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Houghton Piker, Founder of Asinine Poetry, Dies at 77

December 15, 2009 - by Catty Marlboro

Houghton Piker, Founder of Asinine Poetry, Dies at 77
By UPTOWN SINCLAIR, reprinted from the NEW YORK TIMES without permission

Published: December 14, 2009

A clown's laughter has ceased.

Houghton Piker, the prolific and populist poet who founded Asinine Poetry, a literary journal that carved out and fiercely held on to a deservedly ignored niche of verse, died in Brooklyn on Monday. He was 77.

A long-time sufferer of anusitis, Piker was enjoying a brief convalescence when he went out to shop for materials to make crab cakes and was hit by a bus.

“Did beauty kill the beast? No, twas, the B61 doing 55,” said longtime colleague Richard Cairo, one of the editors of AsininePoetry.com. Cairo added, “At least we can say he beat the big itch. It didn’t beat him.”

Said Catty Marlboro, news editor at AsininePoetry.com, “There were a lot of celebrity deaths this year, and Piker could never resist being in on a trend. Except for pants-wearing. That never caught on with him.”

Indeed, it was one of Mr. Piker’s final requests that he be cremated sans trousers.

Mr. Piker (whose first name, he once wrote Ms. Marlboro, was pronounced, ”Not ‘WHOO-ten,’ but rather ‘HOAT-en,’ stressing ‘HOAT,’ which rhymes with ‘boat,’ with an unreleased ‘t,’ followed by unstressed ‘n,”’) was an old-fashioned man of letters — writer, editor, publisher, teacher, boozer, and cad — with a wide range of knowledge and interests. He was a busy glancer at of publications from The New York Review of Books to OK!, and he is said to have even finished reading entire articles.

His own works were ambitious and idiosyncratic, addressing such topics as Christian myths, bestiality, and cross-dressing. He wrote about Jesus Christ and St. Valentine, but also Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart. He wrote admiringly of Jenna Jameson, Soupy Sales, and himself, finding in all of them a motivating sense of joy that made their otherwise disparate work comparably brilliant.

His self-published books included the collection of essays, In Stultos Versus, composed entirely on toilet paper, which argued that artistic creativity is a performance, a self-aware exercise of self-expression in which artists should attempt to liberate themselves from the cultural, moral, political, and psychological strictures of the expectations of other artists; and critical studies of Allan Sherman, Mort Sahl, and Tom Lehrer, which placed them at the forefront of American comedy, albeit for only several seconds.

“At its best,” Mr. Piker wrote of Tom Lehrer, “his writing exemplifies the kind of effort that can and needs to be made by anyone who proposes to make more than submissive sense of the world as it now is. And he’s a pisser.”

Mr. Piker, who was a longtime attendee of gratis events with free food at university campuses, founded the journal of asinine poetry in 1994.The zine evolved into a chapbook series, which evolved into a website. Altogether, the journal is an attempt — unsuccessful, by most standards — to engage both “poetry LUVers and h8ers in a convo re: hi + lo culture,” Piker wrote in a recent Tweet.

“He really believed that literature was something that could be accomplished in the shower,” said a Facebook friend, the poet Finnerton Deerfield. “He believed you could be playful and carefree and still come up with something of value. What a moron. Although a charming one with quite the liver.”

In the online journal’s pages can be found the poetry of Hal Sirowitz, Daniel Thomas Moran, and Albert Van Hoogmoed, among many others, as well as the work of the many obscure essayists and complete unknowns, including gender-studies theorist Stoney Emshwiller, literary critic Colonel Drunky Bob, and J.C., who would really rather not be labeled.

“He represented the most insignificant and useless wing of poetic endeavors of his generation and perhaps every other’s,” said U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, whose work has been rejected 752 times by AsininePoetry.com.

Houghton Asininus Piker was born in Gloucester, Mass., on July 1, 1932, into a poor “totally non-literary family,” he recalled in an interview with the Stony Book literary magazine Guttalk. His father was a fisherman, his mother a ventriloquist. After high school, he joined the Army and served in Iceland during the Korea War. Afterward, on the G.I. bill, he went to Amherst, where Robert Frost was an influential presence, giving Piker tips on local horse races. He subsequently earned an M.A. at Yale, spent time at Cambridge on a Fulbright fellowship and was awarded a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1960.

Piker repeatedly claimed to have been born in 1962. “We knew he was a bit older than he said he was,” said Ms. Marlboro. “With all the ‘skidoo’ references.”

Before founding Asinine Poetry, Mr. Piker was an editor of Creme de Gruyere Review, an avid foot wrestler, and he also edited anthologies, as well as several editions of Spectra.

Rumors have cirlated that Mr. Piker left behind plans for a complete overhaul of the AsininePoetry.com website. Editors of the journal have been reticent to comment. But Marloro did note that Piker left one last poem to be inscribed on his urn: “You may’ve love me,/and I may’ve love you/But all I’ve ever wanted/Was a quiet place to poo.”

He is survived by his wife, Martha, his older brother, Neap, a daughter, goth poet Creeley Merlot Piker, the result of a torrid affair with exotic entertainer and dealer-in-antiquities Juniper “Legs” McCorkindale, and possibly one illegitimate son, salesman Houghton Auspicious Piker, Jr., who claims to have been fathered by Piker when the poet visited Saturn in the 31st century.

1 Comment »

  1. Commodore Mendez — January 6, 2010 @ 10:35 am

    My sincerest condolences.

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