Hippie poet provocateur

Gene Bloom

Photo By Larry Dalton

For nearly a decade, poets have graced the tiny stage at Luna’s Café every Thursday night for the Poetry Unplugged series. Some are nervous first-timers, and others have read confidently for years, but only one has his own cheer. Maybe it’s his exotic Brooklyn accent or the rumors that he rubbed elbows with the beats in New York and hung out at a racetrack with Charles Bukowski. Perhaps it’s the graphically erotic and often humorous themes in his writing. Whatever his appeal, when Gene Bloom takes the stage—as he has almost weekly since the series’ inception—the audience fills the tiny eatery with a resounding “Gene Bloom!”

When did you start writing poetry?

Pretty late in life, when I was about 21. I was kind of a vagabond kid. I moved around a lot. I was trying a lot of experiences and writing about them.

Eventually, I found myself down in the Greenwich Village area. I really had to have a “thing” down there; otherwise I was just another tourist. Before long, I got involved in the poetry scene. I started putting out a magazine of my own [Entrails: The Magazine of Happy Obscenity and Captured Dragons], which received a lot of notoriety and was written up in The New York Times’ book review as one of the five best underground poetry magazines of the decade. I put readings on, and I got involved politically, and I was dealing a little weed to support my creative business enterprises.

What was Greenwich Village like at that time?

Oh, it was hot! I saw so many different jazz musicians. Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra—12 black guys with beards and sunglasses just playing visceral music. It was just a happening scene in the ‘60s. Allen Ginsberg used to walk the streets and hold court in the park. All the top-notch readers coming into town would go to St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery to read poetry, even at the open-mic.

Can we talk about your prison experience?

While I was in New York involved in the poetry scene, I ended up getting busted for the sale of 30 pounds of marijuana. The feds and the state were fighting over who was going to get me. They had me dead to rights, both of them. Anyway, we got a good Jewish lawyer who had contact with crooked Jewish judges and were able to secure a sentence of one-and-a-half to three years. I was quite fortunate, because when I was in there, I saw guys who were busted on five pounds who got seven-and-a-half to 15 years. So, I knew my money went to the right places.

I didn’t want to go to prison. I never thought I would go, but I struggled through it, and I got through it. Most of the information about prison is in my book, 12563: The Prison Poems.

Was that your number in prison?

That was my number. After the shock of being in wore off, I decided to make use of my two years. I stopped smoking, and I wrote a lot of poetry. My first 13 poems were destroyed by the warden and his henchmen. They didn’t like me. I came in with the tag “hippie poet provocateur.” But I wrote, I wrote, I wrote. When I got out, I did my year of parole and decided to head to California.

Here, it was a whole different game. I learned to make a living at flea markets, buying junk and selling antiques. There were a lot of drugs, a lot of women. I was living the new, free California life. I was a 29-year-old hippie. I found myself. I knew where I belonged.

You were at the first Poetry Unplugged reading?

I met this young lady in town who said, “Gene, there’s a reading at Luna’s for the first time.” This is nine years ago. She said, “You might find it interesting since you used to do readings.” I said, “Nah, I’m an ex-poet.” She said, “What’s an ex-poet?”

So, I went, and I started reading out. I really feel I’ve written my best work in the last three or four years. I read all over, but Luna’s is a place I consistently go. It almost forces me to write, because I can’t go every week and read the same poem over again.

A lot of your poems are erotic in nature.

Since I came out to California, I just got into the sensuality of life—and women. I love women, and I write poems about them. It makes me feel alive. It makes me throb. It makes me smile to pleasure or be pleasured by the words or the physicality of my own body. I can write serious poems, but they take a lot out of me. I’m like a method actor. I get into the subject matter, and it drains me. But I can write a love poem. I can write a sex poem, and it just makes me want to write another. I’d like to put out a collection of my erotic poems. I’d like to do it when I’m 100—as a testament.