Tag Archives: Grotto

Happy 169th Birthday, Saint Bernadette!

7 Jan

Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on this day in 1844 in Lourdes, France.  She saw a vision of Mother Mary, who spoke to her in Gascon, which is now an endangered language.  The visions inspired the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lowell that Jack Kerouac writes about.  You can read about this famous landmark, where Bob Dylan, Jackie O., and Allen Ginsberg also visited in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.


Gift Guide for the Beat Reader

14 Dec

The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.


Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)


Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.


Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)


Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.


Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.


Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.


Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
 I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.


I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.


Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.

Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.

Jonathan Collins’ Beat Generation Locale Series

8 Oct

9 Lupine Road

When I first saw artist Jonathan Collin’s paintings in person, I thought they were photographs.  They’re stunning.  Incredibly detailed and richly saturated, his Lowell series captures with paint the Massachusetts landscape that Jack Kerouac captured with words.  More than just setting and subject matter, Collins’ use of chiaroscuro resonates with Kerouac’s literature.  There is light piercing the darkness.

When I asked Jonathan if he’d write a little artist statement, he sent me back an email with the below, saying he’d written it spontaneously and with no revision, according to Beat principles.

Visions of Lowell

Jack Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend has always been an important touchstone of literature and revelation of light and beauty to me. In my research of those heady days of the 40s and 50s, I found them not only to be thrilling, but all in the family.

My father, Don Collins, was also in the Navy in WWII , the Merchant Marines, and traveled the world as Kerouac did. My father came back home, worked and painted, Kerouac wrote!

I began this series of paintings of Beat Generation locales in 2010. Traveling to San Francisco first, via the California Zephyr , in 2007, I was astounded by the natural richness and depth of the American landscape. I strolled the streets of North Beach, with its glistening neons and vibrating nightlife. I recorded everything in my journal, sketchbook, and camera. Everything that rose the hairs on my neck in artistic excitement!

I had been to Lowell many times, from the mid 1990s on, but my trip in July 2011 was intended to document the birth and mystery of the seeds planted in Kerouac’s psyche. From the Lupine Road house, to downtown cobbled streets, to the glowing Grotto, I stood transfixed.

Paterson was where my mother was born, and my parents met at the bridge surrounding the Great Falls. Allen Ginsberg was raised in Paterson and grew up  a mere four blocks from these sites. I found Ginsberg’s poem, “The Green Automobile” to be an exquisite inspiration, tying the mythical past to present;”From Lowell’s Merrimack to Paterson’s Passaic.”

My main focus was not only the historical context both personal and literary , but illumination, literally.  Light is the essence of my paintings and a key ingredient in the tempest of Beat literature. From Rimbaud’s “Illuminations,” to Kerouac’s “Visions” series, Gregory Corso’s visionary odes, to Ginsberg’s “Howl,” his plea for understanding.

The need to shed light, to reveal hidden truths beyond words, to make sense of the beauty and sanctity of life, feeling the mystery in the shadows, was and IS, the artists’ true quest.

Just as the Paterson Falls continue to boom and crash, and the neons of Frisco glow endurably, and the spirit of Lowell pulses in the night, so will the work of the Beats continue to inspire, and illuminate generation after generation.

It is my hope that these paintings will enrich the hearts and minds of others, with a glimpse of the light surrounding us, and pray we honor and express the light within us all.

The Moon Her Majesty


The Visitation

[The three paintings above are of the Grotto in Lowell and should be viewed from left to right in the order in which they appear.]