When I was at Dracut High School in the Merrimack River Valley of northeast Massachusetts in the early 1970s, one of the history teachers, Rita Jensen, told my friend Paul Brouillette and me that we should check out a writer she grew up with in nearby Lawrence, Raymond Mungo. We didn't know the name, but followed up. We found a young guy who had been busy, a kindred cultural spirit from a similar background who went from a mill city downriver to Boston University to the depths and heights of the swirling Sixties, putting himself in the flow of history. I see Raymond in the literary stream of the bioregion of the Merrimack and Concord rivers---in the company of Anne Bradstreet, Henry Thoreau, J. G. Whittier, Lucy Larcom, Robert Frost, and Jack Kerouac, to take the list up to the Sixties. He's not as well known as the familiar names above, but we know that what he did and what he wrote will endure. His memoirs are classics of their time. Today the area is full of writers, which would probably please Ray.
The first half of 2018 has been a non-stop "Time Tunnel" with people and the media revisiting the tumult and change 50 years ago. The Vietnam War blowing up, President Johnson declining to seek his party's nomination, Eugene McCarthy's political revolt, Black Power at Howard University and protests at Columbia University, Paris riots, Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder and Robert F. Kennedy's murder, then later in the year Juan Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists at the Olympics in Mexico City, The Beatles' "White Album," Nixon's election to the presidency, Apollo 8 orbiting the moon---and take a breath. In the midst of all this news and disruption, Raymond Mungo and his friends got their voices and their bodies in the way, as Congressman John Lewis says we all should do when the time calls for nothing less.
Along the road, Raymond wrote memoirs ("Famous Long Ago," "Total Loss Farm"), novels, advice books, nonfiction volumes, and stayed true to his writing life. Years later he moved into counseling and social work, helping people with AIDS and mental health challenges. He has been living in California for a long time. I met Ray many years ago when I brought him to UMass Lowell as a guest speaker. Out the blue this week I got an email message from him (sent to a list of folks) in which he recommended seeing the new film about Fred Rogers of "Mr Rogers' Neighborhood." Ray praised the humanity in the story.
Here's how the Raymond Mungo Papers page of the UMass Amherst Libraries website begins: "Born in a "howling blizzard" in February 1946, Raymond Mungo became one of the most evocative writers of the 1960s counterculture. Through more than fifteen books and hundreds of articles, Mungo has brought a wry sense of humor and radical sensibility to explorations of the minds and experiences of the generation that came of age against a backdrop of the struggles for civil rights and economic justice, of student revolts, Black Power, resistance to war, and experimentation in communal living. Raised in a working class family in Lawrence, Mass., and a product of Roman Catholic schools, Mungo emerged as a fully-fledged radical as an undergraduate at Boston University. . . ." (Visit the Libraries' website to see a complete list of the items in the Mungo Papers, including photographs).
Late last year when the Sixties look-back was in high gear, I asked Raymond's longtime friend Verandah Porche of Vermont if she had a piece of writing about Ray that I could integrate into something I was planning to write. Verandah is a poet and member of the select-board in Guilford, Vt. I met her years ago through a mutual friend. She sent me a poem that she had written for Ray's birthday and said I could share it. Here it is.
Raymond A. Mungo
In my bland tan Clime I conjure you,
My old Gay Flame, mutable as Fire,
Starry as Frost, unforced as Narcissus
Who wants to rise. Sweet as Fruit
jarred for the Cold. I break the Seal
to salute you.
“The Universe is Discipline
Enough,” our dashing Stranger swore.
We'd flown, footloose Utopians,
Across an Ocean of Rapport
To Feast upon Antiquity
And Misbehave in borrowed beds.
The Mother of Necessity
Invented Life that broke like Bread
Now Decades jut between our arms
And Mountains elbow us apart.
My Hearth is still the Heirloom Farm--
The Metaphor we took to Heart.
The Monarch and the Hummingbird
Commute between our flowery Lots.
Migration is their Wingèd Word.
What Constellations call the Shots?
Let Night preserve our Souvenirs
As Stars shell out their Solitaires.
We'll catch their Drift in random Years,
To root and wander, Light on Air.