Surrealist Portland poet Marty Christensen is dead

Astoria born, did some Navy time I think, then Portland State for polish which didn’t take. He maintained a full time muse in Lorna Viken, painted with abstract oils, dissected words, grooved on KBOO jazz, drank near-beer, smoked incessantly, knew all the bartenders, remembered all the poets, was a true beatnik master, walked with a book in his pocket, cameo’d in the Gus Van Sant film Mala Noche, talked politics history chemistry madness aesthetics hermeneutics jail time night time bebop time any time my time his whole life time.

William Burroughs and Marty Christensen, photo by Clyde Keller

William Burroughs and Marty Christensen, photo by Clyde Keller

The man had boundless energy, always made it new, always found something somewhere to add to the mix, shy and vulgar, drunk and apprehensive, beaten and worn, he lived in the body of a poet, not a someone who folds socks or indulges students. In his life he published only a scattering of poems, the sublime rare and slim slim chapbook, ‘My Flashlight Was Attacked By Bats’, and on the audio compilation ‘Talking Rain’.

Marty’s did more public performance poetry than anyone around, and it was all the real deal thing, burst forth and such. With the energy and passion of Mick Jagger in the body of a mad devil. Don’t think labels. They don’t apply. Try this poem out, just read it say it to yourself like a long exasperated sentence.

My Flashlight was Attacked by Bats

My Flashlight was Attacked by Bats

Frisking the Cobwebs

poets wither endlessly away
like pearl-blooming oysters
harrowing the flux to make a little
something glitter out past dreaminess

not even their best friends
know quite what to say to them

Published in Mr. Cogito, and again in Sweet Reason, Fall 1987

But Marty, explosive with a aging prizefighter’s posse and potbelly could charge the Satyricon stage at midnight, after pumping up and down, work up a sweat a thirst a passion for the words, hearing the words, each tinkling, each questioning, each word a virtue, each word a song, each word a question, like an arrow for a target. What a sight, KABOOM and you’d have a little adrenaline surge, like, where’s the exit man this guy is apeshit, and then you’d stop looking and stop judging a man and start listening to the words, man its about the words not nothing else, just words, each a tinkling question, just words, and then you’d hear something which didn’t make sense but it stuck there and maybe stayed there for a moment all by itself, alone in your head.

Abstract realist poets don’t punch a time clock, answer to the man or get paid; Marty loved Lorna with ‘You could be a jukebox. I could be a dime.’ He was insane, brilliant, a jazz freak and audiophile, a slob and a dedicated reader, and our friendship was, like most of his friendships, deep and complex and impossible to sustain. As a young artist defeated by loneliness it was Marty who explained to me the vital need to find my kind by routine and constant correspondence, to find the others and find consolation as a provincial beacon. Saved my spirit.

There’s a memorial Thursday night, January 12 starting around 7 PM at the Three Friends Coffee Shop on 201 SE 12th Avenue. Come say hello to Lorna and bring a poem to read for Marty.

Marty Christensen, January 7, 1942 – January 5, 2012, obituary in The Oregonian.