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“The Opposite of Everything”: The Life and Times of Lunch

by Jim Klein

Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow Poets Anthology (#1, 2008),
Pages 20 – 24 (complete text):

(Jim Klein recalls, in a letter to poet Joel Lewis, the feisty beginnings and wild ride of Lunch, a literary magazine he started on Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rutherford campus 25 years ago.)

Your telling me that you attended one of Rich Quatrone’s readings at the Forstmann Library gave me a better understanding of Lunch‘s ripples. John Trause recently told me he remembered the dedication of the Williams Center when I read with Toi Derricotte and Alicia Ostricker and Mark Hillringhouse and others (they saved Max Greenberg for the following Sunday with the big boys). John was a kid then. He was shocked when Peter Orlovsky started razzing me while I read to loosen me up. He said he got excited about poetry that night. Earlier Orlovsky, on being introduced to me, had remarked that I didn’t look like a poet, I looked like a helicopter pilot. Orlovsky went on to tell the story about when Williams told Allen and others at his house that there are “A lot of bastards out there.”

In case you didn’t know, we have monthly readings at the Williams Center which John Trause started. We open with something by Williams, then a guest reader and open mic. It would be fun if you could read for us. I am offering a workshop at the Rutherford Library on the other Wednesday nights.

History is a messy thing. I will be concrete.

The second or third year I was at Fairleigh, I found in an attic closet about a three foot stack of the “literary magazine” of a recent year. It was in green ink as I remember, expensively printed, lots of indenting, with a Brit sounding name, “The Prelude,” I think. I had just started a new way to teach remedial English and a Writing Lab and, with my chairman, had gone up against the Dean and administration in dangerous ways. We had hired Mike O’Brien— a buddy of mine from Illinois who had started a drive to admit 500 non-predictors after Martin Luther King had been shot, and been the first Writing Lab director there to run our new Writing Lab. I felt like it was time to relax and do something fun and get a front for some infidelities I had never been guilty of before. I decided to start a literary magazine. The course was obvious: the opposite of everything done before. We would mimeograph it and give it away. We wouldn’t limit it to English majors or even students. Faculty, staff, everybody. I was telling Jeff Nulle about it on the way to the cafe. I was throwing my brown bag behind me and catching it in front of me with one hand as we walked. Jeff said call it Lunch. We knew it was perfect right away.

By the way, Jeff is a friend of Michael Andre, and he tells me he named Unmuzzled Ox for Andre, out of Ecclesiastes, I think. While I’m at it, O’Brien named Lips for Laura Boss, with a double meaning, of course.

They got the first issue out in about two weeks. They used one of my daughter’s drawings for the cover. I had read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test so I tried to run it Kesey style. We never had meetings or elections. I grabbed the art editor and took care of the business and editors came and went. We sold a few copies at the bookstore and it was used occasionally in classes. It was so much fun we did another issue in three weeks. By then, Lunch was more of a social success than literary. There was a definite male tinge to the thing. Guys like Pete Baumann and Fred Duignan, St. Mary’s High graduates, but who had been out of school, and rockers, wore tee shirts with pictures of huge tongues and the letters SOMF. A redhead named Penny flirted so much with the printer the cover got cheaper and cheaper. Lee Perkins, who lived at the Y in Passaic (and once threatened to jump out the second floor window) and was a regular at the Waldorf Lounge, a dump on Main Street in Passaic which was our headquarters, used to hitch a ride up to Fairleigh and sit around typing his poem for Lunch with one finger. One night Harry Walsh and Terry O’Hara brought a bunch of their students up from WPC and we played “Dead Roach.”

We started doing readings with The Lyndhurst Literary Review, a bunch of mature townies. Kathy Kuenzle, a writing major at Rutgers, started coming to our readings. Dr. Kirscher, the chairman, thought Lunch was getting out of hand so she asked Bob Quatrone to get involved to tame things down. Bob was from Columbia but his father had worked for Otis elevator in Jersey City all his life and Bob had been a gang member. Bob made it wilder. He and I (and others) almost did come to blows over editorial and other matters. Rich, who was much wilder than Bob and was teaching at Passaic High at the time, became part of the scene. Bob brought along Bob LaGuardia from Columbia who had been poets at Columbia with Ginsberg. Lunch published his epic poem “Bull Run.” There was some kind of a bet about anybody who had read the whole thing. After a few years, Bob brought so many poets out of NYC to readings there wasn’t time for anybody from Lunch to read.

I had only been writing poetry three or four years. I was entirely idealistic and naive, if they aren’t the same thing. In an early issue I had written a story about a college professor who couldn’t date anybody but students, but he never dated A students. He asked his friend about it. No problem, his friend said. If you were in business, you’d be screwing secretaries. You’re in education, so you’re screwing students. I had also managed a few breakdowns by this time, so they were trying to fire me. At the meeting, I glanced under the table and saw that John Dollar, who had translated Greek for WCW, had several issues of Lunch hidden under the table by his feet. (After I was gone. Bob Quatrone got fired for some kind of nude male cover that made its way onto Lunch.)

Dean of Students Barry Dancy was a prime mover in getting the Williams Center built. The word is that the bank there was nervous about having a slum in its back yard. Apparently Dancy got the thing built by members of his congregation in Montclair. The blueprint is some kind of a ski structure one of them had used. Anyway, Barry thought Lunch was a threat to something, and he thought he owned the Williams Center. He sent word to me that if Lunch didn’t change its ways we would never set foot in the Williams Center. I said you’ll have all the buildings and we’ll have all the poets.

As the years passed Lunch people started other magazines. George Pereny went to Passaic Community College and started Footwork which Maria Gillan turned into The Paterson Review industry. George, a Hungarian revolt immigrant, calls himself the Electric Poet and has a rock band and runs regular readings at the Bowery Poetry Project. He has a book about being an inner city teacher called Home Slice. Bob Quatrone had an internet magazine called The Four Horseman and runs readings at the Englewood Library and the Cornelia Cafe in the Village. Rich Quatrone founded The Passaic Review and was almost daily on the web for years and is supposed to be well known there. Randy Rader, also from Passaic, had a magazine with his wife called Muse-Pie. Richard Kostelonez was in an issue I was in. Laura Boss dated the guy who wrote The Bomb and Marriage read all over and continues and started Lips as I’ve said. A cab driver named Vito Quattrocchi heard about Lunch from a part time English teacher and got involved. He has 14 books online, including The Sins of the Fathers: The Life and Times of a Mafioso and a book about knife fighting. He claims I gave him the best advice about writing he’s ever had, write about what you know. Mike O’Brien had been to Naropa and read at Waterloo Village. He and I and Rander Rader and Roe Sonye tried to teach some poetry at Rayway prison but didn’t get very far. Someone advised us to work through the prison clubs. The Art Club was the Mafia. Roe Sonye and Kim Lowenburg got MFA’s at Brooklyn College. Max (Greenberg) told me that when he and Mark went to photograph and interview Ashbery he pointed to a poem by Roe and described her as a “great bad poet.”

Speaking of Ted Berrigan, Lunch invited him to the Williams Center once with several other well known area poets. No one stopped us from bringing in beer from The Forest Dairy. Ted introduced himself by yelling that he was “the craziest man here.” My friend Harry Walsh, having suffered through a number of my manic episodes, yelled back, “I’ll take Klein.” After Berrigan read his poem, “Dear Assface,” somebody asked him he he had a cork when he wrote it. He said, “Two.” Harry Walsh’s dad was the head of security for the Manhattan Project. His grandfather was the chief of police of Jersey City who used to deliver New Jersey for Roosevelt and had messed up somehow in the Lindburgh case and used to shoot out of his office window with a BB gun at a Chinese laundryman. Harry was a WPC grad, a Leonard Michaels product, and my pal at Illinois. He married a girl from Passaic whose name I can’t think of, Sharon. Harry began writing poetry when he couldn’t pass graduate school French. He worked with a poet there named Dan Curley. I began after my first breakdown. We’d compare our poems at Stan’s at lunch time. Harry would always take my efforts and compress them like a squeeze box. We discovered any day you wrote a poem was a good day, no matter what else you did, and it still is.

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