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View from Ric Masten's House

A visit with Ric Masten
Big Sur's Poet of Poets

Ric Masten has been sitting on top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific
ocean for damn near fifty years. He and his wife Billie Barbara bought a
hilltop with a half built house on it back in 1957, moved their family in,
spent the next year finishing the house themselves and they've been living
there ever since.

Steve Edington, John Cassady and I had a gig at the Henry Miller Memorial
Library scheduled in Big Sur and we decided while there we'd pay Ric a
visit. In a curious twist we had all three met and known Ric for years, all
separate and independent from one another. John was the first one to learn
who Ric was way back in 1967. Steve met Ric years later in his role as a
Unitarian Universalist Minister and I met Ric about ten years ago when we
sold his books as a local Central Coast Poet.

See, Ric had the distinction of having been the main speaker at the
California Unitarian Church Conference held at Asilomer in 1966. If this
sounds somewhat familiar to you that's because, a year earlier, it was this
very same conference that Tom Wolfe wrote about in "The Electric Kool Aid
Acid Test". The Unitarians were then and still are known to be a pretty
liberal religious group and it was these fine people who invited Ken Kesey
to be their keynote speaker in 1965. Kesey was all the rage in those days
with the shine of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" still on him and for an
author of this magnitude to come to the Unitarian Conference was considered
to be a big score.

The poor leaders of the conference were, of course, unaware Kesey'd be
showing up in a Day-Glo bus with the Merry Pranksters in tow. They just
thought they'd be getting a famous author. This is all covered in Wolfe's
classic "Acid Test" book in Chapter 14 titled 'A Miracle in Seven Days'.

The way Ric comes in to the picture is Kesey and the Pranksters so disrupted
the conference that the following year the church elders insisted on a
"stable" and "safe" choice. Ric, "Poet Extra-ordinare" was that safe

The way Ric tells the story, "The Theme of the previous year's conference
was "Shaking The Foundations". Well, old Kesey decided he was going to see
if they were really serious. So, he gets up on stage and starts talking
about how foundations are often built on symbols, and how lots of things
have their symbols, but the symbol itself is not the thing. And he starts
giving some examples like a wedding ring is a symbol of a marriage, but it
is not the marriage and a crucifix is a symbol of Christ, but it is not
Christ and everybody's nodding their head in unison and they're all so happy
they understand this concept and they're in full agreement with it and
aren't they so 'with it' they can be so high minded and such and then old
Kesey grabs an American flag and he holds it aloft and says 'And this flag
is just a symbol of America, but it is not America' and then a few nervous
laughs and panicked looks and then Ken drops the flag to the stage and he
starts stomping all over it and wiping his feet on it and the place simply
explodes. Shock and outrage, defilement and effrontery. How could one be
so callous! And Ken picks up the flag and holds it aloft and says, "See.
You thought you got it, but you didn't get it."

The next year, they brought in Ric Masten. He was the safe choice.

Click here to buy "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" by Tom Wolfe.

Sharing Conversation Around the Table.jpg

Steve Reading from Kerouac's Big Sur

Ric Enjoys the Passage

Making a Point in the Afternoon Sun

Ric's Office Where He Produces 'Words & One-Liners'

Old Kesey said, 'You Thought You Got It...'

The End of a Great Day

Ric typically illustrates his poems with his "One Liners" - a drawing of a single line never lifted from the sheet of paper. Here's one of my favorite Ric Masten poems called "Big Sur Country" illustrated with the Bixby Canyon Bridge. You can buy this poem and drawing beautifully framed (and many other items as well including books of poetry) directly from Ric by clicking this link.



it is called Big Sur Country where I live
and many men of letters have passed through
none have denied its beauty
but few have felt at home here
old Henry Miller — city born
burned his bald head brown
trying to catch the color of the sun
at Partington
like Icarus he failed and in the end retired
to a cement maze south of here
more at home in an elevator
than at those dizzy heights

and Jack Kerouac
hitched his way along this granite coast
with no real sense of belonging
crawling here like an ant he found the place
a graveyard
the off shore rocks
tombstones in a ghostly surf
on the road running like a child in the dark
hearing things in the bushes
he hurried north
to hide in the mulch pits of Marin County

and Richard Brautigan has come and gone
and others drawn to and driven off
by the size and silence of this place

but Jeffers knew
that soaring old predator — sharp eyed
he knew
if we could speed time up — fast enough
we would see that the mountains are dancing
and with us

To view more from Ric Masten please visit


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