On May 14, 1967, a benefit was held in Cleveland to assist two local figures on the local literary scene, bookseller James Lowell and poet d. a. levy (who styled his name lower-case), who had been arrested for distributing obscenity. The venue of the concert was Strosacker Auditorium on Case Western campus in Cleveland’s East Side, an edifice that still stands today. The benefit featured free speech hard-liner Allen Ginsberg and New York City punk/folk weirdos The Fugs. In his book Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side, Fugs cofounder Ed Sanders called levy “one of the nation’s first Pot Martyrs, a Martyr of the Mimeograph Revolution, and a Martyr for the Right to Read Erotic Verse.” Sanders and legendary Beat figure Peter Orlovsky had both been involved in the distribution of the Marijuana Newsletter, which Sanders had sent to levy.
Lowell, levy, and Ginsberg
In November 1966 the police arrested levy at a reading at Cleveland’s Gate, a “a gathering place for college students founded by a Christian youth group,” according to a 2007 article in Cleveland Magazine, and a couple of weeks later, Lowell’s Asphodel Book Shop on Cleveland’s West 6th Street was raided by the police which seized “nine crates of d.a.‘s publications on the grounds that they advocated the legalization of hemp and a mimeograph machine,” according to Sanders.
The next day the following report appeared in the Cleveland Press, a daily newspaper (original typos preserved):
Benefit Boosts Fund for Levy and Lowell
A fund for the legal aid of poet D. A. Levy and bookstore owner James R. Lowell stood at $1000 today following a benefit performance by poet Alan Ginsburg and a folk-singing group from New York City.
Jasper Wood, chairman of the Lowell-Levy defense fund committee, said $3000 still is needed.
Levy is accused of disseminating and reading obscene poetry and Lowell is charged with selling obscene material.
Wood reported no police harassment at the session in Case Tech’s Strosacker auditorium. A capacity audience of 600 was on hand to hear the idols of New York’s Greenwich Village.
Ginsburg, who is probably the best known of the nation’s beat poets, read one of the poems for which Levy was arrested.
Levy read two poems.
Ginsburg, and the folk-rock group called the Fugs, donated their services. The Fugs, who flew here from Madison Wis., are on a national tour.
Wood said another poetry reading, by Robert Creeley, described as one of the top American contemporary poets, was scheduled for a later date.
Western Reserve University physics professor Paul Zilsel presided.
He told the audience: “I can go down Euclid Ave. and buy all the commercially produced literature I want. As far as I am concerned, Mayor Locher’s callousness is obscene, the Hough riots are obscene, the war in Vietnam is obscene.
“I would rather listen to Ginsburg.”
Although Case officials had been subjected to some pressure to cancel the concert, no disturbances were reported. One student placed a sign in his dormitory window which said, “Draft Poets, Not Engineers.”
According to Cleveland Magazine, “In early 1968, the prosecutor agreed to drop the obscenity charges against levy and Lowell, citing liberal Supreme Court rulings. Levy’s lawyer convinced him to plead no contest to the juvenile charges to avoid a felony conviction, prison or an expensive legal fight. Levy agreed to pay a $200 fine and no longer associate with juveniles or give them his poetry. ... ‘We probably made a mistake in that case,” Gold says. “Even though there was no real sanction imposed, it was an inner sanction with him. I think it broke his spirit a lot.’”
On November 24, 1968, levy shot himself in his East Cleveland apartment. Lowell died in 2004.
Here’s a brief clip of The Fugs from the Cleveland benefit concert:
There is a second clip of levy from the same May 14, 1967, event reading from his works that is not embeddable.