May 13 2011

James Broughton – Not dawdling

Published by at 8:22 am under Poetry

Not dawdling
by James Broughton

Not dawdling
not doubting
intrepid all the way
walk toward clarity
with sharp eye
With sharpened sword
clearcut the path
to the lucent surprise
of enlightenment
At every crossroad
be prepared to bump into wonder

— from Little Sermons of the Big Joy: Poems, by James Broughton

/ Photo by Nina Matthews Photography /

What to say that’s not already said?

At every crossroad
be prepared to bump into wonder

James Broughton, James Broughton poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry James Broughton

US (1913 – 1999) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat

James Broughton was a poet and experimental filmmaker associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.

He was born in Modesto, California into a wealthy family.

In his autobiography, James Broughton describes a visionary encounter while he was still a toddler:

I remember waking in the dark and hearing my parents arguing in the next room. But a more persistent sound, a kind of whirring whistle, spun a light across the ceiling. I stood up in my crib and looked into the backyard. Over a neighbor’s palm tree a pulsing headlamp came whistling directly toward me. When it had whirled right up to my window, out of its radiance stepped a naked boy. He was at least three years older than I but he looked all ages at once. He had no wings, but I knew he was angel-sent: his laughing beauty illuminated the night and his melodious voice enraptured my ears…. He insisted I would always be a poet even if I tried not to be….Despite what I might hear to the contrary the world was not a miserable prison, it was a playground for a nonstop tournament between stupidity and imagination. If I followed the game sharply enough, I could be a useful spokesman for Big Joy.

The family soon moved to San Francisco. When he was five, his father died. James was sent to military school at the age of nine. He later attended Stanford University.

In adulthood, James Broughton had both male and female lovers. He had an affair with the gay activist Harry Hay. He had two children with his wife, the artist Suzanna Hart. He also had a daughter with the well-known film critic, Pauline Kael. In his 60s, James Broughton formed a lasting relationship Joel Singer, a younger man he equated with the angel of his vision as a child. They remained together for nearly 25 years until Broughton’s death.

He is perhaps best known for his avant garde films, exploring themes of sex, death, and meaning, earning him a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute. His poetry often mixes the Beat Zen sensibilities with a playful, pranksterish quality, summed up by his phrase, “Follow your own weird.” (In modern usage, the word “weird” means “strange or odd,” but originally the word meant “fate or destiny.” I suspect he is teasing us by merging all these meanings.)

James Broughton died in 1999. His gravestone reads “Adventure — not predicament.”

More poetry by James Broughton

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