'Beat Generation Goddess'

S.F. Beatnik scene poet Ruth Weiss set to perform in jazz setting at Berkeley gallery
Beat Generation Goddess
Beat poet ruth weiss, who has been a presence in Northern California's Bohemian scene since the early 1950s, performs a poetry reading and concert Friday July 10 at Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto art gallery. Photo: Chris Felver
Beat Generation Goddess
ruth weiss reads her poetry at San Francisco's Grant Avenue
Street Fair, 1960. Photo: courtesy Ruth Weiss

Nobody believes in serendipity more than poet ruth weiss, who was dubbed the 'Beat Generation Goddess' decades ago by legendary S.F. Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. "The unexpected," she has said, "is always around the corner."

And now the unexpected discovery of a small, friendly art gallery near Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto has led to weiss's latest appearance, a poetry reading and concert Friday July 10. Start time is 7 p.m., and the gallery is at 1790 Shattuck Avenue.

The poet, who declines to capitalize her name because capitalization in her view equates to authoritarianism, has been a presence in Northern California's Bohemian scene since the early 1950s. She was friends with Kerouac and poet Bob Kaufman and other poets, painters, and writers who made North Beach a leading literary lair.

The Cellar jazz club in San Francisco became one of her haunts. Weiss led a jazz poetry series there, becoming a pioneering proponent of this musical-literary hybrid in the Bay Area. She became a master of the form, avoiding the sing-song sound of much jazz poetry, with poems that tell stories, often drawn from her own colorful life.

Born in Berlin, her Jewish family was chased to Vienna by the rise of the Nazis, then escaped from Vienna to New York just in time. She lived again in Germany after the war and studied in Switzerland, and was later part of the Bohemian scene in Chicago.

For the performance in Berkeley, weiss will perform some of her poems about the Beat scene, she said in a recent conversation, and will also read poems about the Holocaust.

She recently performed in Vienna, on the same spot where Hitler made his triumphal speech after Germany took over Austria after the Anschluss.

Some of the poems will be from her recent book can't stop the beat: The Life and Words of a Beat Poet.

Reading her poems, or hearing weiss perform them, is a great way to time travel back to a very colorful period in San Francisco, and in our collective memories. Her stories are direct and honest, and the scene is not always pretty. But weiss makes the scene come alive.

"That first night in san francisco," she writes, "I never stopped dancing."

For more on ruth weiss's Berkeley performance, click here. To read an interview with her, click here.