ruth weiss performing at Cinequest Film Festival. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta
Ecstatic would be the word that described the moment Cinequest sent a documentary my way about the beat poet, ruth weiss. I was asked if this documentary would be a good fit for Cinequest film festival’s event that I had founded a few years ago called Poets N Film. After watching Melody Miller’s documentary, ruth weiss, the beat goddess, my answer could only be YES! It was obvious to me and everyone who knows her or knows about her that she holds the true spirit of the maverick. Here is a link for a brief bio by Melody Miller, www.ruthweissfilm.com
Melody had set up a phone call for me and ruth to meet. It was fitting when I received the call because I was on the top floor of the Asian Art Museum looking at the frantic motion and beats of people down on the streets of San Francisco. I made a few discoveries in this conversation. One is ruth’s love for not only poetry but for the theatre. I had to talk to her about the theatre since it played so strongly in my early days. She wrote plays and performed an obscure act with a drag-queen artist in San Francisco. It was an off-beat counter culture routine full of improv. (She even directed a film she wrote called The Brink.) Another discovery I made while conversing is that her inspiration to be a part of the dramatics and storytelling was puppetry. As a child her father took her to puppet shows in Vienna. She expressed how much she loved it. My day job is working on puppet shows. I felt a connection with ruth right off. She had her hands in so many forms of art that her life took on its own art form, I love this about her. Her whole being is a never-ending poem, continuing to create itself like a wild, chaotic, bohemian fractal.
ruth weiss and me holding the puppet I made of her for her. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta
When ruth and her loving entourage came to San Jose, they came to the puppet theatre I work at. I couldn’t wait to show ruth all the types of puppets we had, and to show her the puppet play, Reyna, performed by one of our puppeteers, Gladys Santos. I told ruth previously that this puppet production had a gypsy character in it, voiced by me. She was excited because her best friend was a Roma. But even more good news to her was that the main character, Reyna, was a fox. ruth has become friends with a fox behind her house in Albion, located in the redwoods of Northern California. Melody informed me that ruth believes in symbolic meanings. This is what I love about ruth’s poetry, and it, also, makes her unique from other beat poets. The vibe and sense I got from ruth when getting to know her for a brief moment is that she is open to new experiences and new people in her life; Not just open, but welcoming. My guess is that this openness has given her an acute ability to understand multiple aspects of whomever she is to meet. ruth’s willingness to express her art with an experimental approach is much like her being a scientist of humanity. She is a performance poet asking everyone to participate in the art of engagement to the here and now. This is what it is all about for me when I read her book, can’t stop the beat; The Life And Words Of A Beat Poet. She not only had to write about the people she knew or just met but she turned them into song, into poetry. Some capture souls in photos, ruth captures souls in poems.
Rent Romus on sax, ruth weiss, and Hal Davis on percussion. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta
ruth’s playfulness and charisma brings people together as well as her raw thrill for the arts and life. When we picked up her, Hal Davis (husband and percussionist who played along with her recitations) and Melody to bring them to the puppet theatre, she was giddy. And her giddiness rubbed off on me! Seeing them bunched together in the back brought me to my adolescent years when we piled up in a car to go to Berkeley just to walk down Telegraph or play hide and seek on the UC campus. ruth never lost her sense of discovery that some of us lose after our teen years. ruth recited her first poem she wrote at age ten (the bear poem) to us in English and in German while riding over pot holes on the roads of San Jose. It was a treat.
She had given me her book, no dancing aloud, and told me to read the short play about the gypsy and the knight called, “one knight and one day.” It’s about a knight who has been leading a double life and a gypsy who sees the gypsy blood in him. The gypsy asks the knight to give up his old ways and become whole with her. It’s a mystical, poetic play full of symbolism. She interchanges English and German language; and, although the translations are on the opposite page, it’s nice to hear the sound of the syllabic rhythm in the German language without knowing the meaning. Of course, I would love to make this into a puppet performance. It has that charm and mystery of an old fairytale.
The day came and ruth wasn’t going to miss the Cinequest event, Poets N Film, for anything. She was an absolute delight as she performed on stage. A true performer, engaging with the audience between her poems she recited. It was exciting to see a woman who had quite the journey in life, up on stage, bringing it all home to us. She had survived the Holocaust, she steered strong and forward as a woman poet and artist, she was one of the most innovative voices of the beat generation as she hitchhiked from New Orleans to the West coast bringing words with jazz, writing plays, performing in plays, and directing her own film based on a poem she wrote. She dyed her hair green in support of the orphans of war and spelled her name in all lowercase. She is connected to the nature that is all around her. Her unique rhythm, her unique beat has been heard, is heard, and will continue to be heard. Of course she would receive the highest honor at the film festival. She is a maverick through and through. CEO and Co-Founder of Cinequest, Halfdan Hussey says, “Cinequest was deeply honored to pay tribute to ruth weiss, her life and legacy, and were thrilled to spend time with her and experience her poetry, performance, and power.”
Melody Miller escorting with ruth weiss to receive her Maverick Spirit Award.
A Sketch For ruth weiss
By Kimy Martinez
NO, no, no, no. This is NOT my immigrant song, NOT my refugee song I sing.
I am lost, homeless in my own country.
I am the voice not heard today but will be heard tomorrow
by someone I don’t know but recognize.
I, too, am the outcast, the outsider, the maverick.
I am the misguided who will misguide you.
I am the shadowless figure who walks between the shafts of light
Amidst your redwoods, I walk with you, breaking bramble beneath our bare feet.
Into the cave we lay our bodies upon moss furniture,
with mushrooms mounted in crevices of split bark
hypnotizing sketches reaching out from the cold rock walls
to touch our warm skins.
This is when you remember the streets of your youth,
the vibrations of the city’s sidewalks leading you from one destination to the next,
nomadic, jazz gypsy with her late night peers rambling manic passion, prose potion
spewing out of a wine bottle, this, you called “sketching” with a friend,
the possibilities between the breaths, in the breath, it was all about discovery,
finding a new language, raw relations, sound communications, and
only, for that moment to forget you were homeless bound.
Now, we walk again, becoming the broken bramble beneath feet, and
the particles that dance in the golden shafts of sunset.