Monday, December 19, 2011

Remembering a Great Storyteller

Richard Leck (February 17, 1933 – December 19, 2008)

Today we remember Richard Leck, who died peacefully on this date three years ago. Richard was a poet and a storyteller, an Army veteran from between wars, a Hudson County native (where he lived for over four decades), a resident of the East Village, and a veteran of the Greenwich Village café scene of the 1960s.

I met Richard when I was working at St Mark’s Bookshop and we quickly became friends due to his being such an entertaining customer. For the last two years of his life, we were collaborating on his memoirs (JUMPED, FELL, OR WAS PUSHED, still in progress), which he described as “comedy sociology.” Our writing project was a happy accident for each of us. Richard was waiting for someone to listen to all his stories and I was waiting for someone to tell me what had gone down in Jersey City (the city of my grandfather’s childhood) in the early part of the 20th Century. Whenever Richard talked, I took notes, and soon we decided to stop calling it “having coffee” and start calling it “writing a book.” I am hugely grateful for all that Richard and his stories taught me: How to listen, how to appreciate what you have, how to stay young and grow old gracefully, how to survive the rough patches with humor, how to figure out what's important and ignore the rest, how to forgive your own past, and especially how to tell stories. I learned more from absorbing his storytelling rhythm for two years that I ever would in any MFA writing program. Hell, maybe Richard Leck WAS my MFA program.

Richard was a very funny man. His literary memorial service had us all laughing like the best Irish wakes always do. Some small press superstars joined Words Like Kudzu Press to read from Richard’s stories and poems for the memorial, held at the Bowery Poetry Club in May 2009. Participants included Margarita Shalina (small press buyer at St Mark’s Bookshop and translator of Chekov’s The Duel, Melville House Press); writer Brian Cogan (Encyclopedia of Punk); novelist Arthur Nersesian (Akashic Books); poet Bob Holman (founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, poetry activist); poet Jackie Sheeler (Earthquake Came to Harlem, NYQ Books); poet Steve Dalachinsky (The Final Nite & Other Poems, Ugly Duckling Presse); writer Mike Faloon (The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock on Gorsky Press and editor of Go Metric Zine); and storyteller Tom Hendrickson (Whack & Blight Press).

Follow this link to listen to the readings from Richard’s memoirs and his poems:

Follow this link to read an excerpt from Richard’s memoirs:
"You Could Make a Bet on a Street Corner as Easy as Buying a Newspaper"
Go Metric Zine

Read the Village Voice appreciation of Richard Leck here:

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