Arthur Joseph Kushner Stroking the Sparrow's Tail

by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Institute for Current Visionary Exposition paperback, 34 pp., with double CD

Although my first few years in New Paltz coincided with Arthur Joseph Kushner's last few years in. New Paltz, sadly I never met him. We have friends in common, and many of them were involved in this book/CD project, but I can truthfully say I'm writing this review with detached warmth.

I like poetry by intensely local eccentric hermits who live in the woods. New Paltz has had several, including Warren Sherwood the bard of Pang Yang, ne'er-do-well romantic, apple-picker, gravedigger, alcoholic, part-time resident of mental institutions, died too soon, His poems, which appeared in local newspapers, are not great but they are intensely local and often moving. His best writing, his letters, remain unedited and unpublished in the New Paltz historical library.

Kushner died too soon. He lived in the woods. He earned his keep odd jobs and seasonal labor. Alcohol doesn't seem to have reared its head, but Kushner appears to have been a real eccentric -- i.e.., someone who's perfectly balanced, but on a different fulcrum. I guess Thoreau was the archetype. On the whole Kushner seems much more optimistic and happy than Sherwood, and in this sense a writer of the 60s par excellence.

Part Sicilian and part Jewish, Kushner sometimes rhapsodizes as a Jewish mystic -- and this side of his work is illuminated by a nice intro from his rabbi, Bill Strongin of New Paltz, who calls Arthur a "wild Jew." Another palpable influence derives from Native American spirituality, and this is reflected in a note from: Raymundo Rodriguez, our local librarian/shaman.

Something we might call the Woodstock-Beatnik-Zen influence is strongly present in Stroking the Sparrow's Tail, and this strain is borne out in the "Editor's Preface" by Mikhail Horowitz, a leading avatar of that noble School, who worked with Bram to rescue Arthur's poems from his knapsack to make this book.

Rather than little snippets of this & that I prefer to quote one whole poem, which happens to be both short and my favorite for its wit and transparency:


Everything is a lot like everything else
But while being a lot like everything else
It's also a lot more like itself
than anything else is.
But still - its a lot like everything else.
And its not so much like anything else in particular
As it is like everything else put together.
But of course, put together a little bit differently
than it is in anything else
Or as in some cases a lot differently.

Arthur's old friend Bram Moreinis founded a new publishing company to produce this book (and CD of Kushner live) and did an excellent job. I wish he could have named the photographer who made the beautiful back-cover portrait of the poet, itself a work of art; but it was found amongst Arthur's belongings and must remain anonymous.

Every poetry lover in Ulster County should own a copy of this book. Copies will be available at a reading of the Woodstock Poetry Society at Town Hall, 2-4 Sat. Jan 8.

Or you could contact the Institute for Current Visionary Exposition, 10 Norrie Court Germantown NY 12520, or