About Richard Jay Rubenstein
Richard Jay Rubenstein, Beat poet and visionary editor of Beat journals
Although he died at age 36, after a nervous breakdown, Richard Rubenstein left his mark in several ways -- as a poet, as a visionary founder and editor of avant garde Beat journals, and as the father and eventually the grandfather of others who share his artistic sensibilities, linguistic and literary talents.
Born on January 2, 1922, Richard Rubenstein began his literary career in a local prep school when he won a poetry contest. Associated with the Beat Poets in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rubenstein worked to found and edit several small press poetry journals--NEUROTICA, first published in spring of 1948; INFERNO, in late 1949; and GRYPHON, in spring of 1950. In GRYPHON he published early works of Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, as well as the established authors Henry Treece, D.H. Emblem. e.e. cummings, and Cid Corman. He himself published a small chapbook, BEER AND ANGELS, and produced a long manuscript of collected poems which went unpublished. Rubenstein's health deteriorated because of his long-standing nervous condition and the alcohol he drank to combat it. He died in Yale Psychiatric Institute, where he was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown on September 24, 1958 which was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
RICHARD RUBENSTEIN 1922-1958
(Anne Rubenstein Dick, his widow)
Richard Jay Rubenstein was born on January 2, 1922, in Peoria, Illinois, where his mother's family, ran some substantial businesses. Anne Frankel had married a highly motivated and prosperous scrap metal dealer from Alton, Illinois, Jacob Jay Rubenstein and the couple eventually settled in Clayton, an upscale suburb of St. Louis, in a neighborhood of large homes -- Lake Forest. J. J. was a driving businessman, and the family became quite prosperous. Both Richard and his younger brother Jerome went to the best schools and Richard began his poetry career in his prep school when he won the poetry contest.
Richard was a stocky handsome young man with large brown eyes and thick dark brown hair, and always had a good tan. He was a good athlete and loved high school football. He yearned to grow tall enough to play in college but he only grew, to his great regret, to 5'8 ½". His literary interests led him to decide to attend Black Mountain College, in North Carolina, a school that produced a number of nationally recognized poets and writers during the years that Richard would have been there. He was rejected. He mourned about this for years. Much later his mother said that his father, working behind the scenes, had arranged that Richard would not go to Black Mountain but instead to the highly academic (and totally unsuitable for Richard's personality) St. John's, at Annapolis, Maryland, the school based on the Great Books Program. Richard didn’t do well there and left after one year.
After leaving college Richard went to live in Greenwich Village. He made friends easily, he had a gift for endearing himself with others, and he sought out interesting and talented people. Soon he knew many of the writers and artists of the early 1940's including Eugene O'Neill's sons and his ex-wife, Agnes O'Neill. But the scene in Greenwich Village was too rough for him and he moved to Los Angeles. He soon met writers and artists there too in the circle of people around Charlie Chaplin through his connection with Charlie's young wife, Oona O'Neill Chaplin. After a period of living in Los Angeles he moved to Mexico, meeting artists and writers there, collecting paintings and buying books. He had excellent taste in modern and ethnic art, modern music, and modern poetry. He loved the French poets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and could recite from memory poems of Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Verlaine.
But he was nervous and uncomfortable with life. He returned to St. Louis and his family's home to begin psychoanalysis – at that time all the rage. Everyone who was anyone had psychoanalysis. He backed a small bar, Little Bohemia, near the St. Louis riverfront with painter Stanley Radulovich and antique dealer, Jay Landesman. The bar had sawdust on the floor, modern paintings on the walls, and Edith Piaf on the jukebox. It was unique in the entire central part of the United States. Richard, working as a waiter there met his future wife, Anne Browning Williams, who came down with a group of friends from Washington University to experience this exotic, artistic ambience.
A few years later Richard backed, with Jay and Fred Landesman, the Crystal Palace, the first bar in the country where poetry was read to live jazz. At about this same time Richard and Jay Landesman founded the small literary magazine, Neurotica, first published in Spring of 1948. Richard was the editor. Neurotica became a well known magazine and printed many of the "beat" writers for the first time.
Richard and Anne moved to San Francisco, where soon Richard was knocking elbows with the poets of that city, among them, Kenneth Rexroth, Chris McLaine and Philip Lamantia, a period now call The San Francisco Renaissance. Richard and Anne, with Anne doing the publishing, distributing, secretarial work, and typesetting on the old Anarchist press in a house on Potrero Hill, founded and edited two small poetry magazines, Inferno (late 1949) and Gryphon (Spring, 1950). Gryphon continued on for two more issues which were published in Pt. Reyes Station, a small rural town on the coast an hours drive north of San Francisco. The Rubensteins had bought five acres and a modern house designed by Museum of Modern Art distinguished architects, Campbell and Wong. Along with their three small daughters and their black collie dog, Thunder, they soon acquired five Suffolk sheep and Brownie, Richard’s beloved quarterhorse. Richard, in a black Western hat with a red bandana around his neck above a J Press shirt with tiny red checks in it, khaki pants and elegant cowboy boots, of course, rode the horse in the local parade looking, as one friend put it, as if he owned "acres of Herefords". At a later time he was to ride the horse up the steps and into the local bar, the Western. No one at the bar minded, in fact they thought this was a fine thing to do. Gryphon published early works of Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, as well as the established authors Henry Treece, D.H. Emblem, e.e. cummings and Cid Corman, and other poets who are now widely collected in anthologies of American poetry.
Anne, as the Cypress Press, published and distributed a small chapbook of Richard's poems, Beer and Angels. By this time Richard had also produced a manuscript of collected poems. Rubenstein's health deteriorated because of his long-standing nervous condition and the alcohol he sometimes drank to combat it. At the urging of his mother and brother, Rubenstein admitted himself to the Yale Psychiatric Hospital in the Summer of 1958. Highly allergic to the new heavy tranquilizers prescribed for him there, he suddenly died on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. His wife Anne worked by mail for two years with poet Tram Coombs (then located in the Virgin Islands) attempting to publish his collected works. All arrangements had been made for a small private printing but the money was not forthcoming, so the project fell through.
Anne donated Richard’s unpublished work and collections of the magazines he had been involved with to the library at the University of California at San Diego which has a collection of the poets of the nineteen forties.
Anne Rubenstein Dick:
That summer, soon after graduation I went with a group of college friends to a bar, Little Bohemia, down near the levee on the Mississippi River. We were fascinated; we had never been anywhere like it. There was sawdust on the floor and modern paintings by one of the owners, Stanley Radulovich, on the walls. All the records on the juke box were by Edith Piaf whom we called Edith Pilaf. I can hear her singing ““L’Hymne a l’Amour”.
The bar was owned by Jay Landesman a young antique dealer, Stanley Radulovich a painter, and Richard Rubenstein, a young man from a well-to-do west end family who wrote poetry. I was surprised to meet someone who wrote poetry. I thought all the poets were dead. Richard, a good-looking, dark-haired mesomorph, wearing sandals and white corduroy pants, was our waiter. He took a fancy to me and phoned me fifteen times the next day. When he eventually caught up with me and asked me out, the date must have gone well because we started going out regularly. I had a good time with the crowd Dick Rubenstein went with, the Landesman family and their friends, a St. Louis version of the Bloomsbury Group.