For decades, Sam Abrams has been a fixture in the Rochester cultural and academic community. Sam was a professor of literature at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1978 to 2005. There, he founded RIT’s literary journal Signatures and convinced Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Ted Turner to visit and speak on campus.
A Whitman scholar and prolific poet, Sam has variously been one of the original workshop leaders at The Poetry Project, a longshoreman, a TV journalist, columnist for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, a union laborer, a communal organic farmer, a jail cell mate of Dr. Spock when they were arrested for civil disobedience during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and a prolific letter writer to the opinion pages, local, national and international. Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Letters and Life described Sam as “The Unrepentant Revolutionary and Classics professor SAM ABRAMS.”
For all his glittering resume — or because of the glitter — some have suspected that Sam has smoked marijuana at some points in his life. One clue was the 2003 publication of The Old Pot Head Poems. The first lines of the dust jacket blurb read:
Louis Armstrong once said, “Marijuana is an assistant, a friend.” These poems riff off that theme, a fifty-year-long set of improv-collaborations between two old friends, Miss Mary Jane and her man, Sam.
It [Pot Head] just goes to show that smoking marijuana can enhance creativity, compassion and commitment.
The publication itself is not definitive proof. The character Sam is only a poetic character and not Sam Abrams himself.
I met Sam when we both taught the Senior Seminar at RIT in 2004 and 2005, occasionally seeing him wander campus Whitman-esque-like.
During one of those Seminars, I invited Chris Maj to visit the classes. As described by the City‘s Mary Anne Towner, “Chris Maj: the Dems’ long shot,” Chris was expelled from RIT for using vulgarities (“F Bombs”) when demonstrating against the school’s association with the military and calling the-then Louise Slaughter Center for Integrated Manufacturing Study, the “Slaughter House.” During his time at RIT, in 1998 Chris was president of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
In 2005, Maj would run in the Rochester Democratic Mayoral primary and then as candidate on the local Red White & Blue Party line. Chris received 412 votes, or 1% of the vote in the general election.
Legalization of marijuana was a primary platform of the RW&B party. For his City interview, Chris wore a hat with marijuana-leaf medallions, the same hat he brought to the Senior Seminar. During the seminar, Chris strongly defended legalization, but at the same time, refused to say whether he himself ever smoked “weed.”
Chris has since left Rochester for Denver, Colorado (surprise!) where he is an active Rand Paul supporter.
Afterwards, Chris told me Sam was the only professor at RIT with whom he really bonded. Bonded over what is unknown, but Chris seems like Sam’s kind of guy. Guessing that Sam was at that May 1998 protest over the treatment of the Rochester Cannabis Coalition.
Furthermore — as suspicious evidence — four of Sam’s letters to the Democrat and Chronicle from 1987 -2018 defend the use of marijuana:
Yet — until today — none of the letters reference any personal use. But today, Sam writes:
I smoked pot daily from age 14 until I ended up in this nursing home a year ago.
NOTE: Recently, my father, Eugene Kramer, confessed — if not proudly — he once smoked marijuana with Louis Armstrong.