Tag Archives: Native American

How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

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!


Hot Tip: 7 Kerouac-Related Places to Visit in Lowell Not Covered by Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

10 Oct


Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) has done another fantastic job creating an itinerary that explores the town in which Kerouac was born and where he was laid to rest. If you’re spending time in Lowell and want to explore a few places off the beaten track, though, there are still many Kerouac-related places to check out. This is by no means an inclusive list, but it’s a few options if you’re staying in Lowell longer, creating your own tour, or looking to dig deeper into Lowell’s history.

1.  Kerouac’s typewriter is on display at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center … unfortunately, due to the government shut down you probably won’t be able to see it right now.

2.  It seems fitting that the National Streetcar Museum is in the hometown of the author of On the Road. Visiting the museum will give you context to the transportation history that played an important role in Kerouac’s life and literature.

3.  The  Pow-Wow Oak Tree is believed to have stood for 300 years! It was a sacred meeting place for Native Americans. Given Kerouac’s Native American ties, this may be a unique stop on your tour. Unfortunately, the tree was cut down just this year, but you can still visit the place where it stood.

4.  Kerouac’s birth home, which is on the LCK tour, has yet to be made into a museum, but painter James McNeill Whistler’s birthplace has been owned by the Lowell Art Association since 1908 and is now a museum. Kerouac would have walked past it and known about this famous artist. In 1993, John Suiter showed his photographs Rumors of Kerouac here.

5.  The Sun is important to Kerouac’s legacy. Kerouac worked for the newspaper, and journalist Charles Sampas reviewed Kerouac’s work in its pages. It used to be located in Kearney Square, but more recently moved to the American Textile History Museum.

6.  Visit Monument Square, and you’ll pass by the same statues Kerouac once did.

7.  Dana’s Fruit & Confectionery has been around since 1914. We all know Kerouac had a sweet tooth, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he stopped in here. …Just don’t try to take any pictures inside!

You may also like:

My photographs of places in Lowell from Kerouac’s time that are still around today


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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac

15 Mar


photo via ELA

After a short hiatus for renovations and new partnership, Bowery Poetry is back—dropping “Club” from its title—and they’re hosting a Garifuna-Breton party! I’ve posted before about endangered languages—both of which these are—but why I specifically want to mention this party is because Jack Kerouac claimed to have descended from a Breton nobleman.

Bretons are people from Brittany, a Celtic nation located in France. During Kerouac’s day and age there were more than one million Breton speakers. The Brythonic language (Welsh, also endangered, is another example of a Brythonic language) was originally well regarded and spoken among the upper classes, but as people began assimilating it became known as the language of the commoners. Today,  most Bretons today speak French, and only about 200,000 people—particularly in the western area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the efforts of Diwan schools, which were founded in 1977 as an immersion program. Even so, UNESCO classifies Breton as a “severely endangered” language. For more on the history of the language visit Breton Language and visit the US Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

Kerouac’s family was French Canadian, and growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, his first language was the working-class French-Canadian dialect joual. It’s interesting to note that both Breton and joual are associated with commoners; perhaps this is a key to understanding Kerouac and his literature. As far as my current research shows, he was not familiar with the Breton language. However, I recently saw Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, which told the story of how one day Kerouac was sitting on the beach in Big Sur with poet and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti repeated the phrase “the fish in the sea speak Breton.” Kerouac perked up, hearing the connection to his roots, and asked Ferlinghetti about it and wrote it down in the little notebook he always carried with him. The phrase found its way into his novel Big Sur.

Satori in Paris, which came three years after Big Sur, recounts Kerouac’s travels to France and Brittany in search of his roots. For a fascinating look at Kerouac’s trip and ancestral lineage, check out Dave Moore’s article “The Breton Traveller” on Beatdom.

Here’s the press release for the Garifuna-Breton party:




Poetry! Music! Dance!

Sunday*, March 18 from 6pm-11pm

Admission $10

Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery (at 1st Street)

Endangered Language groups unite in a call to action to focus attention on the fact that more than half the world’s languages will disappear this century  

Two cultures who met through the Endangered Language Alliance, will celebrate their differences (Breton being Celtic and Garifuna being Arawak), and their similarities (both on the Endangered Language spectrum), but mainly will just celebrate with live music, dance and poetry. This event is being produced by the Bowery Arts + Science Endangered Language Program, and will be one of the first events at the newly renovated Bowery Poetry space at 308 Bowery.


The strong Breton cultural movement, known as Fest-Noz,  has preserved the expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes. About a thousand Festou-Noz take place every year with participants varying from a hundred to several thousand people, thousands of musicians and singers and tens of thousands of regular dancers.


Descendants of Arawak, Carib, and African warriors, the resilient Garifuna people of Central America and the Caribbean are known for their rich traditional folklore, including music, dance, food and language. James Lovell is a New York based Belizean Garifuna drummer, recording artist, performer, teacher, and Garifuna cultural activist who grew up with stories told by his elders about the bravery of the Garifuna people and their military leader, Chief Joseph Chatoyer, against efforts by the British colonialists to deny them their identity and the right to speak the Garifuna language.  



*I double-checked this, and according to the Endangered Language Alliance the event is on MONDAY the 18th.

Sneak Peek of Burning Furiously Beautiful: Early Version of “On the Road” Tells Kerouac’s Mom’s Story

8 Jan


From chapter 1 of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” the book I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr.:

In an unpublished prose fragment, Jack Kerouac incorporated his mother and father’s French-Canadian heritage into one version of his road novel. It was centered on his mother’s birth using the pseudonym of Gaby L’Heureux. Gaby’s pregnant mother unwisely took a long journey by train to visit relatives in St. Pacome in the Quebec province of Canada. Gaby’s mother, though poor, was pure at heart, according to Kerouac. She gave birth to a set of twins before dying in her bed. Gaby survived but her twin did not. Gaby’s widowed father, Louis L’Heureux, who stayed home in Nashua, tended a gloomy bar. Outside, staring at the canopy of stars reeling over him, he adjusted his collar, securing himself unwittingly for one more cruel “blow” to his life.

The mother’s body was brought back to Nashua accompanied by her Aunt Alice and the infant Gaby. Kerouac captured in this bit of wrtiting how the train moved through the New England countryside, and how the Merrimack River wended its way through New Hampshire, a land once inhabited by Algonquin Indians waiting for “life.”

Gaby’s piercing cries irritated the travelers, and she was unaware of the life all around her. At the train station, her father took her in his arms, and he looked down to her adoringly. Alice predicted that they would never be without troubles: “Life is sad, O my love….”

This was first posted on the book’s Facebook page. For the latest, check out our page!

Where Is Knowledge Inherent?

28 Nov

“Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of the earth….”

~ Luther Standing Bear, Lakota tribe

I read this quote in The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians by Larry J. Zimmerman and thought it was just lovely.

I Love Menominee: Student Speaks Endangered Language

2 Mar

A middle school student was reprimanded recently for saying “I love you” in her the Menominee language while at school.  Miranda Washinawatok was benched from her basketball game because her teacher couldn’t understand what she was saying.  The teacher said the Wisconsin student could not speak in the endangered Native American language because it kept the teacher from knowing what she was saying.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, it was common to hearing foreign languages—mainly Korean—in the hallways or on the playground.  Maybe there were times when I had to remind my friends to translate for me, but I don’t remember the teachers ever telling students they weren’t allowed to speak in their native language.  Of course, non-native English speakers attended ESL and encouraged to learn English, and you weren’t allowed to whisper or talk in class regardless of what language you were speaking in.  There was, however, never a sense that a student wasn’t allowed to speak in a foreign language among his or her friends.

However, that has not been the case elsewhere in the world.  My ancestors from my mother’s side were Sami, from the Swedish Lapland, and there are many stories of children not being allowed to speak their native Sami language and the language was not taught in schools.  Today there are nine living Sami languages, but some Sami languages are critically endangered.

Likewise, the Menominee language that the Wisconsin middle schooler said “I love you in” is a critically endangered language.  The language is an Algonquian language used by the Native American Menominee tribe in the Midwest.

Wikipedia reports:

According to a 1997 report by the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, 39 people speak Menominee as their first language, all of whom are elderly; 26 speak it as their second language; and 65 others have learned some of it for the purpose of understanding the language and/or teaching it to others.

If you’re interested in learning Menominee, check out this English-Menominee dictionary or this tutorial.

You may also be interested in the College of Menominee Nation, which is working on a grant called “Menominee Language Revitalization: Teaching the Community” that proposes the following:

The language project will focus on implementing weekly “Language Tables” at six sites on the Menominee Indian Reservation. A Language Table is a place where a person can go and learn Menominee Language. The Language Tables, held on a year round basis, are set up for beginning learners as well as for advanced learners. A fluent Menominee will be in attendance at all Language Tables. Most often, Language Tables will start with a pot luck meal.

Here’s the website for the Menominee tribe

So just how do you say “I love you” in Menominee?  “Tapanaew” means love.