Ray Bremser (1934-1998)

Ray Bremser master poet returned to New York after 8 years’ absence wrinkle-faced as before, to attend my “Rainbow Body Reading Series” at Brooklyn College & same night read at St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project. Next evening we did two poetry readings shows together for jazz-club Village Vanguard anniversary week celebrations. He left early next morning by bus, for safety from drink, to his upstate New York Utica apartment. Saw him this way the night before all these poetry scenes, at my house, February 21, 1995. (Ginsberg Caption) photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Ray Bremser (1934-1998) was one of the great neglected figures of the Beat Generation.

Ray Bremser (from The Beat Generation soundtrack): “I was corresponding with Allen before I got out of jail, about a year before I got out of jail, and that’s how I came on the scene. Allen arranged it all. He asked me in a letter, “send me some poems, kid” (the kid in jail, you know, in the reform school), and, sure, I sent him some poems, and he sent them to other people, and they published them, you know (I had no idea that I was going to be publishing anything). Well, they had a party for my release, my publisher, the first person who published me, LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka]. I met a lot of people the second I was out of jail.”

Amiri Baraka: “Well he was in jail, you know, a young dude locked up for..I think it was armed robbery, or something like that. He was over here in Jersey…he was born in Jersey City, so we could discuss that, and, you know, it was a lively poetry, and it seemed like he had that healthy disrespect, you know, for the powers that were, and are, and I guess that’s how we got hooked up”.

and later [approximately a minute and thirty-five seconds in] –

Ray Bremser: “All the black musicians that were yelling (sic) at that time were doing the same thing we were. So they influenced us with their glib tongues, done melodiously, rather than verbally, rather than with words, (and) with their body English, (it was a very very very nice marriage)…
[approximately four-and-three-quarter minutes in‘]: “I’m Kerouac’s disciple and I’m jazz’s disciple and I’m a jazz poet, and Jack was the first jazz poet”.

[at approximately seven minutes in]: “You see, the Beats weren’t so organized that they plotted out, “well, let’s go change the morals of the country, or the world (because it became world-wide, it started out just national), but, nonetheless, we were fighting against the inhibition type thing that was forced on this country after the Second World War. Well Jack.., the Beats, started early, you see. I’m on the fringes of the Beats, I came in 1958, just when they were beginning to hit the top (which was my fortune, I suppose, my good fortune), but the morals was something that had to be changed, and the only way that it could be done was by protesting it (and), by protesting it in such a manner that it would cause some sort of wild and angry.. You see, a great artist is a provocateur, he has to be a provocateur in order to change what he’s rebelling against, or yelling at, and that’s what the Beat Generation was about at the beginning, but it was all really not that conscious – we were just having a good fuckin’ time!”

From Czech tv, from a later, “death-bed”, “no regrets” documentary:

“Beat? I don’t know. I’ve always considered myself a jazz poet. I only knew Jack Kerouac for, like, sixty hours? We talked a lot, you know, and… we didn’t speak about poetry, it was about girls, and wine (Jack likes his wine. I liked my vodka and my beer and everything else but.. I used to go to poetry readings and drink a bottle of Thunderbird before I really felt like I was ready to read. I was always kind of nervous, but the alcohol, you know settles you a little bit.” [footage, then, of Bremser reading]

“A lot of poets they’ll write a poem, and they’re just writing a poem, and the poem will suggest a title to them. With me, it’s the reverse entirely. A theme.. like a jazz musician, a theme will come in, you know. Maybe I’ll go out and say a theme and the theme will say – “electronic typewriter” – ok, if it works, and I can build on it, I’ll build on it, I’ll call the poem “Electronic Typewriter”. The words’ll come from that and they’ll draw on the theme, the improvisation will draw on the theme.” – [further Bremser reading footage]

“There’s a thing called ego in some poets, and sometimes it’s tremendous. I don’t think I have one big as some other poets, but it’s there. I felt really nice when really fine poets have told me they admired my work, and..some of the thrills of my life were…not so much when Allen Ginsberg told me I was better than him, and he says, “this man is a poet that is so far under-rated it’s ridiculous, and I’ve always thought it was, well not ridiculous but I know that I’m under-rated, under-rated, under-appreciated, and under-paid (when I do get paid).” – [reading footage returns]

“Yeah, I learned to roll with the.. like Sinatra, I took the blows. I did play it my way, pretty much, you know. I wouldn’t let myself get gloomy. Melancholy? no, that’s not for me, you know.
I can be happy. I was the Chairman of the (Honor Committee in the Honor dormitory) in the Bordentown Reformatory, for almost six years before they shipped me to prison to finish my time. And if anyone was having a good time in jail. it was me. I just made it mine, that’s all. Whatever pain came, it’s. (it was).. to convert it into something that’s not painful, or much less painful than it ordinarily is, or would be.” [Bremser reading footage again]

“Well, that’s where all the struggle is, I believe. My trouble(s) started, really, when I felt the loss of Allen Ginsberg..[Allen died April 5 1997, Ray died November 3, 1998] (because) I just let everything go, I multiplied my drinking and stuff, you know. I stopped drinking three months ago, a little over three months ago,[the footage dates from 1997] because I realized it was not only causing me too much..in my life, in my condition, but, economically, I stopped too, even beer I couldn’t afford anymore (oh, I’d pay (for) it, but I couldn’t afford it). And me, I like to eat good, and I like good good coffee (I like it in the bean, I don’t like it ground up, I ground my own) – that’s better than a good woman – actually a good cup of coffee and a good woman would kill me, I’m pretty sure of that – that’d be one toke over the line!”

Here’s Allen on Bremser’s poetry – “..In Bremser’s poetry we have powerful curious Hoboken language, crank-blast phrasing, rhythmic motion that moves forward in sections to climaxes of feeling. Imagination shifts in and out of heard-about places in space and rime. American primitive, jailhouse primitive, and dramatizes key ideas – personal empathy with Egypt and a Pop Art approach to Platonic archetypes. Where is the truth in this. The truth here is the realized expression of emotional awareness. Poesy a rhythmic articulation of feeling, emotional physiology vocalized…..”

“Poem of Holy Madness, Part IV” and “Blood” appeared in Donald Allen’s groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (1960). This is Bremser’s short note there: “Born Jersey City, 1934, educated at Bordentown Reformatory, I dug Billie Holiday at 15 and Wayne Shorter at 25. Best poets alive are me, Ginsberg, Jones (sic), Kerouac, Orlovsky and Corso. Have read at Vassar, Princeton, Lehigh, etc”

For further information, here’s Al Aronowitz’s “Ray Bremser Memorial” (including notably the memories of Bonnie Bremser (nee Bonnie Frazer). Further notes on Troia: Mexican Memoirs (published in 1971 in England as For Love of Ray) are available here.

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