicolor from the barrier

  their teeth puncture the glass barrier
  the glass cracks.


Ben:  But the poems are out there. Al Berlinski printed a solid number in Hitler Painted Roses. You've published about fifteen books.

Steve:  I know. I go online about once every five years. Get all the ego boost I need. Santa Monica Poems. Al distributed that one. 

Ben:  You gave me your first book, Poems, when we were at UCLA. 1964. You lived in Hollywood?

Steve:  1624 North Gardner Street. I went to Hollywood High. Played on the basketball team.

Ben:  How old were you when your first book came out? Poems.

Steve:  Twenty-two. I had a marriage that broke up after three weeks. The girl, Ruby, could never come at all. Hours would go by. I was a kid. I didn't know what was happening.  I was all fucked up emotionally about that. Then Ruby took me to a reading at UCLA's Janss's Steps. There were 400 people. 308 were women. About 200 were foxes.  I couldn't believe it. The guy's a poet. All the girls are attracted to a poet.  I'm gonna be a poet. That's when I wrote Poems

Ben:  You sent it to Bukowski and he wrote you right back. 

Steve:  Yeah. He kept writing me. When I met him, he was forty-four, but he looked like he was eighty. He looked like he was gonna die.

Ben:  You next book was Hitler Painted Roses. Bukowski encouraged you to write it. Was he your mentor?

Steve:  I don't like the word. He was a Leo and I'm an Aquarius. He encouraged me, that's right.

Ben:  He did write the introduction to Hitler Painted Roses. Bukowski loved the title. He loved Hitler. As far as I know, Hitler never painted roses.

Steve:  He painted duplexes. He also painted paintings. He was a painter gone crazy. That was my point. A whole fucking civilization based on a lunatic. 

Ben:. Earth Rose was your third book. 

Steve:  1974. It was my answer to Black Sparrow. They wouldn't publish me, so I published it myself.

Ben:  In the forward, Bukowski wrote the following about you and your work:

"I like writers who are as strong as their work. That is the final test. I don't believe you can separate the man and his work. I don't believe that if the work is strong and the man is weak, that is all that matters. The strong man with the strong work will endure. No publishers have come to Richmond. The publishers are wrong. The work will endure. The poems you read here will endure."

Steve:  I wrote a line "let the fags have San Francisco." I think that finished it for me with City Lights [Press]. I grew up in Hollywood. Where gays tried to blow me in the street. You know what I wrote about Neeli in Spinning. Of Bukowski? He was down on his knees with his tongue out. Berlinski took it out of the book. Maybe I am a homophobe? Maybe I'm a latent faggot. I don't know. All I know is that I'm impotent now, and it's nice in a way.

Ben:  Tell me about the Santa Monica Poems.

Steve:  I was hung up on Kathy King. Katherine King. She came into the Candle Shop once and the sun was shining on her silhouette. She's responsible for the C.S. Lewis movies.  Narnia. Her name was mentioned at the Academy Awards. She's an Aphrodite figure. She was working at the Gagaku Department at UCLA. Ethnomusicology. I spent one night with her.


Ben:  Maybe she knew Jim Morrison?

Steve:  She thought Morrison was a pig. I asked her about Morrison. He visited me about six or seven times during the years. He wanted to talk about his poems. The wizard shit. He was a serious poet. Just before he died he came over. A sycophant was driving him around. He was drinking Jack Daniels. I could see he was on the way out. Like me.

Ben:  So you wrote a lot about Kathy King. She became your muse.

Steve:  She didn't like it either. I lay drunk on her doorstep. I called her a hundred times a minute. She lived on Stoner. A little dive on Stoner.

Ben:  When was that?

Steve:  About 1975. She was the girlfriend of Sheldon Pearl. She worked at Open City. How nice it is to be out of all that shit. 

Ben:  I love your work. I just thought you were going to end up in serious trouble.

Buy this amazing Jim Morrison tribute DVD!


Steve:  I did. Thirty years on heroin. Tracks here. I almost died. I have a hump on my shoulder. [A benign tumor as large as a grapefruit.] We're lucky to be walking around. I was in Brockman Memorial Hospital for five or six days. In the Psych Ward to get off the heroin. It helped. A friend got me in there. He told me to tell them I was going to kill myself. I pretty much was. They got me clean. We're both happy men because we wrote. I stopped. I could write another ten thousand Gagaku but who needs it? I'm tired. I was ready to die a few years ago. Met this girl. She comes and visits me once in a while.

Ben:  You always like women. Bukowski had a love hate relationship with women.

Steve: There was a biography of Bukowski by a guy from England. Linda Bukowski didn't want me to talk to him. Sounes. She wanted me exclusively for her movie. I tried to get a thousand dollars from her not to talk with the guy. I was a drug addict.  A power hungry Leo. Anarchist.


I left it there. I didn't have the heart to talk about the million dollar house he lost in Santa Monica. The house on the hill where he lived with his girl and his drug dealers. I wanted to remember the poet. The greatest lyric poet in America since Hart Crane. The poet and his demons. He's still out there in Santa Monica.


        those idle eyes
        sit by the seaside
        all the lepers of insight

    That was the way I left him.

Copyright 2007 by Ben Pleasants. Poetry copyright Steve Richmond.



Ben Pleasants is a playwright and author of Visceral Bukowski: Inside the Sniper Landscape of L.A. Writers.

His most recent novel is Spearmint Leaves.

He can be contacted at:

Vampire Nation

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