Okay. Some serious stuff here. I’ll probably get excommunicated for it by the local poetry literati, but sometimes you just gotta step out into the hail of bullets and hurl your rock in protest.
My friend Leonard J. Cirino is dying of Liver Cancer. It’s fucking tragic! Not only is it a painful way to go, and lord knows old Leo has suffered enough in his lifetime already (I’m not sure it’s my call to say that, but anyone who knows him knows that this is true, believe me), but he’s one hell of an awesome guy! It’s just not fair. Leo has done so much for so many. Not only was he a publisher (Pygmy Forest Press), but he has mentored numerous poets making them better just by knowing him, not to mention learning from him. He has taught prisoners to express themselves through poetry, rather than violence. He has been an advocate for well-written/well-crafted poetry and speaks very strongly in support of this.
Granted, Leo is no saint, but who among us is? He has had his low points, but he has striven to make up for them…I’ve already mentioned some of the things he has done, above. I’d like to also point out that for many years Leo gave money out of his own pocket to other small presses that he deemed important. It wasn’t much, but the symbolism far outweighed the monetary gain. Every month he would parcel out money that was left over from his SSI (which wasn’t very much…less than $300) and send out checks. I finally had to beg him to stop doing it, I was sure that he could spend that money on himself or his mother (into her 90s) more appropriately. I was pretty certain the small press could get along without his financial support…we already had his moral support.
So Leo is dying. Those who know him will grieve his loss. And the word will slowly filter down to the rest of the small press world that was influenced by this man that he is gone…and where is the justice in that?
I ask that because while Leo’s orbit continues to decay, my friend Scott Wannberg is being deified in Venice, CA. for being nothing more than himself: a big, sometimes cuddly Panda bear of a man, who brought cheer to many by acting like a mild mannered buffoon, but who did next to nothing to move the craft of poetry forward. Scott was an innocent, a rarity in these days of cynicism and pandering, and as such he was susceptible to those who would cash in on his innocence.
What Scott brought to the table was a very simplified world-view, almost child-like in it’s naivete. Some say he was an Idiot-savant, others say it was Aspergers, but whatever the name Scott persevered unaware that he was decidedly different from most everyone else. He was a beautiful man for the most part. But unlike Leonard, Scott couldn’t do anything without guidance, and those he “chose” to guide him didn’t always have his best interests at heart. At least that’s how I saw it.
Scott was certainly loved. He was a big goofball and I do miss him. But the idea of him being canonized like he was some kind of deity, just because of who he was is just wrong!
Scott was a guy who wrote poems. And towards the end of his life, he babbled like some kind of manic parrot and was egged on to babble because people thought it was hilarious. It was like he was a trained monkey…banging away on his little drum with a happy look on his face. He was, essentially, exploited, just like those poor folks in that movie “The Titticut Follies” (a movie about a group of mental patients who were used by the staff of a hospital they worked at, for their own “fun”). And we all laughed (myself included).
And for this Scott’s name will adorn an institution (ironic when you think about it) in Venice. An institution where numerous other poets have been a part of; poets with far greater fame, some of which worked tirelessly to advance the craft of poetry, and yet…where are their plaques? Christ, if this continues, will there be a name of a poet plastered on every nook and cranny of this place? What’s next? How about the John Thomas Memorial armchair? Or the Stuart Z. Perkoff Memorial bannister? Or the Philomine Long Memorial powder room?
Where’s the justice indeed?