Watt's Art ?
. . . . As for Watt himself, I have to say that though he was (is) controversial as a poet (one respected poetic figure, Robert Bly -- if I remember correctly -- called him the worst poet in America, & I can see why), he has many great qualities, & I'm serious about that. His poetry is like no one else's, intentionally so, & a very personal taste for many, though he has proved that he can write what he calls "old-timey" poetry if he wants to. But here's the story: One morning several years ago after a night of drinking, when some mysterious white powder was hoovered up, some friends & I kept on drinking & finally went at sun-up to Watt's mansion on Juneau Ave., where various young people -- who were quite protective of him -- were crashing in some of the many rooms. My name was relayed to him & we got in, to find him formally dressed (tie & sport coat) & watching cartoons on TV. I never saw him drink, & I don't think he even smokes pot or uses anything, though in our beatnik days when he hung around with Pooch (Alan) Manske about the time Ray Charles got busted for it I assumed he did, as most of us did, & he wasn't that morning. Anyway, we toured the house & it was lined up & down every corridor with his paintings maybe 3 or 4 deep, & against the walls of the rooms, & the rest of the space was filled up with his soft sculptures made mostly of rags & found objects, generally in homage to American Indians, & it all just blew me away. His paintings & sculptures are in various prestigious galleries, & I could see why. The paintings were impressive enough, if not world class (to me), but the rooms full of soft sculpture presented one of the most amazing sights ever, evocative of tribes of silent Indians standing as forgotten rag-bag fabric sentinels in the midst of urban decay, wearing an occasional whimsical touch like a Green Bay Packers helmet. So as a poet he is indeed problematic, & personally an enigma, though pleasant enough, & not a great conversationalist, but I think a great artist. I did try later to turn people with the right equipment on to videotaping the house (& the lawn was equally picturesque, & of course his car is similarly decorated). I am told (by Bill Olsen) that someone did (& Ralph Larsen once took a few photos with a borrowed camera before he ran out of film), but in any case the whole thing burned down, perhaps by arson, & is lost forever, & as he is in his 70's & apparently not in great health, it was quite a blow. But he works on, after an abortive run for mayor to complicate a race in which the other challenger to Norquist is named George Watts (of tea room fame). And he did a lot of work in bringing poetry as an outlet to the state's prisoners, too. In short, as Barbara Gibson & I agreed, a saint, if also a buffoon, & not so personally lovable, as many saints are when seen up close. And facing for your answer. --Mike Z.
» From an e-mail to former Milwaukeean Matt Wilensky, Ph.D. in San Diego.
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