Micheline, Jack

(1929–1998)
   Known as a street poet, a Beat poet, an outlaw, an outsider, a self-taught writer and artist, and a powerful performance poet, Jack Micheline was loved at home and abroad. Though unaccepted by the major publishers of his time, he published more than 20 books of poetry and stories, edited others, and has been included in hundreds of important anthologies and magazines, journals, and small press publications.
   Said to be extremely underweight at birth, Micheline was born Harold Silver on November 6, 1929, in the East Bronx, New York, to Herman and Helen Silver, a postal worker and a housewife respectively. He had an older brother, Edward. The family followed the old Jewish tradition of changing his name in an attempt to fool the Angel of Death—and he became Harvey Martin Silver. Sometime later he chose Jack Micheline as the name by which he would write and paint—Jack, he said, for one of his earliest favorite writers Jack London, and Micheline from his mother’s maiden name. The name change was legalized in the early 1960s.
   Micheline served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1947–48. He worked on a kibbutz in Israel in 1949, and back in America he began to roam the country in the 1950s, doing a variety of blue-collar jobs such as pushing a cart in the garment district, washing dishes, union organizing, panhandling, and selling his penny poems in the street. He taught art at his brother’s day-care center on Long Island and later worked for him as a cook at his amusement park in Puerto Rico. During these years and throughout his life, Micheline read many of the great writers and philosophers but did not seek a formal education.
   In 1957 Micheline won the “Revolt In Literature Award” at a poetry reading contest at the Half Note Cafe in the Village in New York. The judges were Charles Mingus, Jean Shepard and Nat Hentoff. A lover of jazz and classical music, Micheline sang his poems in his head as he wrote them. In 1958 he published a poem in the premier issue of Yugen, which was put out by LeRoi Jones (amiri baraka) and his wife hettie jones. Also appearing in the first issue of Yugen were philip whalen, diane di prima, and allen ginsberg. Micheline’s first book of poetry, river of red wine, was published in 1958 with the introduction written by jack kerouac. It was reviewed by Dorothy Parker in Esquire magazine.
   Micheline was an active writer till the end of his life, much of his work scribbled on bits and pieces of paper, napkins, and notebooks. He published individual broadsides and chapbooks, and in 1962 his second book of poems I Kiss Angels came out and he edited Six American Poets in 1964. Meanwhile he was being included in many of the anthologies of Beat poetry and magazines. Franz Kline financed his stay in Mexico in 1961–62, and it was there that he began to paint his unique childlike portraits, showing an astounding use of colors. He continued painting and drawing throughout his life, often doing a spontaneous piece of art alongside his signature in his books of poetry and short stories. Many of his paintings were dotted with words, bits of philosophy and poetry-some of his most interesting work was done on the walls of an entire room in the Abandoned Planet Bookstore in San Francisco. Micheline’s first collection of stories, In the Bronx and Other Stories, was published 1965, followed by the production of his play East Bleeker at the Café La Mama in New York. In 1968 publisher John Bryan was arrested on obscenity charges in connection with Micheline’s story “Skinny Dynamite.” The case was dismissed after letters were written by Ginsberg and other well-known writers and representation by civilrights attorney Stanley Fleishman.
   Micheline had copious correspondences with many people throughout the world. Included were hundreds of writers, some famous such as charles bukowski and harold norse, and many unknown. He also wrote and received boxes of letters from a variety of women who answered ads that he placed in personals.
   Purple Submarine, a story in book form, was published in 1976, as was his collected poems North of Manhattan, Collected Poems, Ballads and Songs: 1954-1975. In 1979 the publication of “Skinny Dynamite” by A. D. Winan’s Second Coming Press was accomplished. Throughout these years Micheline, who like Kerouac, did not drive, continued to travel the United States by bus and train, dropping in unexpectedly on friends and family. He also traveled to Europe where he received wide acceptance, was invited to festivals and readings, and was published in several countries. Micheline received the “Most Valuable Performance” award at the Naropa Institute’s “25 Years On The Road” conference in Boulder, Colorado, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Kerouac’s on tHe road. In addition to videos including Micheline or about him, Micheline appeared with saxophonist Bob Feldman on NBC’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 1994. Micheline continued writing, painting, exhibiting, and publishing during the 1990s, despite being ill from diabetes. Beloved by so many yet always known as cantankerous, Micheline continued ranting, nearly always about the “establishment” publishers and gallery owners, reflecting his bitterness at not being more accepted in his own time. He predicted that he would come into his own after his death. His buddy Bukowski agreed: “He’s right: they’ll find him after he’s dead, he’s fought hard. . . .”
   His last book, a major collection of his work, which was compiled and edited by Matt Gonzalez, was 67 Poems for Downtrodden Saints, published in 1997. A revised second edition was published in 1999, and it includes additional poems, photos, art, and ephemera from the Beat era. Also in 1999 two important works were published: The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, edited by Alan Kaufman and contributing editor S. A. Griffin and dedicated to “Jack Micheline, the greatest Outlaw poet of all time,” and Ragged Lion: A Tribute to Jack Micheline, edited by John Bennett, which contains poems and commentary by many poets and friends.
   Jack Micheline was found dead of a heart attack on a subway train in San Francisco at the end of the line on February 27, 1998, at the age of 68. He was one of the youngest of the Beats. Hundreds of people of all ages and every conceivable kind turned out to celebrate his life at memorials in San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. A little street in North Beach was renamed for him and is now Jack Micheline Place.
   A “rare bird,” what you saw was what you got—he was simply who he was, no more, no less. He railed at “the dead . . . the goddamned dead who rule this world” and paused to note the passing of a pigeon. He is survived by his son Vince Silvaer and his grandchildren Nicole and Dustin Silvaer.
 Bibliography
■ Bennett, John, ed. Ragged Lion: A Tribute To Jack Micheline. Brooklyn/Ellensburg: The Smith Publishers and Vagabond Press, 1999.
■ Kaufman, Alan, ed. The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999.
■ Micheline, Jack. North of Manhattan, Collected Poems, Ballads and Songs: 1954-1975. San Francisco: Man Root Press, 1976.
■ ———. 67 Poems for Downtrodden Saints. San Francisco: FMSBW, 1999.
■ ———. River of Red Wine and Other Poems. 1958. Sudbury, Me.: Water Row Press, 1986.
   pat cherkin alexander

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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