Two years ago in January Ed Kaplan, a good friend and fellow poet, died in his city of dreams, Philadelphia. He wrote this about himself:
“Ed Kaplan came ashore in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since then, his work has been published in well over a hundred magazines and journals – as well as books including Alvin (1974, Triton Press, Boulder Creek, CA), Seraphics (1980, Avalon Editions, Oxford), & Pancratia (1983, Swamp Press, Oneonta, NY). Educated as a boy living in Atlantic City, walking home by the ocean, participating in the roar of waves, inspired by the vastness and the grain of sand underfoot.”
Ed was influenced by the Beat poets, but his closest association was with Vincent Ferrini, the sprightly irritant and muse of the “Big Man,” Charles Olson. Ferrini was the grain of sand that caused Olson to form a pearl of words. Vinnie was a good poet himself, living by the sea in true urchin fashion in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1981, Ed and Vinnie and came to the poetry program I ran at St. Clement’s Church in Manhattan. After this, Ed read at the St. Marks Poetry Project with Ferrini and Joel Oppenheimer, saying this about it in 2020: we each were shades of that dynamic that asks… make a poem or be the poem? three different answers. back then, i didn’t get it at all; vinny did and joel wasn’t pushing it on me, kind of in the middle. but it was a great reading! tho vinny & me read at st. clements, hell’s kitchen (not lost on us). He told me in an email (after reading a draft of my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen) that Steve Levy, writer and journalist now with WIRED was in the St. Clement’s audience. Ed’s generosity, humor, and “poetry like weight-lifting” earned him respect in the writing community. He was not an academic poet, earning his living as an administrator; when I knew him in the 1980s he worked for a temple in New Jersey. In his later years he became a student of Zen and practiced meditation.
On December 27, 2020, Ed left a note on his Facebook page, saying, “ram dass was cremated, put in a cardboard box, marked . . . return to sender.” At the time his friends were unaware this was to be his last post.
He once told me the Facebook page would be an archive of his work. For the first year or so, I copied his posts and kept them on a computer file. Here are some of my favorites from those early posts as well as several of his poems.
first came the swimmers, lost on land, then the beatniks who commented, then the nudists then the fashion designers & models, poets, comedians, chefs & of course the players gangsters & spoilers, then modernists, then the big collider proved we are entangled, all one, not separate, then the music started & in 2525, we held hands and started over!!!!!!!!!
back from my morning ritual sending love to the street world…cold out there: one man, a regular of mine, refused gloves because his fingers are too swollen…one is too crazy to accept money (I think he may eat it). but the world rests there at that intersection of walnut street, 40th and love.
in the sabotaged ashes of my life, I sit; in the squandered pieces of my life, I sit; keeping my heart soft in spite of the complaining self, undeserving of this miracle, and at times, crying do over. I get it; I stay lost in it.
so much hatred manifest in our selfish melodramas, causes, opinions for the moment – judgments on everyone in the circus – awaking to this day, i seek to fill my heart with the good of people, their ability to change, to help each other with kindness, to drop the shouting, no matter how noble you think your path is – to honor the contradictions of being human while holding fast to the emptiness and the fullness of this too quick life.
still looking for something in the world – but it’s getting better – my story gets more ridiculous and less fantastic than I thought…and it’s perfect.
just a little history in zen about humor – sure, they smile those smiles, and the idea of “mu” or clown in Chinese Buddhism is dear to me, and in most traditions, real humor is in the background. You’d think that cosmic humor would sneak into any relevant theology. but zen isn’t theology. SO: as we turn a page on time everyday, another fiction, my prayer for the world is more laughing, vast laughters; laughter and wholeness before the big bang, and after, laughter in spite of, laughter because of, and laughter in the face of karma, just for a moment in our suffering. in between failed hopes & dashed dreams. at the site of hurting, directly on the wound. laughter at dying! give laughter a central role in your heart seeking. Apply a joke to your ambition. stick laughter on your frustrated relationships. watch children laugh like they are on fire!!
Power of Man (from Table of the Permanent) a cold hand above the sea, to be immortal, he thinks coals must be fed with stars, which, on eagles’ backs lands in the rockslide sky like broken thunders. he owns small cats & slate. he swallowed the moon straight & it burned an albatross inside his clumsy process from which he draws his power of hammered gold & oyster foam. poor men, he thinks, poor women: any of this earth will survive your failure. his short days have only flowers & no roots for memories as he throws them into the open mouth of his working riddle, the deep black guess that somewhere he is considered the only one of his kind. he cries better than anyone else. he staggers the mind. he is the only wave that has come this far unbroken. he is stubborn which means he crawls in her hair shaking his fist in the soft face of the earth, arming himself with dreams that only will be sold & gone & cold. he is in front of a firing squad ready to prove otherwise. he knows it's forever, that others will take everything but that away. he touches the future which he keeps with him. all these magnificent lies through which the little good we do, one drop at a time, remains: he was a salesman or a carpenter or a company man. he provides & clears his pride.
Power of Appointment
Indiana night driving in heavy snow
a single car stretched across route 74 at midnight
a truck two miles back slides out of the mirror
fierce wind & onelight houses by the highway
bones of prehistoric animals & lovers & theorists
100 miles of crowded solitude & jelly beans to stay awake
tossing cigarette ashes on the floor
we are salesmen in the thirties with belted luggage
we have families back home
it’s Thursday January 24
Indianapolis to Cincinnati
the brain is one third fat
two thirds extravagant gold sash
you are therefore never alone
angels are deft & spidery
drawn to drapes & lampshades
sit like parakeets on our shoulders or shadows
standing out in the cold between a satellite dish
and a double vision
as in love
as in death
as in the organized sex of our red bandanas
as in the serious theatre of her blood
as in being alone in the middle of a country at night
as in forest
I am surrounded by a ton or two of man’s rigor
peeling off into the organ moon as we always did
constantly surprized in our trauma
it’s a kingdom of crabs chains mace plums
emeralds brats and the unretrievable
the wood in the trees
the wind in the wind
As Olson lay convex
As Olson lay convex his liver
the ruling part
caught the attention of the Angel of Death
he tried deception
wanted to make the Angel
touch me & I will spoil
he tried accepting authority
Angel as physician
please don’t hurt me
you are a permanence
whose function it is
to terminate life on earth
he tried moving the cruel Angel
with his enormous need
to persuade her to shed a tear of mercy
he was a young girl
on the knees of an old gentleman
take her life instead of his
he used all the food at his table
his bones his animals his herbs his interior
a giant in the courtyard grabbing the fountain to his mouth
as if it would fit & quench
ran wild out of the ocean into jungles
a man who got taken in by lights & smoke
who was too damn heavy for the roof
he wouldn’t think of standing anywhere else
(I apologize for formatting problems. The first three and last three lines of “Olson lay convex” should be free-standing and single-spaced.)
The following video of the poem, “Seraphics,” about the issues around gun violence reflect his punchy style.