Monday, April 19, 2010

Richard Brautigan's Ghost

It was fifteen years after Richard Brautigan's suicide that I first read the words he left behind. I was a junior in college and had, yet again, skipped another class in order to continue my private education, and begin writing the poems that would make up my own book, Love Is A Ghost Thing. On the recommendation of a creative writing teacher, Rocky Marcus, I decided to spend an afternoon reading Brautigan's, Trout Fishing In America.

After the initial shock and wonder that a work of such playful ingenuity, of such satirical importance was virtually unknown to everyone I knew, I sat down in a comfortable chair and took in the comedy. I felt like I was reading page after page of a boy in short pants thumbing his nose at the literary establishment, and I was loving every minute of the ride.

In short succession, I would read through the poems, stories, and novels. A Confederate General From Big Sur and his detective novel, Dreaming of Babylon, being my two favorite works. Through most of my early years of writing, I felt I was walking in the awkward footsteps of this lanky man-child.

For the next ten years, I periodically read and reread Brautigan's works always finding some new joke or vision that I had somehow missed in my previous readings. But for some reason I never looked into the life of the man, instead I created a brilliant fantasy life for Mr. Brautigan and the women he appeared on the covers of his books with, and of course his dalliances with Ben Franklin and Trout Fishing In America Railroad Shorty.

I had read about Richard Brautigan's suicide in the author's blurb in the back of Trout Fishing In America. It's the last thing in the book, just before the word “mayonnaise” appears on the back cover. I never gave it too much thought though, just another writer and another tragic end. I'm still not sure what compelled me, perhaps it was my own feelings of being disconnected and unappreciated, but one night not to long ago I did a little research into the life of Richard Brautigan.

Given the tragedy of his early life, including an absentee father, a neglectful mother, a series of abusive step fathers, all the while living in extreme poverty in various places throughout the Pacific Northwest, his childlike escapist stories and poems make sense. It was like Lawrence Ferlinghetti once said of Brautigan, "As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naif, and I don't think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally. It was like he was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people."1

1. Manso, Peter and Michael McClure. "Brautigan's Wake." Vanity Fair, May 1985: 62-68, 112-116.

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