Too many deaths lately, though Bob’s wasn’t unexpected. He’d been suffering from various things for several years, or more. But his spirit never seemed to suffer, at least not in emails and telephone conversations with me.
I knew Bob as an independent-minded, proud to be Irish-American, poet. But he may have been best known in the Irish-American community for a book he put together called THE BIG BOOK OF IRISH-AMERICAN CULTURE.
In the wider world, he was probably better known for editing anthologies of comic artists, including THE NEW SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF COMIC BOOK STORIES FROM CRUMB TO CLOWES, and for collaborating with the famous “underground comix” artist Spain on many projects, but most recently and successfully on DARK HOTEL, which ran in The San Francisco Chronicle (or was it the Examiner?) and online.
I knew Spain first, through my first wife Lee. She and Spain were from Buffalo and part of the late 1950s, early ‘60s demimonde there. Both were also close to the local outlaw bikers, The Road Vultures (the Vultures threw Lee and me the only engagement party we had, since we got married on a whim and had only three days between deciding to do it and finishing the necessary tests and paperwork to make it official).
Spain gave us a cartoon of a biker for a wedding gift, as well as an old Zippo lighter he engraved for us. The lighter is long gone, I’m very sorry to say, but the cartoon may be in one of the many boxes that fill the closets in my apartment.
Spain moved to San Francisco and was a part of the heyday of alternative comic books with his TRASHMAN series. Bob was a presence on the San Francisco Bay poetry scene for decades.
I got to know Bob best after I moved to L. A. in the early ‘80s, visiting him a few times in S. F. (and Berkeley and Oakland), and keeping in touch through the mail and phone and later e mail. He nominated me for a few poetry awards that originated from the Bay area, and we read together a couple of times, one of them being at a 1999 exhibit commemorating “Bloody Sunday”—the killing of unarmed civilians by British troops that was one of the most tragic milestones in the resistance to British rule in the North of Ireland and the treatment of Northern Catholics as second-class citizens.
He was an original, not that we all aren’t in our own ways. But Bob went his own way like few people dare to, championing the underdog while resisting conforming to any movement or scene, or catering to any source of power in the academic or literary worlds and where they intersect.
I’ll miss his wistful nostalgia in our phone discussions, the humble honesty and poetry of the articulation of his experience and opinions, and his capacity to tolerate my own opinionated rants, poetic or otherwise.
Most of all I’ll miss his great sense of humor and delight in all displays of comic (and comix) ways of exposing the hypocrisy of the self-righteous and powerful.
He was a good man. May he never be forgotten.