Bremser, Ray

Bremser, Ray
   Like gregory corso and herbert huncke, Ray Bremser was educated on the streets and in prisons. charles plymell went so far as to say that Bremser was more “Beat,” in the street sense of the word than was allen ginsberg. Bremser became one of bob dylan’s favorite poets (there is a quick glimpse of Bremser in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home [2005]), and mention of him can be found in the liner notes to Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’.
   Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on February 22, 1934, to a mother who worked inspecting condoms and a father who supposedly played piano on the ship Orizaba, from which the poet Hart Crane suicidally jumped in April 1932, Bremser joined the United States Air Force (like amiri baraka/leroi Jones later did) in 1951 to get some discipline. He was honorably discharged but found himself in Bordentown Reformatory for armed robbery from April 1952 to November 1958. While incarcerated, Bremser became an autodidact. When he heard of the Beat poets Corso and Ginsberg in Paris he sent them his poems. This led to his first published poetry in Jones’s journal Yugen. When he was released, Jones and jack kerouac made the rounds with him in New York City.
   The authorities were looking for a way to bust Bremser after he promoted the legalization of marijuana on Ralph Collier’s Philadelphia talk show in 1959, and he was arrested for violating parole for marrying Bonnie Bremser/brenda frazer, a woman whom he met at a poetry reading in which he participated earlier that year, without the permission of his parole officer. After serving six months at Trenton State, a letter from the poet William Carlos Williams on Bremser’s behalf helped Bremser obtain a release. Soon after he was accused of a robbery that he swears he did not commit and fled to Mexico with his wife and their child with the help of money borrowed from Willem de Kooning’s wife, Elaine. Frazer’s troia: mexican memoirs chronicles their time in Mexico. After being bailed out of jail by Elaine de Kooning’s friends in Texas, living with philip lamantia in Mexico, appearing in Donald Allen’s The new american poetry, and splitting with Frazer, Bremser was arrested for marijuana possession, jumped bail, was a fugitive from justice, and turned himself in. He was in prison from 1961 to 1965. His first volume of poetry, poems of madness, was published with an introduction by Ginsberg while he was in prison. anGel, his second book, was published after his release with an introduction by lawrence ferlinghetti. Bremser reunited with Frazer, lived in Guatamala, and had a second daughter before splitting again with Frazer. He lived on Ginsberg’s farm in Cherry Valley, New York, in the early 1970s, had a son with poet Judy Johnson, and moved to Utica, New York. One of the most mysterious, mythical, and notorious Beat outlaw figures, Bremser died from lung cancer on November 3, 1998.
   Beat poet andy clausen has this to say about his friend:
   Ray Bremser was a master neologist and syntax pioneer, a language percussionist, an American Khlebnikov, a jazz and blues poet. His language was an outrageous precision, his intentions to push the limits of humor and pain. His books include Poems of Madness (1965) (published later as Poems of Madness & Angel by Water Row Press [1986]) in which Allen Ginsberg writes in the introduction, “In Bremser poetry we have powerful curious Hoboken language, crank-blat phrasing, rhythmic motion that moves forward in sections to climaxes of feeling,” Angel (1967), Drive Suite (1968), Black is Black Blues (1971), Blowing Mouth (1978), and The Conquerors (1998), which will appear in a German translation by Pociao (Verlag Peter Engstler).
   Bremser could count Bob Dylan, Elvin Jones, and Cecil Taylor as fans. He was my friend. I regarded him as a compassionate and wise man, even though he was a social and spiritual outlaw—a literary renegade to the end.
   He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1934. He was fond of pointing out the hospital from the elevated skyway of exit 14 off the Jersey Turnpike as we headed for the Holland Tunnel, where he hated being stuck because he claimed all the tiles made him have to pee.
   His mother was a condom inspector and his father was a pianist in clubs and on cruise ships. When he was fifteen he went to New York City and dug Billie Holliday at Birdland.
   He joined the Air Force before graduating from high school and served eighty-nine days of a three year enlistment. It did not work out too well. I will not give all the details of Bremser’s traumatic extraordinarily adventurous, defiant, hilarious, and tragic life, this is really the subject for a biography of Proustian dimensions.
   Ray told me, “Someone gave me a gun. I walked around with it for three weeks. I thought, ‘I have a gun I should use it.’ ” The authorities waited two months till he turned eighteen and Ray spent 1952–58 in Bordentown Prison, for armed robbery, where he studied literature, wrote poems, got his high school diploma and corresponded with Ezra Pound, Robert Graves, Gregory Corso, and Ginsberg. On a recommendation from Ginsberg and Corso, Ray sent poems to LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). The “City Madness” section of Poems of Madness was published in Yugen. The editors, LeRoi and hettie jones, had a party on Ray’s release where he met Fielding Dawson, Diane Di Prima, Ginsberg, Seymour Krim, Franz Kline, and Jack Kerouac, who became a drinking buddy. Ray said, “We never discussed literature.” He told me Ginsberg immediately hit on him: “I told him, ‘Allen, I’ve been in prison for six years. I’ve never even been with a woman, and that’s what I want.’ ” Bremser was published in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, that gave him a certain cache he ardently squandered with erratic behavior. Ray was not a great self-promoter. He was not about literary ego or sycophancy. His stance towards the established powers that rule politics and literature, was cantankerous, defiant, and often unpleasant, but nonethe-less, heroic.
   He married the writer Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser). They had a sad yet terrific time together. They ran to Mexico to escape the law more than once. Frazer writes about those hard times in Troia: Mexican Memoirs, also published as For the Love of Ray. Their relationship was on again, off again. Even in Ray’s last years he would voice the opinion that some day Frazer would come back to him.
   In 1961 Bremser moved in with the legendary David Rattray, where he met John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner amongst others. From late in 1961 to 1965 Bremser was in Trenton State Prison and later Rahway. The main infractions of his parole violation were: advocating legalized marijuana on Philadelphia TV, a robbery which he swore he did not perpetrate, and, the official reason, getting married without permission.
   He and Frazer had two daughters, Rachel and Georgia.
   Ray was invited by Ginsberg to The Committee on Poetry farm in Cherry Valley, New York in 1969.
   He soon had to leave Cherry Valley and moved to the New Paltz area where he became involved with poet Judy Johnson. They had a son, Jesse Dylan Bremser. Ray had kicked his addictions except tobacco and alcohol. He went to Utica, New York. I would ask him if he was happy in his little Rutgers St. garret and he would say he was content.
   In 1982 he and my family, wife, three kids, and five more passengers made it from Cherry Valley to Boulder, Colorado in an old Chevy van in thirty-one hours. I drove nonstop as Ray kept me company. At the Kerouac Conference Bremser won the informal “Best Poet Award” (judged by Ken Babbs and Ken Kesey, I believe). He would do occasional readings: St. Marks, The Shuttle, Professor Ginsberg’s Brooklyn College reading series, and Unison Learning Center.
   In 1995 at New York University he participated in a seminar on Kerouac’s work and performed Kerouac’s verse and his own to strong applause at Town Hall. In his later years his output was sporadic. Sometime in the 1990s his apartment and all his literary possessions burned. A few great poems from his later days did survive including the classic “Jazz Suiti” also known as “Born Again,” which he wrote after Judy Johnson was saved by Jesus. His last reading was at a Cherry Valley Beat festival. He read with Mikhail Horowitz from his poem “The Conquerors.” The last part had been lost and Ray commissioned Horowitz to pen the fourth section. When we drove Ray home to Utica he got out of the car and immediately took his place on the porch with the other dole receivers. Ray was about 6' 2'' and 120 lbs. at most. I said, “I’ll see you, Ray.” He would not even turn his head. I yelled it louder. He would not look our way.
   On 3 November 1998, Bremser died. His last words were, “I want to die!” and later in a semi-conscious state, with artist Al Duffy his long time friend playing him jazz tapes, Ray whispered, “John Coltrane.”
   Andy Clausen and Kurt Hemmer

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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  • Ray Bremser — (born February 22, 1934; died 1998) was an American poet.Bremser was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. When he was 17 he went AWOL from the United States Air Force and was briefly imprisoned. The next year he was sent to Bordenstown Reformatory… …   Wikipedia

  • Frazer, Brenda — (Bonnie Bremser) (1939– )    One of the most intelligent, resourceful, and talented women of the Beat Generation, Frazer is most well known for writing the underground classic troia: mexican memoirs (1969), published as For the Love of Ray (1971) …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Poems of Madness — by Ray Bremser (1965)    This is a collection of long poems that ray bremser wrote in prison and that not only plumb the depths of emotional experience, hence having a blues base, but also entertain with exquisite swinging musicality and both… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Angel — by Ray Bremser (1967)    Originally published by Tompkins Square Press and later by Water Row Press in Poems of Madness & Angel (1986), this epic prose poem is printed all in capitals. Stanzas are in paragraph form with ubiquitous ellipses,… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

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