Today, on the occasion of the anniversary of the eleventh year of his passing, saluting the late, great (and much-missed) iconoclast and genius, Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010)
Back in October, our good friends over at Please Kill Me, featured an invaluable survey/overview of Tuli, by Benito Vila (including interviews with friends and followers Jeffrey Lewis, Anthony Hall and (ex-Holy Modal Rounder) Peter Stampfel) – See here
and here is a companion piece, Vila’s interview with Tuli’s daughter, Samara, her mother, (Tuli’s partner), Sylvia (Topp), and his long-time girlfriend Thelma Blitz
From that interview:
Benito: What do you think he should be remembered for?
Samara: How prolific he was throughout his life. There are a lot of things that people haven’t seen and don’t know about. As I mentioned, I particularly love his older poetry and his ink drawings with captions from the ’40s and ’50s. But I also would love for him to be remembered for his being a mentor to younger artists. He was always willing to talk. He’d write back to young fans who would get in touch with him, and he’d invite them over if they were in town. He made a lot of lifelong friends this way. He had a vast knowledge of many subjects and a great sense of humor and was an amazing storyteller. People were drawn to him and he was generous with his time and energy.
Benito: What are you doing now to keep your father’s work alive?
Samara: My mom and I have started to gather materials for a “Tuli Reader”, which we hope to find someone to publish. Some of his early poems are coming out in late August in Ragged Lion Press’ journal, that’s run by Edwin Sellors in London. We’re also working with Edwin on getting a small run of prints made of his drawings. Ultimately, Thelma is the one who works hardest at keeping his spirit alive. She runs his Facebook page and a YouTube channel, and is continuing to produce his, now her, cable access show, Revolting News, which he started with his friend, Lanny Kenfield.
There’s also word of a forthcoming documentary movie (from artist-filmmaker David Liver and cinematographer Thomas Burstyn) – Much to do (funds still need to be raised) but for an early preview of that see here
Not forgetting Tuli’s own records – No Deposit No Return (from 1966) – see here
In the ‘Sixties there were his 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft (written in collaboration with Robert Bashlow), described by poet-critic Charles Bernstein as “one of the great long poems of the New American (and “Beat”) poetry – and perhaps the quintessential 60’s anti-war poem” You can read that in its entirety – here
Also from Grove Press:
Tuli Kupferberg interviews – from 1977 (on WNYC) with Matthew Paris
from 1980, alongside Lanny Kanfield (on WHYY) with Terry Gross
with Jason Gross, 1997 (no relation)
with Howard Mandel, 2004
From 1982 – vintage Tuli Kupferberg (note the first poem, coming off one of Allen’s more notorious lines (from “America”), and Tuli’s spirited defense of it here on John Fiske’s late-night call-in WBAI show)
Tuli’s distinctive cartooning. (literally, thousands to choose from)
So much to choose from – so much everything! – Here’s a link to the Tuli Kupferberg and Sylvia Topp papers in the Fales Collection at NYU
The Allen connection (the one people always morbidly fix upon – that line in “Howl” – “…who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer.”), can we, first, finally put an end to the disproportionate (and erroneous) attention on that?
This legend appears not only in “Howl”, but also in Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman‘s classic 1971 poem, “Memorial Day” – Ted: “I asked Tuli Kupferberg once, “Did you really jump off of The Manhattan Bridge?” “Yeah,” he said, “I really did.” “How come?” I said. “I thought that I had lost the ability to love,” Tuli said. “So, I figured I might as well be dead. So, I went one night to the top of The Manhattan Bridge, & after a few minutes, I jumped off.” “That’s amazing,” I said. “Yeah,” Tuli said, “but nothing happened. I landed in the water, & I wasn’t dead. So I swam ashore, & went home, & took a bath, & went to bed. Nobody even noticed.”
Both Berrigan and Waldman, and Allen’s accounts are, it cannot be stressed too strongly, embellishments, poetic fiction. Tuli did jump – (from the Manhattan Bridge (sic), in 1944, after which he was picked up by a passing tugboat and taken to Gouverneur Hospital. Far from unnoticed and forgotten, severely injured, he discovered he had broken the transverse process of his spine and spent considerable time in a body cast).
Sylvia (from the Benito Vila interview): You know Tuli’s take on that. Samara must have told you. People read that in a way that made it a heroic thing to do. It wasn’t that….Tuli told people, “Please don’t write about it. That’s not something I was proud of.” He described it as the worst time in his life, a horrible time that led to him doing that and he didn’t want anyone to ever think of him that way. He didn’t want that story to be an action people copied in any way.”
– Keeping the spirit alive