The captain gives a reading

Posted on January 25, 2007


By Greg Keeler

During his teaching residency in the spring of ’82, Richard had volunteered to give a reading as part of his job. I was a little nervous about it because few of the faculty seemed to care much about Richard’s poetry and much of the Bozeman community in general seemed about as interested in poetry as they would be in a cinder block. I was somehow hoping that students or some local organization would publicize the event, so, shortly before the reading, when he asked who was doing the publicity and I said I didn’t know, he blew a gasket.

“Some agent you’d make,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I’m a horrible agent. I don’t even know what an agent does.”

“Obviously. Well, it’s not too late. Let’s go get the posters and put them up. I can’t believe I’m going to have to do this myself.”


“Yes, the posters.”

“What posters?”

“What the fuck kind of place is this?”

“It’s a state university in Montana.”

So somehow we made up some posters and dashed, or I should say hobbled and lurched, madly around campus and Bozeman in general, putting them up in store windows and on poles, trees and bulletin boards. It was a pretty primitive pre-computer poster as I remember, what with its hand-scrawled letters, ditto paper, etc. I was pretty worried that just a few huddled liberals and coerced students would show up and groan knowingly or sulk after each poem as happened at other infrequent readings.

When we drove, hobbled and lurched out to the new shopping mall on the west end of town, I had a sense of impending doom and futility. Especially when we entered the B. Dalton’s to put up a poster and the clerk hadn’t heard of his work.

“Do you have any of Richard Brautigan’s work?” said Richard.

“What does he write?” said the clerk.

“He writes novels and books of poetry.” Richard’s mouth was assuming an odd shape under his moustache.

“What kind of novels?” said the clerk.

“Famous ones, you know, like great literature,” said Richard without moving his mouth very much because his teeth were gritted.

“Our literary works are over there, and our poetry section is over there,” said the clerk, pointing first to a large part of the wall near us then to a tiny clump of books in the back of the store.

“Thank you,” gritted Richard.

Soon we had scoured both sections and found one book, The Hawkline Monster, in the whole store, so the Captain returned to the clerk while I hung back.

“I would like to give you a little lesson in capitalism,” said Richard.

“You would find that in our business section,” said the clerk.

“I am Richard Brautigan,” said Richard. “I write novels and books of poetry. People like them. When stores stock them, people buy them. You only have one of my books because people bought the rest of them. But you do not stock more of them. That is how book stores make money. People come to them to buy books, and in return, they give the book stores money. DON’T YOU FUCKERS WANT TO MAKE SOME FUCKING MONEY!!!!!”

The clerk couldn’t think of anything to say back, so Richard just stared at him for a few seconds until I suggested that maybe we should find some other places to put the posters. The captain calmly agreed and we left the store.

A few days later we were standing outside of Gaines Hall, a chemistry building, and Richard was rubbing snow on his face, getting ready to go in and give his reading in the building’s main lecture hall. We had arrived at the last minute so I had no idea what awaited us, though Richard seemed fairly confident.

When we entered the place, it was packed wall to wall, all three hundred seats, with people standing in the aisles. I was amazed. A hush fell over the crowd and the captain lumbered to the podium. I stood in an entrance and glanced around the room. Even the conservative and religious Dean of Letters and Sciences who had tried to block my tenure was there. Richard started the reading with his poem ‘Fuck Me Like Fried Potato.’ Suffice it to say, my dean’s face looked a little like Richard’s face at B. Dalton’s.

Greg Keeler (left) has taught at Montana State University since 1975. He has published three books and three chapbooks of poetry, has had six plays produced, has produced ten tapes and CDs of his satirical songs, and published many articles in popular and academic magazines and journals. His acrylic paintings have been exhibited the M.S.U. Library and in galleries in and around Bozeman. He illustrated Jim Harrison’s chapbook, Livingston Suite. He met Richard Brautigan (right) in 1977 and Waltzing with the Captain is a record of that friendship.

Posted in: Essays