San Francisco Chronicle,
Sunday July 21, 2002
REVIEWS IN BRIEF by Gerald Nicosia
"Insider" accounts of any industry always offer a certain amount
of titillation, but San Francisco native A.D. Winans' "The Holy
Grail" delivers that and a lot more as he recounts 40 years inside
the small-press revolution as publisher of Second Coming Press and
Second Coming magazine.
Winans, a respectable post-Beat poet himself, builds his memoir
cum literary history around his long friendship with the most notorious,
and probably the best, writer to come out of the American small-press
scene: the late Los Angeles novelist and poete maudit, Charles Bukowski.
"The Holy Grail" comes closer than any book yet published in showing
how and why the small-press revolution broke the ironclad hold of
stodgy traditional publishers back in the early 1960s, enabling
a whole new generation of radical and countercultural writers to
get their work before the public and, as in the case of Bukowski
and others, to become outlaw artist celebrities on a par with rock
stars. Winans reminds us that even publishers we now think of as
mainstream, such as City Lights (which first published Allen Ginsberg)
and Black Sparrow, began as small presses.
Bay Area readers will doubtless revel in Winans' intimate gossip
about dozens of our more outrageous local writers, especially the
North Beach Beat and post-Beat gang -- including Bob Kaufman, Gregory
Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Micheline, Harold Norse, Neeli
Cherkovski and Kaye McDonough -- that dominated the San Francisco
literary scene, at least the sensational side of it, throughout
much of the 1970s and 1980s. Most remarkably, for all the infighting
among that gang, Winans writes of it in a very evenhanded manner,
admitting his own grudges but not taking time to grind his own ax.
As if all this weren't enough for the price of admission, "The Holy
Grail" also gives one of the most honest and compelling portraits
of Bukowski yet in print, destroying almost every myth about him
still current. The supposedly cantankerous, drunken, degenerate,
womanizing Bukowski turns out to be a fiercely loyal friend who
stands up for Winans in a battle between Winans and Ferlinghetti,
despite the fact that Bukowski was seeking publication by City Lights.
He graciously bows out when he discovers himself and Winans pursuing
the same woman, and he even advises Winans to cut down on his drinking
because -- in words we never expected to hear from the Buk -- the
"body asks for a bit of kindness."