At the Flying Sausage Poetry Festival

When a crew arrived at his psychiatric hospital to record Ezra Pound reading his poems, they brought him a gift–an Italian salami sausage–which he threw at them.

The Wall Street Journal, obituary of Marianne Roney

Pound: “I HATE salami!”


As Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Stevens came into my examining room, it was clear that he was there under duress. I took his vital signs–high blood pressure, overweight, irregular meters–then sat down at my desk and turned on my best bedside manner, even though none of us were in bed.

“Well, you’re a lot like many other older male patients,” I said, scanning his chart. “You could live a long time . . . if you start taking care of yourself.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said his wife, Elsie Rachel Stevens. She turned her head with the apparent intention of displaying her profile. She did indeed appear to have been the model for the head of Liberty on the Mercury dime. She had a classic beauty; I could have put her in my pocket and spent her later on a box of candy–say Black Crows or Dots.

Mrs. Wallace Stevens, Mercury dime: Never seen in the same room together.

“Why exactly?” I asked.

“He’s putting on weight and I’m afraid he’s going to have a heart attack.”

Stevens would die before the development of cholesterol tests, so I had to proceed without the aid of technology.

“What do you like to eat?” I asked.

“Nothing but ice cream,” his wife said.

Stevens: “Mint chocolate chip? Yum!”


“Ice cream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” Stevens said. He thought he was funny, but that’s the kind of joke only a student in a low-residency M.F.A. program would laugh at.

“Is that true?” I asked him, but before he could answer his wife interrupted: “He thinks he’s the Emperor of Ice Cream.”

I knew that shock treatment–a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits and nuts right off the bat–wouldn’t appeal to him. You can’t make people go “cold turkey” when they’ve been abusing their bodies for years, you’ve got to get them gradually acclimated to a new regimen–or give them a hot turkey sandwich.

I reached in my desk drawer and rummaged around among the medicine samples, tongue depressors and other junk I kept there and–after a few moments of digging–found what I was looking for.

“Why don’t you try one of these?” I asked him pleasantly.

“What is it?”

“A Slim Jim cylindrical meat stick,” I said. “It’s the bold and spicy snack made from beef, mechanically separated chicken, lactic acid starter culture and other delicious, nutritious ingredients.”


As Thomas struggled with his planned masterwork, there was little aid or comfort I–Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot–could give him, aside from the pain and agony of our marriage–always a great source of inspiration! I had suggested a title for it–“He do the Police in Different Voices” from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend–but he had rejected it. “I want something . . . je ne sais quoi,” he said, his voice trailing off. “The Garbage Land–The Compost Heap–The Ash Bin.”

Eliot and wife Vivienne play a game of “Who’s More Miserable?”


I would withdraw and look upon him with heartfelt sadness. He had always done so well before, borrowing lines and images and themes and characters and punctuation marks from other poets: Shakespeare, the Bible, Chaucer, Aldous Huxley, Yogi Berra. Why isn’t there, I thought to myself, a bank like the one where he works, where blocked poets could go and withdraw a metaphor, a rhyme scheme–whatever they needed when they were at a dead end. Then I remembered the old saying: Banks only lend money to those who don’t need it. That’s how it would probably end up, Robert Service and Edna St. Vincent Millay walking in with empty pockets and walking out with a wallet full of similes.

Even though he had rejected my advice in the past, I decided to make one last surreptitious try. “Will you be down for dinner, dear?” I asked–I am a bit of a poet myself, I thought with self-congratulation.

“What are we having?”

I flashed a teeny little smile at him and sang, “Oh, I’d live to be an Oscar Mayer Weiner . . . that is what I’d truly like to be-ee-ee.”


We were sitting around at the City Lights Pizza Parlor, trying to look alienated and succeeding because our order hadn’t arrived yet. Funny how that works: You put a bunch of people who’d rather be artists than work in a pizza joint, and for some reason service suffers in silence.

Corso tried to cadge a free refill from the Pepsi machine, but the owner saw him and said “Ix-nay on the epsi-Pay.” The guy was a master of pig Latin, you had to be fluent in several languages to keep up with the clientele.

“I wish somebody thought my work was obscene, like Ginsburg’s,” one of the literary tyros said. Allen had hit the jackpot when the cops went after “Howl and Other Poems” and gave us Beat Poets the best free publicity money could buy, but that sort of success de scandal was short-lived. The first guy past the post is forever enshrined in infamy, while his successors are written off as unworthy imitators.

Our stomachs were growling loud enough to enter a poetry slam when finally our pizza emerged from the oven under the “peel,” the oversized spatula that carried our hopes and dreams onto a serving tray and then to our table.

“Here you are,” the waiter said, “one large pepperoni pizza.”

“Thank you!” we cried in unison and began to grab for slices.

“Hold on,” the waiter said. “Who’s paying for this?”

We looked at each other with uncharacteristic guilt–everyone assumed someone else would pay. Allen Ginsberg gave his characteristic shrug as if the question were a zen koan.

“Okay–so none of you deadbeats has any money, huh?”

Silence all around, accompanied by winces of embarrassment.

“I’ll tell you what,” the waiter said. “I’ll let you have it if anybody can answer my riddle.”

We looked at each other with elation–this should be a day at the beach, a piece of cake, like taking candy from a baby. Allen had told us we were the best minds of our generation–we could almost taste the cheese and pepperoni!

“You’re on!” I said.

“What’s the difference between a large pepperoni pizza and an English degree?”

Unfortunately, the best minds seated around the table came up blank.

“Somebody? Anybody?” the waiter said. At last we gave up, individually and collectively.

“We don’t know,” I said.

“The difference between a large pepperoni pizza and an English degree,” the waiter said as he carried the tray back to the kitchen, “is that the pizza can feed a family of four.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

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