A Celebration of Gus Blaisdell
from Gloria Frym
Here's the Obit from the Albuquerque Journal, Tuesday September
BLAISDELL -- Gus Blaisdell, writer and educator, died in Albuquerque on
September 17, 2003, four days before his 68th birthday. Blaisdell created
and taught popular courses in cinema studies such as Teen Rebels and
Poetry and Radical Film for almost 25 years at The University of New
Mexico, where his work helped to establish a program and then a department
in media arts. Blaisdell also taught in the Department of Art and Art
History, and served at UNM on numerous master's degree and doctoral
committees. Previously Blaisdell had taught philosophy and mathematics for
six years at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.
Blaisdell's publications were as various as his teaching. His critical
essays addressed still photography, motion pictures, painting, and
philosophy, among other subjects, and he lectured widely in Europe and the
United States. His book with photographer Lewis Baltz entitled Park City
was published by Leo Castelli Gallery of New York City in 1981; the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art published his monograph on painter Guy Williams
the following year. A former student of literary critic Yvor Winters at
Stanford University, Blaisdell also composed books of poetry and fiction,
including Fractionally Awake Monad, Prose Ocean, and Dented Fenders,
all in the 1970s.
Blaisdell savored friendships with internationally renowned
figures in the arts and humanities, including Baltz, philosopher Stanley
Cavell, the writer Evan Connell, poet Robert Creeley, and art critic Max
Kozloff. Along with his teaching and writing, Blaisdell was proprietor for
many years of the Living Batch bookstore, founded by Pancho Elliston, where
Allen Ginsberg and other poets read and discussed their work amid the
Batch's legendary cornucopia of new and used books. Blaisdell also ran
Living Batch Press, publisher of handsome, spacious books of poetry and
prose by Clark Coolidge, Ronald Johnson, Geoffrey Young and others. As much
as anything, Blaisdell relished warm and witty conversation, often conducted
in the public sphere. He would meet friends, colleagues, and students in
popular Central Avenue restaurants near UNM and Nob Hill to take up sundry
topics of the day such as movies and politics. He seemed to value the raw,
theatrical space of the boulevard as much as he did the classroom, though
privacy and quiet were also essential to him. Born in San Diego, he became
an unusually visible, vital presence in Albuquerque, the city he adopted in
1964 and came to love and serve. He died of a sudden heart attack on Central
Avenue. Gus Blaisdell is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Blaisdell; his
children, Shawn, Luc and Casey Blaisdell of Albuquerque; Nicole
Blaisdell-Ivey of Bozeman, Montana; their mother, Sally Blaisdell; and his
stepdaughter, Alexandra Freedman-Smith. A memorial service will be held at
the UNM Alumni Chapel on Tuesday, September 23, at 5:30 p.m. Donations in
Blaisdell's memory can be made to the UNM Department of Media Arts to
establish the Gus Blaisdell Scholarship in Critical Writing.
from Geoffrey Young
The service was weepy and real, good speakers, mix of recorded music, packed chapel on campus, people spilling outside who couldn't fit in, and at the end, after Elizabeth invited everyone to the house (her district attorney's office had supplied her with huge quantities of catered food), the final taped music played, Sympathy for the Devil, which Gus used to love to death around 1970.....
Saw lots of old friends. Was photographed by Janet Maher at the exact spot in the alley where Gus went down (there was dirt on the spot, and a few fronds of something.... he'd been given a tracheotomy, in the effort to get air into his lungs, and some blood had spilled, which required the dirt, and therefore identified the spot... his son Luc took me there). A doctor told his children that some heart attacks of the right side kind have been known to occlude the windpipe, and so no CPR air administered by a woman who was nearby when he went down ever reached his lungs.
Jack Shoemaker may do some memorial book with samples of Gus' writings, and lots by others. Could be a fit conclusion, he was so much a man of the book.
from Janet Maher
Returned yesterday from three emotionally complex days in New Mexico which
were centered around the sudden death of my first husband, Gus Blaisdell.
There is a far-reaching vacuum that permeates Albuquerque from his passing.
Gus was a force of nature. It is fitting that the news arrived in the midst
of the hurricane that shut down Baltimore on Thursday. In the blustering wind
outside our back door, I feel as if he simultaneously said goodbye and
attempted to comfort me by drifting a leaf into my palm that rainy afternoon.
The Dali Lama was out and about during the week before and on what would have
been Gus' birthday Sunday. That, too, was fitting.
(Almost) Eighteen years older than me, it is too simple to say that I learned
much from him. My own insecurites made me leave, but we remained lightly in touch
through the years -- not enough, I realize now. He and Manny became unlikely
friends after I moved to Baltimore. Manny told me that when they'd run into
each other Gus would ask, "So, how's our girl?," and they'd compare notes,
keeping each other up to date. I wish I could have seen him more recently,
that Paul and he could have met. I wish a lot now. Wish I'd kept things I've
thrown away, kept pictures I sent back to him, wish I had asked more
questions, printed out his emails, had more time to talk in the present...
It was a great gift, nonetheless, to have been a small part of the adventure
of his life. Gus was friends with people like Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey,
Robert Creeley, Evan Connell, so many (we were married by Beat
poet-turned-Zen-priest Philip Whalen). As I told his son, Luc, while we sat in the dark in my
former garden after the memorial service: that he was so special and he chose us,
nurtured us, tormented us, brought us into him, we, by default must be
somewhat special too. That he was taken so abruptly when so many of us
assumed we could wrap things up more is too shocking, but that in itself is a message
to us about our presents and futures -- that we have to do the things, say the
things that his death is reminding us to address.
Reconnecting with Gus' kids and their mother and the friends of his whom I
had not seen in fifteen or more years was wonderful. It's disconcerting how
natural it was to slip back into our times together as if all these (so
radically different) years hadn't intervened. There are too many details to
begin to explain in this note -- just imagine about one month's worth of intense
communication with a body of specific people condensed into three days in a
place which makes one weep simply upon view from an airplane (I am not the
The memorial service was perfect. Again, too much to explain, but it ended
with a tripych of music -- Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and the Stones. "Sympathy
for the Devil" was Gus' anthem, which gives you a hint about the unique
character we celebrated, complained, and cried about. Gus is still hovering
around, I feel, making sure that everybody's ok before he completes his trip.
There are a lot of people that need to come to grips with how deep an
impression he left on us (and for some, how gaping the wounds still are). As
a group of us sat in the dark reminiscing after the memorial, I replied to a
question that Gus helped me become who I was supposed to be. I was too young,
though, at the time we were together, too inexperienced to hold my own well
or grasp fully what he was trying to offer me.
Gus was a grit that kept us irritated and challenged us as much as we could
tolerate or would allow. Some of us knew his gentleness too, and the loyalty
of his love. All of us are thankful that if it was his time, at least he got
taken quickly, did not have to suffer a long and painful disease. He was
happy, fulfilled, still at the top of his game, still brimming with energy
and ideas, still vital and strong. Our sadness is selfish, of course, and mine is
(perhaps) particularly inappropriate, being as I am in the relationship of
my life -- the epitomy of any and all that have come before. Still, there is a
hole left, even in me. I'm not entirely back yet, even though, from Baltimore,
Albuquerque seems again to be a dream.
From the Albuquerque Journal.
(correction: The Batch closed in '99, not '95)
A poem by Mark Ivey Fruit of the Loquat Tree and
a picture of Gus' Study Windowshelf to go with it.
from Chandos Michael Brown
Though I was enormously saddened to come across it, I want to thank you for the
remembrance of Gus
posted on your site. I knew Gus very well during most of the 70s, when I attended UNM
(and camped out with him in the Frontier Restaurant), and for many years afterward
regularly visited with him when my ex-wife and I returned to Albuquerque to see her family.
He was a force in nature, and my world is depleted by this knowledge of his loss.
Chandos Michael Brown
from Joy Harjo (via Nicole Blaisdell)
It doesn't surprise me that Gus Blaisdell's heart led
him out of this world. Or that he left so quickly. He
had no patience with fogginess of heart or thinking.
He wasn't one to linger needlessly in any matter. And
those who knew him saw his heart as a shining road,
and it linked exactly with his keen mind.
Simon and I stopped by the Living Batch once on our
way home, a few weeks after Rainy was born. Simon, the
proud father presented the covered baby to Gus. "Isn't
she beautiful?" Gus warned with something like: "every
parent thinks their kid is beautiful, but I've yet to
see one at this age, when they look more like naked
mice." Then he uncovered her, and gave his blessing,
"You're right," he said. "She is beautiful."
Those aren't the most profound words, nor is it the
most profound memory. We come to know people more
through their spirit than their words, though words
are conveyed by the spirit. And small moments with
each other are what build the world. And then, as now,
I look forward to our next meeting of the heart.
from Simon Ortiz (via Joy Harjo and Nicole Blaisdell)
Thank you for getting in touch with me about Gus
Blaisdell. Oh my! Not long after James Welch too. You
know, Gus was the person who told me first about Jim
Welch back in 1967, maybe even 1966. Did I ever tell
you? I was gathering poetry for that Native poetry
anthology I was doing then which would have been a
real first if it'd gotten published. Gus and I were
talking like usual, probably at Okie Joe's along with
the usual others, and I was telling him about the
anthology I was putting together. He said I ought to
includ James Welch. Who's he I asked Gus, and he told
me Jim was a poet from Montana who Richard Hugo had
taken under his wing as a student. He gave me Jim's
address in fact and I got in touch with him. And Jim
sent me Riding the Earthboy 40 in typed manuscript.
Beautiful, beautiful poetry, heartwrenching and
heartwarming at the same time. Yeah, Gus was something
else alright, a good friend and brother mostly; he was
always a fan and supporter of my work which goes back
to when he was the editor of UNM Quarterly back when.
Gosh, when was that? Mid-60's until 1968 I think. He
was the one who got me in touch with Fran
McCullough(Gus had been in the Wallace Stegner Writing
Workshop at Stanford with her, Scott Momaday, Larry
McMurtry, Ken Kesey, Thomas McGuane, Ernest Gaines,
and others) an editor at Harper and Row that resulted
in Harper taking a look at my gigantic poetry
manuscript which became Going for the Rain. I'll
always remember Gus Blaisdell as "my Cajun buddy from
Louisiana." Yeah, I'll even remember the countless
beer drinking days/times at Okies when I was supposed
to be in class! Thanks for letting me know about the
passing on of a friend and brother.
from Nicole Blaisdell
Gus and Robert Creeley in Albuquerque
from Nicole Blaisdell
Go see a great film.
Walk out of a bad one cussing semi audibly.
Get your money back or sneak into several more films
until you find at least one moment of brilliance.
Write about it.
Rave about it to others making the telling better than
the original(embellish where necessary).
Go to lunch with a different person each day for a
week.Be kind to all wait staff unless they're fucking
idiots or slow.
Expand someone's thinking...
then lecture, entertain and leave abruptly. Leave them
always wanting more.
Believe in your ideas and fuck'em if they can't take a
Be true to yourself.
Love deeply but quietly.
Champion who and what you believe in.
Embrace your life and do not be afraid.
Pet the Cats.
Appreciate art, people, ideas and books and books and
And some bad TV and really,really bad jokes.
Accept "His Total Heaviness" and brilliance.
love, love, love
from Tom Raworth
As a curiosity, here's a picture of the spot where the Blaisdell family arrived in the USA
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