He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.
Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.
I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.
My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.
Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.
The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.
It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.
something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
fine night dining,
And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:
IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A. autographing pens
strapped to hips
B. rakish hat
C. boots tooled
with female in-
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT
My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.
Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”
I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.
Your turkey neck poem reminded me of the eating scene from the movie “Tom Jones” with Albert Finny and Susannah York. Messy, but sensuous.
BTW, I’m reading this blog naked. (Just kidding, I have the AC on and too damn cold in here).
That was pretty much where I got the idea. Doing some things naked loses their appeal as we age.
Hi Elaine, Wonderful to read the different tributes to Paul. In reading yours though I do feel compelled to correct something. In fact, Paul’s outgoing poetry presence and even his persona as White Boy, all stemmed from me and our marriage. When we met, and then married in 1979, he was already a legend in Albany for his drinking escapades, but his writing was being done more quietly. I married him on the condition that he stop drinking, which thankfully he did. Once I finished my MFA at SUNY and began showing locally, I had my first NYC show called “White Girl Paintings”, in 1987-88. Paul swiped that phrase/identity from me, which I wasn’t all too pleased about at the time. He thought it was “charming”…..if I recall correctly, that we would both use it. I even did a show at Boulevard Project Space, in Albany, called “He’s Good in Bed”….installing both our work, and with a tube flowing orange paint from my side, down onto an old typewriter on the other side! There was also a video I made of us arguing about his dipping into my creative well a bit too much. Granted Paul was an amazing and creative man, but it wasn’t until he was finally sober he was able to really flourish, both in the underground press and in his social and club presence. Even his family was able to re-embrace him again once his bouts in jail and mental institutions subsided. Yes, my own career is flourishing more now, after a hiatus following our divorce in ’96, but while married to Paul I’d already participated in some major exhibitions, at Dia NYC, with Group Material, and the Bad Girls show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Things you may not have known about. I put OUR feet on the ground to launch our serious efforts of accomplishments. Cheers! Judith
Judith, thanks for the corrections. Yes, now I remember that installation, remember thinking how brave you are and how unbelievably creative. I remember seeing some of your work in the SUNY art gallery. I didn’t know you well — only as someone creative in her own right and married to a man who hogged the limelight, and I didn’t really follow your career. My late once-husband also preferred to be the one getting all of the creative attention, but he was no where near the challenge that Paul was. I only knew Paul from the time that he was married to you — only heard stories about his previous escapades. From what I can see on your web site, your style has changed considerably from that super-realism I remember in that big painting of a woman with work-weary hands. Glad to see that you are flourishing in New York City. Cheers back at ya.
Thanks Elaine. This particular White Girl/White Boy chronology matter to me.
Judith. Let’s give Paul the credit for his own creativity and brilliance. After your separation, he went back to drinking – a lot, and was still a brilliant poet and teacher and flourishing and sought after for poetry readings. Show a little respect for his accomplishments and the person he was which are his and his alone.
Also, in retrospect, Paul hated that show and the blatant implication that he was nothing but what you made him. He was his own person.
How conceited do you have to be to take credit for another person’s life’s work and accomplishments. Do not try to take what he was away from him now that he has died.
I have let Vicki’s comments appear here, but we all need to be aware that Paul’s relationships with his various wives were complex, and there are always three sides to every story. I don’t think that Judith was trying to diminish Paul’s talent and accomplishments or take credit for any of it; she was merely telling her side of the story. And that’s valid. I knew Paul and Judith during those years, and I seem to remember the tension between them that prompted Judith to leave. And Vicki, as the wife with him right until the end is trying to protect his legacy, based on the the feelings that Paul, no doubt, share with her. Someone needs to write Paul’s biography, because this truth is indeed stranger that fiction.
It’s not stranger than fiction. The only truth is that Paul wanted/needed to be loved unconditionally, stability, and a home – something he never had his whole life, and something that I and my daughter were able to give him. He was amazing, joyful, loving and gentle. He never lost that, even during his final years in the depths of Alzheimer’s. That is the long and the short of it.
And to Judith – you wrote this on the day of his funeral and then had the nerve to come and speak at it! Beyond comprehension.
No, it is not beyond comprehension. Their relationship was very different from yours. I understand Judith’s speaking at Paul’s funeral because I did the same at my ex-husband’s memorial service, even though I divorced him decades earlier. After all, there was a time when we loved each other. But sometimes love is not enough. But that doesn’t negate the good memories and shared experiences. It seems that you came into Paul’s life at a time when he most needed someone like you. How fortunate. But he did have a life before you, and it was a very different one than you were able to lead him to. That’s just the way it is.
Vicki, it is wonderful that you were able to give Paul the security, stability, and love that he never had and always sought. A marriage between two creative people is always difficult — I know because I had one of those and it didn’t last either. We were very competitive, and so I understand how the Judith-Paul partnership probably went. It seems that your relationship with Paul was very different, in that you were able to put him — and not your Muse — first. He was lucky to have found you. But you need to understand that his dynamics with other females played out differently because of who we were. You need to give Judith her due, just as you need to take yours. Different times. Different personalities.
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