Plymell, Charles

(1935– )
   Poet, essayist, publisher, printer, artist, laborer, teacher—Charles Plymell has worn almost as many hats as his friend Hat Man Jack, the legendary Wichita hat maker, has fashioned. According to allen ginsberg, Plymell and his friends invented the “Wichita Vortex,” a free flowing sensibility and loose artistic agglomeration that emerged from the local car, music, and Benzedrine cultures in the 1950s. Although associated with the Beat Generation writers, Plymell has always forged his own literary path as a writer and as a major catalyst in the small-press renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s.
   Plymell was born in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1935 and spent his formative years in Wichita and California. After dropping out of a military academy in San Antonio at the age of 15, Plymell spent the better part of the next decade crisscrossing the country in various automobiles, including a “lowered and leaded in” 1951 Chevy. He worked in mines, on pipelines, and on dams and has written incisively about his experiences as a manual laborer. After years of roaming the western states, Plymell enrolled in Wichita State University in 1955. While at Wichita State, he worked as a printer, and in 1959 he began to edit and publish literary magazines, including Poets’ Corner and Mikrokosmos. In the early 1960s Plymell gravitated to San Francisco, where he befriended neal cassady, Ginsberg, and other writers, as the Beats collided with the “Vortex.” From 1963 to 1965 Plymell published three issues of the literary journal Now. He also had a successful show of his collage work at the infamous Batman Gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco at this time. In 1966 he married Pamela Beach, with whom he would have two children, Elizabeth and William. That same year saw the publication by Dave Haselwood of Auerhahn Press, another seminal figure in the small-press revolution of Plymell’s first book of poetry, Apocalypse Rose, with an introduction by Ginsberg.
   In 1967 Plymell edited and published The Last Times, an experimental literary journal, designed and printed the first issue of Zap Comix (which featured the work of Robert Crumb), and guest-edited and published Grist Magazine. In 1970 he earned a Masters degree in Arts and Science from Johns Hopkins University. At Hopkins, he began to write his novel last of tHe moccasins (1971), which was published by City Lights Books. An impressionistic chronicle of his restless years in and out of the incipient psychedelic scene in San Francisco, Plymell’s novel was praised by William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg.
   In 1974 the Plymells launched Cherry Valley Editions and Cold Spring Journal with their friend Joshua Norton. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Cherry Valley Editions published important works by herbert huncke, janine pommy vega, Charles Henri Ford, and many others. During this time Plymell taught in the Poets-in-the-Schools programs and in prisons. In 1975 his poetry collection The Trashing of America was published. In the 1980s and 1990s, Plymell wrote poems and philosophical essays while distancing himself from the Beats. In 1985 a second collection of his poetry was published as Forever Wider: Poems New and Selected, 1954 to 1984. At this time, Plymell’s work took on a new urgency as he addressed such pressing issues as environmental devastation and the war on drugs.
   In 2000, Water Row Books published Hand on the Doorknob: A Charles Plymell Reader, a collection of essays, poetry, and fiction. Plymell and his wife Pamela live in Cherry Valley with their dog Bebop. Plymell’s latest book is a compilation of memoirs, poetry, and photos titled Some Mothers’ Sons.
■ Plymell, Charles. “Interview with Charles Plymell.” Interview by Wayne Atherton. The Café Review (Summer 2001): 17–23.
   Laki Vazakas

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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