Reading Richard Brautigan (after all these years)

“Private Eye Lettuce”

Three crates of Private Eye Lettuce,

the name and drawing of a detective

with magnifying glass on the sides

of the crates of lettuce,

form a great cross in man’s imagination

and his desire to name the objects of this world.

I think I’ll call this place Golgotha

and have some salad for dinner.

(from The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster by Richard Brautigan)
I have Paul Curry to thank for introducing me to Richard Brautigan.  Paul and I became friends during my junior year at Hanover College, so it would have been late 1984, the year Brautigan died.  Brautigan was a writer from San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s.  The bio-sketch at the back of this collection of his writings I picked up today says, “He was an author of ten novels, nine volumes of poetry. and a collection of short stories.”  But really, though, he simply wrote a boat-load of “Brautigans” – short sketches rich in imagery and ideas.  Others then compiled them into books and gave them labels.
While Brautigan’s time and place situate him with the Beat Generation, to categorize him as a “beat writer” would be misleading.  I’m not expert of beat lit, but from what little I’ve read of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, I’ve found their work to be frenzied, strung-out, induced – a trip.  Brautigan’s words are a walk in the park.  He is lucid, casual, crude (at times), but mostly gentle.
My favorite Brautigan book by far is In Watermelon Sugar.  I was curious how I would respond to it after being away from it for almost 30 years.  On reading the first lines, I knew I was revisiting a friendly place, a place where I could linger and lounge, maybe do some trout fishing in a river 8 inches wide –
      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.
If you’ve yet to read Richard Brautigan, I encourage you to visit the website where you can find just about anything on or by Brautigan that you’d ever want to read.  As for me, I’m going to go to bed a little early tonight, curl up with Watermelon Sugar and let the sweet goodness run over my lips and flow down my cheek until I’m sticky with delight.
In Watermelon Sugar by svennevenn
“In Watermelon Sugar”
from svennevenn

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