Armour Garland
Part 1

Howard Hart, a great poet and a friend to many of us, passed away on
August 10th at 11:30 a.m. in his apartment in North Beach after a long
battle with cancer. A native of Cincinatti, Ohio, Hart sought to combine the disciplines of lyric poetry & music (he was also a talented jazz drummer and composer for piano) into a poetics that scintillates & flows with vibrant color, lightning-quick energy and a hip, sophisticated humor. His poems are collected in the rare small press or privately printed books FOUNTAIN SQUARE (1954), THE SKY OF ORANGE WHISPERS (1964), THE APPLE BITES BACK (1974), CHARMELLE AND THE WHITE SMOKE (1980), SIX SETS: SELECTED POEMS (1984), ICE FREEZES RED (1987), BEAUTY (1988), DJANGO (1989), & ONE THIRD INN (2001), as well as AND THE AUTUMN LEOPARDS CAN RINSE THEIR PAWS (2000), a spoken word CD of Howard performing poems from throughout his career, released privately in a limited edition. He had also been working on a collection of unpublished & new poems, THE HOUSING SITUATION IN HEAVEN.

As a teenager in Cincinatti he formed his own jazz band (he'd been playing the drums since he was eleven) and went to as many shows as he could get into. He was also a restless student, getting thrown out of, as he said, "too many schools..." and following Einstein around the grounds of Princeton wondering what was on his mind. While going to school near New York City he and his friends would often sneak out to catch the subway to 52nd Street and hear Charlie Parker & Diz, Billie Holiday, the Art Tatum Trio, Don Byas, Big Sid Catlett, Ellington, Ben Webster, a young Thelonius Monk with Coleman Hawkins, and the great bebop drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke, who would become both a friend and a mentor to Howard during the fifties. The climate of NYC was heated, at a wartime peak, filled with thousands of soldiers, jazz clubs and art galleries. Artists like Piet Mondrian or the Surrealist circle (Breton, Ernst, Masson, etc.) were seeking refuge from Europe in New York, and continuing their experiments in art in America. Howard often spent afternoons seeing and absorbing both European films, especially Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bete" or "L'Orphee", and paintings around the city.

In 1946 he left America with a friend and worked his way on a steamer to post-war France. He headed straight for Paris where, among other things, he starved for a few days and then (by chance) ended up at a huge banquet where he met Django Rheinhardt. This auspicious meeting with one of his heroes inspired him to stay awhile, and he always remembered the unpretentiousness & hospitality shown to him that night. He was even asked by Rheinhardt to audition as drummer, but ended up missing the rehearsal because he'd found an uncensored French copy of Baudelaire's "Flowers Of Evil" at a kiosk by the river, bought it, and couldn't stop reading it for hours -- at that moment, he would later say, he realized he wanted to be a poet as much as a musician, and the sensuous synaesthetic rhythms of those poems would be a model for his own fusion of the two disciplines. He also spent an afternoon (again, by chance) with the French poet, novelist, and adventurer Blaise Cendrars, drinking bourbon and conversing back and forth in a mix of French and broken English about a range of subjects, from the circumstances of Apollinaire's last days and death (as reported by eyewitness Cendrars), to the state of American jazz music, especially the new "bebop."

In the spring of 1947 he left Paris and hitchhiked south to Provence, seeking the landscapes of the troubadours whose musical/poetic fusion and presentation of the relationship between women and men he admired. He felt he was immersed in the imagery of Cezanne (color & structured form), Van Gogh (rhythm & incongruous subject matter), Dufy (whimsy & elegant truncation), and Matisse (light & juxtapositions of patterns)*. He hung out in Arles, saw the mountains and forests Cezanne painted, and the Mediterranean coastline is a reoccuring place, or even state of mind, in his work. At this time he was "very into" the poetry of Rene Char. By the end of '47 he had returned to New York and become a music student of Charles Mills, studying composition and strict counterpoint. He lived with Mills and his wife, listening to composers like Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern day & night. He began to write small pieces for flute and solo piano. At one time or another Mills would have taught Chet Baker and David Amram. Some nights Howard and Mills would go out and meet Charlie Parker at clubs before gigs, or Parker would meet them at Mills' place and they'd drink whiskey, do benzedrine, and listen to Bach.

Around this time Howard also began to study with Leonard Bernstein, who thought his minimalist pieces and philosophical-musical viewpoint were interesting. Bernstein encouraged his word/music direction, but after a while Howard decided he'd had enough of "taking the subway uptown to the classical castle." It was while living at the Mills' he first began to work on his translation and adaptation of Paul Claudels' drama PARTAGE A MIDI, which would later be produced and performed as NOONTIDE. He found inspiration to continue his efforts towards music/word fusion in the challenge of suggesting the intense lyricism of the original play in the English language, and he was drawn to the character of Yse, who echoes throughout a number of mysterious women in his own poems. He also began to study at Columbia with Mark Van Doren, eventually receiving an M.A. in Philosophy in 1952. Often he would spend nights out with another professor, Delmore Schwartz, in the bars of Greenwich Village. When sufficiently drunk they would go on long after midnight walks around the city, talking & observing, stopping in to visit poets, painters, musicians, eccentrics, & scholars, including various women like Djuna Barnes or Mary Lou Williams, or feverish creators like Beauford Delaney. On occasion Mills would come along with his tweaked energies & U.F.O. fixations. Another one of Howard's close friends at the time, that they would stop to see, was the exiled Russian composer Arthur Lourie.

His first book, FOUNTAIN SQUARE, was published on his friend Jorge Goya's Pennyeach Press in 1954, a thin collection of ackward early poems, one great translation of Jacques Prevert, and a few brilliant hints of what was to come, like "Girl in a Blue Kitchenette" and "Soon The Moon." The book is dedicated to his wife Betty. She was working as the ticket taker at Birdland when Klook introduced her to Howard one night. They struggled against the disapproval that mainstream America showed for their inter-racial marriage, but their relationship did not last. Howard went back and forth between Paris (where he briefly joined Olivier Messiaen's music composition class) and Greenwich Village, working for Catholic Worker, and as a journalist for the original Village Voice team, reviewing new music, poetry readings, and books. He hung out with Delmore, drummers Art Taylor & Chico Hamilton (Best Man at Howard's wedding), Lourie, Bird, arrangers Tadd Dameron & Gil Evans, Raymond Duncan, theologians & critics Jacques and Raissa Maritain, and Philip Lamantia, a Surrealist poet from San Francisco who had been discovered at the age of 16 by Andre Breton, in 1944, and published both in a number of New York exile Surrealist journals, like VVV, and the bourgeoning West Coast Leftist/Anarchist periodicals of the late '40s, early '50s.

Lamantia had originally met Howard during a religious retreat organized at a monastery in Oregon by their spiritual mentor-in- common Herbert Schwartz, sometime in the late '40s. Later they would bump into each other in New York, or Howard would make the occasional trip out to San Francisco and would stay with Philip. They went down the coast to Big Sur together and visited Henry Miller at his house on Partington Ridge. At Philip's house in San Francisco, Lamantia's mother would make huge Sicilian dinners and would tell Howard to make cocktails for everyone. He told me that he sat outside writing all day in the balmy California air, and that he and Lamantia would often go out and read poetry at night in North Beach or Sausalito. Lamantia's strange language-smashing imagery & symbolic "erotic mystery" poems had a profound influence on Howard's own unique technique and theory of image and rhythm, and in Lamantia Howard had also found a young friend and poet attuned to the elements of oblique jazz, Catholicism, painting, cinema, and mystery embedded in the poems he'd been writing since FOUNTAIN SQUARE.

Lamantia split for Mexico City and Howard followed shortly afterwards. They would stay up at night smoking grass, listening to the latest records, talking about poetry or philosophy, reading poems. Lamantia was heavy into heroin at the time, but Howard was already wary of needles and taking Klook's advice to "stay away from the SHIT" in the jazz scene. Howard, still drumming, was deeply a part of the bebop network in his New York night hours, and it was riddled with junkies who couldn't quit. Many friends had died, like Fats Navarro & Charlie Parker. It was during this trip to Mexico that Howard made a separate pilgrimage to Guadalupe, where he drank hallucinogenic tequila with the caretakers before going inside the church of Our Lady, and befriended a nun who translated a few of his poems into Spanish and wrote to him from time to time, giving him spiritual counsel.

Back in Greenwich Village in 1957 Howard, Lamantia, and Jack Kerouac, who Philip had introduced to Howard, read their poetry with french horn & piano jazz improvisations by David Amram at The Circle In The Square and the Brata Gallery, major events in the history of poetry and jazz fusion performances. At the same time Kerouac and Lamantia could often be found crashing out at Howard's "pad", on the floor, in a chair, or underneath a tattered bear skin rug (Kerouac's preference). Musicians, painters, junkies, and their muses sometimes stayed over. Jack Micheline lived in the room above them. Joyce Glassman (now Joyce Johnson) would cook them meals at her place, then they would get stoned with a local hip priest, and then get drunk at the Cedar Tavern, the White Horse, or the San Remo; hung-over the next morning, the three of them would crawl into church and do the rosary together. It happened this way for a few months, but eventually the friends went in different directions and Kerouac would never rejoin them. His spiral of fame was beginning to give way to a lasting alienation. Philip Lamantia began to travel back and forth between coasts. Other than a brief trip to San Francisco to perform in KABUKI U.S.A. with Ruth Weiss, one of the first West Coast multimedia performances, Howard stayed in the Village, and began working on short plays as well as new poems. Billie Holiday died, and the jazz world felt yet another shock. Howard wrote one of his finest poems, "Billie Holiday Funeral on 52nd Street," remembering the sensations of the darkness in the extremely small clubs he'd seen her sing at, in his early teens, and the brooding messages of pain in her voice and body.

In January 1959 Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Howard Hart, and Kathleen Fraser were picked as the most interesting poets of the year by Madamoiselle. An article was written which gives a large portion to discussing Howard. He was also, by this time, poetry editor of the journal EXODUS, and one of the people to credit for publishing Ray Bremser early on. He wrote an article for the Village Voice applauding Thelonius Monk live, & a review of Kerouac's "Mexico City Blues", and had become close friends with Ruth Kligman, Paul Cummings, Ted Joans, Robert Cordier, James Baldwin, and Jasper Johns. He'd also gotten to know Elvin Jones, who he often sat behind the drums with at Coltrane shows, talking, picking up ideas, and passing a bottle of whiskey. Howard would take his snare and ride cymbal over to Elvin's and they'd goof and practice together. At a certain point Howard had decided on a minimalist drum and cymbal combo, turning the snare on & off, with skillful rimshots, washes of cymbal, and use of the bell of the cymbal becoming a dominant thing, as well as tight, quick-to-the-point-of-schizophrenic, swing-meets-machine industrial rhythms.

. In the winter of 1959, his adaptation of an Italian play, THE TRIAL OF JESUS, was produced Off-Broadway. When Albert Camus died in 1960 Howard wrote a eulogy in the Village Voice for the late author, entitled "The Right Side of Our Face Has Fallen Off." With the interest and patronage (for a while) of Claudel's son he was able to revise and finish NOONTIDE. It was finally staged, Off-Broadway, and was well received. Sadly, this adaptation has never been published, even though it is a modern, exciting, and totally vital translation of Claudel that far outweighs the available English translations of PARTAGE A MIDI. He told Mademoiselle magazine in 1959 "I did the Claudel because it was more my play than what I could have written at the time." He also worked on translating two plays by Fernando Arrabal, & had begun working as a drummer in the John Benson Brooks trio, doing twelve tone influenced Free Jazz, rehearsing with them, & performing on the scene. Frequent poetry readings also took up his nights during this period.


************* ARMOUR GARLAND: Canadian, b.1978; 5 poetry books, incl. WANT (1999) & FLOOD: FRAGMENTS (2001); co-editor, w/Kristine Brown, of North Beach's Calliope Communications, specializing in fine limited-edition chapbooks w/hand-painted covers, & GO, a random anthology of new verse & visual art; working on numerous larger poetry & prose projects, incl. a memoir of his adventures w/, & the life of, Beat poet Howard Hart; sometime visual artist & musician/composer, he lives & works in Carmel and San Francisco, California. *************



* analysis of Howard's painterly influences by, & used with permission of, Kristine Brown.



Poetrybay seeks fine poetry, reviews, commentary and essays without restriction in form or content, and reserves first electronic copyright to all work published. All rights to published work revert to the author following publication. All Email submissions should be in body of email text.

To submit poems write to:

PO Box 114 
Northport NY 11768
or email us at

send comments to

first electronic copyright 2004 poetrybay. 
all rights revert to authors

website comments to