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Poetry > Lay the Marble Tea


Front cover San Francisco, California: Carp Press, 1959
Limited Edition: 500 copies
8.5" x 5.5"; 16 pages
White printed wrappers
Front cover illustration by Kenn Davis

The title page for Lay the Marble Tea. The address for Carp Press, 461 Mississippi Street, was Brautigan's home address (Polk County Directory and Morgan, Bill. The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Literary Tour. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2003). Carp Press was a self-publishing venture by Brautigan and his wife, Virginia Dionne Alder. The drawing of a small fish is by Brautigan. Michael McClure provides some background
In the front of this book is the first sight of Richard's trademark—his teardrop-shaped trout drawing. The book is published by Carp Press. One of Richard's fish drawings is there and next to it are the words: The Carp. (Michael McClure 48)
The Carp
Reprinted
San Francisco: Carp Press, 1960


First published in 1959, Lay the Marble Tea, a collection of twenty-four poems, was Brautigan's first published collection of poetry; his third poetry book publication. Where most of Brautigan's later poetry was written in the first person, this collection offered a variety of historical and literary narrators. These poems, as did most of his subsequent work, blurred the boundaries between poetry and prose. Nine of the poems in this book were collected and reprinted in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.

Inspiration
In early March 1959, Brautigan, realizing the difficulty of getting his poetry accepted by publishers, decided, with his first wife, Virginia Dionne Alder, to publish, on their own, a book of poetry. They chose the name Carp Press because Brautigan admired the multiple meanings associated with the fish and the word. Friend and artist Kenn Davis helped Brautigan draw the colophon. The title came from an Emily Dickinson quote. Davis also provided the artwork for the front cover, showing Brautigan and Emily Dickinson, sitting on tombstones, enjoying tea. Brautigan, with his hand around a slender tree, was a conscious phallic reference, according to Davis (Hjortsberg 151).

Publication History
Five hundred copies of the book were typeset and printed by Litho Art, owned by Roger Neiss, for a total cost of $94.25. Publication began in late April and the finished copies were delivered at the first of May 1959. Brautigan designed the book, arranged the poems, and oversaw the typography and other printing details.

Promotional Efforts
Copies of Lay the Marble Tea were sold on consignment in the local bookstores, or peddled individually in the North Beach bars at seventy-five cents a copy.

Thematic Considerations
Brautigan carefully selected and arranged the twenty-four poems in this collection so as to create a cycle where the first poem, "Portrait of the Id as Billy the Kid," is mentioned the last poem, "The Twenty-Eight Cents for My Old Age," as a poem once read in a San Francisco bar. Brautigan included references to Hansel and Gretel, Moby Dick, John Donne, Harpo Marx, and Franz Kafka in various poems.

Copy inscribed to Joanne Kyger
Dear Joanne,
this is a book of my early poems
that sought to find in a young man's head
the way to the end.
Love,
Richard
January 15, 1966


Kolaahe Kafka [Kafka's Hat]. Trans. Alireza Behnam. Tehran, Iran: Nashre Meshki, 2006.
32 pages; ISBN: 964-876-511-1
Front cover illustration by Saaed Meshki
Reprints 25 poems selected from All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Lay the Marble Tea, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, Please Plant This Book, and Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. The poems, in alphabetical order
  • "15%" (Rommel)
  • "At The California Institute of Technology" (Machines)
  • "Boo, Forever" (Pill)
  • "Color as Beginning" (Rommel)
  • "Deer Tracks" (Rommel)
  • "Discovery" (Pill)
  • "Gee, you're so beautiful that it's starting to rain" (Pill)
  • "Haiku Ambulance" (Pill)
  • "Hinged to Forgetfulness like a Door" (Rommel)
  • "Just Because" (Rommel)
  • "Kafka's Hat" (Marble)
  • "Karma Repair Kit: Items 1-4" (Machines)
  • "Love Poem" (Machines)
  • "Man" (Pill)
  • "My Nose Is Growing Old" (Machines)
  • "Romeo and Juliet" (Rommel)
  • "San Francisco" (Machines)
  • [unknown]
  • "The First Winter Snow" (Pill)
  • "To England" (Marble)
  • "Xerox Candy Bar" (Pill)
  • [unknown]
  • "California Native Flowers" (Plant)
  • "Squash" (Plant)
  • "Calendula" (Plant)

All twenty-four poems first published in this volume in the order listed below.
The nine poems noted with an asterisk* were collected and reprinted in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.

"Portrait of the Id As Billy The Kid"
Billy the kid
   shot his first man
      before he was born
         and the man was born.

Billy the Kid
   made love to his first woman
      before he was born
         and the woman was born.

Textual References
"Billy the Kid": Nickname of William H. Bonney (1859-1881), American outlaw.
"Sonnet"*
The sea is like
an old nature poet
who died of a
heart attack in a
public latrine.
His ghost still
haunts the urinals.
At night he can
be heard walking
around barefooted
in the dark.
Somebody stole
his shoes.
"The Chinese Checker Players"*
When I was six years old
I played Chinese checkers
   with a woman
who was ninety-three years old.
She lived by herself
in an apartment down the hall
   from ours.
We played Chinese checkers
every Monday and Thursday nights.
While we played she usually talked
about her husband
who had been dead for seventy years
and we drank tea and ate cookies
   and cheated.

Selected Reprintings
Poems Here and Now. Ed. David Kherdian. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1976. 13, 17.
Includes two poems by Brautigan: "The Chinese Checker Players" and "The Horse That Had a Flat Tire." LEARN more >>>

The Ways of the Poem. Ed. Josephine Miles. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972. 376-377.
"Portrait of a Child-Bride on Her Honeymoon"
The desire
in her eyes
sits astride
a rocking horse.

Her breasts
are like
little teacups.

And her vagina
is an Easter
bunny.
"Hansel and Gretel"
   I have always wanted to write a poem about Hansel
and Gretel going through the forest, leaving behind
them pieces of apple pie to form sort of a bridge between
dream and reality, and being followed by those gentle
birds that embrace both illusions like violins eating
pieces of apple pie.
"April Ground"
   Digging the April ground with a shovel
that looked like Harpo Marx, I cut a woman in two,
and one half crawled toward the infinitesimal,
and the other half crawled toward the eternal.

Textual References
"Harpo Marx": The silent member of the Marx Brothers comedy act.
"The Ferris Wheel"
The world was opening
and closing
its insane asylums
   and churches
ike a forgetful old man
buttoning up his pants
instead of unbuttoning them.

Are you going to go
to the toilet
in your pants,
old man?

The rain was a dark Ferris wheel
bringing us closer
to Baudelaire and General Motors.

We were famous
and we kicked
walnut leaves.
"Night"
I went to the castle to see the queen.
She was in the garden burning flowers.
"I see you are here on time as always,"
she said, striking a match to an orchid.
The petals caught on fire and burned
like the clothes of an angel.
I took out a knife and cut off my finger.
"These flowers," she said smiling,
"don't they burn with a beautiful light?"
"Cyclops"*
A glass of lemonade
travels across this world
like the eye of the cyclops.

If a child doesn't drink
the lemonade,
   Ulysses will.

Textual References
"like the eye of the cyclops": See Homer’s Odyssey, book 9.

Selected Reprintings
Seven Watermelon Suns: Selected Poems of Richard Brautigan. The Cowell Press: University of California at Santa Cruz, 1974.
A speciality press collection of seven works by Brautigan, each printed as a separate 6" x 8.5" broadside with embossed color etchings by Ellen Meske. One of the seven poems reprinted was "Cyclops."
"The Escape of the Owl"
   The carpenter built a prison ladder, working hard
all night long, he built that ladder from owl-smelling
cedar, but he made a mistake, he had an extra rung
left over, and it flew away.
"In a Cafe"*
   I watched a man in a cafe fold a slice of bread
as if he were folding a birth certificate or looking
at the photograph of a dead lover.

Selected Reprintings
A First Reader of Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. Patrick Gleason. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1969. 23-26.
Includes eight poems by Brautigan: "In a Cafe," "The Wheel," "The Sidney Greenstreet Blues," "The Fever Monument," "Horse Race," "Our Beautiful West Coast Thing," and "The Pomegranate Circus," and "General Custer Versus the Titanic."

Postcard Poems. Ed. Paul B. Janeczko. Scarsdale, NY: Bradbury Press, 1979. 46.
"Fragment"
I am looking
at wooden crosses
so old
that nothing
is written
un them anymore,
there are
huge stacks
of crosses
here,
there are
crosses leaning
against
fine marble
tombs,
there are
crosses thrown
into the
trees,
there are
a dozen crosses
sticking on
the same
grave.
"Herman Melville in Dreams,
Moby Dick in Reality"
In reality Moby Dick
was a Christ-like goldfish
that swam through the aquarium
saving the souls of snails,

and Captain Ahab
was a religious Siamese cat
that helped old ladies
start their automobiles.

Textual References
"Herman Melville; Moby Dick": See Moby Dick, the 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville (1819-1891).
"Kafka's Hat"*
With the rain falling
surgically against the roof,
I ate a dish of ice cream
that looked like Kafka's hat.

It was a dish of ice cream
tasting like an operating table
with the patient staring
up at the ceiling.

Textual References
"Kafka": Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Austrian fiction writer.
"Yes, the Fish Music"*
A trout-colored wind blows
through my eyes, through my fingers,
and I remember how the trout
used to hide from the dinosaurs
when they came to drink at the river.
The trout hid in subways, castles
and automobiles. They waited patiently
for the dinosaurs to go away.
"Cantos Falling"
(1)

The snow on the cow.

(2)

The cow has no shadow.

(3)

The cow has turned
to snow.
"The Castle of the Cormorants"*
Hamlet with
a cormorant
under his arm
married Ophelia.
She was still
wet from drowning.
She looked like
a white flower
that had been
left in the
rain too long.
I love you,
said Ophelia,
and I love
that dark
bird you
hold in
your arms.

     Big Sur
     February 1958


Textual References
"The Castle of the Cormorants": See William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601).
"Feel Free to Marry Emily Dickinson"
Yesterday my wife divorced me in Brazil,
and the rain highway saw my youth have a flat tire,
leaving me free to marry Emily Dickinson.

O what profound love we will make together,
our gentle hands moving like gravestones,
and our coming will be like a funeral procession.

Textual References
"Emily Dickinson": American poet (1830-1886).
"funeral procession": Perhaps an allusion to one of Dickinson’s most anthologized poems, #280 (“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”).

Selected Reprintings
Big Venus. Ed. Nick Kimberly. London: Big Venus, 102 Southhampton Row, 1969. 1.
Only two issues of this poetry magazine were issued. Also featured work by Clayton Eshelman, Claude Pelieu, Goerge Dowden, and others.
"Cat"
   We lay in that bed one sunny evening after making love
and decided to name our first girl Cat, we were going
to name her Cat, but now we have departed forever from our
love-making, and we will not have a little girl, nor any
children at all, and I am doomed to become the poet
in your dreams who falls continually like the evening rain.
"A Childhood Spent in Tacoma"
If a door
were laid
on its side,
you could be
the captain
of a submarine.
Fire one!
Fire two!
If a door
were hanging
up straight,
you could
open it
and go
into the
kitchen.
"To England"*
There are no postage stamps that send letters
back to England three centuries ago,
no postage stamps that make letters
travel back until the grave hasn't been dug yet,
and John Donne stands looking out the window,
it is just beginning to rain this April morning,
and the birds are falling into the trees
like chess pieces into an unplayed game,
and John Donne sees the postman coming up the street,
the postman walks very carefully because his cane
is made of glass.

Textual References
"John Donne": English poet (1573-1631).

Selected Reprintings
Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: A Collection of Over 125 Poems. Ed. Frances Monson McCullough. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1971. 27, 130, 142.
Included three poems by Brautigan: "To England," "The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster," and "The Day They Busted the Grateful Dead."

Shake the Kaleidoscope: A New Anthology of Modern Poetry. Ed. Milton Klonsky. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. 274-276.
Included six poems by Brautigan: "To England," "November 3," "A Mid-February Sky Dance," "Mating Saliva," "Romeo and Juliet," and "As the Bruises Fade, the Lightning Aches."
"A Boat"*
O beautiful
was the werewolf
in his evil forest.
We took him
to the carnival
and he started
   crying
when he saw
the Ferris wheel.
Electric
green and red tears
flowed down
his furry cheeks.
He looked
like a boat
out on the dark
water.

Recorded
Album Front Cover "Listening to Richard Brautigan." Harvest Records.
On one track of this album, titled "The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster," Brautigan reads sixteen poems collected in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, including this one.

LISTEN to Brautigan read these poems.
"Geometry"
A circle
comes complete
with its
own grave.
"The Twenty-Eight Cents for My Old Age"
   I gave a poetry reading at a bar in San Francisco,
people sat around and drank beer while a read a poem
called Portrait of the Id as Billy the Kid,
when the reading was over I got paid twelve and a half
dollars, but twenty-eight cents was deducted for my old age,
and I walked home alone.
In addition to the specific reviews detailed below, commentary about this book may also be included in General Reviews of Brautigan's work and his place in American literature, or reviews of his Collections.

Bokinsky, Caroline J. "Richard Brautigan." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 5: American Poets Since World War II. Ed. Donald J. Greiner. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980. 96-99.
Critical comments on The Return of the Rivers, The Galilee Hitch-Hiker, Lay the Marble Tea, The Octopus Frontier, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, and June 30th, June 30th. Also provides some biographical and bibliographical information. Says with Lay the Marble Tea
Brautigan's exploration of language extends to similes and metaphors with humorous twists as suggested by such titles as "Feel Free to Marry Emily Dickinson" or "Twenty Eight Cents for My Old Age." His experiments with the simile include strange analogies in which "a dish of ice cream" looks "like Kafka's hat" . . . Brautigan's imaginative reconstructions of reality also include such recollections of his youth as "The Chinese Checkers Players" and "A Childhood Spent in Tacoma."
READ the full text of this review.
Frumkin, Gene. "A Step toward Perception." Coastlines 13 (Autumn) 1959: 45.
A brief review, noting the crispness of the book as a whole, even while the individual poems lack rationality. Says the book speaks to the potential evolution of Brautigan's poetic method.

READ the full text of this review.