Poetry News

Tosh Berman Remembers Post-War California's Art and Poetry Scene

By Harriet Staff
Tosh Berman, Tosh-Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World, cover

Literary Hub shares an excerpt from Tosh Berman's recently published City Lights memoir, Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World. Tosh Berman, the son of Semina artist Wallace Berman, discusses growing up within the Beat Generation, beginning with the place he called home, which: "[c]ompared with the shack in Beverly Glen, our residence in San Francisco, at 707 Scott Street, appeared to be a mansion." From there: 

We had the bottom floor and various interesting people rented the upstairs. My parents became the managers of the residence and were responsible for collecting the rent and taking care of the premises. I have no real recollection being upstairs at all, mostly due to my fear of staircases. At least we had our bathroom on the first floor. I believe there was a bathroom upstairs as well, and the other tenants must have shared it.

Louise Herms lived upstairs, before she married George Herms. I found her to be very comforting, perfect even. The poet John Wieners lived on the second floor as well. There he wrote what’s perhaps the best known of his published journals, The Journal of John Wieners Is to Be Called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (1996), usually referred to as 707 Scott Street. In the book, my dad figures as “Wally,” a character that wanders into the poems and leaves silently. It’s a remarkable document of that time in San Francisco, as well as a magnificent book of poetry, which, of course, I read when I was an adult.

I had a friend on the block on Scott Street who lived in a big house with a Christmas tree that was up all year round. On a daily basis, we played at the park across the street from our homes. There was no father figure in his household. Most of the kids I met had a set of parents, so when I was four or five, I was struck by the oddness that not everyone had two parents. I never asked my friend why he didn’t have a father. Even then, I was conscious of the fact that I should not ask such questions of a person unless they brought the subject up.

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Originally Published: February 11th, 2019