Jack Mueller moved water, moved digital trillions. No less to more than a guess, Jack was the new molecule of free speech, changing worlds by changing meanings. In his life, he was many things–literary icon, poet, cultural organizer, educator and sailor. He once made a Mohave coyote eat his own shit.
He used to call me late at night, his basso profundo voice rumbling beyond an evening of cocktails, sagging the lines to rattle the small speaker in my cell phone. He’d often say something like, “I lost another tooth today. It fell, splashing into my soup,” or, “I just lost one of my front teeth.” He was always revising the details, adding notes to his portolan.
Last Thursday afternoon, April 27th, Jack Mueller, renowned poet of San Francisco, New Orleans, and the Western Slope of Colorado, died in Grand Junction, Colorado, of cancer, at the age of 74.
Here in the West, the light always seems to run out of land. Though Jack’s was no different, his flame is kept lit by the many he has touched.
“Jack Mueller is the biggest-hearted poet I have ever known,” said Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
A fixture in the ‘70s/80’s San Francisco scene, Jack could often be found holding court in the bars and cafes of North Beach. Artist Agneta Falk Hirschman reminisced on his charismatic magnetism, saying, “His presence is very much still felt here.”
In his 15-year role as the Executive Director and Chairman of The National Poetry Association, he organized thousands of readings, performances and festivals, eventually being named one of the best cultural organizers in the Bay area. Bukowski biographer and torch-keeping poet Neeli Cherkovski recalls his close friend fondly, “Jack Mueller remains a literary hero in North Beach. He Has left many influential poems to be read and treasured. He illuminated the San Francisco streets in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
Along with San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman and artist Kristen Wetterhahn, Mueller founded the Union of Street Poets in San Francisco. “He was responsible for thousands of poems reaching people in their daily goings. Jack was a true comrade and is much beloved,” said Hirschman.
In the early 2000s, Jack moved to Colorado, where he continued to encourage, challenge and inspire those around him. Poet and publisher Danny Rosen said, “In addition to the wide impact Jack Mueller had on poets throughout Colorado, he was also instrumental in the birth of Lithic Press, which arose from the manuscripts and loose papers piled on his dining room table. It seemed obvious I should make books of his chaotic gatherings.”
From the thousands of ‘compression sketches’ (rapid ink drawings on bar napkins and 3×5 cards) came Lithic’s first book, Whacking the Punch Line, followed by his masterpiece, Amor Fati.
“Steeped in science and the heart, his poems hold an importance for me like no other,” Rosen said.
In Maggie Milner’s review of Amor Fati for ZYZZYVA, she writes, “One moment pondering the nature of death, the next exuberantly describing a bird, Mueller vacillates between optimism and resignation as he moves between the registers of philosophical abstraction and concrete observation. Throughout, Mueller’s timbre is characteristically Beat, marked by both contempt for human dysfunction and a Blakeian zeal for the ineffable.”
This loving embrace of paradox permeated Jack’s work, conversations and playful provocations.
“All power to the paradox,” Jack would say, and, “Stay solid in the mystery.”
There are boxes upon boxes upon boxes of his bar napkins, note cards, and poems reflecting this deeply profound, navigational wisdom, from which Lithic Press will be publishing for years. Jack was a full-time maker, creating everywhere he went. Dada theater, live ant-syrup paintings, chalking the circumference of what’s what, measuring the distances between things rarely seen, taping off the void, and always, “Obeying the emerging form.”
“Jack Mueller possessed one of the most lively, most dangerous minds to grace the halls of American poetry,” said George Scrivani, translator, scholar and partner in crime.
Even as he had a difficult time in the hospital, health rapidly declining, Jack’s daughter, Cristina Mueller, said he would teach hospital workers — doctors, nurses and cleaning staff — one of his short poems:
You will never
I will never
Love starts there.
He is survived by his daughter, Cristina Marie Faust Mueller, son-in-law Ethan Nosowsky, and granddaughter, Olive Beatrix Faust Nosowsky, of Oakland, CA; his last surviving brother, Dr. Nick Mueller of New Orleans, LA; niece Mary Beth Mueller of Telluride, CO; nephews Charles Mueller of Ridgway, CO, David Mueller of Huntersville, NC, and John Mueller of New Orleans, LA; and several grand-nephews and nieces.