Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 2, 2018

Paul Pines (1941-2018): the death of a poet and a friend

Filed under: literature,obituary,Paul Pines — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

Yesterday I was saddened to learn that Paul Pines died after a two-year struggle to fight off lung cancer, including the use of immunotherapy that can have painful side-effects. He was 77 years old and determined to return to a normal life, including a visit to New York for a poetry reading.

I considered Paul to be one of America’s most outstanding poets as well as a friend. He was one of the few whose roots were in the great new poetry of the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance that played an important part in the lives of young people in the late 50s and early 60s. Like Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and any number of other new poets who eschewed the academy, Paul’s work came out of his lived experience as a fisherman, jazz club owner, merchant seaman and teenage juvenile delinquent.

I met Paul in 1961 when I was a puerile 16-year old freshman at Bard College. Paul was self-assured and relaxed, having transferred to Bard from some other school that was less congenial to a rebel like him. I have vivid memories playing ping-pong with Paul and Chevy Chase, who along with their good friend Kenny Shapiro of Groove Tube fame, were the best players on campus.

Paul struck quite an image on campus with a hairdo like those worn by the cast of “Grease”, well-developed biceps, tight black t-shirts, black motorcycle boots, and an unfiltered cigarette in the corner of his mouth. (I can’t help but think his chain smoking might have sealed his fate many years later.) I was always a little bit intimidated by Paul even though his general manner was at odds with his tough guy appearance. In fact, beneath the appearance was just another young person trying to develop a more spiritual side in a period when materialism was in the driver’s seat. The best thing you could have said about Bard College back then was its providing a nurturing environment for future poets and even a Marxist like me.

A year after Paul arrived, his brother Claude transferred to Bard as well. I couldn’t characterize my relationship with Paul back then as much more than an acquaintance but from the minute I met Claude, I knew that this was someone I really wanted to bond with. Claude was gentle, self-effacing, and wise beyond his years. After having lost touch with just about all my classmates, I tried to use the Internet to see if I could find any traces.

Some time in the early 2000s, I learned that Claude had been stricken with schizophrenia relatively late in life and was living in upstate New York, not far from where Paul was working as a psychotherapist and conducting writers workshops at a local college. I thought long and hard about getting in touch with Claude but lost my nerve after realizing that it would be a strain on me emotionally since my own brother had committed suicide after a psychotic break in the early 70s.

I continued to keep track of Claude through Internet searches until I was stunned to discover that he died of leukemia in 2006. After writing a tribute to him on my blog, Paul showed up to offer a comment:

Touching piece, Louis. Your observations are deceptively political in the fundamental meaning of that word as Aristotle meant it when he called man a “political animal.” By which I understand an animal connected to others of his kind by common interests and experiences that sometimes rises to the level of sympathy, the ability to feel with another. Your reflections on what mental illness can do, and does to many who a moment ago felt they had a unique destiny is in this sense profoundly political. In Claude’s case, his suffering was punctuated by laughter, and the wisdom that blossomed from his struggle with a mind that he found he could not trust. He learned, instead, to trust his heart. I also very much liked your piece on Barney Ross.

This comment, like everything Paul ever wrote, was suffused with a kind of humanism that has largely vanished from our world today. That led to a friendship with Paul that like many in recent years was mostly sustained in cyberspace. While staying in touch with Paul was a way for me to remember his younger brother, it also led to an ongoing commitment to tell my readers about each new book he wrote, including a powerful memoir titled “My Brother’s Madness”.

Just by coincidence, Paul was putting the final touches on the book when his brother died. It is a wonderful book that touches upon his struggles to provide emotional support for Claude as well as the world they lived in growing up in Brooklyn. When I came across the following paragraph, I got a better idea of how he developed his “look”:

Growing up a few blocks from Ebbets Field, Paul Pines was a true child of the 1950s, which was much more about looking tough than sensitive. This was especially true when you had to fend off rival gangs of Irish or Italian youths. As a perpetual truant and an unsuccessful car thief, Paul fit right into the neighborhood as this encounter with his high school principal would indicate:

We sit in straight back chairs. Bullethead [a nickname for the principal] tells us that he has been a cop and a trolley-car conductor and understands boys in motorcycle boots with ducks-ass hair welded in place by Dixie Peach. There are quite a few of us walking up Flatbush to Church Avenue every morning to the walled fortress spanning several blocks. Erasmus boils over with students in two overlapping sessions, out of which a small stream of elite students are siphoned off from the raging river of Irish Lords, Pig Town Tigers, Gremlins, and Chaplains into the top tier. I fall into the lower one, a Blackboard Jungle minus Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. Three days a week I take in the triple-feature cowboy movies at the Majestic Theater on Fulton Street instead of going to school.

Paul thought of himself as a budding gangster, fed by fantasies inspired by the pulp fiction of Mickey Spillane and Harold Robbins. After his father sent him off to Cherry Lawn, a progressive private school in Connecticut, he still saw himself as a rebel without a cause, but one with roots in Lord Byron as well as the mean streets of Brooklyn. After reading Freud, he discovers that being able to use his mind fills him with elation. “I am a wet chick burst from its shell.”

Besides our email exchanges, I always took advantage of Paul’s occasional poetry readings in New York to chat with him and his beautiful and brainy wife. I also met their talented and beautiful daughter at a gallery exhibit for the photography of Josephine Sacabo, the wife of Dalt Wonk. Josephine and Dalt were very close to Paul and I am sure that they are grieving his death as if he was a family member. In our in-person chats, Paul always expressed a joie de vivre that was nourished by his family ties and the confidence that his poetry was written for the ages and would certainly outlive him.

I have tagged my five reviews of Paul’s books here. I invite you to read them and better yet to buy his books since you will not find better poetry being written today.

Paul Pines website


  1. Thanks, Louis, for introducing me to Paul Pines, and particularly your comment that “…everything Paul ever wrote was sufused with a kind of humanism that has largely vanished from our world today.”
    Let us hope that by seeking out others with that humanism and joining our common political interests it will not vanish completely.
    Robert Laine, Llifén, Chile

    Comment by Robert Laine — July 2, 2018 @ 8:49 pm

  2. Big bad commie: Now you are afraid to tag this entry with “bard college” ?

    Are you a flacid keyboard activist by day and lazy, and weak-willed, nostalgic romantic by night (er, early evening: Filed under: literature,obituary,Paul Pines — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm )

    Facts about Botshitstein’s Bard College freaking you out a bit, with all the publicly documented news reports supplied in a previous comments section tagged #bard college?

    Your old codger rhetoric is facile and weak compared to the potent, vivid, contemporary facts presented about your lovely All-mud Mater.

    Nothing more pathetic than a geriatric deep believer in their own sense of distorted reality.

    You have plenty in common with the underlying nakedness of Bard College’s star-fucker mentality: You too invoke the name of a has-been, coked-up, racist asshole like Chevy Chase in order to claim some measure of value in your unremarkable, narcissistic memories as an undergraduate in pre-Botstein Bard College.

    Now your attachment to this failing institution of “higher” learning is beyond hypocritical in that you have made the inference that you do not give a shit about your younger fellow Alumni so long as you can claim some absolutist moral high ground vis-a-vis how the Board of Trustees permits Leon to bankrupt the college, with no plans for a smooth succession when, if, Leon goes bye-bye, in any form.

    You don’t care about the evidence presented that Leon has created and maintains, with the Trustees’ blessing, an environment cultivating psychosis, depression, criminality, and ultimately violence in the youth it is supposed to educate and serve.

    So long as you look the other way, your hypocrisy is open for scrutiny.

    Comment by Comb-Over-Creep-Watcher — July 3, 2018 @ 10:06 pm

  3. Comb-over, you have anger management problems. You should look into medication.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 3, 2018 @ 11:27 pm

  4. That is a hostile, or angry remark you’ve shared with the world Louis.

    You’re providing some pseudo-medical advice now, in addition to being a denier of reality – you must be a delusional psychotic who attended an undergraduate college that enabled and encouraged your unbridled narcissism, as developed and nurtured by your mother.

    You should up your current medication dosages and consider electro-shock therapy for your depression. Perhaps a re-education camp in Siberia might do the trick for your condition?

    “Unrepentant Marxist” seems to have attachment issues to failed ideologies.

    Since you won’t address relevant criticism of your hypocritical, moral cowardice, you choose the refuge of a weak, infertile, flacid, fool: Attack your critic with generic inferences to mental instability.

    Well, the previous list of documented, public published news articles regarding your fellow Bard College Alumni does not add to your obsessive, fantastical relationship with your own personal experiences in Annandale over 50 years ago.

    Isn’t that too bad for an old, unimportant, delusional commie?

    Confronted with his personal issues of pride he feels wounded, and lashes out, like a wounded beast. You seem angry, and depressed.

    Sticking to a lost cause can do that to a hardened narcissist such as yourself Louis. It must be a daily life challenge for you to acknowledge how little your beliefs are relevant to today’s world? How you live in the past as the present whisks past you into your dark-holed future.

    Criticisms of your hypocrisy does not provide you with a justification to respond with a cheap remark, unless that’s the best you can deliver, given your historically documented attachment to your class peers at the expense of recognizing what your younger fellow Alumni have been experiencing under your alleged enemy’s (Leon Botstein) tutelage. Leon’s your foe so long as you aren’t personally offended, eh? You love reminiscing about Chevy Chase? Do you think he even remembers you and ping-pong, and yet, somehow, Chevy’s life never demonstrated a commonality to a hardened communist true believer as yourself? Tu ne crois pas?

    Comment by Comb-Over-Creep-Watcher — July 6, 2018 @ 12:07 am

  5. Comb-over, it is not just anger management you are dealing with. You obviously have some kind of obsessive disorder. Get help.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 6, 2018 @ 12:13 am

  6. Congratulations on your appreciation and support of Pines. I’m going up to Glenn’s Falls this weekend for a memorial. I asked Carol if you were coming. But apparently not. Sorry, you belong there. And I would have loved to see you. W.

    Comment by Dalt Wonk — August 7, 2018 @ 6:36 pm

  7. Beautiful. Paul was a Renaissance man. Gifted with Brooklyn Yiddishkeit overflowing with Moxy. I never had a father, but if I did I imagined him to be like Paul. Paul was therapist and family therapist. I was married 25 years, divorced 14 and now engaged again and about to marry my former wife Chantal. Paul would approve. He would say, you did it! You found inner peace and conquered your own existential demons. Yes- he would joyfully approve. I loved him and still do through the ether. My friend and mentor too. Gratefully to have encountered this incredible man. Jason Kurchner

    Comment by Jason Kurchner — March 2, 2022 @ 9:01 am

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