The 1970s were strange times in Portland, Maine. I remember walking along Fore Street on a warm, humid October afternoon in 1975, when the vegetation had gone bare and the sun was visibly lower every day and the harbor was already cold, thinking sardonically of the phrase: "Paris of the '70s." Some guy had written a letter to The Portland Times (one of the many alternative newspapers that came went in a flash during those years) comparing the surge of artistic and literary activity in Portland to the same forces in Paris during the 1920s. "Portland is the Paris of the '70s," he had written, or something like that, and the phrase became a running joke with us whenever we wanted to call attention to cases of sentimental self-aggrandizement. All of us, however -- artists, writers, musicians, theater people, students -- knew what he was talking about. Walking through the hazy October sunlight, I played with the phrase while I was thinking how to write an article for The Portland Times about Bruce Holsapple.
My cousin owned the building at 85 Park Street where Holsapple lived and Contraband Press was headquartered. On the top floor were four tiny rooms. Each one housed a poet or an artist of some kind, or merely some roughly college-age person who dressed in hippie-like rags, drank and took drugs, worked at some extremely grungy job like cutting sails for sailboats, and had, or adopted for social purposes, an artistic disposition -- which in those days meant an alienated, perhaps cynical manner of speaking and a nominally aesthetic personal philosophy. For better or worse, people had or were at least interested in philosophy back then. Especially their own.
Holsapple lived up there in one of the rooms for nearly ten years and was different from most of the others because of his intensity and seriousness about art. He wrote and published poems because he thought poetry was important, both personally and culturally. For a spell during the mid-1970s he peddled his poems by tacking neatly typed and calligraphied copies of them to an easel, and sitting in front of the Portland Public Library, which then resided almost opposite the end of Park Street on Congress Street.
You could go there most sunny days and talk about poetry or culture with Bruce, if you were serious about it. Weird people hung around him -- drunks, derelicts, art students, ex-convicts, other poets. An old man named Raymond Jones came by with his cane from time to time to talk and tell stories about being a script editor for Alfred Hitchcock and living in the same building with Ernest Hemingway. I was astonished once to find out that a paperback science fiction novel,
The Cybernetic Brains, which I had bought as a teenager was written by Ray.
He once told me in confidence that Bruce's main problem was money -- you can't produce any effective writing if you're always worrying about where your next meal

will come from. Bruce was the caretaker of 85 Park Street, and so he paid a reduced rent, but he had no income apart from a dollar a week or so selling poems. He bought groceries for a mysterious old man I never saw,
and apparently the old man gave him food from time to time. Bruce also became an amateur naturalist and learned to eat city vegetation, lamb's quarter, and so on. Once he gathered and boiled a huge pot of periwinkles. Excavating the meat from a single shell was such trouble that he quickly turned to gathering mussels instead.
Since Bruce's room served as the editorial and production office of Contraband magazine, it was a center of activity that attracted people. I don't know exactly what Jim Bishop was doing at this time. Occasionally he would turn up at 85 Park Street for an evening or a few days, and there would be a flurry of extra energy for talking about poetry. If Jim happened to be at one of the regular Sunday morning editorial meetings in Bruce's room, the discussion would become exceptionally heated. Peter Kilgore -- who was, with Bruce, the core of Contraband -- would sit with his face sort of prune-colored, looking down at the floor and waiting patiently for a chance to make a statement. Bishop responded with great emotion to everything Bruce said, and it wasn't until years later in Burlington, Vermont, that I realized how personally he took all talk of poetry. It was almost the same thing as talking about his mother or his wife. He would become expansively delighted or exhaustively upset, so active and real was it in his imagination.
Holsapple would often be on his feet, slightly bent at the shoulders, his blond hair like a cloud around his large and pleasant face, talking distractedly and almost angrily to us, or more precisely, to the last person who had commented on either the poems or the subject at hand. The subject was always the nature of poetry and art, what constitutes poetry and art, how it does so, and which poetry or art is more or less successful. True to the times, the general editorial disposition was very open -- anything could be acceptable for the pages of Contraband, although a highly subjective judgment of quality was always involved in editorial decisions. Once we decided to reject a group of Kenneth Rexroth's translations. Actually, I argued that including Rexroth would be good for Contraband 's reputation and therefore for its




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The Mind Errant
Reading Forays
85 Park St., Portland, Maine, winter 1977