Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960
Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960

37.

Sixteen autograph letters signed from Angus MacLise to Piero Heliczer, c. 1958-1960

An interesting correspondence revealing considerable insight into Angus MacLise's personal life and close friendship and collaboration with Piero Heliczer.

MacLise, the son of a bookdealer, first met Heliczer while they were attending Forest Hills High School together during the early 1950s. In the summer of 1958 they co-founded the Dead Language Press in Paris, which published MacLise's first volume of poetry in the following year. By then MacLise had already studied jazz drumming, and various other percussive forms, and his wide range of artistic pursuits - "literature, dance, music, film, lights, slides, incense, diaphones, and religion - all at once" (Sterling Morrison) - paralleled Heliczer's own eclecticism. Similarly comparable were their extensive travels and nomadic lifestyles. MacLise also worked on the soundtrack to Heliczer's first film, 'Autumn Feast', and appeared in several more. Significantly, they would converge as participants in the early evolution of the Velvet Underground, for whom MacLise was the original drummer, and as a key influence on the multi-media Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows produced by Andy Warhol in 1966.

The letters include lengthy passages of unpublished poetry, some of it written around the period of 'Straight Farthest Blood Towards'. MacLise has incorporated 21 lines in one letter, beginning: "here is the eventual form of 'Straight - - -' TRANEZAN THA ELLADOS' fields lifting ridges in soilspars of terrain white milestones brindlehounds over the heath the broom the yellow bristling and purple bloom where swift charred wings clip the turf…". The lines do not appear in the published edition, but the title [translated as 'They Were Going to Greece'] suggests a reference to MacLise's road trip to Athens with Olivia de Haulleville and Diane and Bill Barker in 1959. Sections of it appear again in a longer, full page section (39 lines), also unpublished, in which a reference to "sofia belgrad bucharest sarajevo bratislava" suggests that the piece was composed during the trip, or later inspired by it. Two further poems are written in a different, childlike script, one of them including a line featuring the name Ossian, later the given name of MacLise’s son.

Considerable content is devoted to works in progress, both literary and musical, and musings on the creative process: "I believe first that our poetry is higher than our lives because a distillation… Music captures time (poignancy) painting captures space (satisfaction) poetry releases time and space (tragic & loss). Plan 3 operas one about the electric chair with alto sax + lectronic guitar + marimba (chair is best symbol of this country but not people tho)... As the strange music enters my brain I wonder at things with sudden streaks of leadeyed wrists cracking What I say tomorrow will endure forever."

News of MacLise's travels recur throughout ("Did I tell you of my own plans to conquer the globe by bicycle"), with one of the letters written on the headed notepaper of the ocean liner, SS United States. Another, written while on board a plane returning to New York from an abortive trip to Glasgow, where he was turned back for lack of return ticket and insufficient cash, describes how "The police were very kind and even began to get in touch with anselm to sponsor my round trip but the immigration refused to accept as he was not householder they also contacted relatives who wouldn’t come thru the question is do I now hate scotland & the answer of course is that the gorse and bracken spoke up but could not be heard because of the racket made by 4 engines and 3 pretty stewardesses of volcanic Iceland who were very sorry but anyway they have to fly me back to idlewild no charge… I feel like the ward of some state machinery somewhere & it makes me to weep over my hate for new york where I will have to spend the summer now".

In one long, discursive letter MacLise expands further on his negative feelings towards America: "About the U.S. - it seems as if a dehumanized garden has been made of it - my wonderful huge U.S…. And so, I see, the States has not, by a long sight, been tailor made for me… we were never really suited to the land, it was never our legacy - only a vast spoil awaiting exploitation; our spirits and presences never arose with this soil, and our old lands remain, in essence, virgin - while the U.S. and all the W. Hemisphere has been raped until bloody and mauled into sullen subjection… Well, piero I've worked myself up into a conclusion about the U.S. and I'm satisfied with it, at least for the present."

The same letter, written in a Frankfurt hospital during his spell in the army, describes in some detail what MacLise refers to in another as "a kind of 'crack-up' or minor nervous breakdown". He begins: "I suppose I should unravel for you the twisted silence I consciously kept since I've been in the army… The first big flare-up was in Alabama after I had written the first of my only two compositions since I've been in the black hole of military puppets - At that time I went Awol and remained in Memphis, with a brain fever, in an obscure hotel… when I had recovered I returned and not long afterwards came overseas - and in november I began writing a musical score - then, suddenly, I cracked when they continually interrupted the work in progress… I was now charged with outright and flagrant aggression and balking, so I was sent to the nut ward - and I hope to be kicked out; I only trust they'll do this when I hit the U.S. - here's one of the narrations from the musical score" (lengthy exposition follows).

Elsewhere he relates how "the actual facts of my 'tragic incident' were incurred on my guard post in les bois (d'ennui) when I fired the ammunition off in my weapon, indiscriminately and impartially in the spirit of their best democratics. When I arrive in States I plan to go to 'Frisco to get an opera of mine produced - it isn't actually an opera but an encyclical with a double entendre like: pas savant. Percussion accompaniment, narration dance sequences, improvisation by a chamber group."

The letters are peppered with references to friends and relatives: "om is with child in ny and speaks to me of lonely wilderness + awaits her husband… I think she visits now with aldous uncle in long island… + also I have seen yr brother who now works at 2 or 3 jobs - 1 as waiter at a village ice cream parlor + I think he plans to study insects in the caribbean"; encounters missed: "Am on Rue des Ecoles having journeyed Mme Loyer has said that you had fled and penetrated the Forêt" (Madame Loyer, Heliczer's landlady at the Contrescarpe'); and the strength of his friendship with Heliczer, strained by separation: "I miss your presence, but our stride is different - although we are both friars. I fear now from things which Olivia has said - the thing is that GREAT things are expected - but they happen just by being there and not in things like expatriate manifestos I cannot be depended on for anything except words of love and poems Perhaps we are not good companions for long stretches…".

Overall, the correspondence presents a vivid personal account of MacLise's early life and friendship with Heliczer, and provides previously unknown biographical content about them both. Notably, MacLise reveals his psychological fragility, a characteristic shared in common with Heliczer, and conveys his own sense of restlessness, creative endeavour and self-discovery.

Sold