Search

John Macker

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Tony Scibella: the Poet in America


“O ocean

gull

poem & voice

adieu & adios

venice

pals: i

hope that that will do it.”


Tony Scibella, an artist and poet, (1933-2003) was one of the founders, along with poets Stuart Z. Perkoff, Frank T. Rios, John Thomas, Philomene Long, novelist Alexander Trocchi, and others, of the Venice West literary arts scene south of Los Angeles beginning in the 1950’s. This was the genesis of the SoCal Beat counter-culture in American letters, a short 380 miles south of Haight-Asbury.

Novelist/hipster/mentor Lawrence Lipton did his best to spotlight the Venice art scene with his ridiculous memoir, The Holy Barbarians, which did much accidentally to satirize the fairly serious culture of poets and painters for the tourists, who then flocked to Venice Beach in invasive pastel droves, looking for the beatniks. As Hillary Kaye put it in the Free Venice Beachhead, “It was a different Venice then. It was a breathing space between real estate booms. No bike path, no skate rentals, no sunglass vendors, no upscale restaurants, no valet service, no Hollywood celebrities, no gentrification, no ego sized mansions lining the canals. Venice was as simple as a Taoist dream. It was sufficiently primitive enough to pass for a seedy border town for Orson Welles’ classic film ‘Touch of Evil.”

As Tony himself wrote in his epic poem/autobiography The Kid in America (Denver: Passion Press, 2000) “…Venice was a summertown the locals rented rooms to vacationers from the city & then it closed in winter showed some snowcone life on weekends& drowsed u cd rent a whole house for 65$ …the people flee the city for the burbs forgetting the entire beach (bless em) a cheap pursuit of craft a place to do it described as a slum I never saw it thus: it is a bleedin paradise I reckoned salts on the sun oceanmotion gullquiet beach”

By 1960, outlaw bikers, drugs, sadistic beat cops and bad press put the brakes on this lively movement before it could gain any legitimate international traction. By then, the “San Francisco Renaissance” was attracting much of the mainstream media and featured a tested and savvy clique of literary gurus who had been battle-hardened by intense press scrutiny and such spectacles as the Howl obscenity trial and the soon-to-be-legendary Six Gallery reading.


Unnerved and enervated, by the early 1960’s, many of the writers and artists left the area and scattered across America in order to pursue their careers in relative peace. A few didn’t survive the psychic and physical onslaught of addiction, poverty and jail.

Tony continued making collage, writing and publishing his poetry and that of his friends. He helped poet William J. Margolis put out the literary magazine, Miscellaneous Man. He edited his own Black Ace imprint which published two of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s posthumous titles and contributed to that era’s irrepressible small press renaissance. Denver’s Alan Swallow, New Mexico’s Judson Crews, Diane DiPrima and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in New York, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many others were all extolling the virtues of a new American poetry — anti-institutional, steeped in the vernacular of everyday life, spirited and experimental — that SANG!

Tony believed in community; he believed in a hip, Dionysian, creative-intuitive approach to writing that helped to access his Muse, who was sacred and fundamental to his growth as an artist and writer. His work came up out of the sea, the streets, his friends, he aligned himself with the more rebellious, like-minded, free-form individuals who relied on each other’s counsel and enthusiasm to further their artistic conjurings. After all, he came from Venice, California, a culture of creativity that spawned a beachfront of engaged raconteurs, renegades, writers and artists who found at least a couple of summers worth of magic in the hypnotic give and take of the tides, the climate, which was mostly ideal for living gratuitously just outside of society, and in the spirit of freedom and rebellion from the institutionalized conformist instincts of the desolate 1950’s.

Eventually, Tony moved his family to Denver, and lived there off and on, mostly as proprietor of his own bookstores on East Colfax and elsewhere, for 20 years. He was published in many of the classic lit mags and anthologies of the era, Passion Press, Mile High Underground, The Bowery, Moravagine, Miscellaneous Man, the Croupier, (Sic) Vice & Verse, HARP and others. He was joined in the late 1960’s by poet/publisher James Ryan Morris, editor of Mile High Underground, who instituted a series of “total theatre” events that began to shape Denver’s nascent literary character. Readings, gallery openings, and theatres were springing up all over town. At one point, he had invited his friends Perkoff and Rios to come to Denver and join him in his bookstore operation, which Perkoff did, with family in tow, upon his release from prison.

As John Arthur Maynard put it in his 1991 book, Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California: “In the mid-sixties, Scibella had moved to Denver and opened a bookstore; Frankie Rios eventually joined him. According to Scibella, the two of them were making nothing but money. With the hippie thing at its high-water mark, they were even minor celebrities —present at the creation, so to speak. Tony was offering Perkoff a place to live and a one-third interest in the store. The Three Stooges of the Promenade, (Rios, Perkoff and Scibella) would now become the new-and-used-book tycoons of Colfax Avenue.”

In 1991, Tony published the first of his eight volume art and poetry anthology Black Ace that ended with a 2007 tribute issue, following his death in Los Angeles in 2003. He published as fertile a roster of literary luminaries as you could find in the firmament of American letters at the end of the century: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, George Herms, Jack Micheline, Charles Bukowski, Diane Di Prima, David Meltzer, Jack Hirschman, Janine Pommy Vega, Michael McClure, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Saul White, John Thomas and many others. Many were friends of his.

On a personal note, I first met Tony when I lived in Denver in the early 1980’s when he returned from the coast to open Black Ace Books on Colfax Avenue’s “book row.” He lived in the back of the store with his second wife, Gayle Davis. As was the tradition, he began to host poetry readings and publication parties. He helped me publish my first book which was a Black Ace/Long Road/Bowery collaboration. I loved and respected Tony because of his passion for the Word, his grace, his loyalties. The pursuit of literary fame and native prizes didn’t smolder within him, after experiencing some attention early on. (Although once it was discovered he was back in Denver, he was invited to read in Boulder with Reed Bye, hosted by Andy Clausen, with Anselm Hollo, among others, in attendance.)

As he said, reassuringly, in a magazine interview I did with him in Denver in 1986: “ . . its that everybody who’s tried to do this, everybody that you’ve never even heard of, that make the whole chain of doing & that fame or something is fate, chance, luck, it doesn’t matter, you know, if it wasn’t Ginsberg, it’d be somebody else, or what’s the difference? So that kinda passes you by . . you have to have that kind of personality to mail stuff out . . after a while you just kinda turn in; it’s just you do your work & the rest will take care of itself. Just do your work, She’ll take care of you somehow.”

Tony had five beautiful children. He was a gambler, loved games of chance and the track. He wrote like people talked. His last two titles, The Kid in America and I’m Afraid There Will be No Parade for Us were published by Passion Press in Denver in the early 2000’s. A small posthumous volume, Retirement Poems was published in New Mexico by Desert Shovel Press in 2005. He had an affinity for working Americans, (he painted houses for a living), the laborer, the “oaf” and professed his allegiance often. He devoured pulp westerns, the Sacketts, Dashiell Hammett. He had a great collection of vintage Ace paperbacks. One year, Tony and the artist Steve Wilson had a push-pin, “don’t tell know one” art exhibit and reading at a small gallery on South Broadway in Denver. The show featured mostly collage by both artists. He and Wilson served a red, white and blue themed snack array with crackers, assorted processed lunch meats, Velveeta cheese and Cokes. The spread was not without its conscious humor and patriotic irony. The art on the walls was, for the most part, sans frames: bold, brilliant and without borders. I once asked him what the meaning was behind his seemingly defeatist and slightly nihilist-nik mantra “don’t tell no one” and he replied: “Because you never know who might show up.”



A few poems by Tony Scibella


Monday here


this is Monday

lines before me

the first

poem

is there no excuse

for blunder

stabbed by the hand

with pen

so easy


of men

jungle green

in rows

of tabulation –

so many for us

too many of them

the sporting news

how unique

the abstract notion

today in moderate

action

the guerillas

beat the baboons


theres a tendency to sit

loaf w/life

see agony every day

pay no mind

as the news cast flash

the worlds on fire

that’s

endeavors lost

in winds

nobly considered

& cast in regrets

then: how is there

hope in my pocket

are we lonely animals?


never answers:

only when the worlds

in flames

only as the every day

beats us to dust

building boxes

w/no bottoms

for our possessions.


*


spring swing


rain wet

fresh born

the crop seeded

& brite green things shoot for the sun

lite winks on us


i am weak too

new

colt-like skinny legs

wobble bones in the air

tremble to support my own weight


chesty

heart-beat

new word world

springtime sattidy nite

fiddle-stringed knife notes

the wired fingers

box blowin


we seek to speak

to all green thumbs

who look to the sun

& feel the rain in the face

moon juice

partial to poets


the ladys tears.


*



in my life, my love


I’m clutching

in my life

my love

as it is the last

to last

not putting silk

on every one

I meet

nor edit

in my mind

whats left

to give

not given


*

drifter

(for bill dailey


no one made him go

i’m sure

it wuz something

not understood

tugged him away

beyond mountains

of rivers


some sweet song

some recall him saying

when he left

to seek the voice

that sang to him

he almost never found

but then its not the finding

it’s the search

made him drift

listening always


no one made him go

leave home

take to roads

to fail

& in some lock-step insanity

he marches still

& he will not stop

for he cannot stop

o! it’s such a bitter grave


*

tourista

(for gayle


each journey begins

as I tell her

I love her

crawling across

spain on my knees

while the man

w/the stick

pokes holes in my head

letting the sunlight in


the voice is saying: u

are allowed one love

& I know it as

the earth spins

beneath our feet

& new characters

appear in song

& we move

to find a closeness

not found thru

rooms we have known

forever & nothing

fits back

into each bag

as planned so carefully


we have walked streets

familiar w/their

strangeness

we have been

have we been?

down before

in laffter

& chilly rain

as warm as love

can make us


*


A Brief Scibella Bibliography


Big Trees Denver, 1972

Ace Is Black Of Course Denver, 1976

Turning for Home . . . Los Angeles, 1982

Bowery/West (editor) Denver, 1983

Two For Her (w/Frank Rios) Venice, 1989

Later Poems Los Angeles, 1990

The Kid in America Denver, 2000

I’m Afraid There Will Be No Parade For Us Denver, 2002

Retirement Poems, 2005, Santa Fe



Copyright 2019 by John Macker

###



Tony at The Ward Public Library Colorado, Fall 2001. Photo by Ed Ward



Photos by Marcia Ward



68 views6 comments

Recent Posts

See All