“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.”
It’s Walt Whitman’s 196th Birthday! …Or a Post that Includes References to President Lincoln and Bon Jovi31 May
Here I am in 2013 standing outside Walt Whitman’s Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Long Island.
Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in Huntington, Long Island. He’s best known for Leaves of Grass. American schoolchildren are probably most familiar with the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” from the poetry collection. Written in 1865 and not included in Leaves of Grass until the fourth edition, the poem is about the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
There’s so much more to Whitman than that, though.
Walt Whitman is a complex and endlessly fascinating figure of the American poetry scene. He is regarded as the father of free verse poetry. He was also a reporter. He wrote a temperance novel: Franklin Evans (1842). He didn’t believe that all the works attributed to Shakespeare were actually Shakespeare’s. (Hm… what would Miguel Algarin say?) He at first called for the abolition of slavery … and then later thought the movement was a threat to democracy. He’s been inducted into the Legacy Walk, which celebrates LGBT history and people. He passed away in Camden, and the Garden State claimed him in the New Jersey Hall of Fame; that same year (2009), fellow literary luminaries William Carlos Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald were inducted in the category of “general” while Whitman was inducted in the category of “historical.” (Jon Bon Jovi was one of the inductees honored in the category “arts and entertainment.) Andrew Carnegie said Whitman was “the great poet of America so far.”
Has any other “great poet of America” come along who has taken Whtiman’s place? It’s difficult to say, but this week we’ll be honoring the Good Gray Poet and talking about the poets that have been inspired by him.
Yep! You guessed it. The Beats.
It’s been forever since I did a link roundup! I’ve been trying to focus more on my memoir writing these days, but I’ve run across so many great news stories and websites lately that I wanted to share with you:
- My friend Gregory Andrus has been taking these stunning photographs of the Jersey Shore. The other day he posted this article about NJ musician Jon Bon Jovi opening JBJ Soul Kitchen in Toms Kitchen, where there are “no menu prices, to help the fiscally challenged, and the restaurants try to serve organic produce whenever possible.”
- My friend David Sung, the pastor of the Upper East Side-based Christ Resurrection Church, told me about this New York Times article about how Dan Price, who attended the Christian college Seattle Pacific University (which, by the way, offers a creative writing MFA), slashed his $1-million salary to give his lowest-paid workers a raise. The minimum wage at the company he founded, Gravity Payments, is now $70,000/year.
- Meanwhile, this article reveals that 25% of “part-time college faculty” (and their families) receive public assistance. You know who this includes? Professors. Many colleges rely on adjunct professors, who get paid per class instead of being salaried.
- My editor Jordan Green is obsessed with Clickhole. Obsessed. I particularly enjoyed the satirical buzzfeed-style listicle “How Much of a Grammar Nerd Are You?” he posted. My favorite line: “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.”
- Via Pure Wow I discovered the loveliest named jewelry company: Wanderlust + Co. These gold arrow earrings are super cute. Arrows are so hipster.
- Another company I discovered recently is Moorea Seal. I love the fact that sales from their goods benefit charities and that you can shop by cause. I also love these Make a Wish matches!
That’s me as a kid eating karpouzi!
Last week I wrote about Feta burgers and how my family used to BBQ all summer long. Our BBQs weren’t complete without karpouzi—watermelon—at the end of the meal, so this week is all about watermelon!!
Now I may have grown up in a mono-lingual household, only speaking English, but there were a few words that for whatever reason (probably because my mom knew them) we always said in Greek—to the point that it felt more natural to say them in Greek than in English. “Karpouzi” was one of those words. Even when I went off to college, that’s the word I used, and my friends picked it up and used it too—just as I picked up words like “haole” and “okole” from my Hawai’ian friends and learned “hella” from my Bay Area friends. Funny how even when you live in one country your entire life, and even when your friends are American, regionalisms and ethnic identities can influence your language.
Tomorrow I’ll share one of my favorite recipes for karpouzi!
In the meantime, I’d be curious to know if any of you switch in and out between languages or if you’ve picked up words from a language that isn’t your own mother tongue?
Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.
At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.
Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.
Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:
“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”
You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.
*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!
image via Harvard Dialect Study
“You’re from Joisey!” all the West Coasters would exclaim when I moved out to Los Angeles for college and told them I had come from New Jersey. That’s what I said, “New Jersey.” Not “New Joisey.” Yet they hoisted the accent upon me anyway.
My finger nails may have been a tad too long and I may have grown up spending every Saturday at the Garden State Plaza, but I definitely didn’t speak like some chick who over Aqua-Net her hair. In fact, no one I knew spoke that way.
…Well, at least I thought we didn’t. No one I knew pronounced “hamburger” like “hamboiger” or anything as nails-to-the-chalkboard as that, but when I really listened to the way my friends talked, I noticed there was maybe a slight accent to a few words. Some of my friends pronounced “water” as “wooter.” I also noticed I had a certain way of crunching words. “Orange juice” became “ornch juice.” “Drawers” became “joors.”
I was always a little sensitive about the issue of accents. As an immigrant with a thick Greek accent, my father sometimes was misunderstood by waitresses at restaurants, which infuriated me because I could understand what he was saying perfectly and when others couldn’t I believed it to be deliberate xenophobia. But it wasn’t just my father who had an accent. My mother was from Minnesota, another state beleaguered by accent stereotypes. My mother did not talk like any of the characters in Fargo, but she did say “melk” for “milk” and “tall” for “towel.” That’s how my siblings and I grew up speaking, and I made a concerted effort to rectify my speech.
Actually, the school system made a concerted effort to rectify my accent: I was put in speech therapy in elementary school. It was humiliating. I was the shyest kid in my grade—and probably the entire state—and yet the few times I opened my mouth I was punished by being singled out and removed from my normal class to have a therapist teach me how to talk “correctly.” That was enough to keep me silent throughout most of elementary school. Now, I had a real reason to fear talking and stay quiet. I was afraid that if I were to speak up, no one would be able to understand me.
In the school’s defense, I really did need speech therapy. As this eHow article on How to Speak with a New Jersey Accent teaches, I dropped all my “r”s—to the point that certain words, like “art,” became incomprehensible. My accent wasn’t just the issue though. On top of having a foreigner for a father and, let’s face it, as a Midwesterner my mom was pretty much a foreigner too, I had pretty severe hearing issues, which had impacted my speech. I had to have surgery twice as a kid to have tubes put in my ears.
I’m not sure if this was related, but a lot of what I did hear, I took literally instead of as an accent. I remember my speech therapist asking me what type of shoes I wore, and I said, “tenner shoes.” I think I knew that meant “tennis shoes,” but I remember thinking in that moment that I had definitely answered “wrong.” I felt so stupid as she questioned me if I played tennis. From then on, I knew the correct label for my shoes was “sneakers.” How could I have been so stupid as to call them tenner shoes? I taunted myself afterwards. I’d never even picked up a tennis racket. I blamed my mom. She was the one who called them that.
Worse, in 6th grade, the music teacher gave us a pop quiz on the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner.” When I got my test, it was clear she thought I was a horrible speller. I was relieved because this meant I got a better grade than I should have. I was also shocked that she thought someone could spell that poorly. Suddenly, I realized how “dumb” some of my classmates really must be, if I’d been given that much credit for my botched lyrics. In reality, I’d been misunderstanding lyrics the entire time. I thought “dawn’s early light” was “donzerly light.” I wasn’t sure of the exact definition of “donzerly,” but I pictured it as hazy white fireworks, since that’s what often accompanied the national anthem and seemed to coincide with what “bombs bursting in air” would’ve looked like.
So when that New York Times dialect quiz, based on the linguistics project Harvard Dialect Study, spread like wildfire over Facebook, I took it figuring it would identify me as having some random accent. But nope, it identified me as being from Newark/Paterson, Jersey City, and—somewhat inexplicably since it’s in northern California—Fremont.
Once a Jersey girl, always a Jersey girl.
What accent did you get?
Also, you might like:
- 10 Minutes from the GWB (on growing up close to NYC)
- God Has a Sense of Humor — Either That or Everything I Think I Know about Myself Is Wrong (on shyness)
- I Love Menominee: Student Speaks Endangered Language (on being silenced for speaking in one’s own language)
October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014
If you follow the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, you know that Amiri Baraka‘s family recently reached out through social media to ask for prayers for the poet, who had gone into Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark. I have just learned of his passing. My condolences to his family and friends.
You may be interested in:
- My birthday post from October provides a short biography
- NPR’s article “Amiri Baraka’s Legacy Both Offensive and Achingly Beautiful“
- New York Times’ article “Amiri Baraka, Polarizing Poet and Playwright, Dies at 79“
- Poets.org is a good resource for finding out more about Baraka and his work
- Links to a few of his poems, perhaps the best way to celebrate his life and legacy
I’m thrilled to be published in vox poetica. The lit mag was founded in 2009 by Annmarie Lockhart, a resident of Bergen County, New Jersey — where I’m from!
The poem featured, “In a Diner in America Circa 1956,” came to me one day as I was walking on Park Avenue during my lunch break. I was thinking about Jack Kerouac stopping in a roadside cafe for a little nourishment as he traveled across the country, and the awkwardness and opportunities that abound when one travels on one’s own.
It’s a pastiche of Jack Kerouac’s interview on The Steve Allen Show, his narration of what may be the only true Beat film Pull My Daisy, and an amalgamation of information from his novels and letters as well as biographies.
You can read it here.
Check out the turtlenecks on the cover of Meet the Beatles
Yesterday, inspired by Olivia Cole’s article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ, I kicked off a week-long series about the relationship between the Beat Generation and the British Invasion. I didn’t get too much into her article, but instead I wrote about the general history of each “group” (please take this term lightly; neither was an intended movement or formal group) and how and why they are connected. Today, I want to share a fun story with you about the two longest love affairs (Oh gosh, take that even lighter. People get so mad when I use hyperbole.) of my life: the Beatles and the Beats.
I was a HUGE Beatles fan back when I was in high school. I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles, but I know it’s not because of my parents. My dad didn’t listen to music. I was raised on smooth jazz, Prince, Lionel Ritchie, and Stevie Wonder, thanks to my mom. As I grew up and started discovering music on my own—Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men, Snow, Positive K, Arrested Development, REM (should I go on? Ah, nostalgia)—she was the cool mom that listened to whatever I listened to on the radio. My mom was actually too young to be into the Beatles. In the craze of my own private Beatlemania, I pestered her for information, and she said she remembered her older sister getting a letter from their cousin in Sweden talking about this new band The Beatles and how popular they were.
One of the first exposures I had to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation came through The Beatles. I owned a VHS — yes, I’m that old! — documentary about The Beatles. It was a pretty low-quality documentary that I think I picked up at the K-Mart at the Closter Plaza. I don’t remember the name of it, but I used to watch it over and over again after school. I remember it saying that John Lennon named The Beatles, in part, because he was influenced by the Beat Generation. I didn’t know what the Beat Generation was at the time, nor did I bother to look it up — again, I’m old, and this was before I’d ever even heard the word “Internet,” so looking things up required going to the Closter Public Library and rifling through the encyclopedias. Still, when you watch something on repeat enough times, it gets ingrained in your memory, and when you suddenly learn something new, the threads of your brain weave everything together.
Wayne Mullins explored this in his essay “Long John Silver and the Beats” for Beatdom:
Several name changes occurred in the early life of the Beatles before John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe decided to honour the memory of Buddy Holly by changing the band name to the Beetles (as a play on Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but as John Lennon was a fan of clever word play he decided to change the spelling of The Beetles to Beatles as a way to suggest “beat” or “beat music”. As John Lennon said in a 1964 interview, “It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”
Mullins goes on to prove the Beat–Beatles by discussion John Lennon’s art school education and the exposure he had to instructors who were fans of the Beats and the meeting of Lennon and Allen Ginsberg. He also makes notable claims about the parallel paths the Beats and the Beatles took toward enlightenment, coming from religious upbringings, looking toward the East, and returning (or at least considering) the religions of their youth. The article also points out that Jack Kerouac and Lennon both rejected the associations people made with them, preferring to remain autonomous.
Steve Turner’s book Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster also speaks to Kerouac’s influence on Lennon:
[John Lennon’s] fellow student Bill Harry specifically remembers Lennon reading “On the Road” and the short story “The Time of the Geek”, which was published in an anthology called ‘Protest’ in 1960. “He loved the ideas of open roads and travelling,” says Harry. “We were always talking about this Beat Generation thing.”
Mullins’ story about Lennon’s meeting Ginsberg was just one incident. The Allen Ginsberg Project post “Sunday 9th – John Lennon” recalls when Ginsberg invited The Beatles to his birthday party and Lennon and George Harrison showed up with their wives.
When the Nixon administration wanted to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono, Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote a letter, as did a whole lot of other famous people, according to John Weiner’s article “How Bob Dylan, Gregory Corso, Joyce Carol Oates and Others Helped Stop Nixon From Deporting John Lennon and Yoko Ono” in the Los Angeles Times.
The Beatles also had an affinity for William S. Burroughs, who appeared on the cover art of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Not only that, in the Dangerous Minds article “The William S. Burroughs/Beatles connection,” Richard Metzger writes:
Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:
Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.
He goes on to elucidate the obvious connection: Barry Miles, whom The Allen Ginsberg Project also points to. Miles deserves his own post, but in short the thing to know is that he owned a bookshop in London that was frequented by the Beats when they were there, and he wrote about The Beatles and 1960s London underground culture.
Tune in tomorrow when I finally get into the meat of Cole’s article by discussing her commentary on The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ new memoir.
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