C. Natale Peditto(1943-2013)
performing work of the late visual and sound poet
at Beyond Baroque, Venice, CA 2/10/08
Tribute to C. Natale Peditto
by Jeff Rogers
C. Natale Peditto has gone to find a new home, living in the alley of dreams. They say we make our own hell. If that's so then it stands to reason that we make our heaven as well. I believe that Chris Peditto not only created his own heaven, but earned his place there, when he wrote his poem "Finale in the Alley: Backstreet Song for Etheridge Knight in Philadelphia." I'll justify that claim when I give you the whole poem in a minute here…
"I'm moved to write of the dead," Chris once wrote, "as they are alive and walk among us. Not as memories, but as spirits…" Further on: "It is always for the living to seek meaning. And as artists-that is to say, anyone who goes where the imagination reaches-we are the makers of meaning."
Chris made a lot of meaning in his day. He was poet, professor, publisher, raconteur and sharp dresser. A scholar of diverse interests: the specific and obscure histories of bohemian enclaves from Greenwich Village to New Orleans, Philadelphia to Mexico City; the Greeks and the Beats; rhetoric and the oral tradition; Catholic saints and the Catholic Worker movement. He was a glorious talker, a monologist not out of ego so much as the sheer sweep of his interests and insistence of his enthusiasms.
I loved nothing more than to maneuver him into his study (not generally that hard to do) during one of the frequent parties hosted by he and his wife the blind painter Barbara Romain. Once there, it wouldn't take much then to set him off, just an idle question about a book picked off his shelves perhaps, a Loeb Classical Library edition of Ovid maybe, or a slim volume of Corso, or Mornings in Mexico by D.H. Lawrence. I'd sit back and let him hold forth, effortlessly, for hours, and never a boring word. He was a veteran performer as well, and like a jazzman he'd rock back, spread his arms out, and sway with the rhythm and melody of his own conversational riffs. He died on Friday, November 8, 2013, and if you can't tell, I loved the man dearly and I miss the hell out of him.
He made his mark on the poetry scene in Philadelphia, and the poetry and theater scenes in LA. He was an appreciator of people, especially creative types, poets, artists, musicians, and just characters, everyday adventurers, those who go where their imaginations reach. Through his love, his enthusiasm, his charisma, he fostered unique and diverse communities everywhere he made his home. In Philadelphia he co-created the Open Mouth weekly poetry reading series, which cycled through a rotation of venues and lasted several years, and which he wrote about for a Philadelphia newspaper years later.
Here in Los Angeles, he founded the performance group Gray Pony in 1989, (which I've previously written about here) on the brilliant intellectual leap linking the ancient Greeks to the Beat Generation to various ethno poetics as exemplars of the oral tradition-living poetry meant to be rendered by the human voice. Gray Pony performed poetry as a chorus, scored for multiple voices and self-accompanied on simple wind and percussion instruments. It began as his Master's thesis project at Northridge, The Poet Alive (poetry of the San Francisco Beat poet Bob Kaufman) but moved out of the stage of the university theater into the performance spaces of the 90s LA coffeehouse scene, places like The Espresso Bar, Onyx Sequel and Highland Grounds. Later it climbed back onto the stages of small theaters around town, like the Igloo on Santa Monica Blvd. and the Oddity on Pico, with full-scale theatrical productions, including Festival Dionysus, the unexpected hit Salome and the lightning-rod controversial Nigger Lovers.
He also founded Heat Press Open Mouth Poetry Series, specifically to publish first books of poets rooted in orality, poets not likely to find a home on the printed page unless he created it for them. They included Eric Priestley, one of the founders of the Watts Writers Workshop in the sixties, who if I recall correctly the LA Weekly named poet laureate of South LA shortly after Chris published his book Abracadabra; also Charles Bivins, a kind of hippie Falstaff and a natural bard (Music in Silence); and Elliott Levin (does it swing?), also an avant garde saxophonist who's played with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, among others.
I promised you a poem. I hope you stuck around for it-or even skipped ahead to read it. Allow me to briefly set the scene. We're in an alley behind a club, probably Bacchanal in Philly, between sets, or after the last show. Musicians and poets, including Etheridge Knight, who learned to write poetry in prison and was championed by Gwendolyn Brooks, are congregating, imbibing, riffing happily in words and idly on handy instruments. It's easy to think it's a kind of rarefied, universal, transcendent moment. Chris was never a prolific poet, but he was a true poet, and I love this one. Rhythmic, melodic, low-down and mythic, it swings, it sings and it soars. And I think there's no better epitaph, no more sacred spot in heaven for him than this one that he built with his unique experiences, his characteristic sensibility and his muse-tickled pen:
FINALE IN THE ALLEY
(Backstreet Song for Etheridge Knight in Philadelphia)
Wine drunk poets & old root doctors diggin in the alley of dreams
Tryin' t' find a cure for the world's long troubles searchin in the alley of dreams
See backstreet dancers & rawhide drummers jammin in the alley of dreams
Hear hum-bone-rattle & rattle-bone-hum dancing in the alley of dreams
We whiff some herb & sip some brew tippin in the alley of dreams
Now you know me & i know you smilin in the alley of dreams
So far from home & on the roam children in the alley of dreams
Go do-whop-diddle & diddle-whop-dee riffin in the alley of dreams
Cold star heaven shines in our hearts lonely in the alley of dreams
Man's own family gone to find a new home livin in the alley of dreams
-C. Natale Peditto