January 2008 – Interview with Venice Poet Frank T. Rios, Part 1

By Hillary Kaye
Beachhead:  I’m nervous.

Frank T. Frank T. Rios: Of  course you are, you care.

Beachhead: Thank you for saying that Frankie. O.K. This is the Frank T. Rios interview. I’m in his home. Thank you Frankie for doing this interview.

Frank T. Frank T. Rios: You’re very welcome.

Beachhead: I wanted to ask you how you discovered Venice?

Frank T. Frank T. Rios: Well I hitchhiked here in  54 from New York. …..on the road type thing…. and came to Venice and spent a year. I really loved it. In January of 59 I hopped a plane and came out here. And I think part of it in truth I was trying to escape.

Beachhead: Escape your past, your history?

Frank T. Rios: Well I was involved in a lot of gangster stuff. You know stick ups, that kind of stuff.

Beachhead: What area of New York were you from?

Frank T. Rios: The Bronx. But see I studied acting. And from acting one of the classes I had was doing the monologue and everybody was doing the classic monologue. But I found American poetry and within it I found “The Man with the Hoe” by Edwin Markham. And I had a really good memory. And I memorized the poem and it hit me like whoah so I started to write.

Beachhead: That’s when you began writing?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah and the first poem I ever wrote was the “Ball” poem which is a beautiful poem. I mean it’s right there. I don’t think I changed anything. It just came out.

Beachhead: That’s cool.

Frank T. Rios: So inside I knew, I didn’t think that I was a poet but something had started to shift. So when I got out here—

Beachhead: So where did you study acting?

Frank T. Rios: Neighborhood playhouse.

Beachhead: With Sanford Meisner?

Frank T. Rios: Yes. I did some plays Tennessee Williams …those kind of things.And I was pretty good.

Beachhead: You have a lot of presence.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I had stage presence. And I had a really good memory so I could play with it. And when I got out here in 59. You know I feel I was being guided. It couldn’t be any other way because it’s not like I’m thinking I need to go here or I need to do this.

Beachhead: I’ve always felt that about my life too, that I had no choice that I was being guided.

Frank T. Rios: Right guided. I was guided to Venice West. And it’s a poetry reading.

Beachhead: That’s when you first got there?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah. It’s a poetry reading, and who’s reading Stuart Perkoff. He’s reading and I’m like, I know exactly what he’s doing.

Beachhead: Yeah you’re right with him.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I’m right with him. So the next day I’m walking down the beach and I meet Stuart.. And we start talking, you know, and it was instant, the connection. So then I’m thinking I’m going to do a reading here. So I sat down and wrote about 50 poems.

Beachhead: It  just came right out?

Frank T. Rios: Well it took me 4 months. And 90% of those stand up today. I was really receiving it.

Beachhead: That’s great!

Frank T. Rios:  And then of course I met Tony and it was the Holy Three.

Beachhead: The Holy Three! How interesting.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah we got a little scared about that.

Beachhead: Because.

Frank T. Rios: Well —

Beachhead: Right.

(Rios laughs and then Hillary laughs)

Frank T. Rios: Yeah and then The Holy Barbarians came out by Lawrence Lipton.

Beachhead: What did you think of Lawrence Lipton?

Frank T. Rios: I never had any beef with him. He was scared of me. He thought I was a gangster and drug dealer.(laughs) Which I was, but not when I got to LA.

Beachhead: Right.

Frank T. Rios: And I moved to Venice. Cause I hung everything up.

Beachhead: You did?

Frank T. Rios: But I was still using. We all were.

Beachhead: Everybody was using heroin?

Frank T. Rios: No.

Beachhead: You were using heroin?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I mean. I hung up the bag for a while,  and got out here, you know kicked, start taking bennies and smoking grass.

Beachhead: Right.

Frank T. Rios: You know downers. You know what was there. I wasn’t running anything. I wasn’t —

Beachhead: What was available.

Frank T. Rios: What was available, right. Tussar. We took Tussar.

Beachhead: Right.

Frank T. Rios: The whole thing then wasn’t so much the drugs, it was the creative act. You know we were all totally broken open. I was ordained, in 1959 in Topanga Canyon by the Muse, the lady, by the poem.

Beachhead: Could you explain a little about that?

Frank T. Rios: Yes. I was sitting in this beautiful pad in Topanga Canyon where Aya was living.

I was blowing. We had our stuff, crayons, pens and notebooks. Anywhere we’d go we had our stuff. Of course we moved around like that. And I’m blowing and blowing and like it’s a beautiful. I get chills now just thinking about it. And I go outside and it’s a beautiful night, like I’m there and I, I’ve found my path. And I’m elated.  She comes to me, she comes right up to me and touches my tongue, and I burst into flames. And she tells me I’m ordaining you a poet and I’m giving you the ritual of the poem burning to honor me which is the invocation to the muse. So I fall back inside and  I write this invocation. Oh God Lady Mother of the Poem, it’s coming out that way because she touched me. And I burned it.

Beachhead: You burned it?

Frank T. Rios: Oh yeah.

Beachhead: So you don’t have a copy of that?

Frank T. Rios: No I burned it for her. It was just for her. All the poems I burn for her. No one else sees it. And I’m watching the poem burn down, burn down into a tiny black ash and the ash blows over me. And there I am on kind of a tongue of a mountain You know it’s a mountain but there’s this kind of a tongue coming out and I’m standing on the tongue and I’m an old man now and I’ve got the book under my arm. So for her after that anytime I do a reading, anytime I do marriages, anytime I bless a house. I do it through the poem, the ritual of the poem burning.

Beachhead: That’s why you burned the poems at the Philomene Long and Tony Schbella memorials?

Frank T. Rios: Right.  Nice, huh.

Beachhead: It is. I mean it’s powerful.

Frank T. Rios: Yes you’re really receiving it.

Beachhead: I see.

Frank T. Rios: It’s elating, it’s magical.

Beachhead: Right. It’s all pretty clear.

Frank T. Rios: Very clear. So when I’m writing that before I become ordained, I’m finally writing it. Being a throwaway and all that stuff. I mean being alone and outside, and no mother, no father because she threw me away, it’s like the tears, but I’m getting it out for the first time in my life.

Beachhead: That’s very moving.

Frank T. Rios: So after that then I get ordained and the cleansing happens and she’s able to touch me. Yeah that’s why I still do it.

Beachhead: Are you still writing?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I started a new book. I write at night.

Beachhead: Are you a night owl?

Frank T. Rios: No I’m up till 11.  I’m up at seven, work out.

Beachhead: You keep in good shape

Frank T. Rios: I try. I’m 72 you know.

Beachhead: When did you meet Philomene?

Frank T. Rios: I met Philomene when Stuart died. She was with Stuart.

Beachhead: At the end?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah. I was in Denver.

Beachhead: You had left Venice.

Frank T. Rios: We all were in Denver. Stuart came too, but his parole officer wouldn’t let him stay and he had to come back.

Beachhead: How did you happen to go to Denver?

Frank T. Rios: Well Jimmy Marrios was the first one who went to Denver.

Beachhead: And you all followed?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah he started the Mile High Underground. Denver was virgin territory.  We stepped in and took over. Real poets.  So we had the bookstores, recordstores, and we were hooked into the theatres.

Beachhead: What a great scene.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah, we had a really beautiful scene . We had the bar. The Lido lounge. We gathered

and we would get insane and write poetry.

Beachhead: How many years was it that you were in that scene that went from Venice to Denver and then back to Venice again?

Frank T. Rios: There’s no break. I’m still doing it, the location doesn’t matter. Like that picture there was Denver, I mean it was an apex of it. There was a Venice apex and then a Denver apex and then Venice again.

Beachhead: But when did that Venice scene —

Frank T. Rios: That original Venice scene broke around 63.

Beachhead: So you were aware at the time what an ephemeral and magical situation you were in.

Frank T. Rios: Oh yeah.

Beachhead: And you all were?

Frank T. Rios: Oh yeah. There was no doubt. The three of us were in the throws of magic. And ritual and a certain kind of illusion, of course embodied with the creative act.

Beachhead: Right.

Frank T. Rios: You see we were madly just receiving it.. And some great stuff came from there.

Beachhead: Now in terms of women was Philomene the only female present?

Frank T. Rios: Philomene wasn’t there yet.

Beachhead: She wasn’t there yet. So it was all men.

Frank T. Rios: No there were women.

Beachhead: I mean there were women, but were there women poets?

Frank T. Rios: Yeah, oh yeah. Of course there wasn’t just a circle in Venice, you see it was America, because actually the circle wasn’t that big, so we were connected to San Francisco with all those guys and then we had Wally Berman and George Herms, John Altoon. It goes on and on. Everyone’s connected. Cause you wind up anywhere, any day. You know what I mean. You wake up in the morning and you got no idea how it’s going to unfold. We ain’t got no money. It’s not like we got plans. The only plan I’ve got is I’ve got my notebook and my stuff. I ain’t looking out see, I’m looking in.

Beachhead: Right. So is that how your life is today? Are you still in that state, or are you more engaged in the world?

Frank T. Rios: No, more engaged in my recovery and my relationship and my relationships. I mean everybody knows I’m a poet, Frankie the poet. I write and do my thing. That’s just automatic. What’s different today is I’m not pressed against it. I don’t got to write. You know what I mean.

Beachhead: Yes I know what you mean. Is that your painting ?

Frank T. Rios: No, that’s Bryden’s, he lives in Taos.

Beachhead: Interesting painting.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah he’s a good friend. I once shot him. He was across the room, it was a long room. And I had a piece under my pillow and he wanted something, he wanted a bag, a bag of heroin. He kept bugging me and bugging me and there’s this huge painting on the wall. C’mon Frankie give me something, and I just (blam) and the bullet went right above his head.

Beachhead: That was close.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I missed him by that much (indicating an inch).  We made amends. And he’s clean too, you know a long time.

Beachhead: That’s all behind you—

Frank T. Rios: Yes I’m sorry, thank God I missed him.

Beachhead: Do you paint in color?

Frank T. Rios: No.

Beachhead: Collage and black and white.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah and I draw a little bit.

Beachhead: I love your drawings in “ The Kid in the Woods”. Is that rapidograph?

Frank T. Rios: It’s just a pen.

Beachhead: Did you ever go to art school?

Frank T. Rios: No.

Beachhead: What artists do you like?

Frank T. Rios: Well you know Jackson Pollock, Altoon. I love Franz Kline you know, the ash can school all those guys.

Beachhead: Why “The Kid in the America” and  “Kid in the Woods” What is the thing with kid? Is there a connection that both you and Tony Scibella had a title with that in it.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah I think there is. I was never sure because I just received it, you know, because “The Kid in the Woods” is he’s drawn to the giant oak. See the giant oak is where the lady is splattered against, and the lady holds all the poems, so he needs to go into the woods.

Beachhead: Right.

Frank T. Rios: Right. And that The kid probably a subconscious thing was from Tony since he worked on the thing so long with “The  Kid in America” .

Beachhead: I never quite asked you what you thought of Philomene Long. I interrupted you I think. You met her after Stuart died

Frank T. Rios: You know when she came, you know being with Stuart and that whole thing that was so heavy. So heavy Stuart died.

Beachhead: It must have been.

Frank T. Rios: Also Stuart dying closed the door for us.

Beachhead: What do you mean closed the door for us ?

Frank T. Rios: I mean he was our front man. He had a way of getting into the acknowledged poets and artists. I could never do that, since I was the gangster poet and Tony was very quiet, so Stuart was the guy.

(Frank goes to answer the phone. He returns)

Frank T. Rios: So what was I saying?

Beachhead: I’m lost, oh yeah, he was the leader, the one who opened the doors.

Frank T. Rios: Yeah Stuart opened the doors. So Philomene was there with him.And gone with him. So that’s how I met her. And of course she went with John, John Thomas. I knew John from ‘59, all the way back.

Beachhead: What did you think of them together?

Frank T. Rios: They were like a dedicated beat couple who would live in poverty for the rest of their lives and write poems and be Zen.

Beachhead: Are you Zen? You seem like a very spiritual person. I can see that in your writing. Are you religious or are you spiritual?

Frank T. Rios: No I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. Probably leaning more to being a Buddhist, higher self and that stuff.

Beachhead: Right, I see.

Frank T. Rios: But I have my muse.

(Part two of the Frank T. Rios interview to be continued next issue.)