Mass Transit or the Dupont Circle School

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Mass Transit or The Dupont Circle School

I was born and raised in the Bronx and came to DC in Sept 1971 to play music---I knew a lot of musicians here through my brother Jesse, who moved here to attend Howard University in the mid 1960s. For most of my 40 years in DC, I've been in bands (primarily with an Irish band called Celtic Thunder, which I started with my brother in 1977, and earlier with a string band called The Fast Flying Vestibule). Soon after arriving here, I got a job at the long-defunct Discount Book Shop in Dupont Circle. One of my tasks was running the poetry section, which I quickly filled with all kinds of smallpress titles and other non-mainstream stuff. Ed Cox, DC native and terrific poet who died about in the mid-90s at age 46, started coming into the store and talking poetry with me. He invited me to an open reading in the empty room over the Community Book Shop (on P ST, off the Circle) that was just starting up. So I started going. The weekly reading, which we called Mass Transit, was, eventually, my introduction to many DC poets of the day: Michael Lally, Lee Lally, Bernie Welt, Tim Dlugos, P. Inman, Tina Darragh, Lynne Dreyer, Beth Joselow, Liam Rector, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Joan Retallack, Ethelbert Miller, Ed Sullivan, and many others, including the occasional crazy off the street. But it was a powerful assembly of talent. Doug Lang was involved toward the end of MT, when he began his own reading series at Folio Books in Dupont Circle, where 2nd Story is now. Diane Ward also entered the picture sometime after MT. So, the '70s were a very active time on the avant-garde poetry front in DC. I credit Michael Lally and, later, Doug Lang with being the two most significant catalysts in those days.Along with the readings above, we also started a magazine called Mass Transit, with a rotating editor (I was its first), and a press called Some of Us Press (me, Michael Lally, Lee Lally, Ed Cox, Ed Zahniser). Michael Lally had a press called O Press; Doug Lang had one called Jawbone; Doug, Diane Ward, Bernie Welt, and I had a press for a while called Titanic Books. P. Inman ran a magazine called everybody's ex-lover. Doug Lang put out a number of issues of a magazine called Dog City.

The Mass Transit readings attracted people from many other scenes in other cities. The counterculture was still in full swing in those days, so the networks were political, sexual, cultural, as well as esthetic. There was a close affiliation with the St Mark's poetry scene in Manhattan, and visiting poets were always showing up. Michael Lally started a reading series at the Pyramid Gallery in Dupont Circle, pairing a DC poet with an out-of-towner. John Ashbery et al. were among those who read. Doug Lang started the Folio readings along the same lines, but Doug's readings lasted for years & brought, it seemed, just about every significant poet to DC. Ted Berrigan, Fielding Dawson, Tom Raworth, et al. Baltimore poet/performers like Chris Mason and Kirby Malone helped link DC and Baltimore. Most of the local poets----the MT and Folio veterans---all lived in DC, mostly in Dupont Circle, and spent a good deal of time together. Eating. Drinking. Smoking. Writing poems. Going to movies. Smoking some more.There wasn't anything so conspicuous as a strong political current, in the sense of poems about American politics (as opposed to poems that were in some crucial way political, directly or indirectly). But insofar as people wrote about or referred to places and events in DC in the their esthetic landscapes, then you could say there were many poems that were specific to DC.There was and still is a strong Language-school presence in DC (Ward, Inman, Darragh, Dreyer, Retallack, etc. and more recently Rod Smith, Tom Mandel, Jean Donnelly and others) that it would seem impossible to overlook. In the '70s and '80s, there was a tremendous amount of interaction between DC and NY, and DC and Baltimore, and everyone in those places in those days was aware of the symbiosis going on. I think there was a belief that "The Dupont Circle School" was an offshoot of the New York School. I still read every few years at St. Mark's, as do others (I think) from down here. There was also a strong gay poetry scene, or at least poets who were gay and recognized as such by the wider gay community---Tim Dlugos, Ed Cox, Jim Everhard, Lee Lally (now all deceased), and Bernie Welt in particular. I think there's been an amazing degree of continuity between the scene of 35+ years ago and today. Doug Lang is an important link between the eras, and probably knows more poets---and knows their work better--than anyone else. The readings and publications by people like Mark Wallace, Buck Downs, and Rod Smith have been connectors between the Mass Transit days and the present.

[Written by Terence Winch. adapted & updated from an interview with Tom Orange on the DC Poetry site: http://www.dcpoetry.com/history/winch]

See also: Michael Lally on Some Of Us Press, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Winter 2016: http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/soup-introduction/ Excerpts from Some Of Us Press books: http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/some-of-us-press-issue/


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