Thorne Dreyer : Journalist, Author, and ‘Investigative Poet’ John Ross (1938-2011)

The late great John Ross.

Farewell to our great friend John Ross

See “Los Muertos,” a poem by John Ross, Below.

By Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / January 18, 2011

Yesterday I received an email with the following message: “John Ross passed peacefully in the arms of his good friends Arminda and Kevin in Tzipijo, near Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan, after a two-year lucha against liver cancer.” The message was sent from John’s email address and included the above photo.

John Ross, who styled himself an “investigative poet,” was a long-time contributor to and friend of The Rag Blog. He was a singular talent whose work was always enlightening and entertaining, every post a revelation. No one ever wrote about Mexico like John Ross did… or ever will again.

Ross, whose roots were in the old left politics of New York City and the beat poetry scene of San Francisco, visited Austin last March promoting his latest book, El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City, and reading his poetry at MonkeyWrench and Resistencia bookstores.

Our mutual friend Mike Davis, himself a noted author and educator, wrote about John and El Monstruo: “From a window of the aging Hotel Isabel, where he has lived for almost a quarter of a century, John Ross sings a lusty corrido about a great, betrayed city and its extraordinary procession of rulers, lovers and magicians.”

Indeed, everything John Ross ever wrote was a “lusty corrido,” a vivid grito of protest and celebration.

The Rag Blog last heard from John late last year when he informed us he would be suspending his writing indefinitely due to the rigors of the latest round of chemotherapy to treat his advancing cancer of the liver, which had been in remission but had returned with a vengeance.

In my copy of El Monstruo, John Ross wrote, “To Thorne: Desde el corazon del Monstruo sigues en la lucha!

[Thorne Dreyer, a pioneering ’60s underground journalist, is a director of the New Journalism Project, Inc., editor of The Rag Blog, and host of Rag Radio.]

John Ross dies:
Opposing every war was his obsession

The American rebel journalist, poet, novelist and human shield, John Ross (New York, 1938), deacon of Mexico correspondents, died yesterday at 8:58 a.m. in Santiago Tzipijo, Michoacan, after battling for two years against liver cancer.

A wake is being held on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro. He will be cremated in Urapan and his ashes scattered in Mexico and in several cities in the U.S., according to his wishes.

Ross, whose last book is entitled El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City, arrived at Casa Santiago, on the shores of the lake, on Dec. 31 in a taxi, reports Kevin Quigley, who with his wife is owner of the guest house. Both were compadres of the New Yorker.

Two days earlier, friends of the journalist had retrieved his archives from the room he occupied in the hotel Isabel in Mexico City, where he had lived since the week following the earthquake of 1985. His files are to be temporarily stored at the Cemanahuac Educational Community in Cuernavaca.

John Ross was a man of the Left and one of his great obsessions was the struggle against wars of every type. His great labor as an independent journalist and correspondent was to participate in and cover the political and social events that happened here, to make them known in the United States. “He never quit telling the gringos what was happening in Mexico” …

La Jornada / Mexico City / January 18, 2011
(Translated by Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog)


John Ross. Photo from Con Carlitos.


LOS MUERTOS

After they had waited on line

for nearly eight straight hours

to vote for the candidate of their choice,

The Dead were finally informed

that they were no longer inscribed

upon the precinct lists of the Republic.

But we have only come to exercise

our rights as responsible citizens

The Dead complained bitterly

for it seemed to them that the President

in the spirit of national unity

had called upon all the people

to cast their ballots

as is the democratic norm.

The official registrar

who was still quite alive

could only explain

the exclusion of the calacas

with platitudes about Morality.

Oh said The Dead and voted anyway.

But your votes are clearly illegal

winced the official Official,

they can’t be counted in this election.

You have a point The Dead replied,

maybe they won’t be counted now

but surely you will count them later.

© John Ross


When John Ross was 18, he was a young member of the Beat Generation, reading his poetry in Greenwich Village bars with the great bass player Charles Mingus. — Beatitude Poetry

The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to Thorne Dreyer : Journalist, Author, and ‘Investigative Poet’ John Ross (1938-2011)

  1. Ray Reece says:

    Thanks for the eulogy, Thorne. It’s beautifully written and moving. I’ve come to admire John Ross immensely just from his posts to the Rag Blog. I’m sorry he’s gone, but his spirit will surely live on through his writings.

  2. Mariann says:

    I am very glad I was able to meet John last year and hear him read poetry at Resistencia; had thought it would be a reading from El Monstruo, and he blew my socks off. An amazing writer, and the phrase “investigative poet” fit him like a glove.
    I think everyone associated with the Rag Blog, and especially Thorne, should get a warm “thanks” for having brought John Ross’ work into the blogosphere over the last couple of years; he really classed up the joint.

  3. Tom Miller says:

    RECOLLECTIONS OF JOHN ROSS

    By TOM MILLER

    I was in touch with John Ross for years before we met, and always admired his self-published anarcho-journalistic poetry. It reminded me of works by Ed Sanders and, to a lesser extent, Eduardo Galeano. When he passed through Tucson some twenty-five years ago I picked him up at the Greyhound station and we sipped coffee, chatting deep into the evening. He fully and rightly expected me to house him that night. Fact is, he smelled simply awful – I had to sit at the far end of the table at a coffee-house – and I couldn’t bear the thought of someone reeking such foul odor in my home. I drove him to the Congress Hotel in downtown Tucson and we said our pleasant good-bys.

    Years later I was the editor of an anthology focusing on U.S.-Mexico border literature. In one of John’s chap-books, titled “Whose Bones,” I found a wonderful poem, “Corridista Vicente Macías.” The publisher got in touch with him to secure rights and pay a permission fee; he signed our form and waved off the fee.

    Corridista Vicente Macías

    We rode the Texas night,
    Vicente Macías and me,
    inside a Trailways Bus
    with greyhounds on its sides.
    91 long years here,
    he doesn’t distinguish
    the darkness now,
    the clouded corneas
    let in little light,
    these days as long
    as the years are young
    he said but couldn’t hear
    his own words sing.
    Once he played on the avenidas
    of Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass
    with the great ciego
    Blind Melquíedes,
    now he himself is going blind,
    deaf, food don’t taste
    too good to him no more,
    his hand shakes
    when he holds the big guitar
    or tries to fly on the fiddle.
    He showed me long elegant fingers,
    the nails neatly manicured
    the way the great players keep ’em,
    they jigged with palsy
    like brown weeds in a remolino.
    I’ve written one hundred corridos,
    a hundred of them, un centenario
    he announced to no one
    but me and the night,
    that’s enough, don’t you think,
    bastante, no señor?
    I’ve sung about bandits and gunfights,
    lovers who shot their ladies
    for looking at the wrong guy
    in the right cantina,
    the way the luna lights the river
    so the contrabandistas can come across,
    how green the green maíz grows.
    Now my own voice is lost to me
    and the darkness don’t sing to me no songs,
    these are the words
    of an old corridista,
    his last will and testimony.
    as we careened through the Texas night
    on the road to Piedras Negras.

    ===============

    Tom Miller’s ten books include “Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America’s Southwest.” He is the editor of “Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader,” and can be reached through his web site: http://www.tommillerbooks.com

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