Allen wrote of Sinclair in his “Outline of Un-American Activities: A PEN American Center Report.” (The complete essay, first published in The Writer and Human Rights, Anchor/Doubleday1983, is now available in Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995 ed Bill Morgan. Harper Perennial. )
“In Detroit there is a rock and jazz impresario named John Sinclair, who was a poet much beloved of Charles Olson. In 1965 we had a big poetry meeting in Berkeley, and Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman, and John Sinclair were invited specifically by Olson to represent the younger generation. Sinclair had an organization in Detroit called the Artists’ Workshop, which published huge mimeographed volumes of local poetry, as well as pamphlets by correspondents. He put out a long anticommunist manifesto (Prose Contribution to Cuban Revolution) that I wrote in 1960 about the Cuban Revolution, a sort of challenge to the spiritual foundations of it saying that it was too materialist. So he wasn’t exactly a riotous red. His main thing though, his main “shtick,” so to speak, was uniting black and white in the otherwise tense, riot-torn areas of Detroit, through the Artists’ Workshop, because there was collaboration between black jazz musicians and white jazz musicians, black writers and white writers, black poets and white poets. It was a kind of heroic effort, actually. He had a newspaper, and after a while he had a thing called the White Panther party, sort of in collaboration with the Black Panthers, or in defense of the Black Panthers, who were also being subjected to this kind of double-dealing and harassment by the government.
So the narcotics police sent in a young married couple to hang around with John Sinclair and wash his dishes and do mimeographing and distribute papers, and they were constantly harassing him: would he please give them a joint, would he give them some grass? Which he didn’t do, fortunately, for a long long while. Finally, one late night, they were really on his back to give them some grass, so he gave them a stick of marijuana. He was busted several weeks later, set up for a long trial, had to pay a lot of money for that, was convicted of peddling marijuana, and sentenced to nine and a half to ten years. Of which he spent several years in the federal penitentiary in Marquette. That was an FBI attempt to silence a dissenter and a poet. In jail he wrote a really interesting poem. He said, “My books wait for me on the shelf, myself, my typewriter sits empty, urging me onward. Nine and a half to ten years is not enough!” So actually, he was a sharp poet. And a worthy citizen. He’s now the chief impresario of black and white jazz in Detroit, and has rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and old blues concerts.”