Herbert Huncke’s 1982 Workshop at the Jack Kerouac Conference at Naropa

[“Old-timer & survivor, Herbert E Huncke, Beat Literary Pioneer, early decades thief, who introduced Burroughs, Kerouac & me to floating population hustling & drug scene Times Square 1945. From ’48 on, he penned remarkable musings, Collected as autobiographical vignettes, anecdotes & storyteller’s tales in the classic The Evening Sun Turned Crimson (Cherry Valley, 1970) and later Guilty of Everything. Here age 78 in basement back-yard, his apartment East 7th Street, near Avenue D, New York, May 18, 1993″]

Herbert Huncke weekend continues.

Herbert Huncke’s Workshop in 1982 at the Jack Kerouac Conference at Naropa Institute
Audio (from the remarkable Naropa Archives) can be accessed here and here

Student: …I just know that sometimes If I have to sit down and write about something that I’m imagining..

Huncke:  ..you have trouble. I can believe it, I can believe it.  It’s one of the most difficult ways, I think, in the final summing up, of expressing yourself, because you’re trying.. you want to remember, you’re being influenced, not only by the thing that has attracted you in the first place to that particular scene, or whatever it is that you’re trying to write about, (but)..  You lose the..the atmospheric, you know, the nuances that we’re not aware of, or we’re not so much aware of ..The temperature (for example)? You know, you know what I’m saying?

Student:  You don’t have the advantage of your own responses

Huncke:  That’s right, that’s right, and I believe if.. My belief is to a large extent..,.Now I wish, believe me, that I had Mr Burroughs style, for example. He is just incredible, I think he’s the writer of this century, or certainly one of them and top man at this point – but I can’t do that because I don’t know how really. I haven’t ever disciplined myself sufficiently enough, or I haven’t been able to. Much of my life has been spent just trying to get by, from one day to the next. (just like other people, of course, but..). I was very much at loose ends.
I didn’t have a home that I could go back to, and that sort of thing.. I had to establish (myself) on my (own)…. not that I try to paint a very tender picture of the whole thing but, this was myproblem. And then, of course, along the way there were any number of pitfalls that would sidetrack me also, but, nevertheless, in my heart (or the area we call heart), I have always wanted to carry a bit of that feeling of..   And let other people know, you know, that, it isn’t the end of everything, that it will go on, and that you will, somehow or another, face the crisis and get through it, you know.. and if you catch (on).. Everything that happens to you, I believe, is conducive to what you say eventually, and how, maybe not how well you say it, but, certainly, what you say and what you feel.
Of course, in the final summing up, I think you..  That’s the major…what do I want to say?.. inspiration, so to speak. You want to help other people, you want to awaken other people to the fact that “you’ll get through this” and “let me show you what happened in my case.”  That’s what I started out to do. I haven’t done it very successfully. Not all that, but, at least you… Maybe much of what you’re trying to say will come out. Do you know what I’m saying?
Again, to get back to, telling you what to do – I just can’t – All I can do is say  “Write whenever you’re able to, in whatever way is comfortable to you, as much as possible – as much as possible”.      Are there any other (questions)?

Student: Do you do a lot of drafts?..Do the drafts…

Huncke: Well, I have done that, but I found that I got bogged down with material as a result. (again, that’s due to my disorganization, my.. you know, it’s…it might work very effectively for you – might, I don’t know, but I.. if.. What I like to do, ideally, is just write the thing (out) completely, at that time, get it out, you know, then maybe.. And not re-read it – (If I’d re-read it, I’d never look at it again!)  So that’s…  It’s got to be tossed away some place..
In the very very beginning when I was just a young boy and trying to say things, I found that if Ire-read, I’d tear it up!  Now, I don’t believe in that. I really don’t. I think it’s a very big mistake. I think one, at some time.. No matter, when you’ve said something (and it’s come from inside, in whatever way it comes out), it contains that spark, that little, you know,  desire there. It’s there, you know, and you shouldn’t lose any of it, if possible. You’ll find you get a lot of your material from..
Once, everything that I had written and (that) I thought had possibilities suddenly disappeared.. it would just disappear, you know  – I don’t know, I wasn’t ripped-off of that.. (of) other things (yes), it was gone and,  you know. Looking back over it, I, later, (this is shortly after the rip-off happened), you know, I felt so discouraged – that what little I had managed to get together.. – wow! –
But, you know, it has to balance up somewhere along the line and.. I can’t complain.

Student: Did someone ripped off a bunch of manuscripts from you?

Huncke: Not manuscripts, a bunch of manuscripts, but they were notes and little.. my efforts to express myself poetically at one time (I was still a starry-eyed young man at that point -a mere boy!  – I hadn’t really reached, even fully reached to, what is known as the adolescent  period). So.. it..

Student: So.. but you’d been writing then..when you were a teenager?

Huncke: …all my life. Sure. Even before that – trying to scratch it down, you know, trying to put it together in such a way. I think everyone..  You’ve all started out more or less like that…It’s been there..the germ, it’s been there, you know, it.. whether it has taken shape or not . It’s..

Student: Have you written poetry? I’ve never seen any of your poetry I don’t think.

Huncke: Well  I think there are a couple of poems  in the…  I’m not at all pleased with the things that I call poetry, you know. I.. Yeah, I have written poetry, or I thought I was writing poetry. Again, I don’t know about that. Didn’t we start out, or didn’t I start out, by saying that I don’t believe there’s a difference between the two, but, yes,, a formalized poem, I did, on several occasions, try to write what might be termed a…

Student: With a typewriter? or did you do it all long-hand?

Huncke:  All long-hand , all long-hand.

Student..    …trying to get it down.

Huncke: : Well, less so perhaps than typing for me.. I, unfortunately, never really found that .. I suppose I could have made it, if I’d really wanted to, made it, or set myself up, in such a way that I could have learned to type. I didn’t really learn to type and I didn’t think it was that important back then. See, I didn’t know if I was really going to someday be a so-called “writer”, you know. I was just hoping, and I was so busy doing other things, gathering data for the book, you know, that I got side-tracked always and I didn’t stay and discipline myself (but I think the discipline is good – I’m not.. I’m not being critical about it at all, I think it’s great, especially when I….)

Student: I thought you really did it yesterday [Huncke read the previous day at Naropa Institute with William S Burroughs and John Clellon Holmes]. I thought that was very poetic  I was moved somehow in a way that I don’t really understand.. It was down beat..

Huncke:  Well thank you. My stories that are published are usually, or in most instances, they’re the result of one session, one session only. I sat down. I wrote like that. And this was what came out of it.

Student: Do you have a favorite time to write? a time of day or night, or just whenever it hits you?

Huncke: Whenever it hits me (of course, that’s ideally – we’d all like that, but it can’t be done, really, that I know of, unless you’re blessed with a, you know, with an unlimited income, and you can be sure that you don’t have to make a living, that sort of thing, but to just.. you know.. I tried to always.. some of the things that I find.. Well, for example, the “Elsie John” story that I wrote. (that I read yesterday), I had.. you know, I’d kicked the idea around in the back of my mind, and I’d thought, “Well, that would make a good story. I’d like to talk about Elsie John. I’m sure it would be interesting, you know, that sort of thing”. But then, I just let it go – but it was there. And, finally, one day, I just sat down, there was a.. (when I say, “one day” – early morning, about three o’clock in the morning – I’d been knocking around.. (this was in New York) ..I’d been knocking around the city, and I was tired, I was, literally, tired, and I really thought that I was going to go to sleep, but I didn’t go to sleep. I sat and wrote from three o’clock till daylight, much after daylight – and this is the result. It hasn’t been changed much. It’s been, you know, condensed a little bit.  And I went back over it before I.. I think I showed that story to Allen (Ginsberg)  the first time I showed it to anyone, and he liked it, you know, he was encouraging and that’s the way I was. It was just like that. So I don’t know, (I  thought), if he likes it, perhaps. (So) that was it . But that’s….  Any time, you know,  five o’clock in the afternoon…

Student: How long between the incident and when you wrote it down?

Huncke : Oh, quite a number of years in this (case)..  You know…I think that’s explained at the beginning of the story.. maybe not . You know it (all) happened, of course, when I was just a boy. I was, I think, roughly around fifteen when all of that happened. I met Elsie John. You can imagine how it impressed me. I can still, you know, see him so vividly, and remember the tone of voice (I wish I could have captured that, because it would have filled in so much). The strange little accent was there, the flashing blue eyes, the smile, you know. He was obviously a person that had experienced a great deal, and this was all new to me. And also, he was connected to an aspect of life that had always intrigued me. My dream as a young boy (was) either to be.. well, this was after the cowboy-and-indian routine.. I went into carnivals, you know – oh boy! that was… I wanted to get away as a boy (to) a circus, run away and work in a circus. I just wanted to be in (a) circus atmosphere. They seemed like such fascinating people to me. So here was a chance to get to know somebody, and I, you know, if I had the time to sit down and try to fill in some detail perhaps, use it as a nucleus for some of my further experiences.. the people that he introduced me to..

For example, (this was in Chicago, many years back, and it’s still..) (in) the sections there that were still.. held over from the late 19th Century – old clapboard houses (in the early settling days of Chicago, German immigrants had settled there) – and there were a lot of these houses that had been converted into rooming-houses, and here was a puppeteer living in the basement (of one of them) with his wife, very, you know, very straight people, really amazingly straight, but they were surrounded by all of these wooden dolls, that were just various efforts..

He was a wood-carver along with it, you know, and he had retained, you know, much stuff that he had worked on earlier. His wife used to do the dressing, for she had worked for… There were scraps of colored cloth around there. And Elsie took me over there and, you know, they took her in such, you know, complete acceptance. They weren’t concerned with the fact that he had make-up on, that his eye-lashes were beaded, that he was representative perhaps of homosexuality, or anything like that.. They just… He was someone to.. They loved him, really. They.. you know.. And she immediately tried to prepare some food, you know ,”from the old country”, that might tickle his palette a little, (or) delight or please him. And he took it all so matter-of-fact-ly. I was just sitting there.   It was great. So, you know, I felt that I was living. (Well,) in a manner of speaking, I was – One always is. I believe that.. No matter what you doing..at all times, even now, right now, each of you, are being a little something.. even if I can’t express it for you, it’s there.
So that’s when I was just a young boy. I was lost after that. How the hell was I going to possibly ignore all of this, this great world, you know, that was full of all these interesting people and happenings, and things like that? I had come originally from, really, a bourgeois middle-class family that didn’t last, you know.. During the… just before (the).. my mother and father had been (had grown up), just before, toward the end of the First World War, and here would be a whole new period of.. time, you know, (of concept), among the so-called establishment, and there were new values. Women were beginning to cut their hair, and you were no longer a jaded woman if you used make-up, and things like that. So there was all of this going on – and they were trying to learn (all this) as well. And they botched it up pretty badly. It took me a long time to realize that they blew it. Then came the  Depression, my dad, or my father, was confronted with maintaining, you know, his business somehow (he didn’t want to leave all the effort he put into it, all that). And then my father and mother finally broke up (they had to break up, or they’d’ve killed each other! ) So. .I got out of that as quickly as I could. I felt that I somehow…I felt guilty about it all. I  wanted to get away from it (but)… That’s me. Let’s get back to you people

Student: But it’s pretty interesting!

Huncke: Yes.

Student: One thing that impressed me about your book (The Evening Sun Turned Crimson) is the second story in there. It’s my favorite story. You weren’t afraid of this prison. It’s totally fascinating. You just went with this whole trip..

Huncke: You’re talking about “In the Park”?

Student: Yes.

Huncke: Well, you like that story? Would you like me to read it to you?

Student: Oh yeah, that would be wonderful. I’ve always been fascinated by..

Huncke: This is one of Allen (Ginsberg)’s favorite stories. You’ll immediately see why! – I’ve got to check the index..

Student: You were talking about favorite words, my favorite word is “serendipity” – happy accidents that happen in life.

Huncke:  Yes.

Student: You just take happy accidents with these people, you just go with them, and I don’t meet many people like that, and I was reading your stories, I thought, “that’s just great, I just love that about people too”, and.. (those) around me are horrified….

Huncke: Of course, of course.. Well, this is out of a desire to protect you, you know, to see that you don’t come to great harm.

Student: That’s right.

Huncke:  And it is easy for, still, to get involved with people that can hurt you physically, and so..

Student: Oh yeah.

Huncke: …perhaps it is wise to be a little cautious, you know. I don’t want to tell you “Just rush out there and do it! “, but, at any rate, that’s the way you get to know people, you know, and yes, that’s the way I have always been. It’s been helpful to me.

Student: I’ve got burnt a couple of times but most of the time, I just end up meeting some really interesting people.

Huncke: Sure. One gets burned, yeah.

Student: You live, you survive..and you learn..

Huncke: After a while.. You survive.. Ah, let’s see, that’s page seventeen,  – Well, I’m very loosely put-together this morning. You’ve heard me say that a couple of times, so I’m sorry…

Student: That was great.

Huncke [returning to his reading (from the book, (The Evening Sun Turned Crimson)]  This goes back to about the same period as the “Elsie John” story. It’s around that period I was a little..I think I was about thirteen..maybe not that old, twelve?

Student: When did you leave home?

Huncke: Well, the first time I left when I was twelve. I really.. I started running away at the tender age of six! – I really did! – I’d go and hide and they had to look for me, things like that. But then I’d break down and go back, you know. When I finally got out – I discovered that I could do it, that it was possible to break away and function – I really got started. Alright,” In the Park” – [Huncke begins reading, at approximately twenty-and-three-quarter minutes in, reading the story, “In the Park”, concluding, approximately thirty-two-and-a-half minutes in]
– I don’t know maybe I should turn this into a reading.

Student: I like the way you end your stories. It  just seems to end just right.

Huncke:  Well, thanks, I’ve had complaints about them. “Why don’t you tell us how it reallyended?”, they really want to know – but thanks. I didn’t mind it. That’s the way it ended for me. And, you know, it didn’t end there. It’s still with me (and the) whole experience and so forth. I don’t know. What else?  Anything else you want to hear?
Later on.. oh here’s another one.. I was going to read this yesterday [Huncke had given a public reading the day before], and since it’s, more or less, in a funny sort of way, a protest-type story, I  thought I should include it somehow, but I didn’t want to, you know, run over-time, (I thought we each were entitled to a half hour and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t cut into (John Clelland) Holmes’ time and Mr Burroughs, so I didn’t read it – I perhaps could have read it in the time-limit , but I wasn’t sure) – it’s titled “Alvarez” – It has a kind of interesting history, in that it’s one of the few (stories) that I gained a great deal of profit from! – I submitted it, after an experience I had incidentally, with David Susskind, of all people – (this is…. oh, when was it?  quite a number of years ago, in the ‘Sixties). He.said that he knew Hugh Hefner with Playboy magazine, and apparently he did, and I had been on a panel with him and he knew that I had written some things( I told him). He volunteered to send a story that I thought might be acceptable in to Hefner at Playboy . He would give me a recommendation, So I did and I got fifteen-hundred bucks for the thing.. so, you know, it was… it paid off nicely. It’s titled “Alvarez”. It came out, incidentally, in the October 1968 issue of Playboy, and they’d had it approximately four years before they published it, and then they changed some of the words without consulting me (which didn’t bother me).
This is the way it was really written, or as close as I come to it..
[Beginning at approximately thirty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in, Huncke reads his story, “Alvarez”, concluding, at approximately forty-eight-and-a-half-minutes in and with the line – “He was already dying when I first saw him”] – Not a good ending there – I could have done better. But that has always struck me (his death) as being so needless, so unnecessary, just too little effort on the part of organized society, just a simple sense of compassion, regardless, you know, after all, it’s your fellow man, your brother.

Student: The detailed descriptions of what the jail, what the prison life is like there is fascinating.

Huncke: Good. Well, it’s hard to describe, because..

Student: I can imagine.

Huncke: .. that’s the Tombs in New York. It’s a comparatively new prison, as prisons go, the old Tombs was considerably different from that. It also was, of course, a central building but it had been..built of red stone. It looked like a fort. There were towers there, you know, old crenellated-type towers at each corner and mid-way down the top,  the.. Yes?

Student: Would you have just omitted that last sentence now?

Huncke: Yes

Student: And just cut it maybe?

Huncke: Yes. I think it would be better, I mean, to say that he was already dying when I stepped in is sufficient – or, you know, the description’s sufficient. It wasn’t necessary ti say that

Student: ..There’s a silence that you maintain as an author..  You just watch what happens and things happen.

Huncke: Yeah, well you know, I feel that somehow.  Getting bored?

Student(s): No

Huncke: I don’t know how much longer I can last to be honest with you!

Student: Herb?

Huncke: Yes

Student: Will you read the section where you meet Burroughs?

Huncke: Yeah, Well, I haven’t read it in a long long time, so I’d probably stumble over that, even more than I did this. Wait, there’s someone that’s asking me a question in the back

Student: Do you find that when you write about these incidents that  there’s a sort of release of pain?, that you can sort of get in with it..(go on) with other things in your life? because they seem kind of..tragic, you know, in a sense, (some of these stories),

Huncke: Well, they are tragic. Do I still feel tragic about them? Well I feel tragic about a situation that allows them to happen, yes, but to say that I…certainly I felt..  It did something to me, I mean, once something has touched the.. the entity, we’ll say, which is you, or that you, you go past the ego, but the inner you that’s you,  it’s left its impression, it’s made its mark, and to say, you know, can I pick it up now as a tragic feeling? – Well, I can see the sadness in it . Does that answer what you’re asking..?  Yeah?

Alright, I’ll see, I don’t know  about the Burroughs thing ,but I think I better wait for a minute. I wonder if it’s possible to get either a coca-cola or a glass of water, my mouth is very dry. I have high blood-pressure and it’s necessary to take three different kinds of pills every morning, when I get up and take them.

Student  (Jerry Poynton) : Want me to  get you a coke?

Huncke: Would you get that Jerry?, I’d appreciate it very much ..or just a glass of cold water?

Student: I noticed (in) that photograph in the back of your book you look much younger

Huncke: Oh yes, I don’t like that photograph, I’m.. Although, someone that I like very much did it and has done others  that I liked much much better. I don’t know why they picked this particular photograph. I always think of myself as sort of looking like an old lesbian sitting on the subway (kind of casing, you know) to see if there isn’t something that I can latch on to somewhere along the line.

Student: There’s something very..

Huncke: Good shot!, great, thanks very much!

Student: I thought that photograph resembled Gertrude Stein’s somehow a little bit. It’s just..

Huncke: I understand what you mean. Sure. That was my first reaction, I didn’t want it even to get into the hands of these people – and damned if they didn’t get it and use it ! – The one that they’ve… there’s a second issue out now.

Student: It’s a better picture

Huncke: That’s right. It’s a much better picture, done by the same person, incidentally, and the one that we wanted used. Yeah, there is another photograph that I would prefer that had been used – the Knights [sicArthur and Kit Knight, publishers of Beat material The Unspeakable Visions of the Individual] had a photograph that I liked very much (as much as I can ever like a photograph of myself – for a long time I really played coy about having my picture taken – it’s just that I never wanted to, you know, stand for a photograph, I don’t know why…now I don’t care. I’m accustomed to it, but, again, Allen – there’s a photograph that maybe some of you have seen in one of the biographies of  Kerouac,  where I’m standing in a field with a straw hat– that’s done in Texas. He caught that sort of against my. Being, you know without my being aware of it. I was busy incidentally planting pot seeds out on the field and I’d just (stopped to) rest  and..

[Jerry Poynton returns with the coca-cola]

Herbert Huncke on William Burroughs’ farm, New Waverly, Texas, June, 1947

Huncke: Thanks Jerry, very much..

Student (JP): Do you have one?

Huncke: Yeah, somebody produced one for me, but thanks very much. (god knows, I  wanted it)  – Why don’t you use this? –  ok? -You’d rather have it in a glass? – No…no.. aw, come on, I got it now..you know, (thanks, tho’)

Huncke: So that one, I didn’t really pose for, but..  And now, of course, I don’t pose, but it took me a long time to be comfortable with it, you know – the eye of a camera

Student: Where do you live now?

Huncke: I live.. I’m living in Brooklyn Heights. You know, I can look over “across the bay”, (the) Statue of Liberty and (the) Staten Island Ferry  (goes) back and forth and river traffic, freighters occasionally,  I can see part of the docks, great big freighters still come in, you know, and load up, all night long sometimes if there are lights, things like that. Also, there are beautiful gardens just beneath my window and, you know, people that own some of the houses in that area, they’ve got, you know, planted gardens (they use them mainly in the hot summer months), and ..they’re so beautiful, you know. Sometimes I look down. I see all the flowers and trees and birds of every description, and they’ve gotten so they alight on my fire- escape out there, and I had a cat, that just sits there and glares, you know, He’s just  willing a bird to get within reach, but.. Anyway, it’s very nice. Yeah, I like it, and I’m comfortable. Also, I share the place with a companion and his girl and, you know, it keeps me from being extremely lonely. And, of course, I don’t get around as easily as I used to, I must admit. I find it’s tiring, and so I need a great deal of rest. But I feel I’m being self-indulgent, and I’m afraid (that), at some point, I’m just going to give up and lay down, you know – but I hope that never happens, or I hope it happens in such a way.. I ‘ve…let me just say this.., a very close friend of mine, a woman, I feel great deep affection for who was Edward Dahlberg’s wife for a number of years [Arlene Dahlberg], I see her quite frequently, and she watches over me a little, and so I get.. she has a place up on the edge of the ocean, and so sometimes I go up there with her (and) get away from the city, and so on., But otherwise … But her father just died, shortly before this situation, and all that’s happening, (the (Kerouac) conference), and I liked the way he just quietly walked into his room and got into bed for the night, very peacefully, went to sleep, and the next morning, that was it.  And she, you know, she felt touched, naturally, quite deeply, but, you know. it wasn’t this whole tragic thing, (or) all the concern for funerals, and (for) getting the body placed properly, you know, He’d paid for his plot many years ago, (and was) there next to his wife (she had just passed on a few years before, and he, sort of, gave up the ghost after that). He was in his eighties and.. the companionship, you know. They dated back to the time when a marriage was a marriage, sort of, you know, it wasn’t fouled up with all of the modern.. some of the things that have happened.

Student:  I get the feeling from some of your stories that you’ve had some really strong friendships with women and understand them in a way that..(they appreciate)

Huncke: Oh, I like women. I have always liked women, will continue to.. I also like men!

Student: Right!

Huncke: I like men and women.. I like people, all kinds of people. I always have. Once in a while, you know, if I forget myself, I get a little bitter and I make nasty snide remarks. I still have all of those hang-ups. I gossip, you know. I even tell people what they should do, and what they shouldn’t do, and how to do it, and all that sort of thing. But, mostly I try to stay out of things, out of, you know, out of people’s affairs, because everyone’s doing the best they can, and, when you get right down to it, this is the way you are, right this minute. What happens, you know, in the next ten minutes, you’ll be whatever you are, plus this, you know (or plus (and) a-ten-minute gap). Since we do keep a time-record, you know.. It took me a long time, a long..time again!  – (we use the word so, so often in our language, and, you know, it’s a man-made concept). We’ve got all this.. It feeds the ego a little bit, I guess, in a strange sort of way, makes us feel a little important. We’ve got to get there at a certain time. But, of course it’’s good – now, this morning, if we hadn’t set a time for my being here, I might not have gotten here, you know, so all of that…..

Student: Can I ask how you worked out your style?. Do you experiment? (with) differing degrees of ornateness, of  emotional oration, or was it always very sparse?

Huncke: It’s always been pretty much the way it is, I think. It probably comes about, to a large extent, as a result of my thoroughly enjoying talking, and, you know, since I was going to try, (as I was explaining to the group a little earlier), try to get some of it down on paper, I figured the best way to do it would be to do it as close to the way I talk as I possibly could, so (that’s all). No, I didn’t think in terms of (style).  I probably should have, and maybe it would have been better if I had, I don’t know. I think that everyone  will seek, sort of instinctively, what’s most comfortable, (most) relaxing, to them.. Yes?

Student: Are there any books by writers that you’ve read, that impress you with their style and..

Huncke: Well Burroughs, of course. Well, years ago (Malcolm) Lowry. I’ve read so many people, it’s hard for me to recall all of them now, citing anyone in particular). I was very impressed with (John) Steinbeck when he first came on the scene. I liked his.. especially Of Mice and Men. I thought that was a good book. Some of his other things where he tried to, you know, bring in more, I thought were less.. less effective, well say. Yeah, I like Steinbeck – the Bowles’ (Paul (and Jane) Bowles). I like Bowles. I..

Student: What was that second name you mentioned – Lowry, was it?

Huncke: Oh, Malcolm Lowry – Malcolm Lowry – Under The Volcano – I don’t know, I think he has some poetry that is published also.. I.. he’s somewhat dated now since he was recognized around the. .lets see, around the (19)40’s, I believe – Under the Volcano was a popular book. Of course, I sort of liked (Ernest) Hemingway. He.. you know, right on down the line..

Student: (Louis-Ferdinand) Celine?

Huncke: Celine, of course. Yes, I admire him very much, very much.

Student: (Marcel) Proust?

Huncke: Proust, I’ve read a little Proust. I must be honest in saying that I haven’t  pushed all the way through it, any more than I’ve completed [Tolstoy’s] War and Peace, but, you know, I’ve made the effort. One thing I always admire in Jack Kerouac was that he could make the statement that he found War and Peace a great book, and of course it is, but he had read it, all the way through! – I got to Dostoyevsky and I got stuck. I became enamored with Dostoyevsky, I really think that Crime and Punishment is a marvelous book. He was truly a great writer, I believe. Others? (Well,) so many, it’s hard to say.
I suppose somehow…

There isn’t anyone I’ve attempted to emulate really (again, feeling that I couldn’t, you know  –  I can’t take your style of writing and write as you would write, and you must write as.. well.. as an individual, each one of you, you know, evolve into your own style, as you go along, you know, you express yourselves, in your way, and the things that affect you, what your eye is seeing, what your ear has heard, what you have felt , all that sort of thing.. Is that too vague?

Student: Are you writing anything right now?

Huncke: I must say I’m not. I feel very dried –up (not really dried up, I’m… .I’m lazy, I somehow can’t  make the effort anymore. I don’t know whether I could really elaborate on this. You know, it’s pretty much what I feel still, in a funny sort of way. Of course, things have changed considerably, but, I’m.. you know, I still am not.. I no longer have the youthful drive that’s sort of essential, I think  – Yes?

Student: Are you considering perhaps an autobiography? Is there a biography?

Huncke: Well, there are.. there’s a series of tapes. I considered trying to use those, titled “Guilty of Everything” (which I really thought was a neat title and I got hung up on it – but I.. you know, since the.. the nights.. I submitted it to people who volunteered to edit it  but I was never satisfied with the editing, I would have to do it myself and it would be a terrific task and I…  This [Huncke points to The Evening Sun Turned Crimson] is what I consider my biography, in a sort of way. It’s all autobiography, autobiographical. One injects onself into everything they write (that one writes). You can’t..  Everyone does it. No matter how you write, or what your way, what you’re writing for – even for your living, you know, if you write commercially, let’s say, there’s still a great deal of yourself in it, you know, (inevitably).

Student: Do you write many letters?

Huncke: Not any more – Well, no, I was never a great correspondent, to be honest with you. Arlene (the lady I spoke of, a few minutes ago), we had a habit of writing notes to each other this way. I have keys, (to her place) of course, and, when I come over from Brooklyn (she’s located in Manhattan), I will leave a note for her (there’s always a little notebook there), so I leave notes for her that way, and it’s amazing how much comes out (of it). And she keeps them, and, later on, I look at them, and sometimes see what we’ve told each other over the time, you know, and so on.

Student: Do you keep on touch with (old friends) like Allen (Ginsberg)?

Huncke: Well, not consistently. Usually, when I’m desperate!  Exactly!  Poor Allen!  (He always pulls me out of my financial jams when I get into them, or helps me. Fortunately, I don’t have to call upon him as much as I used to, but he’s always down). You know, Allen is..a great person, and that way, he’s very compassionate – (a) great person, period – (why should I say (just) “in that way”),

Student: Your first book, Huncke’s Journal,  (is) real hard to find..

Huncke: Well, I was talking..  Diane di Prima and Alan Marlowe (I don’t know whether you know him, he’s here (Boulder, Colorado). He lives here, I understand). (They) were together in New York, and they decided to.. or they obtained a(n) off-set press, and I believe Diane sort of intended, at the time to, you know, do her..not only do books (which would be a satisfaction to her) but, she thought ,“why not help?” – (there were so many writers on the scene, you know, this is the.. just about the peak of the East Village set-up, before it became quite so, you know, run down as it is now (sic – 1976!), and there were people there all the time, and so there were people that would air their work in the bars, the Cedar Bar, places like that). So she had said to me, “Well, if you just give me some stuff, I’ll try to shape it up a little bit” . So that’s how the Journal came about. It was the second book they ran off. And now they’ve, since, given up the press, they have gone their separate ways, in a manner of speaking (although they’re still very good friends), and all that sort of thing so it’s..

(Student: They printed many copies?)

Huncke: I don’t have copy one of it myself, but, once in a while, Bob Wilson in New York City that has the Phoenix Bookstore will chance upon a copy. He’s sort of a collector and they come (through) his hands – or – Diane spoke to me the other day, briefly, and said that if I’d like to have anything that they have, or I’d like to … see, I have copyright, and if there were…. if I would like her to give me a letter, stating that anyone is free to publish it who wants to take the trouble, I could give it to them, and they (could) can run off some copies of it, but… It was my first book!

Student: You’ve got a story in there about William Burroughs in Texas and  you’re talking and you say that your stay in Texas would make another story or another book
Huncke:  It really would. it was a very very beautiful experience. The place that he had located was in East Texas in the old Brazos River territory. Apparently it had been a sort of hide-out back in the good ol’ days for a bandit named “Brazos” and he would take his mob galloping through these pine-woods, a (great) place for hiding-out. There’s the Brazos River, which is really a river that kind of winds down through bayou country, you know, (probably over Louisiana). And he found this old weather-beaten cabin, back in the pine-woods (now this was about fifty miles over highway toward Huntsville from Houston, to a little town called New Waverly – that was recognized as New New Waverly at the time he found it, because there had been a fire in Old New Waverly and (it had) burned down a number of  buildings, including a church that was standing off stark against the sky-line But there were.. you know.. it was a wide country-street, perhaps, oh, a quarter of a block long, a block long, maybe half a mile, and (with) all country-type stores on either side, and then a black macadam road that you turned off the highway (from) and went through this little town, and, to one side, was an old cemetery (you know, just tombstones standing there), and  you passed that, and then this macadam road twisted its way, sort of, in.. to a gentle hill area (small rolling hills). And a lot of black ex-farmers had purchased a little cabin  (little cabins) (that) was down there.. you know, here and there would be these beautiful little silver-grey cabins,  and there’d be maybe an old chinaberry tree in the yard, that sort of thing. So it really.. Just to get there was beautiful. And for a stretch of about twelve miles, one finally entered the piney-wood section, on either side of this road – pine-forests.  And when one reached that section, a short distance through there, you turned over onto an old dirt road that dropped down over a branch of the so-called Brazos River and wound its way again into, deeply into, the forest area, the wood area, and then from that, you turned on an old.. old.. I think they had called it a “logging road” (they, at some point, had sold some of the timber in there – these old trunks, you know), and had left a pair of tracks there, and it sort of twisted and made its way around the tree-trunks, and that sort of thing. And then you got to a cleared area (not literally cleared but, you know, (it was) more open). And here was this beautiful little cabin. It was just a cabin that’s all. Silver-grey in color, weathered, (and) with a field to one side, big tree, to one side of the cabin, that was loaded constantly with blackberries. There was a hawk that used to come over to the woods, you know, bring her young ones over and they’d feed off these berries (they’d try to get rid of them – they used to jump out (of) there and chase that old hawk). But anyway… That was a field. How large a field I wouldn’t really be able to tell you, but it was a good size, not overly large, with young pine trees here and there just coming up, you know, new growth –where we.. Back in there we planted our pot, near these pine trees, where they would be less conspicuous (from) up above and from people who might chance through there. But that’s getting ahead of the story. When I first saw it, it was still in winter and it was kind of cold and damp and muddy – they hadn’t made it habitable yet, the.. It was still occupied by field-rats and whatever creatures that had settled there – So, until we could get in there, and clean it up a little bit, Joan (Burroughs), who was with Bill over in a motel, didn’t want to move in to it until they were able to move in permanently. And they’d been waiting for me to get down so to help (they’d asked me if I’d come down – and (I) did). So we went to Houston and we got some of like.. sort of like.. this tile stuff..and we sort of divided it up into four sections – We had to have a room for her daughter (Julie), which we split in half again with sheetrock and built a little bunk – Joan did it, as she was very handy as a carpenter (much better than me!) and she built a little bunk for Julie and her clothes and closets and everything, screened over the windows, and that sort of thing, and we just made it so beautiful and so comfortable. And, as the Spring gathered, you know, (and) began to burgeon forth, or began to.. the countryside.. got very verdant and green and flowers (sprung up) everywhere! And in this field that I was speaking of a few moments ago with the pine trees, there was one old tree that, at some point along the line, had been struck by lightning, and it just sat against the sky and it was covered with a vine of some kind that.. had, literally, you know, smothered it, and (it had) great yellow flowers on it, of some kind. I loved to see it. It was so beautiful.  (There were) patches of wild blackberries and raspberries, I guess, out to one side. Joan used to take Julie out in the fields some times, late in the day, (taking with her) the big blue ceramic bowl she had to pick berries. (We’d) come back and we’d have berries and cream. It was just so beautiful and so peaceful.

Occasionally, old Arch Ellisor, that Bill has some great stories about.. would come riding over on his horse, and we later learned that there had actually been..  Who were.. you might be able to recall?.. the famous  hillbillies that had a feud going on?..

Student: The Hatfields and McCoys?

Huncke: The Hatfields and McCoys.. There was a real situation of that- and the Arch Ellisor’s were on one side and the so-called Hatfieds on the other and, well, there was a good deal of animosity there, even after all these years. But he had.. had big hound dogs, and.. plus a mother-in-law.. that he was waiting to have die as soon as possible…she was cancer-ridden, it was just awful- but Arch (old Arch) would come over, and he’d sort of draw his lip up, and he’d say, “Well, she ain’t so good today.. ain’t much longer until she…goes”. Bill would say, “Yes?”. Joan would be busy doing something around, she’d be listening to him. So it was really funny, all that sort of thing you know.

But anyway, to go from the cabin you could go down a slight incline to the bayou. We used to go down there and bathe. I used to take Julie down there and strip off, you know, and we’d bathe in the stream, little tiny fish, Julie would play with them and so on. It was so great, just so great. You have no idea.

So it was when it came time to leave, I was really.. you know it has been such a peaceful set-up that I really wished that I didn’t have to go, because I’d found a paradise of a sort, you know, but..

Student: Was there electricity in the camp?

Huncke: No, no – kerosene – I had to .. Joan.. One job was to get all of the lamps shined up, because we’d sit up all night rapping, you know. Plus, we were in a dry county and Bill liked his evening cocktail, no matter what.  And we had to drive over to the wet country and there.. there were at least five or six package-stores, right on the edge, very convenient, you just get there, you buy all the bottles of liquor you wanted.. But we always.. he always..kept a  few bottles of  something (tequila, he liked to drink tequila – and Joan liked wine – she didn’t like drinking to speak of,  she liked wine and seltzer)…. And ice – (and) the the way we managed ice – at that time, the Coca-Cola Company had just developed the.. stand-up ice-packs, you know, they were sort of.. made them great for chucking them full of ice.. And we’d drive into town in an old jeep and pick up ice, almost every day, and had an old ice-box. But no, no modern conveniences.

Student: (A cooking stove?)

Huncke: No, well the funny part is, before I arrived, they had a little trouble deciding what they wanted to use. Joan did not like kerosene because the odor was very intense, and my thought was, you know.. I thought I’d already become a little bit familiar as a.. knocking around the country.. with wood-burning stoves.. and I said, “Get a..”.. “Bill, we’ll go out and get a small wood-burning stove for keeping the heat, (because it was still cold, as I explained to you, it was still chilly, especially at night), over in town, or some place. We’ll set it up so for Joan”. And then he had his room (he wanted one in there)  – But she cooked on kerosene stoves or burners, you know. (And I cooked on a charcoal pit that I.. out in the front yard, I dug a place about so-long, banked up rocks around it, found an old grill which I laid over the top, and we’d get steaks about so-thick, you know, and boy-oh-boy, they were so good! – And then,

So there was no cooking in the cabin, or not much cooking in the cabin, you know, it was kept pretty much outside. I liked to do that. But she would heat the vegetables and things of that sort inside.

Student: And the plumbing?  Any plumbing there?

Huncke: Well I guess one of the first of the chemical  toilets, you know, where you..  A bucket and some kind of chemical, which you’d pour in, in case the stench became too obnoxious. And (we) kept it there right in the… I had a middle room in the back there. We laid light-weight linoleum all over the floor. It was comfortable and Joan could shut the door if she wished and go in there.

We did all our washing with well-water. You should have seen Bill with a dowser, going around, dowsing the well. Finally he did it, (he) succeeded in locating the spot. And then we found this old man with a one-eared mule and he set up a tripod-type thing in.. (this old mule had literally (just) worn its ear off on one side!).. wandering around and dropping a drill down for water, that way, finally came up with it..
So, till that time we’d go down to the stream and bring it back in buckets. (I would wheel buckets of it in a wheelbarrow, trying to balance it, not lose too much of it the whole bit,  you know. It was great). Another thing that I liked about it too, incidentally, just in passing, a lot of animals, you know, that had strayed away .. there… had just wandered away, I guess, from farms in the area – they made it.. well, of course, they could smell those steaks! I wondered, at the beginning, what the attraction was, but I began  to piece (it) together and came up with the awareness that..that scent of charred meat there was really reaching them, and, particularly, one old bitch, that was just so great, with three legs (the farmer had shot her – because.. he’d been trying to get her for a long, long time, and he had never succeeded – (and) she had three legs, somebody had hit her in the leg and, I guess, she just laid around some place, chewed it off, and it healed and..). But she would come over, she’d venture over. Soon as I saw her.. I saw her slinking towards the.. throughs the.. bushes to one side one day, and tried to call her, but, oh, she wouldn’t come near, but she..
I learned later, if I put anything out there she would eventually dispose of it alright. So I put, you know, bowls of water, and that sort of thing  – but I attracted a cat as well!  (they became quiet friendly!). At any rate, Arch Ellisor says  (he) wanted to get her, he says, “I wanna get that bitch, every time he’s in heat my hound just wanna get to her,  that’s all there is to it!”. And apparently one of them had,  because she threw a litter of pups. One night we awakened with yipping dogs, some place. It was “I wonder what that is?”. He threw his robe on and took his flashlight, “My god, he says, there’s a couple of pups out here!” – And, sure enough, she brought them up.  Of course she wasn’t terribly… (she was probably somewhere watching to see what would happen). But she had her pups and.. she brought them over to us

Student: Can I ask a dumb question?

Huncke: I beg your pardon.

Student: Can I ask a dumb question? (What breed was she?)

Huncke: I think she was a mixed breed of some kind but predominantly I believe, well she couldn’t have been a hound, she was a short-haired.., she looked a little bit like a Doberman, but she wasn’t Doberman-Pinscher, I really don’t know. She had, you know, the black shiny coat, you know, and..legs of the Doberman  – Yes?

Student: Has this recollection ever been written down?

Huncke: Well not exactly like that, no.

Student: I have to call baloney (then) on you not still writing. I just see that as a beautiful piece right there.

Huncke: Sure.. ..when I get..  (but I) don’t know that I have the energy.. How long have we been here now?

Student: You’re a prisoner. You can’t leave!

Huncke: No, come on, is it tomorrow too, you know?

Student: It’s two hours.

Huncke: We’ve been here two hours?

Student: (It) doesn’t seem like it.

Huncke: Well maybe I’ll try to read. I want to read the.. maybe I’ll get through it all. I don’t know, I have a thing in here [When Evening Sun Turned Crimson] on Bill Burroughs. I don’t know.. this is about.. oh boy.. this is.. it is a long one and it also is not about Texas – oh, there’s a part two, (where) he moves down there, wait a minute – Yep, part of that is, I see here..
[Huncke proceeds to read the Burroughs section from “When The Evening Sun..”  –  “He had located in East Texas and we drove fifty miles..” –  He stumbles and loses his place in a couple of places]
I’m picking up in the center, but I do (I think) mention (that) it’s still winter and is muddy, and so forth, and therefore I’m describing my first.. at that point, my first impresssion. I (had) just gotten off a bus all the way from New York, and I was in no humor to think about anything, but, naturally, I began to become absorbed in the general countryside. I knew that I was going to be there for a while and… [Huncke continues with his reading, the bulk of which may be heard here] –  ..and it goes on. I’m getting tired and my voice is dry.. Will I see you tomorrow?

Student(s): Yes

Huncke: Yes, you’ve got other things to do.

[Workshop concludes]

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