Modern Beasts Have No Memory: A Laurence Weisberg Dossier [part 1]

L.W. in 1981 with Marcel Duchamp’s Small Glass (…). Photo: Alice Farley

A supposedly random glance over a friend’s bookshelf brought me to the poetry of Laurence Weisberg. The light grayish blue book with the plain title, “Poems” (2004, Anon Editions) lay on the spine along with a man’s name I had never encountered before. It’s not a book to be casually leafed through, which is what I did only to find myself propelled into a cataclysmic world of bewitched obsidian and telepathic wounds. I didn’t regret being so casual, but knew I would have to sit down with the book, really cast my eye/ear further into the poems. In fact, the book demanded it. Visionary, unhinged, oddly romantic, classically surrealist, and of such strange force I immediately had to know who the poet was. I intended this to be a 200 word appreciation of Laurence’s poems, but it has since grown into a different sort of beast, one which came about after I contacted some of his closest friends and associates. What follows is only a sliver of my exchanges with them. Laurence Weisberg was born in the Los Angeles area on May 6, 1953 and died March 13, 2003 at the age of 49.


Allan Graubard: Laurence had a peculiar ability to transform language through sonic images whose purely visual properties were one aspect of a complex moment. He found in that complexity a way to resist cliché. And he sang. There’s music in his lines, a rich loam where strange flowers grow.

I met Laurence at Cal Arts in 1970. He had left the school just prior to my arrival. Nonetheless, his name preceded him. Once, at Clayton Eshleman’s place, a month or so before the school year began, I asked him what students of his were poets. He named two, one of which was Laurence. At that time Laurence had already identified himself as a surrealist. Recall that Eshleman published him with Philip Lamantia in his journal Caterpillar. Laurence was interested in poetry and read poetry. He was attracted to surrealism because it revealed the true magic of poetry and the poetic. Remember also that this was a social thing based on elective affinity, poetic evidence, and friendship. There was a group in San Francisco before I got there: Philip Lamantia, Stephen Schwartz, Richard Waara, Nancy Peters, also Pete Winslow and David Volpendesta. The city lent itself to the kind of reverie that surrealism framed, too. You lived it; you wrote it. This is an essay I wrote on that time, Elective Affinities:


(for Philip Lamantia)

Saturn suffocates in my groin of marble.

In darkness the hands break apart haloes

return melted glaciers to the root of the saxophone.

Within these linen sheets rainbows play upon flesh

hunt out light            die of exhaustion

leaving over the sheets stains of prismatic fluid.


Restless fire of coma breathes a secretive thigh

wherein I dream myself rescuing you Oh Mother

from the convulsive throat of paranoic desire.

Mother of Night

I touch your body

twelve sleeping children sprung from your head

a jungle suspended over your shoulder

over your thighs the lost galaxy swims toward my

outstretched palm

summoning suns to surround this hotel of spirit.

What excrement flies out of your ass perfumed?

the stupor it achieves is thrust from hieroglyphic

shadow is a hurricane that marks up my lips with shyness.


You govern the space in which the noble sun

crowned with paperclips weeps openly     cascading down

to me the untranslatable rays of totemic bile.

You stand alone this night on a thick balcony

remembering the time wasps came and stung you from

head to foot

and returned to pull the stingers they had forgotten

in their ecstasy.


Mother of Night I hear stars mumbling inside your heart

I feel the radiating card and the soft eagle of depression.

Great lover of all men I see fortune locked into your window.

I bear down in my lust                snapping bones

revealing the demonic syntax.


(Poem by L.W. in Caterpillar #17, 1971. His first published work.)


Brian Lucas is a poet, musician, and artist living in Oakland, CA. He’s the author of Circles Matter (2012, BlazeVox Books), Telepathic Bones (2011, Berkeley Neo-Baroque), and Light House (2006, Meeting Eyes Bindery). He plays in the improv-ambient group Cloud Shepherd. His visual art blog is at

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  1. Peter Garland says:

    Dear Brian, Nice to see this (I just decided to check, out of curiosity, today! April 2…). Laurence was born in 1952, not 1953. That 1953 date, listed in the Anon volume is simply incorrect. Believe me, I’ve double-checked on this….best, Peter

  2. Stephen Lock says:

    Hello Brian . . .knew LW since ’69-’70, our very dear Laurence was a tale spinner of renown as well. . .great of you all for doing this. I’ll send along a couple copies of the Anon.Ed. paperbacks to wherever you like. . .
    thanks again, more to follow. . .Stephen Lock