Archive | March, 2012

On the Road Trailer

29 Mar

 

In case for some reason you haven’t seen the trailer for Walter Salles’ On the Road, screenplay by Jose Rivera, here it is.  It will star Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, Kirsten Dunst as Camille, Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx, Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, Amy Adams as Jane, Alice Braga as Terry, and Danny Morgan as Ed Dunkel.

Cast your opinions in the comments section….

From a purely cinematic standpoint, the landscape looks beautiful.  I’ve been following the production of the film for a while and paying particular attention to filming locations.  If you think about it, The United States is a character in the book and in the film so it deserves attention, and I think Walter Salles, who directed The Motorcycle Diaries, can accomplish that.

The book I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful, details the places Jack Kerouac visited and was inspired by when writing On the Road.  If you check out our Pinterest board, you can see just how incredible the landscape and history of the places Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty visit are.

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The Beat Hotel

27 Mar

A couple of years ago, I was ravaging the shelves at the New York Public Library, when I came across Barry Miles’ The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963.  It was around Memorial Day, and I remember sitting by the fountain in the East Harlem section of Central Park, marveling at the ingenious writing methods of my favorite writers and their fascinating lives.  While Burroughs was making his cut-ups and Ginsberg was writing poetry at night and typing them up in the morning, Corso was off wooing girls into buying him dinner.

Here’s what the overview of the book says:

Called “a vivid picture of literary life along the Left Bank in the late 1950s and early 1960s … [and] fun reading” by Library Journal, The Beat Hotel is a delightful history of a remarkable moment in American literary history. From the Howl obscenity trial to the invention of the Cut-up technique, Barry Miles’s extraordinary narrative chronicles the feast of ideas that was Paris, where the Beats took awestruck audiences with Duchamp and Celine, and where some of their most important work came to fruition — Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” and “To Aunt Rose”; Corso’s The Happy Birthday of Death; and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Based on firsthand accounts from diaries, letters, and many original interviews, The Beat Hotel is an intimate look at a place that “gave the spirit of Dean Moriarty and the genius of Genet and Duchamp a place to dream together of new worlds over a glass of vin ordinaire” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Wikipedia gives a little background on the Beat Hotel:

The Beat Hotel was a small, run-down hotel of 42 rooms at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter of Paris, notable chiefly as a residence for members of the Beat poetry movement of the mid-20th century.

It was a “class 13” hotel, meaning bottom line, a place that was required by law to meet only minimum health and safety standards. It never had any proper name – “the Beat Hotel” was a nickname given by Gregory Corso, which stuck on [2][3]. The rooms had windows facing the interior stairwell and not much light. Hot water was available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The hotel offered the opportunity for a bath – in the only bathtub, situated on the ground floor – provided the guest reserved time in beforehand and paid the surcharge for hot water. Curtains and bedspreads were changed and washed every spring. The linen was (sometimes and in principle) changed every month.

The Beat Hotel was managed by a married couple, Monsieur and Madame Rachou, from 1933. After the death of Monsieur Rachou in a traffic accident in 1957, Madame was the sole manager until the early months of 1963, when the hotel was closed. Besides letting rooms, the establishment had a small bistro on the ground floor. Due to early experiences with working at an inn frequented by Monet and Pissarro, Madame Rachou would encourage artists and writers to stay at the hotel and even at times permit them to pay the rent with paintings or manuscripts. One unusual thing that appealed to a clientele of bohemian artists was the permission to paint and decorate the rooms rented in whichever way they wanted.

The Chelsea Hotel is kind of like New York’s answer to Paris’ Beat Hotel.  Patti Smith brings the Chelsea Hotel to life in Just Kids, where she also talks about meeting Burroughs, Corso, and Ginsberg and about the idea of improvising in writing.  But I digress….

If you follow me on Twitter, you may remember my recent post lamenting Barney Rosset’s death.  Rosset didn’t shy away from experimental work, publishing the revolutionary works of the Beats at Grove Press. Upon his death, Regina Weinreich wrote an article about his involvement with the Beat Hotel.

Alan Govenar is directing a new 82-minute documentary, with First Run Features and produced by Documentary Arts,  called The Beat Hotel.  Here’s the press release:

1957. The Latin Quarter, Paris. A cheap no-name hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur became a haven for a new breed of artists fleeing the conformity and censorship of America. The hotel soon turned into an epicenter of Beat writing that produced some of the most important works of the Beat generation. It came to be known as the Beat Hotel. Opening March 30 in New York City, to be followed by a rollout to other cities across the country, Alan Govenar’s feature documentary THE BEAT HOTEL explores this amazing place and time.

Fleeing the obscenity trials surrounding the publication of his seminal poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg, along with Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, happened upon the hotel on rue Git le Coeur and were soon joined by William Burroughs, Ian Somerville, and Brion Gysin. Run by the indefatigable Madame Rachou, the Beat Hotel was a hotbed of creativity and permissiveness, where Burroughs and Gysin developed the cut-up writing method; Burroughs finished his controversial book Naked Lunch; Ginsberg began his poem Kaddish; Somerville and Gysin invented the Dream Machine; Corso wrote some of his greatest poems; and Harold Norse, in his own cut-up experiments, wrote a novella, aptly called The Beat Hotel.

British photographer Harold Chapman‘s iconic photos and Scottish artist Elliot Rudie‘s animated drawings capturing Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Corso, Burroughs, Gysin, Somerville and Norse just as they were beginning to establish themselves on the international scene bring THE BEAT HOTEL to life on the screen. The memories of Chapman and Rudie interweave with the first-hand accounts of French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, British book dealer Cyclops Lester, and 95 year old George Whitman. Together with the insights of authors Barry Miles, Oliver Harris, Regina Weinreich, and Eddie Woods, among others, they evoke a time and place where Chapman, mentored by Cartier-Bresson, roamed around Paris photographing nuns, bums, and the idiosyncrasies of street life; Corso took scissors to Marcel Duchamp’s tie in a Dadaist statement while Ginsberg kissed his knees; and Burroughs, with the help of Somerville’s lighting, learned to disappear before an audience’s eyes.

Director Alan Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He is president of Documentary Arts and has a Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the author of 23 books, including Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, which won first place in the New York Book Festival (Children’s Non-Fiction), among other prizes. The off-Broadway premiere of his musical “Blind Lemon Blues,” co-created with Akin Babatunde, received rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety. Govenar’s film Stoney Knows How, based on his book by the same title about Old School tattoo artist Leonard St. Clair, was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and was selected as an Outstanding Film of the Year by the London Film Festival. Govenar also has produced and directed numerous films in association with NOVA, La Sept/ARTE, and PBS for broadcast and educational distribution, including The Voyage of Doom, Le Naufrage de la Belle, The Devil’s Swing, Texas Style, Everything But the Squeak, The Human Volcano, The Hard Ride, Dreams of Conquest, and Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar.

Judging from the trailer, The Beat Hotel looks like it will be a documentary not to be missed by any fans of the Beats.

Clip: Creating Space

26 Mar

 

I’m pleased to have a personal essay published inCreating Space.  In the essay, I write about my angsty teen years in New Jersey … and how I still sometimes feel that way.

Creating Space is a Lenten devotional published by RedeemerWrites, part of the Redeemer Writers Group, an arts ministry at the Center for Faith & Work.  As you may know, I’m one of the leaders of the Writers Group, and so I was involved in soliciting entries for Creating Spaceand editing them, under the direction of Maria Fee.  The devotional features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as calligraphy by artist David Chang.

Creating Space is on sale for $5.

Happy Greek Independence Day!

25 Mar

 

I’m trapped inside, working on my book today so it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it to the Greek parade today.  It looks rather grey out, but at least it will be cool for all the people marching in the parade.  My favorite are all the children dressed up in traditional Greek costume.  Too cute!  You can see my photos from last year here.

What’s the Greek parade for, you ask?  To celebrate Greek Independence Day, of course!  March 25 is Greek Independence Day.  Here’s a little history in case you’re new to my blog and missed it last year:

Greece was a strong empire, impacting language and culture around the world for much of ancient history.  Even after Greece fell to Roman rule, Greek thought and influence remained strong.  However, in 1453 the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire.

On March 25, 1821, Metropolitan Germanos of Patras raised a revolutionary flag under a tree outside of Agia Lavra, a monastery in the Peloponnese.  This wasn’t the first clash between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire in those 400 years.  The Turks had burned monastery, which was built in AD 961, to the ground in 1585.  The Greeks rebuilt it in 1600 but then the Ottoman Empire armies of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt destroyed the church in 1715.  The Greeks rebuilt it again, and in 1821 Germanos gave an oath to the Greek fighters and raised the flag.  Pasha’s army destroyed Agia Lavra again in 1826.

The War for Independence lasted nine years.  Finally, on 1829, a small part of Greece was liberated.  Slowly, other parts of Greece were liberated.  On July 21, 1832, the Treaty of Constantinople, which put the Greek borders in writing, was signed, and on August 30, 1832, it was ratified.  Still, it wasn’t until after World War II that other Greek lands were returned to Greece.

You can read my full article on Agia Lavra, the church where the revolution began, in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

Victory Hellas!

Ancient Greek Pottery at the Met

23 Mar

Ancient Greek pottery on view at the Met.

Each bowl, vase, and urn tells a story….

Writing Wednesday: “I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck”

21 Mar

I don’t really I get writers’ block.  I always have an idea of what I want to put on the page, or else I just start writing and something new and unexpected finds its way onto the page.  The problem I have is in getting it out onto the page in the first place.  I know that sounds an awful lot like the same thing as writers’ block, but hear my out because I feel there’s a bit of a distinction.

I’m a self-editor.  I can’t get a sentence out without questioning its validity, its beauty, or its coherence.  I blame my career choice for that: I’m an editor by profession.  I obsess over syntax and punctuation, as if they’re more important than the story itself.

Once I’ve gotten a few paragraphs on the page, I begin to worry.  Was that a good place to start the story?  Should I open with dialogue?  Did I provide enough background information?  Too much background information?  Is this story even worth telling???

I move paragraphs around.  I delete sentences.  I go back and reread what I wrote and decide I hate it all.  I feel like giving up, and I haven’t even written the middle of the story yet.

While writing workshops are extremely beneficial to raising issues a writer may have never thought about in their own work, the flipside is it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the criticism that it negatively affects the writing process.  As I write, there’s a cacophony of “create scenes,” “give us more,” and “show, don’t tell” in my head.  These are important elements to keep in mind, no doubt, but the first draft doesn’t always have all those elements in perfect harmony.  The first draft sometimes comes out like a rambling outline of thoughts.  (Not unlike this blog.)

And that’s okay.

I’m a firm believer in Allen Ginsberg’s writing philosophy of “first thought best thought.”  I think the core of writing comes from the pacing and passion of spontaneity.  But that doesn’t mean it always works out that way.  Sometimes the first draft is like a car revving its engine.  Maybe you’re just spinning your wheels and not actually getting to your destination, but you’re gearing up for it.

I felt so encouraged when I read that John Green deletes “about 90%” of his first drafts:

Q. How do you deal with writers’ block?
A. I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts (the only exception to this rule so far has been Will Grayson, Will Grayson) so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90% chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.

I also like to remind myself of something my dad said to me once in re. writers’ block: “Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.”

If the name John Green sounds familiar that’s because he’s the guy who decided with his brother to stop corresponding to each other via textual communication and talk primarily through vlogs on youtube.  “The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck,” as his website points out.

 

John Green’s also the enviable author whose manuscript reached the #1 position on Amazon this past summer even before it was published.  His new book is called The Fault in Our Stars; he previously wrote Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Not being able to get words out onto the page and deleting 90% of them, it’s amazing writers ever publish anything at all!

Burning Furiously Beautiful on Pinterest

19 Mar

Burning Furiously Beautiful, the book on Jack Kerouac I’m collaborating on with Paul Maher Jr., is taking shape.  Paul suggested I make a Pinterest board based on the book, and I’m super excited about the way it came out.  So far I’ve cataloged photographs with captions to tell the story of part 1 of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  It’s such a fun way to explore a story.

Want to check it out?  I’d love to hear your feedback.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

17 Mar

Everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day!  Actually, my mom and I often get mistaken for Irish.  It must be our fair Swedish skin and eyes.  I even once got a letter addressed to Nik O’Lopoulos.  Yep.

Here’s a couple of St. Patrick’s Day-related links for you:::

  • On my last trip to Ireland, I got to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  Fun facts: Benjamin Guinness — yes, of beer fame — funded the reconstruction of the cathedral and Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) was dean here.  Find out more in my Church Hopping article.
  • Then, this summer I took a group Church Hopping to St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in New York City.  You can read about that fun experience here.
  • One of my colleagues at Burnside, wrote this interesting article about the meaning of hair when Sinéad O’Connor tweeted that she hated Ireland.
  • Here’s a review of Irish author Colum McCann’s Dancer, also from a colleague on Burnside.
  • You know how four-leaf clovers are supposed to be lucky?  Well, someone in Japan found a 56-leaf clover.
  • This is a pretty four-leaf clover necklace.
  • Have you ever heard this Irish blessing?  It’s so beautiful, and it always reminds me of the Rebecca St. James song “Abba Father.”
  • Going back to Guinness, the beer company is aiming to set a record for the world’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day party. Sounds fun!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!!

Writing Wednesday: If You Miss a Beat, You Create Another

14 Mar

I had the great privilege of hearing Patti Smith read from Just Kids at The New School a while back.  She read from the priceless scene in which she meets Allen Ginsberg at an automat.  I’m quite fond of kitsch automat culture, and used to frequent the one down on Saint Marks when it was still around.  Basically, an automat is fast fast food: you don’t even have to stand in line to order a burger and fries; you just slip a few quarters into a vending machine and out comes surprisingly delicious warm food.  Whenever I ate at the Automat, I felt like I was a character straight out of The Jetsons.  I was hooked on their mac-and-cheese egg rolls.  The resurgence of The Automat only stuck around for a few years, but as a whole they were big a few decades ago.  When Patti Smith was in her early twenties, scraping by to survive, she fed a few quarters into an automat to get some quick, cheap food.  When she turned the knob she discovered the price had gone up.  The machine had sucked up her meager coins and she was about to go hungry when Allen Ginsberg offered her the additional cents and even paid for a cup of coffee.  They get to talking, she knowing perfectly well he is the great poet, and he thinking the whole time she is a handsome boy!

I knew for a long time that I wanted to read Just Kids.  It had all the makings of a book I knew I’d love—New York City, Beat poets, artists, The Hotel Chelsea, Andy Warhol, music, and memoir.  The only problem was that I was inundated with reading assignments for classes and bills to pay for tuition and books for said classes.  Just Kids wasn’t constantly checked out of the library, which was probably for the best because I didn’t have the time to read it anyway.  But!  I have at last read it—savored it.  I so greatly enjoyed Smith’s poetic voice and her obsession over Rimbaud.  I liked reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship, their strivings toward art, their fashion!  And I was so happy to discover that in addition to the Allen Ginsberg connection, Smith also befriended poet Gregory Corso, whose poetry I revere.

Patti Smith also began a relationship with Sam Shepard, and they end up collaborating on a play together.  I find great reassurance in reading their exchange.  Smith was nervous about the prospect of improvising during the play, and on page 185 of the first edition (HarperCollins, 2010), Smith asked, “What if I mess it up?  What if I screw up the rhythm?”  Shepard replied:

“You can’t,” he said.  “It’s like drumming.  If you miss a beat, you create another.”

From Just Kids I learned a lot about being part of the “scene,” which comes across as important to the evolution and success of one’s career.  However, this little line spoken by Sam Shepard is a solid reminder that in writing and in life the beat goes on.  If you miss a beat, you improvise and create another.

Jeremy Begbie: Using Musical Styles to Find a Writing Style

13 Mar

On Saturday I attended a luncheon with Jeremy Begbie, amazing jazz pianist and theologian, and then in the evening heard him speak as part of the Gospel & Culture series.  As a writer, I find inspiration everywhere and feel like I can learn so much from other arts disciplines.

Begbie really got me thinking about:

  • tension and resolution
  • abundance within containment
  • improvisation
  • the unexpected
  • discordance

He said art should serve a good end but warned against sentimentality.

Here’s how Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work promoted the event:

What difference can the announcement that Jesus is raised from the dead make to the arts and artists today? Begbie will show how the arts have unique powers to unlock the revolutionary nature of this event, and in turn, how the resurrection revolutionizes the arts. The presentation will include extensive performance.
Jeremy BegbieJeremy Begbie is the inaugural holder of the Thomas A. Langford Research Professorship in Theology at Duke Divinity School, North Carolina, and founding Director of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts. He teaches systematic theology, and he specializes in the interface between theology and the arts. His particular research interest is the interplay between music and theology. He is also Senior Member at Wolfson College, Cambridge, and an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculties of Divinity and Music at the University of Cambridge. Previously he has been Associate Principal at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and Honorary Professor at the University of St Andrews where he directed the research project, Theology Through the Arts at the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. He is author of a number of books, including Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts (T & T Clark); Theology, Music and Time (CUP), and most recently, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Baker/SPCK) which won the Christianity Today 2008 Book Award in the Theology/Ethics Category. He is a professionally trained and active musician, and has taught widely in the UK, North America and South Africa, specializing in multimedia performance-lectures.

Begbie played snippets of classical music to show how discordance can be beautiful because it is unexpected.  Not only did it make me want to listen to more live classical music, but it inspired me to be more playful stylistically with my writing.  It’s fun to experiment with how unexpected twists and turns that leave the reader turning the page to find out what happens next.