Members of the Temple of Man, a repository for poets, gathered in front of its original location at 1439 Cabrillo Ave. in Venice Sunday, Oct. 31 to celebrate the temple’s 50th anniversary.
The temple was founded in the 1960s during the time of the Beat poets in Venice by Bob “Baza” Alexander and his wife, Anita. Bob was a proponent of the spiritual and mystical, and the Temple of Man was formed as an alternative to organized religion.
As part of the anniversary commemoration, Beyond Baroque is featuring a Temple of Man program of poetry, music, video, drama, film and a sampling of their art collection through Nov. 30.
The following is from a 2005 Argonaut interview with poets Frank Rios and Philomene Long:
In 2005, participants of the Venice “Vintage” Architectural Tour had an opportunity to view this 1910 Craftsman and were treated to a special appearance by original Venice Beat poets Rios and Long. When Rios was first asked to be part of the tour, he declined, saying it would be too emotional and the memories of all the people who were no longer here would be hard on him. He finally agreed and the tourgoers were enthralled.
Members of the temple who have passed on will always be remembered. A “graveyard” with gold and silver plaques was in the front of the house and is now in the backyard of the Beverly Hills home of Marcia Getzler. Over the years there have been a little over 400 members.
“Now we gather once a year or once every two years and do the ritual of the ringing of the bells,” says Rios.
The ringing of the bells is a calling forth of both the living and the dead. Every temple member is a poet priest. Rios remembered the weddings:
“I can wed and bury and write the ceremony,” he says. “We had the gowns and everything. We tried to follow the same tradition. I married with the ritual of the poem burning where I’d write the ceremony, then burn it and give you a copy.”
When asked the significance of the burning he replied, “When I became an ordained poet, the Muse touched my tongue and gave me the ritual of the poem burning as an invocation to pay homage to the Lady.” The “Lady” is Calliope, the “Muse of Poetry.”
Long dedicated her poem on the Poet’s Wall near Ocean Front Walk and Windward Avenue to the Muse.
“One of our last calls was that we were too locked into ourselves,” say Rios. “It had to do with magic. Being in a place in America where the freedom to be what you are was really important, and there was a kind of unconscious fear about letting anybody in.
“They came, thousands of them, they came and wanted the magic and they didn’t know what the hell was going on. Some would wig out. Some would try to get it. Control it and you can’t. So, we kept to ourselves. We had a thing about not wanting to be discovered. If they discover us, they’re going to kill us, because we were free. I never worked, voted, drove a car or paid taxes until I was 55 years old.”
Long adds, “‘They,’ the straight society, included a crooked justice system which did persecute the Beats and others. Stuart Perkoff was given the maximum sentence for a marijuana drug deal. Venice Beat poets served time because of their lifestyle and choices. There was a loss of life. ‘They’re going to kill us’ is not to be taken lightly. It really happened.”
Rios acknowledged the contributions of Beyond Baroque to poets:
“It was on West Washington Boulevard (now Abbot Kinney Boulevard) first and then it moved,” he says. “We used to do readings there. Beyond Baroque was real good to us. It’s still a really good place. They’ve got a great bookstore.
“Thank God it was in Venice and it stayed here. Part of the history of Venice is the poets and painters and, also, the Jewish ladies with numbers on their arms. They were here before us.”
Long added, “Beyond Baroque is the only place, because of the very nature of the institution, where what went on in the past can be protected. The director, Fred Dewey, is very conscious of this and the necessity of keeping Beyond Baroque in Venice and bringing that history to the whole country.
“For example, Fred got the work of Frankie, Stuart (Perkoff), Tony (Scibella), John (Thomas) and myself carved in concrete around the new Venice Boardwalk park area where everyone in the world can see it. Beyond Baroque is all we’ve got.”
Still etched on the front door of the house is a quote written in 1916 by Indian Poet Rabindranath Tagore from “Stray Birds,” a collection of musings.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words that are clear; the great truth has great silence.”
“Those last two sentences are the essence of Zen,” says Long. “To explain them would be to do the opposite of what they suggest.”
Instead, she offered two other sayings as a clarification … “The more you know the less you understand” from Tao Te Ching and “Knock on the sky and listen to the sound,” a Zen saying.
Long was struck by memories, which were living inside the Temple, memories of her late husband, John Thomas, her lover, the late Perkoff, and friend, the late Scibella.
“I taught Zen/yoga to the ‘poets, saints and mad ones’ of Venice West for 20 years at the Temple of Man,” says Long. “My memories are of fire. When I visited a couple of months ago – it was tactile. I still feel the heat in those walls. Perhaps it is because of the gentility of the people who are currently living there, but the presence of old-time Venice West madness has dissipated from the Temple’s walls.
“All that remains is the poetry, the beatitude. Frankie and I are the only ones left. But our ghosts, too, are in these walls.”
Maybe the walls are talking in their own words after all.
Beyond Baroque is featuring a Temple of Man program of poetry, music, video, drama, film and a sampling of their art collection through Nov. 30.