Monday, August 20, 2007

Helen Adam

Born in Scotland, she came to the U.S. in 1939. Aside from writing her poetry, she did various odd jobs--was for a time an actress, and appeared in Death and Our Corpses Speak (both produced in Germany); these were made by experimental film-maker Rosa von Prauhnehim. Her last public appearance was in the public TV series Poetry Minute in 1988. She became a recluse after her sister died that year and herself died in '93.

Her book Ballads was published by White Rabbit in 1961.

Although her mode was the classical ballad, she was nonetheless closely associated with the Beats and others in the San Francisco school. Kristen Prevallet has written about Adams in an essay called "The Worm Queen Emerges: Helen Adam and the Forgotten Ballad Tradition" (for a book called Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation, 2002). She is also featured in several pages of Michael Davidson's The San Francisco Renaissance. "Although Adam revives a much earlier ballad tradition," Davidson writes, "she often transforms it to suit contemporary political and society reality."

I drank milk, Mother, in my sheltered home.
I drank milk, and I ate honey-comb.
Now I'm eating goof balls, drinking rum and gall,
wine, and gine, and vodka, and wood alcohol.
Give me ten Tequilas, a jigger full of stout,
And a little lap of Pepsi before I freak out
In the reeling Jericho Bar.

In its tone and in the way it manages the daring content, the poem reminds me of Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven's "A Dozen Cocktails--Please". But of course the Baroness wrote utterly in free form.