“Every day is an experience. Every day is an adventure.”
“Pay attention to anybody and everybody, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.”
As April closes out, I dream of warmer days spent reading poetry by the sea. I think of Jack Kerouac captivated by the sound of the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, the poem “Sea” he wrote about it and how his friend and fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti influenced the poem.
Years earlier, Gothic poet Christina Rossetti had written that the sea sounds like moaning.
Christina Rossetti’s “By the Sea”
Why does the sea moan evermore?
Shut out from heaven it makes its moan.
It frets against the boundary shore;
All earth’s full rivers cannot fill
The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.
Sheer miracles of loveliness
Lie hid in its unlooked-on bed:
Anemones, salt, passionless,
Blow flower-like; just enough alive
To blow and multiply and thrive.
Shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,
Encrusted live things argus-eyed,
All fair alike, yet all unlike,
Are born without a pang, and die
Without a pang, – and so pass by.
What does the sea sound like to you?
In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share some poems.
I write a lot about the road. I write about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and even wrote a whole book about it called Burning Furiously Beautiful. When I was much younger, though, all the way back in elementary school, I encountered Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Here it is for your reading pleasure.
Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost begins his poem, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both.” It reminds me of the Gregory Corso quote: “If you have a choice of two things and can’t decide, take both.” It’s not always that easy, though, is it? You can’t always choose to go both left and right at the same time. You can’t always choose to stay and to go. Sometimes you have to make a choice.
Robert Frost says, “I took the one less traveled by.” And that’s certainly what Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and the many other poets and writers associated with the Beat Generation did. They choose the road less traveled.
Choosing the road less traveled is not an easy choice, though. It is an unfamiliar one. It is one without precedent. It comes with risk.
Sometimes, though, it’s worth it. It can’t be a reckless risk. It must be, as my father would say, a calculated risk.
Because of the film Kill Your Darlings, much has been made recently of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer, but that’s not how he should be remembered. Carr served his time and tried to distance himself from that association, though he did remain lifelong friends with the people he’d met as a prank-loving student at Columbia. He even went so far as to have Allen Ginsberg take his name out of the dedication to Howl after learning of it in the first printing.
So what should we remember Lucien Carr for? He did not, after all, seek to capitalize on his name or associations with his own writing. Instead, he should remember for tirelessly working as an editor at UPI for close to five decades. There, he encouraged and molded young writers, just as he often did for his “Beat” friends.
Lucien Carr passed away on this day in 2005.
Recommended reading::: Eric Homberger’s obituary “Lucien Carr” for The Guardian.
Robert Lax was born on this day in 1915 in Olean, in the Southern Tier region of New York.
Lax studied poetry with Mark Van Doren at Columbia University and graduated in 1938, right before Jack Kerouac arrived on campus. Similarly, they both took on a life of wandering. Lax worked for some prestigious magazines — The New Yorker and Time — and then joined the circus as a juggler.
Eventually, he found his way to the Greek island of Patmos. The island is known as a place of pilgrimage, as the apostle John had lived there. Lax himself went on to live here for more than thirty years, living the life of a hermit and writing beautiful poetry.
Kerouac indeed did end up getting in contact with his fellow alum. You can read his letter to him in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956.
On this day in 2006 we lost Alan Ansen.
Today we celebrate his life and work. Ansen, a graduate of Harvard, was secretary to none other than the great W. H. Auden, who had come to New York City in 1939. He hung out with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, and is even written into their works. By the 1960s, he had moved to Greece, where he lived on Alopekis Street in Athens, and hung out with other expatriate poets such as James Merrill (who went on to get the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1977), Chester Kallman (one of Auden’s lovers), and Rachel Hadas (who went on to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship).
Ansen passed away in Athens at the age of eight-four, but leaves behind his poetry and prose. Check out:
I think reading someone’s work is one of the best way to celebrate their life. Do you have a favorite poem by Ansen?
Lionel Trilling passed away on this day in 1975, at the age of seventy. He had lived through a lot: World War I, the Lost Generation, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Beat Generation, Hippies, and Disco. It’s no wonder his politics, a topic on which he wrote, shifted and swayed and remain up for discussion.
Trilling taught Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books, where among his students were Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr.
photo by author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
I had the great honor of opening the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel‘s fantastic reading series Tract 187 Culture Clatch — aptly* held at The West End — on October 1 with two passages from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”
Ronnie’s an amazing host. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ronnie for a while now. We first met at an event organized by RA Araya that she emceed. She’s also the author of probably the only sports book I’ve willingly bought: Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues.
She organized a killer line up for the event:
WE’RE ALL KEROUACKY EDITION
celebrating Jack Kerouac on the
45th anniversary of his becoming
a Desolation Angel
Kerouac Covers by Jane LeCroy
Monologues from Larry Myers
with Janice Bishop, Tom Fenaghty & Ronnie Norpel
Author Stephanie Nikolopoulos (Burning Furiously Beautiful:The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”)
Music by Elliott Levin, Saxophone (Philadelphia)
I had so much fun mingling and chatting with others who enjoy Jack Kerouac’s writing. I loved seeing the way music and spoken word intertwined. It was a beautiful way to remember Kerouac’s legacy.
Some of my friends from the Redeemer Writers Group even came out, which was really special.
*I say aptly because the writers associated with the Beat Generation used to hang out at a bar called The West End. The Broadway bar closed down years ago, and this new incarnation is at 955 West End Avenue.
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You can purchase Burning Furiously Beautiful via lulu.
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March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969
Jack Kerouac was only forty-seven years old when he passed away. The day before he died, he’d been drinking whiskey and writing at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, when he suddenly felt ill. He called out to his wife, a Greek American from his hometown of Lowell, and Stella Sampas Kerouac got him to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where he ultimately died from his internal hemorrhage. He was buried in Edson Cemetery in Lowell, in the Sampas family plot.