Beyond Baroque

VENICE LOSES THE LAST VENICE BEAT POET FRANK T. RIOS

By Pegarty Long – Photos by Pegarty Long

I first saw Frankie in 1974. Not that I actually spoke with him at that time because he was lying back on a chair, dressed entirely in black, head down and talking to no one. He was depressed. His best friend, Venice Beat Poet Stuart Z. Perkoff, had died. We were at his memorial in a large old Venice house which was The Temple of Man. While men in black with long dark beards greeted Philomene and me, Frankie was still and didn’t say a word. Frankie wrote…

O dear poet
you swing hard

like
straight pin
like
gold rose.

I first heard Frankie in the Temple of Man. I was helping Philomene shoot her film, “The Beats.” He was reading his poetry. He had just read one of his poems and the audience in that crowded Venetian room was packed with beats and hippies. The heads of household Basa and Anita Alexander were hosting, Tony Scibella, Frankie’s wife Carolyn Rios, Gale, Marsha Getzler and John Thomas sat intent. “Oh, Frankie! That’s beautiful” were the first words I heard about him. The thrill of hearing exceptional poetry was in the air as well as a faint odor of marijuana.

That night Frankie was a happier man and after the reading, with I still filming, he jumped up laughing and joking and plopped on Big John Thomas‘s lap while all the while John was eying Philomene and bragging that he did not have to work for a living. A trio was in the making.

In the 70s and 80s I would bump into Frankie on the Venice Boardwalk where he, Stuart and Tony, the “Holy Three” they called themselves, in the 50s would get high on cough syrup and what ever else was around and sit on the beach and write poems. Frankie bought me to the very spot where he had first come upon Stuart who had said “come to a poetry reading tonight at the Venice West on Dudley” and Frankie did and read and it changed his life forever.

Frankie always wore black. Why he’s so neat and spiffy all the time for a Beat, I thought as I would look down at my unkempt hippie clothes. Tony Scibella described him better in his Beat jive in “The Kid In America.“

“frankyblack was DAP from his black shinyhead to his blackshiny shoed w/a blackleather coat (to own such a coat!)… for frankyblack was a cityguy hadn’t lost his bigcity ways… (later on that magicsummer frankly copped a pair of cutoffs off the freeclothes table in the gashouse (i see these white skinny legs coming down the promenade) & of course, they, the cutoffs, were the only tailored pair on the beach)
Frankie carried a load of sorrow when he lost Stuart, and for a very long time. But, he rose out of it. He kicked his heroin addiction, and then helped others who had monkeys on their back and in doing it found true love, a soulmate and wife, Joyce Castagnola.

He wrote poems, brilliant poems, which he always dedicated and credited to the Muse, “the Lady,” who had touched his tongue and gave him poetry. He would invoke her before each reading, burn a poem to her, dedicate the reading to her with his slightly rough New York accent and gentle soul…

dear lady
my hands hang
like ghosts
in sunlight

& what there is to say
the sharing of a clumsy act
of something else pulled
from the blustered page

Over the years he remained true friends with both John and Philomene. “I love John Thomas” he proclaimed when I gave him a photograph which I had taken of the six remaining Venice Beats together in 1998. One by one they died until it was just Philomene and Frankie. Frankie would say over and over to Philomene, “We’re the last two left.” “We’re the last two left.”

John had written an Introduction to Frankie’s book. I asked Frankie if he would write a Preface for John‘s. “I would feel honored” he said and he wrote a simple yet magnificent one…

a dream
        for john thomas

in my dream
who is he
that bearded poet 
i didn’t get his name

i told him who I was
& he pulled some sky
out of his pocket
then was distant

i knew

he said something
profound
but couldn’t
put my finger on it

when i woke
the morning light
was breaking thru
my window
& a family of birds
were whistling
about the worm
hidden in

On August 21, 2007 Frankie was to meet Philomene for lunch. “Philomene!” he called and up to her second floor apartment in the red-bricked Ellison, (where the poets live the neighbors called it). He walked quietly away. He thought that she had forgotten. But, she had not forgotten him. She couldn’t hear him because she was in the sleep of death. For eleven years he was the only one left.
In August, 2018 the bad news came. Frank T. Rios, the last remaining Venice Beat lay dying. He was strong, peaceful, open to it. “How are you doing, Frankie?” I e-mailed. “I’m looking forward to meeting them all again, he said: Philomene; John; Stuart; Tony etc.” He had a request for me. Two photographs that I had taken that he liked. Perhaps wanted at his bedside. One of them was of him lighting the flame of invocation to the Lady. Another in which he is surrounded by poets and writers of Beyond Baroque. I hurried and worked as hard as I could to find and get them to him. Time was running out. I wanted to be with him in some small way as my sister had been with Stuart when he was dying so many years ago. I did. Eleven years after Philomene died almost to the exact date on August 20, 2018 Frankie died peacefully in his own bed while the crisp light air of an early L.A. morning called to him. This poem he wrote for John can now be for Frankie, for Philomene, for Stuart, for Tony. For them all.

     for john

the moon
is crying
for death,

over the air
good men
are taken
to angels

behind a dark cloud
we gathered
in a circle
to mourn
a fallen friend

        “O heart
        don’t run from me
        kill yourself
        tomorrow “

the sun
hides behind
a dark cloud
& john
turns
the final page
                  rising.

There is an emptiness in Venice today. An era has passed. Our last Venice Beat Poet is gone.

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