Speaking Of Poets…Pete Winslow

As far as I know, Pete Winslow never recorded his poetry, with or without a jazz group, but I played once while he read. Pete and I were in journalism school together at the University of Washington. He edited the campus humor magazine and sometimes wrote poetry for it under the pseudonym Eleanor H. Browning. He was a tall, skinny guy with short hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He often seemed to be smiling, even when he wasn’t. This badly reproduced picturePete%20Winslow.jpg from the yearbook will give you an idea of the seriousness with which he took his job as editor of Columns, the humor magazine. After graduation, Pete worked for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, I for The Seattle Times. Before long, I left for the Marine Corps. Four years later, I was a civilian again and in my first television job in Yakima, Washington, where, strangely enough, I have settled after four decades as a journalism gypsy. But I digress.
Bob Mitchell and, I both trumpet players, used to sit in at the Enchanted Gardens of the Chieftan Hotel in the heart of downtown Yakima with an all-girl trio from Los Angeles, The Three Vees. One night in 1960 or ’61 I looked into the audience from the bandstand of the Enchanted Gardens and, to my considerable surprise, saw Pete Winslow, smiling. Really smiling. When the tune ended, we had a reunion. He presented me with a copy of his first book of poetry, Whatever Happened To Pete Winslow? (Tolle House, 1960) and signed it. I asked him if he’d like to read some of his work to the Enchanted Gardens audience of cowboys, used car salesmen, secretaries and orchardists. He said he would. I cleared it with Mitch and the Three Vees–Verna, Paula and Mary Ann. They were game for anything. It was that kind of band.
We played behind him, listened closely, filled when he paused, reacted when he emphasized passages and, in general, sounded as if we had rehearsed. Pete became the sixth member of the band. It could have been a disaster, but it worked. We enjoyed it and so did the crowd. No one threw anything. Pete went on to establish something of a reputation in San Francisco’s North Beach. Although he read in coffee houses toward the end of the brief heyday of the beatniks, he never really qualified as a beat poet. Perhaps his work was too cheerful, too surrealistic I don’t remember which of his poems Pete read that night at the Chieftan. He may have included this one, which has gained a small amount of fame:

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
Is trochaic tetrameter.

Or this one:

A book of verses, underneath the Bau-
delaire, some bread, a real Guernsey cow,
mooing beside me, darling Filthy Bess – –
Ah, Filthy Bess were Mary Pickford now!
That great inverted bowl there, on the floor;
Why did I walk so quickly through the door?
Now stains and bits of cabbage spot the wall
Where moving Fingers writ the football score.
Come, spill the soup! And in the mire I sing,
You bitter varmint, waiting sentencing.
The bird of time has taught a turtle how
To stutter, and–the turtle’s stuttering!

Pete died at the age of thirty-seven of complications following surgery. He wrote a novel, Mount Gogo, which seems to have disappeared, and five volumes of poetry, none in general circulation today but all available if you look hard enough. They are Whatever Happened to Pete Winslow? The Rapist and Other Poems, Monster Cookies, Mummy Tapes and Daisy in the Memory of a Shark.
Pete was a good guy. I miss him. For more about Winslow, see this article at Poetry Bay.
During those Enchanted Gardens days, Bobby Mitchell had a part-time job as a garbage man; there wasn’t much steady work for jazz trumpet players in Yakima. Nor is there now. A fine player, he eventually solved the problem by getting out of town and working with Count Basie and Earl Hines. He is on several Basie CDs from the late 1970s, including this one. He is the featured soloist on this video clip of the Basie band at Montreux in 1977. Mitch died a few years ago. I miss him, too.

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