Richard Brautigan - Our lives we have carefully constructed from watermelon sugar and then travelled to the length of our dreams
Poems of Richard Brautigan
«Richard Brautigan: A CONFEDERATE GENERAL FROM BIG SUR - 1964
According to Newton Smith, the novel is the story of a character in Big Sur who imagines himself to be a general in the Confederate army, told by a narrator working on a textual analysis of the punctuation of Ecclesiastes.
More specifically, Lee Mellon, the novel's protagonist, believes he is the descendent of the only Confederate General to have come from Big Sur and is himself a seeker after truth in his own modern-day (1957) war against the status quo and the state of the Union. Brautigan's friend Price Dunn was the model for the novel's Lee Mellon.
The novel's theme was the domination of imagination over reality: both a curse and a blessing. Imagination was presented as an uncontrollable force from which people received comfort, hope, and despair. This theme was reprised in all Brautigan's subsequent novels.
Pierre Delattre recalled a fishing trip with Brautigan and how Brautigan lamented not being able to capture the magic of "his trout fishing book" on paper.
Then one afternoon back in North Beach we went into a hardware store so that he could buy some chickenwire for his bird cage. Suddenly he seized the pen from my pocket, the notebook from my shoulder bag, ran out and over to a park bench, and started to scribble a story about a man who finds a used trout stream in the back of a hardware store. The next day, we stopped to chat with a legless-armless man on a rollerboard who sold pencils. Brautigan called him "Trout Fishing in America Shorty," and wrote a story about him. From then on, trout fishing ceased to be a memory of the past, but the theme of immediate experience and Brautigan's book made him a rich and famous writer.
The early acceptance of the novel was positive. Critics hailed Brautigan as a fresh new voice in American literature. For example, Newton Smith said, 'Trout Fishing in America altered the shape of fiction in America and was one of the first popular representatives of the postmodern novel... The narrative is episodic, almost a free association of whimsy, metaphors, puns, and vivid but unconventional images. Trout Fishing in America is, among other things, a character, the novel itself as it is being written, the narrator, the narrator's inspirational muse, a pen nib, and a symbol of the pastoral ideal being lost to commercialism, environmental degradation, and social decay'.
IN WATERMELON SUGAR - 1968
First published in 1968, In Watermelon Sugar was Brautigan's third published novel and, according to Newton Smith, his most serious: a parable for survival in the 20th c[entury]. [It] is the story of a successful commune called iDEATH whose inhabitants survive in passive unity while a group of rebels live violently and end up dying in a mass suicide.
Several possible inspirations for the novel are noted. iDEATH may have been a utopian parable for the artistic/literary community of Bolinas, California where Brautigan wrote this novel. A possible inspiration for the "Forgotten Works" may have been a Sears Department store across from Brautigan's apartment at 2546 Geary Street. Brautigan moved to this typical turn-of-the-century San Francisco apartment in 1965, where he lived until 1975 (Michael McClure 41). The view of San Francisco from across the bay in Marin County was another possible inspiration for the Forgotten Works. Another possible inspiration was Brautigan's separation from his wife, Virginia Alder, on 24 December 1962.
"In Watermelon Sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.
Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out.
I live in a shack near iDEATH. I can see iDEATH out the window. It is beautiful. I can also see it with my eyes closed and touch it. Right now it is cold and turns like something in the hand of a child. I do not know what that thing could be.
There is a delicate balance in iDEATH. It suits us.
The shack is small but pleasing and comfortable as my life and made from pine, watermelon sugar and stones as just about everything here is.
Our lives we have carefully constructed from watermelon sugar and then travelled to the length of our dreams, along roads lined with pines and stones.
I have a bed, a chair, a table and a large chest that I keep my things in. I have a lantern that burns watermelontrout oil at night.
That is something else. I'll tell you about it later. I have a gentle life.
I go to the window and look out again. The sun is shining at the long edge of a cloud. It is Tuesday and the sun is golden.
I can see piney woods and the rivers that flow from those piney woods. The rivers are cold and clear and there are trout in the rivers.
Some of the rivers are only a few inches wide.
I know a river that is half-an-inch wide. I know because I measured it and sat beside it for a whole day. It started raining in the middle of the afternoon. We call everything a river here. We're that kind of people.
I can see fields of watermelons and the rivers that flow through them. There are many bridges in the piney woods and in the fields of watermelons. There is a bridge in front of this shack.
Some of the bridges are made of wood, old and stained silver like rain, and some of the bridges are made of stone gathered from a great distance and built in the order of that distance, and some of the bridges are made of watermelon sugar. I like those bridges best.
We make a great many things out of watermelon sugar here -- I'll tell you about it -- including this book being written near iDEATH.
All this will be gone into, travelled in watermelon sugar."
The plot of The Abortion follows a young man, the narrator, who works and lives in the library, a Brautigan world of lonely pleasure, where he meets a woman. After impregnating the woman, the narrator supports her abortion. In the process he learns how to reenter human society.
The inspiration for the library is factual. The abortion is more problematic.
THE HAWKLINE MONSTER: A GOTHIC WESTERN
First published in 1974, The Hawkline Monster was Brautigan's fifth published novel, and the first to parody a literary genre. Subtitled "A Gothic Western," the novel was well received by a wider audience than Brautigan's earlier work.
As in earlier novels, Brautigan played with the idea that imagination has both good and bad ramifications, turning it into a monster with the power to turn objects and thoughts into whatever amused it.WILLARD AND HIS BOWLING TROPHIES - A PERVERSE MYSTERY
First published in 1975, Willard and His Bowling Trophies was Brautigan's sixth published novel and the second to parody a literary genre: sado-masochism in this case. The novel, as all others by Brautigan, dealt with the isolation of people from each other.
In real life, Willard was a papier mache sculpture, a bird about four feet high painted red, white, and orange with big, round eyes, a pot belly, and long beak created by Brautigan's friend Stanley Fullerton. Brautigan and Price Dunn enjoyed elaborate practical jokes on each other as part of passing Willard back and forth between themselves.
SOMBRERO FALLOUT: A JAPANESE NOVEL
First published in 1976, Sombrero Fallout was Brautigan's seventh published novel and the third to parody a literary genre. Subtitled "A Japanese Novel," it featured two interrelated stories. The first was about a sombrero falling from the sky and its affect on humanity. In the second story, the narrator of the first thinks about his Japanese ex-lover who had recently moved out of his apartment.
DREAMING OF BABYLON: A DETECTIVE NOVEL 1942
First published in 1977, Dreaming of Babylon was Brautigan's eighth published novel and the fourth to parody a literary genre. Subtitled "A Private Eye Novel 1942" it parodied hard-boiled Grade-B detective stories.
THE TOKYO-MONTANA EXPRESS
First published in 1980 (special Targ edition published 1979), The Tokyo-Montana Express, a collection of one hundred and thirty-one "stations" inspired by memories of Japan and Montana, January-July 1976, that seem to form a somewhat autobiographical work, was Brautigan's ninth published novel. Brautigan, defending the unique form of this novel, said each section of the novel represented a separate stop along a journey, a station along a metaporical rail line joining Japan and Montana. Common themes running through these stations include Brautigan's disillusionment with aging, the search for identity, the diversity of human nature, and cultural differences between Montana and Japan. A few stations deal with Shiina Takako, owner of The Cradle, a Tokyo bar patronized by writers and artists, and Brautigan.
SO THE WIND WON'T BLOW IT ALL AWAY
First published in 1982, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away was Brautigan's ninth published novel and the last published before his death in 1984. Focused around the death of a young boy in a shooting accident in a western Oregon town on Saturday, 17 February 1948. Although he never confirmed or denied the connection, the story was thought to be autobiographical, built on an incident that happened to Brautigan at age thirteen.
Actually, the story was created from two separate incidents. The first involved Brautigan, his best friend Pete Webster, and Pete's brother, Danny. The three were duck hunting in the Fern Ridge wetlands, near Eugene, Oregon. Brautigan was separated from the other two. Brautigan fired at a duck and a pellet from his shot struck Danny in the ear, injuring him only slightly. About the same time, Donald Husband, 14-year-old son of a prominent Eugene attorney, was shot and killed in a hunting accident off Bailey Hill Road. Brautigan's incident and that involving Husband became one in this novel (Bob Keefer and Quail Dawning 2H).
The novel sold less than 15,000 copies, and was ignored or dismissed by critics.
AN UNFORTUNATE WOMAN: A JOURNEY
First published in France in 1994 (U. S. edition published 2000), An Unfortunate Woman was Brautigan's tenth published novel. Written before his death in 1984, this novel was published post-humously. The theme was an exploration of death through the oblique ruminations on the suicide death of one female friend, and the death by cancer of another, Nikki Arai.
REVENGE OF THE LAWN
First published in 1971, Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970, a collection of sixty-two stories, was Brautigan's first published collection of stories.
Unlike previous books by Brautigan, the front cover did not feature a photograph of him and a woman friend. This one featured a photograph of a woman, alone, sitting at a table in front of a cake. The woman is Sherry Vetter, from Louisville, Kentucky. Vetter taught at St. Anthony's, a girl's Catholic High School in Long Beach, California, during the academic year 1968-1969. She then moved to San Francisco. Years later, after marrying, Vetter settled with her husband in Port Royal, Kentucky.
Brautigan, and the book, were awarded the Washington Governor's Writing Award for 1972.
Richard Brautigan published ten volumes of poetry, as well as several individual poems.
As an author, Brautigan is noted for his poetry which often turns dramatically on metaphorical whimsy.
By his own account, this expertise was a difficult achievement.
«I love writing poetry but it's taken time, like a difficult courtship that leads to a good marriage, for us to get to know each other. I wrote poetry for seven years to learn how to write a sentence because I really wanted to write novels and I figured that I couldn't write a novel until I could write a sentence. I used poetry as a lover but I never made her my old lady. . . . I tried to write poetry that would get at some of the hard things in my life that needed talking about but those things you can only tell your old lady.» - Richard Brautigan. "Old Lady." The San Francisco Poets. Ed. David Meltzer. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971. 293-294.
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
I'd like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
I like to think
--(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.
I like to think
--(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
The Sitting Here, Standing Here Poem
sitting here in the beautiful sunny morning!
-Santa Barbara, listening to
--Donovan singing songs
---about love, the wind and seagulls.
I'm 32 but feel just like a child
I guess I'm too old now to grow old
I'm alone in the house because she's asleep
---in the bedroom.
She's a tall slender girl
---and uses up the whole bed!
My sperm is singing its way
through the sky of her body
---like a chorus of galaxies.
I go into the bedroom to look at her.
I'm looking down at her. She's asleep.
I'm standing here writing this.
Philosophy should stop
at midnight like the buses.
Imagine Nietzsche, Jesus
and Bertrand Russell parked
in the silent car barns.»