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Ripeness is All Apr 24, 2008
I haven't read the preceding volume in this series, but from what I gather, at some time in his youth, Montague must have been mentored and befriended by an older Irish poet, the one and only Samuel Beckett, and there's a nice scene in THE PEAR IS RIPE in which a dying Beckett passes on his torch to Montague, in recognition of the younger man's great gifts as a poet and writer. In my country the USA, Bill Clinton had some video footage of himself as a boy shaking the hand of our then President, John F. Kennedy, and in Clinton's campsign speeches he often used to show this video clip, and the same heartwarming feeling permeates Montague's account of Beckett's compliments to him. You get the feeling that we're all little pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants, but seeing a little more just because of that, you know, time-feeling.
I wound up enjoying THE PEAR IS RIPE no end, as much for its picture of Irish infighting as for its glimpses of San Francisco and Berkeley in the period around 1965, when Montague took as job at UC Berkeley in the English Department and met a whole host of local bards, everyone from the white witch doctor Kenneth Rexroth, to the love guru Gary Snyder. I hadn't previously read any accounts of Gary Snyder's life in this period, at least not in this much detail, nor written by a man who shared group sex scenes with the author of RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS WITHOUT END. Snyder exhibited not a whit of shame about his body nor his drive for erotic release with every hippie chick in town. He comes across as a sort of John Galt of sex, good for him. Montague, who was married at the time to a somewhat complaisant Frenchwoman (whom he had left back at home in France), was the serial adulterer, but he convinces us that it was all fun and games and part of the cultural revolution.
In the book's second best scene, he runs the dying poet Jack Spicer to his lair at Gino & Carlo's, the working class San Francisco bar where the poet made his second home. The experience of finally meeting his intellectual equal inspired Montague to write one of his best poems, "An Hour with Spicer." Later on, in Europe, Montague suffers the beginnings of his lifelong rivalry with up and coming Seamus Heaney, but this matter is treated with kid gloves amid the delicious gossip of THE PEAR IS RIPE.