Brautigan > The Octopus Frontier

This node of the American Dust website (formerly Brautigan Bibliography and Archive) provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's poetry collection The Octopus Frontier. Published in 1960, this collection of twent-two poems was Brautigan's fourth published poetry book. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.

                     

Contents

The Octopus Frontier collects twenty-two poems by Richard Brautigan. Unless noted, all poems were first published in this volume. The seventeen poems noted with an asterisk* were collected and reprinted in The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster.
By default all items are listed and are presented in ascending order. Use the checkboxes above to limit the items listed and present the items in alphabetical and/or reverse order.

 


I am the sawmill
abandoned even by the ghosts
in the middle of the pasture.
   Opera!
      Opera!
The horses won't go near
my God-damn thing.
They stay over by the creek.


Piano tree, play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
twenty-six years old, dead
and homeward bound
on a ship from Sitka,
his coffin travels
like the fingers
of Beethoven
over a glass
of wine.

Piano tree, play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
a legend of my childhood, dead,
they send him back
to Tacoma.
At night his coffin
travels like the birds
that fly beneath the sea,
never touching the sky.

Piano tree, play
in the dark concert halls
of my uncle,
take his heart
for a lover
and take his death
for a bed,
and send him homeward bound
on a ship from Sitka
to bury him
where I was born.

Textual References
"my uncle": Edward Martin Dixon (1916-1942), Uncle Edward. Died in Sitka, Alaska, 11 August 1942. LEARN more. See also Brautigan's introduction to June 30th, June 30th where he writes more about Uncle Edward.
"Beethoven": Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer.

First Published
J, no. 5, December 1959.
8.5" x 11" mimeographed sheets.
Learn more

Recorded
"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.


     The wheel: it's a thing like pears
rotting under a tree in August.
     O golden wilderness!
     The bees travel in covered wagons
and the Indians hide in the heat.

Selected Reprints
A First Reader of Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Patrick Gleason. Merrill, 1969, pp. 23-26.
Learn more

"Three Poems." London Magazine, November 1970, p. 65.
Learn more


I saw thousands of pumpkins last night
come floating in on the tide,
bumping up against the rocks and
rolling up on the beaches;
it must be Halloween in the sea.

First Published
J, no. 4, November 1959.
8.5" x 11" mimeographed sheets; 16 pages; Hand-colored blue and green illustration on front cover.
Learn more

Recorded
"Listening to Richard Brautigan." Harvest Records. On the track 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.


I think something beautiful
and amusing is gained
by remembering Sidney Greenstreet,
but it is a fragile thing.

The hand picks up a glass.
The eye looks at the glass
and then hand, glass and eye
   fall away.

Textual References
"Sidney Greenstreet": Actor (1879-1954) best known for his performances in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942).
NOTE: The correct spelling should be "Sydney" but this mistake was not corrected here, or when the poem was reprinted in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.

First Published
J, no. 4, November 1959.
8.5" x 11" mimeographed sheets; 16 pages. Hand-colored blue and green illustration on front cover.
Learn more

Selected Reprints
A First Reader of Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Patrick Gleason. Merrill, 1969, pp. 23-26.
Learn more

San Francisco Express Times, vol. 1, no. 49, December 24, 1968, pp. 8-9.
Learn more


There are three quail in a cage next door,
and they are the sweet delight of our mornings,
calling to us like small frosted cakes:
   bobwhitebobwhitebobwhite,
but at night they drive our God-damn cat Jake crazy.
They run around that cage like pinballs
as he stands out there,
smelling their asses through the wire.

Textual References
"Jake" was one of two black cats acquired by Brautigan and his wife, Virginia Dionne Alder, when they moved into their apartment at 575 Pennsylvania Street, on Potrero Hill, San Francisco, California.

Selected Reprints
Just What The Country Needs, Another Poetry Anthology. Edited by James McMichael and Dennis Saleh. Wadsworth, 1971, pp. xii, 22-26, 185.
6.5" x 9.5", 190 pages
Learn more

The biographical note for Brautigan reads, "Richard Brautigan published several small books of poetry in limited editions and then collected them in one volume, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, published first by Four Seasons Foundation and them by Delacorte. He has also published three novels and a book of new poems, Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. Brautigan is 36 and has lived in San Francisco for many years."


   When I was hitch-hiking down to Big Sur,
Moby Dick stopped and picked me up. He was driving
a truckload of sea gulls to San Luis Obispo.
   "Do you like being a truckdriver better than you do a whale?" I asked.
   "Yeah," Moby Dick said. "Hoffa is a lot better
to us whales than Captain Ahab ever was.
   The old fart."

Textual References
"Hoffa": Jimmy Hoffa, American labor leader (1913-1975); despotic head of the Teamsters Union.

Selected Reprints
Seven Watermelon Suns: Selected Poems of Richard Brautigan. University of California at Santa Cruz, 1974.
Learn More.


The Chinese smoke opium
in their bathrooms.
They all get in the bathroom
and lock the door.
The old people sit in the tub
and the children sit
on the floor.

First Published
Foot, no.1, September 1959.
Published in San Francisco, California. Edited by Richard Duerdan.
Learn more


It's spring and the nun
like a black frog
builds her tarpaper shack
beside the lake.
How beautiful she is
(and looks) surrounded
by her rolls of tarpaper.
They know her name
and they speak her name.

Textual References
"Creeley": Robert Creeley (1926-2005), American poet, Brautigan's friend.


   Her clothes spread wide and mermaid-like awhile
they bore her up: which time she chanted snatches
of old tunes, and sweet Ophelia floated down the river
past black stones until she came to an evil fisherman
who was dressed in clothes that had no childhood,
and beautiful Ophelia floated like an April church
into his shadow, and he, the evil fisherman of our dreams,
waded out into the river and captured the poor mad girl,
and taking her into the deep grass, he killed her
with the shock of his body, and he placed her back
into the river, and Laertes said, Alas, then she is drown'd!
Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia.

Textual References
"The Rape of Ophelia": Adapted from William Shakespeare's Hamlet 4.7.146ff.

First Published
Foot, no. 1, September 1959.
Published in San Francisco, California. Edited by Richard Duerdan.
Learn more


It was a river in the mountains, I guess there are many
rivers in the mountains, flowing through our dreams into
death and deep pools. The water was so clear that I could
see the expressions on their faces as they looked up at me
from their glass coffins. I looked under the water and saw
an old lady smiling, she had no teeth nor hair,
I think she was the sister of Jesus, and I saw
a beautiful girl in her coffin, she was holding onto a dry
toy while trout swam across her face. There must have
been five thousand people buried in glass coffins under the
river, and I walked along the bank, looking down at them
as if they were fingers on my left hand.

First Published
Foot, no. 1, September 1959.
Published in San Francisco, California. Edited by Richard Duerdan.
Learn more


   1
A pleasure palace
on the octopus frontier.
Perhaps that's
the answer.
An eight-armed whore
in the cabin
of a sunken ship,
the walls covered
with obscene octopus pictures.
She beckons to me.
Passion and gin.
Why not?

   2
A homestead
on the octopus frontier.
Perhaps that's
the answer.
A flock of chickens
in front of a cabin
at the bottom
of the ocean.
They seem contented
scratching in the sand
for oysters.


O Potatoes!
The Roman Empire of Potatoes!

All peelings lead to Rome
and Julius Caesar eats French fries

while the ides of March
have potato eyes . . .

   (Then Brutus to the Idaho of Death
   Then Marc Antony to
Idaho.)

Textual References
"Julius Ceasar": See William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (1599).


   I walked across the park to the fever monument.
It was in the center of a glass square surrounded
by red flowers and fountains. The monument
was in the shape of a sea horse and the plaque read
We got hot and died.

First Published
J, no. 1, 1959, p. n. pg.
Printed on 8.5" x 11" mimeographed sheets.
Learn more.

Selected Reprints
A First Reader of Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Patrick Gleason. CMerrill, 1969, pp. 23-26.
Learn more.

Seven Watermelon Suns: Selected Poems of Richard Brautigan. University of California at Santa Cruz, 1974.
Learn More.


Alas, they get
their bottles
from a small
neighborhood store.
The old Russian
sells them port
and passes no moral
judgement. They go
and sit under
the green bushes
that grow along
the wooden stairs.
They could almost
be exotic flowers,
they drink so
quietly.

Textual References
"Potrero Hill": A neighborhood in San Francisco.

Selected Reprints
Just What The Country Needs, Another Poetry Anthology. Edited by James McMichael and Dennis Saleh. Wadsworth, 1971, pp. xii, 22-26, 185.
6.5" x 9.5", 190 pages
Learn more

The biographical note for Brautigan reads, "Richard Brautigan published several small books of poetry in limited editions and then collected them in one volume, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, published first by Four Seasons Foundation and them by Delacorte. He has also published three novels and a book of new poems, Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. Brautigan is 36 and has lived in San Francisco for many years."


We walked along the pier
that curved like Einstein's breakfast
out into eternity,
and there were people fishing off the pier,
mostly Chinese.
Mike ran up to an old woman
and asked her if she liked to kill fish,
to murder living things,
and she smiled at him,
her mouth going on forever.

Textual References
"Mike": Perhaps Brautigan's friend, poet Michael McClure (1932-).
"Einstein": Albert Einstein (1879-1955), who theorized the universe was curved.


July 19, a dog has been run over by an airplane,
an act that brings into this world the energy
that transforms vultures into beautiful black
   race horses.

Yes, the horses are waiting at the starting gate,
now the sound of the gun and this fantastic race begins,
the horses are circling the track.

First Published
Foot, no. 1, September 1959.
Published in San Francisco, California. Edited by Richard Duerdan.
Learn more

Selected Reprints
A First Reader of Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Patrick Gleason. Merrill, 1969, pp. 23-26.
Learn more

"Three Poems." London Magazine, Nov. 1970, p. 65.
Learn more


The only thing
that you can do
to gain back
some human dignity
after you crap
in bed like a baby,
is to pretend that
you are Hannibal
crossing the Alps.

Textual References
"Hannibal": Carthaginian general (247-183 B.C.) who invaded Italy by crossing the Alps with elephants.
NOTE: Typographical error in punctuating "Folk's"; should be "Folks'."


The smell
            of vegetables
                              on a cold day
performs faithfully an act of reality
like a knight in search of the holy grail
or a postman on a rural route looking
for a farm that isn't there.
   Carrots, peppers and berries.
   Nerval, Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

Textual References
"Nerval, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud": Nineteenth-century French poets.


I lift the toilet seat
    as if it were the nest of a bird
and I see cat tracks
    all around the edge of the bowl.

First Published
J, no. 4, Nov. 1959.
Printed on 8.5" x 11" mimeographed sheets; 16 pages. Hand-colored blue and green illustration on front cover.
Learn more


The moon
is Hamlet
on a motorcycle
coming down
a dark road.
He is wearing
a black leather
jacket and
boots.
I have
nowhere
to go.
I will ride
all night.

First Published
Foot, no. 1, September 1959.
Published in San Francisco, California. Edited by Richard Duerdan.
Learn more

Selected Reprints
Seven Watermelon Suns: Selected Poems of Richard Brautigan. University of California at Santa Cruz, 1974.
Learn More.


Three crates of Private Eye Lettuce,
the name and drawing of a detective
with magnifying glass on the sides
of the crates of lettuce,
form a great cross in man's imagination
and his desire to name
the objects of this world.
I think I'll call this place Golgotha
and have some salad for dinner.

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