Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

Before the Beats, Rimbaud Had a “Bohemian Life”

17 Apr

225px-RimbaudPhoto by Etienne Carjat (1871)

Rimbaud’s kinda cute, eh?

Before Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation on the Lost Generation with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes, before he went on the road and lived a bohemian life, he attended (and dropped out of) Columbia University. It was through his Columbia connections—which Paul and I explain in more detail in Burning Furiously Beautiful (it’s actually super interesting to discover how they all met and became friends)—that Kerouac met Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. Back then, the phrase they were throwing around was a “New Vision.”

Carr had borrowed the phrase from Arthur Rimbaud, and the young friends in Morningside Heights used it to mean:

1) Naked self-expression is the seed of creativity. 2) The artist’s consciousness is expanded by derangement of the senses. 3) Art eludes conventional morality.[17]

As a teenager, Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in late-nineteenth-century France. The term “Decadents” refers to the clever poets who preferred to show off their literary skill rather than emote as naturally as the Romantics. The earlier Romantics—such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats—used more colloquial language than the highly stylized language of the Decadents.

In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud wrote:

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

 

Sounds like something Kerouac might write, doesn’t it? Not because the author of On the Road sought to make himself scummy by any means, but because he shook off pretensions and suffered for his art, appreciating the authenticity of experience.

I couldn’t find a translation of any of Rimbaud’s poetry that was in the public domain, so here is Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)” in the original French:

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
- Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
- Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

You can read a 1962 English translation by Oliver Bernard here.

 

The Feast Day of Saint Bernadette

16 Apr

469px-Bernadette_Soubirousimage via Wikipedia

Bernadeta Sobiróus was only thirty-five years old when she passed away. A miller’s daughter from Lourdes, France, Bernadette was fourteen years old when she first saw a “small young lady” appear to her while she was out fetching firewood in Massabielle. This apparition requested that a chapel be built in the grotto near there, and later it was revealed that she was the Immaculate Conception. Indeed, a number of chapels were built at Lourdes, and today Bernadette is remembered as a saint even though many did not believe she’d had visions at the time.

In Jack Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, where many French-Canadian Americans resided, there is a a Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which he writes about it. I’ve visited it twice and wrote about it as part of my Church Hopping column.

 

 

 

Allen Ginsberg’s William Blake Vision

3 Apr

 Blake_Roses_Sun-Flower_LillyWilliam Blake’s illustrated “Ah! Sun-Flower”

I’m kicking off this National Poetry Month series with William Blake for reasons that will soon become obvious. In 1948, when he was in his early twenties, Allen Ginsberg experience a supernatural vision. He was alone in his Harlem apartment, reading William Blake, when the Romantic poet appeared to him. Ginsberg said he wasn’t high at the time but was having some … um, personal alone time. Wink, wink. He looked out his Harlem window at the bright blue sky and realized that the sky had been created, that the sky did the creating, and found God. In later years, Ginsberg experimented with drugs to try to recapture that feeling.

One of the poems that Ginsberg heard Blake read in his vision was “Ah! Sun-flower,” published in his 1974 poetry collection Songs of Experience. Blake illustrated the poem (see above). Here is the poem in its entirety:

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Close to a decade after his Blake vision, while in Berkeley in 1955, Ginsberg composed his own sunflower poem, “Sunflower Sutra.” I’m inclined to say it’s my favorite poem. You can read it here.

You may also like these posts:

And of course you can read more about Allen Ginsberg in the book I coauthored, Burning Furiously Beautiful.

Remembering John Clellon Holmes

30 Mar

brother

Earlier this month we celebrated what would’ve been John Clellon Holmes’ 88th birthday. Today marks the anniversary of his passing from cancer at the age of 62 in 1988.

Holmes’ first published book was Go, a fantastic novel about the early Beat scene featuring the same cast of characters that Kerouac wrote about in On the Road. In fact, Kerouac and Holmes remained life-long friends, after initially meeting on their way to a party in 1948.

Somewhat recently — 2010 — Ann Charters and Samuel Charters edited Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and The Beat Generation. Here’s the write up on Barnes & Noble:

John Clellon Holmes met Jack Kerouac on a hot New York City weekend in 1948, and until the end of Kerouac’s life they were–in Holmes’s words–”Brother Souls.” Both were neophyte novelists, hungry for literary fame but just as hungry to find a new way of responding to their experiences in a postwar American society that for them had lost its direction. Late one night as they sat talking, Kerouac spontaneously created the term “Beat Generation” to describe this new attitude they felt stirring around them. Brother Souls is the remarkable chronicle of this cornerstone friendship and the life of John Clellon Holmes.

From 1948 to 1951, when Kerouac’s wanderings took him back to New York, he and Holmes met almost daily. Struggling to find a form for the novel he intended to write, Kerouac climbed the stairs to the apartment in midtown Manhattan where Holmes lived with his wife to read the pages of Holmes’s manuscript for the novel Go as they left the typewriter. With the pages of Holmes’s final chapter still in his mind, he was at last able to crack his own writing dilemma. In a burst of creation in April 1951 he drew all the materials he had been gathering into the scroll manuscript of On the Road.

Biographer Ann Charters was close to John Clellon Holmes for more than a decade. At his death in 1988 she was one of a handful of scholars allowed access to the voluminous archive of letters, journals, and manuscripts Holmes had been keeping for twenty-five years. In that mass of material waited an untold story. These two ambitious writers, Holmes and Kerouac, shared days and nights arguing over what writing should be, wandering from one explosive party to the next, and hanging on the new sounds of bebop. Through the pages of Holmes’s journals, often written the morning after the events they recount, Charters discovered and mined an unparalleled trove describing the seminal figures of the Beat Generation: Holmes, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and their friends and lovers.

In addition to reading any of Holmes’ works, Brother-Souls provides a portrait of an author whose work deserves more recognition.

Jack Kerouac Tour of Denver

27 Mar

jack-kerouac-tour-denver-magazine-reviseIllustration by Jackie Besteman via 5280

Isn’t that map cute? It was created by illustrator Jackie Besteman, who does an entire series of maps.

Over at 5280, Chris Outcalt put together a Jack Kerouac tour of Denver that includes a “believability index.” You can check out the jazz joints, cabaret clubs, and hotels here.

This reminds me to tell you that scholar Bill Morgan‘s Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America is a great resource if you go on the road in search of Beat-related haunts.

Literary Kicks, which you already know is one of my favorite sites, also has a page put together by Andrew Burnett entitled Neal’s Denver.

Denver.org also offers an online list of Beat-related places that also comes with recommended reading for each place.

If you’re looking to read about Kerouac’s time in Denver, Paul and I cover it in Burning Furiously Beautiful, which is available in print through AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Lulu and as a Kindle through Amazon.

What are your favorite places in Denver?

 

White Trash Uncut: The Resource Magazine Interview with Christopher Makos

20 Mar

white

 

Around the same time that Jack Kerouac packed his rucksack and went on the road, Christopher Makos was born into a Greek American family in Kerouac’s hometown. In the June 2013 issue of That’s, Ned Kelly reported:

Christopher Makos was born in 1948 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of pioneering Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac; a heritage he was oblivious of in his youth. “Growing up in Lowell, I wasn’t aware of anything, except how to leave,” he says. “How to grow up fast and figure out how to leave.”

Sounds pretty Beat to me!

Makos went on to live in California and then, after high school, moved to New York and, later, Paris. It was there that he became an apprentice to the esteemed Man Ray. Back in New York City, he photographed the scene on the Lower East Side—Beat writer William S. Burroughs, the Ramones, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Debbie Harry are just a few of the icons who ended up in his book White Trash. Though it was the ’70s by this point, it’s got it’s Beat Generation connections. (If you’re interested in reading up more on this, I’d recommend Victor Bockris’ Beat Punks.)

Makos became friends with Andy Warhol, who called him the “most modern photographer in America.”

The latest incarnation of this seminal punk photography book, White Trash Uncut, is coming out in May 2014 (published by Glitterati Incorporated), and Resource Magazine’s Aria Isberto caught up with the Greek-American photographer to talk about the underground scene, what it takes to get published, and what kind of camera he uses. You can read it here.

Interested in my writing for Resource Magazine? Check out:::

Read more of my Lowell posts here. Among my favorites are:::

Read about other Greek Americans I’ve written about on my blog. Here’s a few selections:::

Which Greek American do you want to see me write about next?!

I’m Soooooo Pretentious

18 Mar

jurassic

 

I told a boy I’m reading Proust, and he told me that sounds pretentious.

He suggested I check out Michael Crichton. …As in the author who writes about dinosaurs.

I have to laugh at the suggestion of sounding pretentious for reading Marcel Proust, though. I’m usually called immature and not well read for reading Jack Kerouac. The irony is that my inspiration for reading Proust is Kerouac. David Amram had actually mentioned to me how he and Jack read Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, and when Walter Salles and Ann Charters spoke after a screening of the film adaptation of On the Road they talked about the role of Proust (Swann’s Way is seen a few times onscreen). Paul and I decided to read Swann’s Way, and each got different translations, which I think will give us a well-rounded perspective.

I just can’t win! Either I’m pretentious or I’m banal. Haha, good thing I’ve never cared what people thought of my reading habits.

Happy 88th Birthday to the Quiet Beat!

12 Mar

Go

John Clellon Holmes is the friend Jack Kerouac was talking to when he coined the phrase “Beat Generation.” Holmes actually found success more quickly than Kerouac did in writing about the scene when he published Go in 1952. The writing style is vastly different than Kerouac’s, as it takes a much more traditional approach to novel writing, but it is fantastic! Go is one of my favorite books of the so-called Beat canon. Holmes does a fantastic job bringing all the familiar characters — Gene Pasternak as Kerouac, Hart Kennedy as Neal Cassady, David Stofsky as Allen Ginsberg, Will Dennison as William S. Burroughs, and so forth — to life as he explores hipsters partying it up in New York City. Dare I say his descriptions of the 1940s party scene are more memorable to me than Kerouac’s?!

Holmes was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on this day in 1926. Celebrate his life and work by reading Go!

 

Happy 92nd Birthday, Jack Kerouac!

12 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto I took two years ago at Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

On a Sunday in winter, Jean-Louis Kerouac was born to Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of three, and his French-speaking family called him Ti Jean, or Little John.

It was March 12, 1922. Warren G. Harding, a Republican, was president and had just introduced radio to the White House the month before. Women had received the right to vote two years prior to that, but even the month before Kerouac was born the Nineteenth Amendment was still being challenged in court — a fact important to understanding the gender politics in which Kerouac grew up.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published that year by Sylvia Beach in Paris, and the experimental novel would impact Kerouac’s own writing. Kerouac himself would grow up to become the voice of his generation, the Beat Generation, a generation that had been born around the time of the Great Depression, that had seen the destruction of World War II and lost many friends and loved ones, that had faced a repressive government. Kerouac remains a startlingly refreshing voice even today, reminding readers to observe the sparkles in the sidewalk, to embrace life over possessions, to blaze their own paths.

KerouacCakephoto I took at Kerouac’s birthday bash last year at the Northport Historical Society

Happy 89th Birthday to Lu the Glue!

1 Mar

“Lu was the glue,” said Allen Ginsberg, talking about how integral Lucien Carr was to connecting the people who would go on to become collectively known as the Beat Generation. Carr and Ginsberg met when Ginsberg came knocking on his dorm door at Columbia (well, technically they were attending Columbia but lodged at Union Theological Seminary) to discover who was playing the delightful music of Brahms. Carr was also friends with a fun-loving student named Edie Parker who introduced him to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac. Meanwhile, around that same time, Carr’s stalker, David Kammerer, and William S. Burroughs, whose family Carr had known back in their hometown of St. Louis, arrived in New York City. A charismatic wit, Carr drew this circle together and came up with the idea of a New Vision that embodied “naked self-expression,” a “derangement of the senses,” and the doing away with conventional morality” when it came to art.

Lucien Carr was born on this day in 1925 in New York City.