When I was about 15 or 16, I used to hang out at the Venice West Café. I met a lot of peculiar and interesting people there — none more interesting (or more peculiar) than the poet Claire Horner. He used to hang out on the beachfront, at the pagoda at Dudley and the Boardwalk during the day, and in the VWC at night. He read poetry in the Café, and peddled his mimeographed “books” of poetry out of a brown paper bag. They had names like “Please don’t step on the Bacon”, and were usually about 50 – 75 pages, on kindergarten art class quality colored paper. He read alongside people like Bukowski, and performance artist Taylor Meade. But Claire never got famous — partly, I think, because he really wasn’t all that great.
His poetry was uneven. Some of it was spacey, word picture stuff that was like a cross between E.E Cummings and ASCII art. Some of it was sentimental slop in the vein of Rod McKuen. What I liked best (being 15) was his humor – scatological, vile, and unrepentant in its anti authoritarianism. More than that, I liked Claire because he had time. He only worked when he needed money, and he mostly just hung out — and he had time to talk to a kid who wanted to know everything about art and truth and beauty and who asked a whole lot of really stupid questions.
I don’t know what happened to Claire. When I came back to Venice in the early eighties, he was gone. He had always been a private man, not interviewing with the poetry press and not liking to be photographed. I had one of his books somewhere, but it’s gone now. Even if I knew where it was, because of the paper, it would be dust and crumbles now.
But he had time. That was the exception — most of the creative people I knew were busy, and moving forward. I was lucky to meet a few who head time for a kid. They were the people that pretty much determined the direction my life took. Venice was a hotbed then — a throbbing pulse of new culture, and it’s really hard to convey the feeling of excitement that was floating around then. Things were changing, and everybody wanted to see what came next.
NOTE: The large image of Claire Horner at the top of the page comes from filmmaker and photographer Leland Auslender’s short film Venice Beach in the Sixties: A Celebration of Creativity. Look for more on that film and other of Auslender’s work in DI in the future. In the meantime, to learn more about Auslender and his “Celestial images” inspired by the years he spent in Venice (and documented in the film), go to celestialimages.com.