Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

 I'm not going to  belabor the point with a long post (it's time for potato peeling), so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this. And remember to take note of what you're thankful for at some point in the day.

Here's a bonus for stopping by today: Charles Laughton reading from The Dharma Bums

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Kerouac-related birthday: Joanne Kyger


On this date -- November 19 -- poet Joanne Kyger was born in 1934. She was an acclaimed poet in her own right who was associated with the Beat movement but never considered herself part of any particular poetry movement, having borrowed from many. She moved to San Francisco in 1957 and became part of the literary scene anchored by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure et al. To my knowledge, Kyger did not appear in any of Kerouac's works. She married Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums) in Kyoto, Japan on February 23, 1960.

Kerouac mentioned Kyger in several published letters (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1969). In a December 6, 1959 letter to Gary Snyder, Kerouac wrote:
We missed [Philip] Whalen by a day. At that thumping mad 1713 Buchanan house where Joanne K. clobbered Jay Blaise with a half-gallon jug of port which decided us not to wait for Thanksgiving turkey there but take off. However I must say in very honesty with absolutely no bullshit that Joanne is the most sensitive woman I've met since Joan Adams (Bill Burroughs' dead wife). But Joanne needs a good man to put her in her place, in the sack. (Ibid, p. 259)
I'm only reporting what Kerouac wrote, not endorsing misogyny.

Read more about Kyger and some of her poems by clicking here.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Ms. Kyger.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

I provide a Jack Kerouac quote and you figure out the book (9th in a series)

This is the 9th in a series of posts where I provide a quote from one of Jack Kerouac's books and you figure out which one. Post your answer as a comment. Here's the passage:

Yessir, boy, the earth is an Indian thing but the waves are Chinese. Know what that means? Ask the guys who drew those old scrolls, or ask the old Fishermen of Cathay, and what Indian ever dared to sail to Europe or Hawaii from the salmon-tumbling streams of North America? When I say Indian, I mean Ogallag,

Good luck! But don't be fooled -- part of this language appears in at least two of Kerouac's books (he was a great recycler of language).

Oh, and remember our policy on comments (over there on the right).

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Happy 90th Birthday to David Amram


Trading books with David in Lowell in 2011

Musician and Jack Kerouac close friend David Amram turns 90 years old today. David (I call him that having met him and talked with him a number of times at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! and having traded books with him there -- click HERE) wrote a book titled Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac (curated HERE) and was an intimate acquaintance of Jack Kerouac's, yet I don't think he appears in any of Kerouac's works, under pseudonym or otherwise. He did appear in and write the music for the Beat film narrated by Kerouac, Pull My Daisy, which you can watch HERE and read David's thoughts about in an Evergreen Review piece HERE.

There is an official David Amram website with a ton of information -- click HERE

If you know David or know about him, you know that he is an amazing force of nature, consummate musician, and all-around nice guy. It's good that such a fine human being has enjoyed such a long life and I wish him many more years.

Happy 90th, David!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Review of The ragged promised land: Jack Kerouac's America by Gregory Stephenson


Gregory Stephenson retired from the University of Copenhagen in 2017, so his 2020 book -- The ragged promised land: Jack Kerouac's America -- is expectedly academic in tone. But don't let that dissuade you from getting a copy and devouring it: it's gratifyingly accessible and thoroughly engaging. Note that certain of these pieces appeared previously in Eclectica or Empty Mirror

Published by Ober-Limbo Verlag, The ragged promised land . . . comprises 8 essay-type pieces described on the back cover as follows:

Travels in a holey holy land, sojourns in a skid row hotel, larceny & poetic license, a secret Victorian stoner, raptures of an impoverished consumptive young poet, the strange resurrection of old engravings, a gathering of far-flung fragments, moving a ton of weed.

This accurately summarizes what you'll encounter in this book, starting with the essay, "THE RAGGED PROMISED LAND: JACK KEROUAC'S AMERICA" (obviously the source of the title of the book). In this essay, the author explores the theme of America as expressed in Jack Kerouac's writings (fictions, essays, letters, journals). Stephenson describes the aim of his essay thus:

My aim is to inquire into the author's response to and reflections upon the people and places of his [Kerouac's] native land as they are expressed in his novels and other writings.

This is a 58-page essay with 5 pages of endnotes, and it is a substantive analysis and exploration of Kerouac's thinking and feelings about the America he so elegantly writes about. Along the way you'll encounter the occasional word you'll need to look up, like impercipient (p. 30), and discussions of the dichotomies of East v. West and urban v. rural; however, it is worth the effort to stay with Stephenson's thesis, which in turn analyzes The Town and the City, Visions of Cody, Book of Sketches, On The Road, The Dharma Bums, "The Rumbling, Rambling Blues" (a short story I have not read!), Maggie Cassidy, Lonesome Traveler, the introduction to Robert Frank's The Americans, Desolation Angels, Big Sur, Vanity of Duluoz, and Pic.

Stephenson discusses how Kerouac's views on America have antecedents in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, and even Mark Twain.He further compares Kerouac's disapproval of certain American societal norms to the writing of various social critics, including Sloan Wilson, author of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

I'll conclude with the author's own words:

The particular expressions of the [American] Dream affirmed in Kerouac's writing include, of course, that over-arching foundational dream "the pursuit of happiness," as well as the dream of personal freedom, of independence and agency, the dream of self-reliance and self-actualization, the dream of personal transformation and the living out of religious ideals, and -- according to Kerouac's own subjective understanding of the terms -- the dream of the self-made man and the dream of success . . .  . (pp. 64-65).

Kerouac saw America, with all its faults, as "ragged" and "tumbledown" but nevertheless "the promised land" and "holy" (p. 67). Stephenson supports this with numerous examples throughout the essay, which accounts for nearly half the 154-page book.

The second piece, "POETIC LICENCE [sic]: The Crime and Hard Time of Gregory Corso, or A Portrait of the Poet as a Young Felon,"delves into the various conflicting stories about Corso's criminal past. The conclusion? He spent time in prison as a young man but the exact dates are in dispute as are the crimes, with some of the confusion caused by Corso's own words.

Next it's back to Kerouac with "BEFORE AND AFTER DESOLATION: TWO SOJOURNS BY JACK KEROUAC AT THE HOTEL STEVENS." This piece includes interesting historical information about the Hotel Stevens and Seattle at the time, as well as analysis of Kerouac's time on Desolation Peak and how his two stays at the Hotel Stevens bookended that experience.

Fourth is "MUTINOUS JESTER: THE COLLAGE NOVELS OF AKBAR DEL PIOMBO." The pen-name for Norman Rubington, Del Piombo produced fantastical verbal/visual novels that were precursors to the modern graphic novel. Stephenson discusses six of these novels, the most well-known being Fuzz Against Junk (1959), about cops disguising themselves as beatniks to infiltrate the San Francisco junk scene. Much of Del Piombo's work was satirical and dealt with dystopian futures.

Next is "CURIOUS AND NON UN-POETICAL IMAGININGS: A Forgotten Specimen of Victorian Cannabis Writing," a discussion of an 1884 anonymous pamphlet titled Confessions of an English Hachish-Eater

Sixth is "A FEW FAR-FLUNG FRAGMENTS OF FORGOTTEN KEROUACIANA," in which Stephenson, with acknowledgments to noted U.K. Kerouac scholar Dave Moore, presents a number of uncollected writings of Kerouac such as autobiographical statements to accompany published works and letters to editors. Like other pieces, this essay includes pictures of relevant media (in this case, e.g., Escapade magazine covers and tickets to Seattle's burlesque theater).

Finally, the seventh and eighth pieces are reviews of re-issued books, one a collection of poetry by little-known Samuel Greenberg, and the other Jerry Kamstra's Weed: Adventures of a Dope Smuggler. Both reviews made me want to get my hands on a copy.

Alone, the title essay in this collection is worth the price of admission. The other seven pieces are equally well-written and serve as icing on the cake.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book, especially to Kerouac/Beat Generation fans. It's available through Amazon (click HERE).

Remembering Alan Watts


Spiritual entertainer and philosopher/writer Alan Watts died on this date -- November 16 -- in 1973. He appeared in two Jack Kerouac novels: as Arthur Whane in The Dharma Bums and as Alex Aums in Desolation Angels.

I've read and listened to Watts a lot, and he continues to impress me with his ability to make Eastern spirituality understandable. We are lucky that we have his books, videos (see YouTube), the official website (, and even phone apps where we can access his unique ability to entertain and teach at the same time. Click HERE for one of my favorite Watts short lectures animated by the creators of South Park

I posted about Kerouac and Watts on July 24, 2011 (click HERE). We remembered Watts last year on this date HERE.

RIP, Mr. Watts.

Thursday, November 12, 2020


Alan Ansen in 1973

Writer Alan Ansen died on this date -- November 12 -- in 2006. He appeared in several of Jack Kerouac's works: as Rollo Greb in On The Road; Austin Bromberg in The Subterraneans; Irwin Swenson in Book of Dreams and Visions of Cody; Amadeus Baroque in Doctor Sax; and, Allen Ansen in Book of Sketches. HERE is a nice remembrance of Ansen along with a sample of his poetry.

Jack talks about Ansen (Rollo Greb) in On The Road as follows:
Everything happened. We found the wild, ecstatic Rollo Greb and spent a night at his house on Long Island. Rollo lives in a nice house with his aunt; when she dies the house is all his. Meanwhile she refuses to comply with any of his wishes and hates his friends. He brought this ragged gang of Dean, Marylou, Ed, and me, and began a roaring party. The woman prowled upstairs; she threatened to call the police. "Oh, shut up, you old bag!" yelled Greb. I wondered how he could live with her like this. He had more books than I've ever seen in all my life--two libraries, two rooms loaded from floor to ceiling around all four walls, and such books as the Apocryphal Something-or-Other in ten volumes. He played Verdi operas and pantomimed them in his pajamas with a great rip down the back. He didn't give a damn about anything. He is a great scholar who goes reeling down the New York waterfront with original seventeenth-century musical manuscripts under his arm, shouting. He crawls like a big spider through the streets. His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light. He rolled his neck in spastic ecstasy. He lisped, he writhed, he flopped, he moaned, he howled, he fell back in despair. He could hardly get a word out, he was so excited with life. Dean stood before him with head bowed, repeating over and over again, "Yes . . . Yes . . . Yes." He took me into a corner. "That Rollo Greb is the greatest, most wonderful of all. That's what I was trying to tell you--that's what I want to be. I want to be like him. He's never hung-up, he goes every direction, he lets it all out, he knows time, he has nothing to do but rock back and forth. Man, he's the end! You see, if you go like him all the time you'll finally get it."
          "Get what?"
"IT! IT! I'll tell you-now no time, we have no time now." Dean rushed back to watch Rollo Greb some more. (Penguin Books, 1976, p. 127)

Notice, in particular, that Ansen had "IT," which I write about in my book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions, on Day 85 (click here for a post about that particular entry).

Understanding what IT is can be a challenge, but it's important and I hope the below excerpt from my book helps:
Dean and Sal are sitting in the back of a travel bureau car at the beginning of their way back East. Dean has been going on about IT. What is IT? I can't explain it with concepts and even if I could you couldn't understand it with your mind. Maybe it's that state where you find yourself and you lose yourself, like Bodhi talks about in the movie, Point Break. Or maybe it's the state Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls "flow" (1991). Or maybe it's the state of no mind, beginner's mind, where you know everything and you know nothing and you know that this moment is everything and nothing at the same time and words don't matter at all. It is understanding without words, without thought, like when you and a friend both experience something and look at each other and words are unnecessary. 
But what's the Kerouaction, you ask? Be fully present every moment. Experience everything like you were going to die tomorrow. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste with reckless abandon whatever is in the moment. Things are fine just like they are, right this minute, right now. And there is no need to label what is. As Alan Watts pointed out, the sound of the rain needs no explanation. (p. 187)

I may be off-base on IT, but then it's an ineffable concept so even if I fully understood it, I would be incapable of defining it adequately.

So be IT.