Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pasha Allsup, Poet: Sept. 27, 1943-Sept. 19, 2005

Paula Jane and I met Pasha in 2003, at a poetry reading at the old Sacred Cup coffee house in Austin, on Manor Road at Salina Street. Thom the World Poet introduced us, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'll never forget his reading that night—it was a poem called There Is No God But God, and it sent shivers down my spine, as so many of his poems did. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of it. Pasha rarely had his work appear in print, although it was better than nearly everything I read. From then on, though, after becoming his friend and feeling free to purloin, I would abscond with his copy of everything he read, so I have a small archive of his poems.

Pasha was originally from the flat earth and big sky of Amarillo, and arrived in Austin in the 80's. He was a regular at the old Chicago House, and the founding member of the Blue Plate Poets, who also included Mike Henry, Robert Lee, Marlys West, Alicia Erian, Joe Hoppe, and later Tammy Gomez. Pasha performed often at the Slam, but I believe he transcended that form and its limits; he was a terrific reader, though, and I will never forget the deftness and sensitivity and sometime ferocity of his delivery. He was an absolute original, and a poet to his core.

All the time we knew Pasha, he was dying from Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Paula Jane performed with him a number of times, at various venues, usually hosted by our friend (and local poetry impresario) George Leake. I remember one event in particular, in '03 at Quack's on Duval Street, where Paula Jane and Pasha and another friend, Steve Pressler, were all on their game and rolling, each taking turns firing off their poems in a kind of rite of celebration of poetry's joy and possibility—one of those moments when you know you're seeing something astonishing (George Leake is responsible for providing the forum for a number of those moments, and everyone who loves poetry in Austin is indebted to him—I know Pasha was, as are Paula Jane and I). It was at one of George's events that Pasha performed for the last time, late in '04, at Spider House, outside on the patio. He was wobbling quite a bit that night, and I was worried that he wouldn't make it through, but he did, as always, and he was fantastic. Hospice care came soon after, although not long before he died, he was removed from it—"Not dying fast enough," he said, with a wry smile and a laugh. The worst part was that they took his morphine away, and the pain was pretty bad, as you can imagine. The cancer was eating his bones, it had metasticized all through his body. The end came quickly, certainly too quick for me. I'd seen him about a week before, and he seemed to be rallying a bit. When I left, he got up from bed, and walked me out—he usually wasn't able to do that—and we lingered there at the door, and talked about his new guitar. As I hugged him before going, he seemed more vital than I had seen him in more that a year, and I permitted myself to hope the impossible. He gave me that smile, the one you see in the picture, and that's the last time I saw him.

In an earlier entry, I asked you to look in the eyes of another poet, and I ask you to do that again—look into Pasha's eyes, and look also at his smile. You can feel the gentleness and the humor and the light emanate from him, like a great wave of humanity, safe from the encroachments of darkness, whether it comes from people or from events or from motherfucking Non-Hodgkins stage 4 lymphoma. It is the light of our being, it is the kindness we are capable of being, and the good we can find in ordinary things, if we will just see it.

That's what I see, anyway...


  1. pretty nice account--I can't recall when the last time I saw Pasha, either at that Spider House reading, or that time we gathered at his place so we could all discuss each other's work

    one further comment here--Pasha drove Danny crazy--really Pasha was kind of the last straw for him, but of course Danny has issues...

  2. The Spider House reading happened after we all met at Pasha's—remember, that's when he was living over on Houston Street. The last 2 years, he lived other side of the Arboretum, just off Amherst. If you'll remember, we all met at Spider House once after that, and before the Spider House reading—you, me, Pasha, Steve, and Paula Jane. I still have the poems Pasha read from all 3 occasions—swiped em like a pro.

    No, I didn't know Danny had a problem with Pasha. he never told me that. I do, though, remember Steve going apeshit on Danny after that Spiderhouse reading. Something about being tired of Danny's profanity or something, remember? And yes, Danny had many, many issues...but I miss the bastard...

  3. thanks for writing this, Nick. was just looking around online for a photo of Pasha (to include in my DDLM--Dia de Los Muertos--commemorative ofrenda), when i happened upon this blogpost. thanks for sharing your memories; love your descriptions of Pasha. and also share your lingering fondness for him/his work.