"JULIA VINOGRADS POETRY
PUTS TRUTH IN OUR LIES!"
by Judy Jones
"Wanna buy one of my books?'
"Uh er, well let me think about it"
"Only three bucks"
Julia Vinograd sounded more like
a carnival barker than a poet whose
published 48 books of her poetry.
She is "The Berkeley Street Poet",
also known as 'The Bubble Lady".
"Yeah ok, why not. If I can't
understand it I'm not out lots of money.
Only three bucks. Your books look
pretty simple" I said flipping thru the pages.
Poetry was something for Harvard Graduates
not me. In high school we took apart
and dissected an Edgar Allen Poe poem
and were given a grade. The experience
was so disgusting I avoided poetry ever since.
Julia Vinograds poetry changed all that.
made me feel. Yup, her poems made me
feel and feeling made sense. Getting a
grade for dissecting an Edgar Allen Poe
In fact 'feeling' made me want to read
more poetry. Julias poems turn me on.
Me a simple minded right brained artist
turned on by poetry! And its because
of her poems. She writes for the people,
A new door opened in my mind and
I now considered myself 'refined'.
I enjoyed the luxury of verse.
Since I lived around the corner from
the Cafe Mediterranian on Telegraph
Avenue in Berkeley where Julia Vinograd
hangs her hat, over the next couple years
I ran into her often. I would see her draggin'
her crippled leg up steep bus steps that are
hard for even the most able bodied person,
moreless one in braces .
Cruel bus drivers demanded 'Show me
your bus pass!' before Julia even had
a chance to reach the top of the steps!
I learned never to say hello to Julia.
She didn't say 'Hi' back...instead..
"Wanna buy one of my books?"
Mostly I did, but never had money
being a starving painter.
Julia is the most single focused artist I
have ever met. Driven.. And her focus
is on one thing, her poetry. Like she has
a 1000 watt light bulb inside her turned
up to high and the rest of us are operating
on 50-75 watts max.
"The Stripdown Journey to God",
that's what I call our lives and
Julia Vinograd is three fourths 'Bare'.
Asking Julia if she would be interviewed for
Her reply was:
"If you buy four of my books."
"Sounds fair enough" I replied. "So it's a deal?"
"Yup" Julia answered.
"I'll email you the questions" I said.
"Nope" quipped Julia over the phone.
"I don't own a computer."
"Well" I said, "I'll snailmail them."
"Nope" Julia answered. "I don't
"Shall we meet oncemore at the
Cafe Mediterainne on Telegraph Avenue
to do the interview?" I asked.
Our last meeting was several years ago
when I invited Julia to read her poetry
at the International Arts/Music show
I was putting on at the Cafe Mediterainne.
"Ok!" Julia said excitedly. After all, the
cafe is her second home!
The following is our conversation, kinda.
I'm not good in person with people......
been called a "Social Idiot" so I confess
much of this interview came from Julia's
eighteen page autobiography she graciously lent me.
"Julia you are a shining example of
a woman whose thrown away
her 'Eyelash Curler' and 'High Heels'
(well your brace took care of the heels huh).
But you are everything I have wanted to
become and more."
"How have you ignored Societies pleas of
"Marry, Spit out Babies, Cook, Clean and
Spit out More Babies?"
"I can't even take care of a fish.
But I do love children, I really do."
"You've given birth to 48 books of
poetry which will live much longer than
any children, been in several anthologies,
and have three CD's of verse out in the world."
"Yeah, I've been busy."
Photo of Julia's parents
"Were your parents artists?"
"My Mother wrote poetry but expected
me to write the strong wry understated
style where you don't know your throat's
until you have trouble buttoning your collar.
She had the beginnings of Multiple Sclerosis
and one day my Mother stopped dying."
"She was in a convalescent home and
every six months they would call my sister
and I to tell us to rush out and say goodbye
to our Mother."
"We got on the plane and by the time
we arrived she would drift off
and in the morning would be better."
"For ten years this went on. I jumped
everytime the phone rang. Even bought
a candle at the flea market in the shape of
an old fashioned telephone and stuck pins in it."
"Julia why do you limp?"
Photo of Julia Vinograd as young girl
"Had polio as a child and had an operation.
The legs are different lengths."
"Also had grandmal epileptic seizures for
about fifteen years and managed not to think
about it. Now I'm on medication that controls
"The epilepsy kept me from experimenting
with drugs and the polio got me on ssi for
fifteen years like most of the street people
I write about."
"And your Father?"
"He was a professor of biochemistry
at Caltech. I saw him mostly at breakfast
when he talked centrifuges, recombinant
DNA and late at night when we would raid
"My sister Debbie who is seven years
younger than me. She is a painter and
we live close by each other. We talk
on the phone everyday..I read her my
new poems and go see her latest paintings.
She and her boyfriend are a stable place
in my life and I use her drawings in my books."
Photo of 'Grandpa Ben' Julias Grandfather
"Julia why do you write poetry?"
"Nothing is real to me until I write
about it. My life hurts or glows but its
only a jumble until I shape it with words."
"Grandpa Ben, Mother's father was the most
important member of our family. And it was
his bookcase that got me hooked on books.
I was forbidden to touch it. His bookcase
had a tall glass front and was kept locked up."
"So I waited till everyone was asleep and
stood on a chair that always creaked and
threatened to tip over and stole the key
from a candy dish on top of the bookcase
and took a book to bed. Most of the pages
hadn't been cut, so I took a knife as well."
"I remember the fierce possessive feeling
of slicing the pages. These were virgin books.
I was going where no reader had gone before.
I haven't changed much."
" I eat and stain the pages, break the spine,
do everything we were warned against. I started
out my reading career as a rapist with a knife,
and if I take a book to bed with me it remembers
my name in the morning."
"For quite a while I didn't even like the
idea that books had authors. Me and all
those characters were so close it seemed
an intrusion for someone I'd never met
to have seen them first."
Who are your favorite poets?
"In high school I discovered Yeats and
spent a year writing bad imitations."
"Theres nothing so dangerous as a great poet..
I knew even then my own voice would be
very different but I wanted that lush music
inside me against the dry seasons. I was like a
python swallowing a harp."
"How did you wind up in Berkeley?"
"Since my mother had been a college
English professor it was vaguely assumed
I'd be one too. I went to UC Berkeley and
got arrested in the Free Speech Movement."
"I wanted a voice of my own. I never did
get a voice from poetry. My voice came
from what I needed to say and it came out
"I got my BA from there and went to
Iowa Writer's Workshop for a Masters
of Fine Arts."
"When did you return to Berkeley Julia?"
1967 and the world had changed. When
I left girls looked like secretaries and the
boys like law clerks. Now everyone had
long hair, bare feet, and bright clothing.
I was in total culture shock and wanted to
write down everything I saw."
"Didn't Cody's Book store publish some
of your first books?"
My first book was put out by
Oynez press and my second was a
chapbook put out by Fred Cody of
Codys Book Store.
I rescued my book from the elegant
mortuary of the poetry section in the
bookstore and sold it on the street and
in coffee shops. I sold 3,500 copies."
"I thought avoiding failure meant success..
took years for me to learn if you don't
expect to crash and burn sometimes you'll
never set the world on fire."
"Often people would buy one of my
books just to make me go away and later
come back and ask me; "Are you sure
this is poetry?" "I actually liked it!"
"People that hate poetry liked my books.
My shorter poems began appearing on
bathroom walls all over Berkeley."
"Julia how did you become
known as "The Bubblelady"?
Peoples Park. There was going
to be a riot there but I'm a pacificist
and didn't want to throw stones but
was angry and wanted to throw something.
So I brought two bags filled with bottles
of bubbles and started blowin' em'!
"Two cops came up and asked if they
could blow some and we sat together
blowing bubbles. I started carrying
bubbles everywhere and when I blew
them people would get so happy."
"And thus I became known as
"The Bubble Lady" making me an
honorary street person."
"Julia thank you for writing the words I can't."
Following are four of her poems and
the epitaph Julia Vinograd wrote for herself.
My Own Epitaph, Which I better Write
Because I Know Too Many Poets
When I am dead,
please don't say nice things about me.
I wasn't tall and thin and friendly.
I was short and fat
and I stuttered between silences.
I was me, please don't remember
someone you would rather've known.
Don't just remember the poems I wrote
remember the inconvenient rides I begged
and I always seemed to have a cold
and I was me.
Every one of my toes were mine,
please don't remember someone else's toes.
I often went to the flea market
and bought things that reminded me of me.
I liked mangos, roast beef and science fiction.
Don't just say I was a good listener,
add that you sometimes wondered why.
Don't make me a one dimensional nice
with a tragic story or two
like everyone else.
I wasn't everyone else.
I carried a me black purse
and wore a me black dress
and I had a bad leg so I was usually looking
for a place to sit down.
I didn't smoke or drink or sleep around
and I was too shy
to be a fascinating conversationalist,
but I was very me.
Remember my ringed fingers,
my dirty fingernails,
my mouth playing tennis on the telephone,
the way my leg brace squeaked
when I went up to the microphone
to read a poem.
It was me the sun shone on.
It was me who escaped the suburb
and blew soap bubbles on the street.
It was me whose parents died.
WORLD TRADE CENTER
I am an old woman in a black dress
kneeling in the ruins, clutching my shoulders,
teeth clenched and lips drawn back in a snarl,
rocking back and forth in grief and rage.
I need to tear out my enemy's throat.
The taste of his lifeblood is better than strawberries.
I am kneeling in the ruins of Byzantium.
I am kneeling in the ruins of New York.
I am saying the names of my dead children
over and over, as if they were silver bullets
to shoot at God's smile,
but I want to kill my enemy's children
more than I want my own children back..
My face is twisted and strong.
People in uniforms want me to stand up
and get out of their way. I ignore them.
The sky's a pillar of smoke above me.
There's a pillar of fire raging inside me.
I clench my shaking old hands into fists.
I need to squeeze my enemy's throat
more than I need to hold lmy lover in the sweet and warm.
His body's in front of me, squashed to a bloody pulp
with fallen metal.
Somebody takes our picture.
I am kneeling in the ruins of Jerusalem.
I am kneeling in the ruins of Ireland.
I am kneeling in the ruins of New York.
I am kneeling in the runis of Stonehenge
that was a city once.
This was a world once
and I was human once but I've forgotten it.
I walk on bloody feet thru war.
Drying soldiers kneel to me
and I smile.
THE HOMELESS ARE OUR DIRTY UNDERWEAR
We've got to get the tired men
pushing broken shopping carts,
the waddling bag ladies
with plastic flowered raincoats,
and the skinny young kids sparechanging dogfood
for their dog and all her nuzzling puppies
off the street.
Off the street before the bombs fall.
I can't explain the connection
but I remember:
"Suppose you were run over by a truck
and when they undressed you in the morgue
and you were wearing that dirty underwear
in front of everyone
wouldn't you just die of shame?"
So when the bombs fall
everyone must be wearing clean underwear,
good clothes, looking well fed
and happily married in houses with gardens
and swings for the children
even when it isn't true,
hell, especially when it isn't true.
It's a matter of patriotism.
We have to suffer to look good enough for death,
like dressing for a job.
The homeless weren't American enough to live
and they're certainly not American enough to die.
They're such an embarrassment.
Suppose the world ends
and there's still broken shopping carts
in ruined cities?
Suppose the broken shopping carts never
BREAST CANCER SCARE
Kaiser left several messages on my answering machine.
It had been too many years since my last mammogram.
They told me how lucky I was
to be offered yearly mammograms
on their wonderful plan
and they bullied me into an appointment
I finally went, mainly to stop the messages.
The woman who did the mammogram positively chirped
while her big steel machines beat up my breasts
in ways a man could get arrested for.
2 days later I got a call.
They'd found something.
Maybe a cyst, maybe not.
I should come right back to wonderful them
and they'd do an ultrasound.
They'd get me an appointment that afternoon.
That afternoon? This was Kaiser.
I must be dead.
The living wait at least 2 days.
I freaked. I called a friend
who told me what to expect
and tried to calm me down.
I got the ultrasound. It was Friday.
they couldn't show it to the radiologist till Monday.
She'd get in touch with my regular doctor,
I'd probably hear by Wednesday,
have a nice day.
I went home.
Since I was dead I got myself a huge slab
of bittersweet chocolate,
but it tasted like cardboard.
The phone rang. It was the radiologist
and thought she'd better call me first.
I should come back in 6 months as a formality
but my chart looked benign
and I should also ignore a scare letter I'd get.
When she hung up I started breathing
and the air tasted better than chocolate.
I had my breasts back.
I pulled the shades, stripped to the waist
and closed my eyes.
Everyone, from the red-haired by
who wouldn't talk to me in grade school,
to Mick Jagger, to the young Brando play Stanley
and to Bela Lugosi in his dracula fangs
grabbed my breasts, bit them, sucked and played,
tweaked and kissed them until I moaned.
They held me. I held me.
I'm old. My breast sag.
But their mine again, mine.
I'M A JEW
(after the attack on the Jewish Community Center)
A man on tv said
he wants me dead;
I've never seen him before.
He shot children to set an example,
just a sample,
he wants others to kill more.
Newsmen measure his hate,
roll it thin and test its weight;
they're going to bake a pie
not for apples.
Pre-heat the ovens.
Click on link below to veiw Julia's
"Berkeley Lifetime Achievement Award"
1630 University Avenue, #34
Berkeley, CA 94703 U.S.A.
(510) 843.8496 Telephone
The Bones of the Homeless
by Judy Jones
Ode to Janis Joplin
by Judy Jones
Ray Charles bass player Curtis Ohlson
recorded Judy Jones poems on cd
Featurning Julia Vinograd