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Poor Richard

November 17, 2012


Brautigan’s Trout Stream

It is somewhere in sections
stacked and leaning against a wall in an
old Morton building or shed, corrugated
steel sheets rusting, water-streaked and groaning
on a skeleton of pine
when the wind blows.

An unlatched door wags like a weary bird’s wing.

His ghost sits and watches, the
forty four in his lap, and fades
as his readers turn to the screen.

His sadness is there as well,
massive, too big for a human body or its
ghost, humming and hovering over its kill.

“At the core he was essentially fragile and sensitive in a society which tends to reward those virtues with poverty and an early death.”

Russell Chatham

He said he was traumatized when his mother left he and his two year old sister alone in a motel room for two days in Great Fall, Montana.  In 1955 when he was hungry he threw a stone through a police station window so he could be arrested and get fed.  The police thought his behavior erratic and sent Richard Brautigan to the Oregon State Hospital where he was electroshocked 12 times.
Coming from poverty and broken homes and life on the street one might expect a man to become an embittered, thief or drug pusher but, Richard Brautigan found poetry there like a lotus in the sewage pond.
For me Brautigan was one of those writers, one of those who taught me a different way of description, a new narrative and in such an seemingly effortless way that he made me believe writing was possible.
In 1967 “Trout Fishing In America” made him one of those overnight successes who so often crash and burn, but Richard was born in the middle of the wreck and grew up there.  It was familiar territory.  Much of his writing after this I find rather disappointing until he came back to form again in “The Tokyo-Montana Express” when he returned to the short, bright pieces of prose that had formed “Trout Fishing In America.”  This, I think, was his genius, his canvas, but these short pieces are also usually homeless in America.
His last published work, “Do The Wind Won’t Blow It Away,” is probably the best telling of a man struggling with guilt that I’ve ever read.  He was very taken with Japanese culture and this final writing seems Japanese in nature; simple, slight and brightly shining.
Richard Brautigan’s defining trait was misunderstood, I believe.  His friends describe him as childish and unformed.  Lawrence Feringetti said that he never developed into an adult writer.  I think this is essentially wrong.  What was misunderstood in Brautigan was a sweetness, a sweetness grown out of bitterness that kept him going, odd and sometimes frightening as he was,  until his strength failed in 1984 and he picked up the .44.

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