Monday, November 30, 2009

Beat Poetry Contest winners

The Beat Poetry Contest has come to a close and we'll be announcing the winners by publishing the top three poems over the next three days. We had 12 poems submitted, and choosing the top three was quite a challenge. Trying to imagine what poems Jack would dig is a daunting task.

Nevertheless, decisions have been made and tomorrow we'll publish the third place winner. Wednesday we'll publish the 2nd place winner. Finally, on Thursday we'll publish the first place winner, who'll receive a copy of The Beat Handbook.

Thanks to everyone who submitted poems, and please keep on writing. That's what Jack would do!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks, Jack Kerouac

Here's a short little piece on Jack by Carolyn Kellogg in the LA Times: Thanks, Jack Kerouac. It includes lines like "when Kerouac imagined something grand and unnameable and just out of reach, he could be electrifying" and provides a link to Jack singing "Ain't We Got Fun."

Let's give thanks today for many things, Jack Kerouac included.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"What's your favorite Kerouac book?" poll ends soon

Our "What's your favorite Kerouac book?" poll (see right hand sidebar) ends in 4 days. So far, The Dharma Bums has a convincing lead. Let's see if we can push the total number of votes over 30!

Exercise your right to vote!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Magnetic Beat Poetry

If you want to play "magnetic poetry" on-line with the words of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, or even Bukowski, click here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bloodstream City

Every once in a while I happen upon a new blog with a post that really speaks to me. Bloodstream City is one of those. Well, at least the post about Kerouac certainly left me saying "Right on!" Click here to read the post - it will remind you why you love Jack.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

City Lights links to The Daily Beat

I just learned that City Lights has linked directly to my interview with Helen Weaver on their website. You can view City Lights' website here.

This is pretty big news for The Daily Beat! City Lights is the biggest name in beat publishing, and has been since Kerouac's time, so getting some recognition from them is very validating.

Granted, I had to hitch my wagon to Helen Weaver's star to get it to happen, but you know the old saying: "Put me in, coach."

Is that a bunch of future book sales I'm smelling...?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interview with Helen Weaver

Hot off the press, here is the e-mail interview granted me by Helen Weaver, author of The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifies. I owe Helen a huge "thank you" for giving me the opportunity to interview her, and, as you'll see, for her care in answering with such enthusiasm and detail. I hope this interview inspires readers to order a copy of The Awakener and revisit some of Jack's writings.


Rick Dale: How would you describe your approach to writing? For example, do you have a special place and time when you write? Do you use a word processor or do you write by hand? Do you pre-write (outlines, visuals, etc.)? Do you have any techniques to overcome “writer’s block”?

Helen Weaver: I like to write early in the morning, fresh from dreams. Afternoons are mostly for revision. My Grandma Hemenway said she could never initiate anything in the afternoon, and my mother always wrote letters in the morning. So I guess I’m a chip off the old block.

Occasionally I take notes in a journal; but my journal keeping has declined considerably over the years as I take pity on my executors. (As it is, my archives of letters, journals, and photos, though well organized, are a bit excessive.)

My usual procedure is to compose on the computer (I love Word Perfect, have resisted switching to Word) and revise by hand, sitting up in bed with a clipboard and a red Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen (fine).

I don’t write every day. But once I’ve begun work on a book, it tends to take over my life and I sometimes find myself writing all day, and neglecting other business. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and take notes. I’ll mull over the wording of a sentence in the shower. So I like to tie up any loose ends before I get started on, or resume work on, a book.

Right now I’m three quarters of the way through my next book, which will be about my scientist father and our dialogue about astrology. I already have the title: Translation of Light. I had to put that aside when I signed the contract for The Awakener, and I intend to take it up again after this flurry of promotional activity calms down a little.

Except for my self-published book The Daisy Sutra, I’ve never had to do promotion before. As a rule, translators keep a low profile; their job is to be invisible. So this is all new to me, and pretty heady stuff.

Hmmm. . .writer’s block. I’m not sure that what I had–off and on during the nineteen years the Kerouac book was in the works–was writer’s block or not. I think I was just plain not ready to write it. As Allen Ginsberg said (quoting the Bard), “ripeness is all.”

Back in 1970 I began work on a book–I thought it was a novel–which I eventually had to abandon. At the time, the subject was very controversial: the whole May-December thing from the point of view of a woman who falls in love with a teenage boy. I sat down and read it one day and said, This doesn’t work! and put it in my files. I still haven’t given up on that book; it just wasn’t the right time, and not because it was controversial: I wasn’t ready.

So what I think is, if you’re stuck, if you can’t write it, there’s probably a good reason. You’re probably barking up the wrong book, or the wrong genre. So write something else. Write letters, write in your journal, write down your dreams. Warm up your voice.

Rick Dale: What are your thoughts on how Jack portrayed you (as Ruth Heaper) in Desolation Angels?

Helen Weaver: Desolation Angels was one of the unfinished manuscripts Jack had in his rucksack the day we met in November 1956. When the book was finally published in 1965 I felt honored to be included in it and I was touched by his portrait of me.

Jack was very hurt when I asked him to move out but he had obviously forgiven me by the time he finished the book.

I have always been amused by his choice of name for me. Very biblical! The first time we made love, Jack quoted The Song of Songs to me: “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies,” and so on. That’s how he came up with the name Ruth Heaper.

Rick Dale: What is your greatest regret and what is your greatest satisfaction about your career as a writer?

Helen Weaver: I’m not sure I have any regrets, except perhaps that it would have been nice if I had made the transition from translator to writer a little earlier. I have at least three more books to write, and I’m pushing eighty!

At the moment I take great satisfaction in having finished my book about Jack. Just the fact that it’s no longer in my files but out in the world is a tremendous relief. Aldous Huxley lost his papers in a fire, and Jimmy Carter lost half a book when his computer crashed. I was lugging this book around for years, always worried that something would happen before I finished it.

I think my greatest satisfaction comes when people tell me that after reading my book, they want to go back and read Kerouac again–or for the first time. Or that they feel they know him better. Then I know I’ve done my job.

Rick Dale: Of the several biographies written about Jack, is there one you recommend?

Helen Weaver: My favorite book about Jack is Joyce Johnson’s memoir, Minor Characters. To my delight, she’s now writing another book about Jack that I know will be wonderful. As a novelist and memoirist herself, Joyce is particularly concerned with carefully tracing Jack’s development as a conscious artist–something he has not been given nearly enough credit for.

Rick Dale: Do you have a response for when people accuse Jack of being a sexist and a misogynist and therefore wonder how you, as a woman, can defend him?

Helen Weaver: I don’t think I defend him; I simply describe him.

If you go by the dictionary definition of misogyny–“hatred of women”–that would be going too far. Jack loved women, beginning with his mother, who was the great love of his life. But he came of age in the forties, when sexism was the order of the day. He was raised Catholic, a religion that denies women both the priesthood and reproductive freedom, and he was capable of saying things like “women must be guided by men.”

But Jack was a mass of contradictions. He was also drawn to Buddhism, and there was a side of him that wasn’t sexist at all: that was deeply compassionate toward, and respectful of, all sentient beings.

That Jack was incapable of having a sustained relationship with any woman (other than his mother) was something he freely admitted. In Windblown World he wrote, “Maybe I’m too wild for protracted love affairs. It’s the world I need most. . . .I want to live. . .and see more of the world, and God knows why, a woman’s love is only one of many wild loves.”

Rick Dale: What actors can you see playing Jack and Neal in the (hopefully) upcoming movie adaptation of On the Road?

Helen Weaver: My dream cast for On the Road–which is a complete fantasy, as you will see–would star the young Mel Gibson, who is the only actor who actually looks like Jack. (If you think I’m crazy, check out a scene in What Women Want where Mel Gibson dances by himself in a sort of forties musical sequence. He looks so much like Jack, it’s uncanny.) Alas, Mel Gibson is too old to play the young Jack, even if he wanted the part. It’s also too late for my choice for Neal: the young Paul Newman, who looked like photos I’ve seen of Neal.

(For the movie version of The Awakener, I’d be Julia Roberts and Joyce would be Renee Zellweger. Dream on, Helen!)

Getting real: In the recently released documentary One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, passages from Jack’s novel are read by John Ventimiglia, the actor who played Artie Bucco in the HBO series The Sopranos. Ventimiglia catches the rhythm of Jack’s unique speech pattern but sounds a bit hoarse, and doesn’t quite nail those Massachusetts vowels, as Johnny Depp does in an earlier film called The Source.

That was a real eye-opener: Johnny Depp on voice-over read Jack’s words with such devoted fidelity to the Kerouac timbre, accent, and rhythms that until Johnny’s image appeared on the screen, I thought it was Jack.

Either Depp or Ventimiglia would probably do an outstanding job of playing Jack. I don’t have a clue who should play Neal.

Rick Dale: You didn’t speak of Neal Cassady much in The Awakener. Could you elaborate on him from your own perspective? Did you ever meet?

Helen Weaver: I never met Neal Cassady, and frankly, I never had any desire to meet him. From all reports, and from the portrait Jack paints of him in On the Road, he sounds like a sexist and a misogynist of the first order!

Rick Dale: Have you read Visions of Cody? If so, what are your thoughts on it? (I’ve been finding it a difficult read.)

Helen Weaver: You’re not alone. I had a hard time with it too; when I worked briefly as an editor at Chelsea House, I actually rejected it. Even Allen Ginsberg had found it “incomprehensible” on first reading. Later he changed his mind and when it was published in 1972–it was Joyce Johnson who published it as an editor at McGraw-Hill–Allen wrote the introduction.

Joyce says it’s full of some extraordinary prose–difficult, yes, but brilliant, in a Joycean way. Between the two of you, you have convinced me to take a second look.

Rick Dale: We know Jack took meticulous care of his writings, letters, etc. You describe him digging manuscripts out of his rucksack. How did he keep them from getting torn and tattered in there? Were they in portfolios or manila folders, or were they just crammed in there “as is”?

Helen Weaver: That was fifty-three years ago! It’s true I do remember many details of that first meeting vividly, but I’m going to have to pass on that one.

The interesting thing is that at the end of his life his letter files, anyway, were apparently in apple-pie order. Ann Charters would know all about that, as she worked with him on a bibliography. When I met John Sampas in 1994, I was amazed to learn that Jack had kept every one of my letters to him in a folder marked with my name.

Rick Dale: Do you have any advice for us aspiring writers? How did your publishing contract with City Lights come about?

Helen Weaver: Read constantly. Read the classics, read detective stories, read about wizards and vampires and dragons, but read! Harry Potter and Marcel Proust sit side by side on my fiction shelf, just waiting for the next time through.

I don’t know anything about writing fiction, but if memoir is your bag, keep a journal. Take notes on your life. Don’t assume that a subject that has already been written about–say, addiction–is no longer of interest. Every life is different. Every voice is different! Your authentic voice is unlike anyone else’s, as is your experience.

If you have a dark and guilty secret, explore it. Respect obsession: it’s the foundation of art.

The life really is in the details. The weirder your experience, the more idiosyncratic, the more personal the stuff you put out there, oddly enough, the more universal will be its appeal. And, of course, the worse the experience, the better the copy.

When writing, if you come to a place where you can’t decide between two ways of saying something, put them both down and decide later which to use. As Yogi Berra put it: When you come to a fork in the road–take it!

I first contacted City Lights in October of 2007. I didn’t know anyone there so I wrote a letter to Lawrence Ferlinghetti which, not surprisingly, went unanswered. He was eighty-eight!

In June 2008, Joyce Johnson urged me to try again. She said to contact her friend Nancy Phillips at City Lights. I turned out Nancy had retired, but she spoke to Bob Sharrard, senior editor there. He agreed to look at the book, he liked it, and that was it.

Unfortunately, in today’s publishing world, it does matter who you know. Especially if, like me, you don’t have an agent.

Join the National Writers Union. Their free contract service alone is worth the price of admission. Keep in touch with your colleagues.

Above all, keep writing. If you’re a writer, you don’t need to be told to write. You have no choice. You’re in good company. Enjoy the process!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notre Dame scholars weigh in on Kerouac and Lowell

You'll recall my blog from October's Lowell Celebrates Kerouac event mentioning the keynote address from a Notre Dame Kerouac scholar, Benedict Giamo. Here's a letter he co-wrote with Louis Pignatelli (who I have to assume is "Lou" from my post of October 6) to the community of Lowell about their visit, with a response from David Amram.

Click here for the letter.

Kerouac is everywhere

Jack's name shows up even in the most unexpected places, like The Huffington Post (click here).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Supporting poetry and poets

Jack Kerouac was a poet, even in his prose work. Indeed, as Helen Weaver says in her fantastic memoir, The Awakener, "Jack always said that his books were poems." Try reading On The Road aloud and see what she means.

I think Jack would want us to support poetry, and to do that we need to support poets.

This coming Friday night at 6:30 PM, at A1 to Go in Gardiner, ME, there will be a poetry reading open to any poets who want to come and read their work. Crystal and I are going. I know I plan to read some of my original poems. I hope you'll consider coming out and supporting poetry!

Another way to support poetry is to buy the work of contemporary poets. For example, my good friend Charlie James just published a fantastic collection of 201 poems titled Life Lines. It's available at Amazon (click here).

Another contemporary poet is Rod Farmer, a colleague at UMF. He just published a book titled Fingers Pointing at the Moon and it's also available via Amazon (click here) or directly from Finishing Line Press (click here).

Thanks in advance for supporting poetry and poets! Jack says "Thanks!"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: Helen Weaver's The Awakener

On October 28 Hannah Edber from City Lights Publishers sent me an e-mail query about my interest in reviewing Helen Weaver's new book, The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties (2009, City Lights Books). I instantly agreed, and the book appeared in the mail November 6 (see, being a somewhat dedicated blogger can pay off - free books!). I started reading it Sunday night and finished it last night. If you knew my life right now, you would know what that means: it means I simply couldn't put it down! 260 pages in three days just doesn't happen for me anymore unless I am mesmerized. And Helen's memoir mesmerized me, to be sure.

Yes, The Awakener focuses on her relationship with Jack Kerouac and so, being the #1 Kerouac fan alive on planet Earth right now, a book about Jack would have to be pretty bad for me to dislike it. On the other hand, it has to be pretty damn good for me not to want to put it down. I even stayed up well past my bedtime (important at my age) last night just because I didn't want to stop reading.

But enough about me. Let me throw some adjectives at you. Helen Weaver is not only a writer who knew Kerouac, she is an excellent writer! Her prose is clear, straightforward, and candid. It is at varying times funny, poignant, heart-wrenching, and insightful. Most importantly for me, it is engaging! It's like sitting down with an old friend and hearing all about her life. I really feel like I know Helen Weaver. And I feel like I know Jack better as well.

Jack dropped into Helen's life in November 1956, showing up at her (and her friend Helen's) apartment in the Village with beat poet friend Allen Ginsberg, Ginsberg's lover Peter Orlovsky, and Lafcadio (Peter's brother). They were a ragtag bunch, having hitchhiked nonstop from Mexico. Jack and Helen fell in love instantly and he lived with her for a short time.

This is how the memoir starts, creating anticipation in the reader for more Kerouac details, but then it switches gears - appropriately - to how Helen, a "girl from Scarsdale with a strict and even repressive middle-class upbringing" (p. 21), ended up living in Greenwich Village and experiencing the many aspects of bohemian living that she did for many years, running in the same circles as the beat writers and even having an affair with comedian Lenny Bruce. We learn of her sexual awakening, her success as a writer translating French books, and her spiritual quest. Her description of being one of the main organizers of the cause supporting Bruce's efforts to beat his obscenity rap is a certifiable, unparalleled piece of 60s history. She also spins some fascinating stories about the famous comedian.

For example, right after John F. Kennedy was killed, she went to see Bruce perform, knowing he would have to say something about the assassination and wondering how he would find humor in it. At the time, famous Mainer (go, Maine!) Vaughn Meader had a hit record called The First Family "satirizing JFK to perfection" (p. 131). Lenny walked out on stage and said nothing for a time, shaking his head as if in sad disbelief.

Then he said, "' Vaughn Meader fucked? Whew!" And the audience roared.

That is just one of many priceless stories that Helen (I can call you Helen, right?) weaves in The Awakener. There's quite a bit about Jack, of course, and her memories of him are specific, detailed and, best of all, unique to her own experiences. You won't read these stories anywhere else, and definitely not from someone with such an authentic voice.

Toward the end of the book, Helen describes how she rediscovered Kerouac after his death through his writings, leading to welcome healing and even a sort of reconciliation with his place in her life. She came to realize what a gifted writer he truly was, and her defense of his place in American literature is both pointed and scholarly.

I am absolutely convinced that anyone with an interest in the beat generation or even the 50s and 60s in general will fall in love with The Awakener, and with Helen Weaver.

Helen, thank you for persevering and finishing this masterpiece. You are a true American treasure.

Daily Beat readers - buy this book (here's the link)! You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Howl biopic: Actors playing Ginsberg, Kerouac, & Cassady

According to, the biopic Howl, depicting the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg, will be released in 2010. James Franco is playing Ginsberg, Todd Rotondi is playing Jack Kerouac, and Jon Prescott is playing Neal Cassady. I leave it to you to determine the appropriateness of the casting, but I think two of the three picks are right on, maybe all three. I'll reserve judgment until I see the film.

James Franco

Todd Rotondi

Jon Prescott

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting a copy of Beat Scene 60

I've been in touch with Kevin Ring of Beat Scene magazine in the U.K. and have figured out - with his help - how to order a copy of Beat Scene 60, the Kerouac special, here in the U.S. Go to Beat Scene and scroll down a bit until you see the picture of Ruth Weiss. The "Buy Now" button right above her picture sends overseas customers to a Pay Pal site for ordering the Kerouac issue.

Mine should be here in the near future and I'll let you know what I think!

Helen Weaver agrees to an interview

Helen Weaver (Ruth Heaper in Kerouac's Desolation Angels) has graciously agreed to an e-mail interview! As soon as I finish reading her memoir, The Awakener, I'll send her a set of questions and then publish the interview here on The Daily Beat.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Awakener by Helen Weaver

I just received a copy of Helen Weaver's The Awakener from City Lights to review here on The Daily Beat. I'm excited to read it and have contacted the author to see if she would be interested in granting me an interview. Weaver was a contemporary of the beat writers and knew Jack intimately (more on that after I read the memoir!), so it promises to be a very interesting read.

Stay tuned for the review (and maybe an interview).

Beat Scene

The magazine Beat Scene published a Jack Kerouac special in October. Since it's a U.K. outfit, I'm not sure how ordering and getting a paper copy of the magazine will work, but I'm going to make an attempt and I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm also going to see if they're interested in mentioning The Beat Handbook.

Ruling in Kerouac estate case

Here's an update on the Kerouac estate case unfolding in Florida: Legal battle over Jack Kerouac estate.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Being in the initial stages of settling my mom's estate (she died two days after Jack's death anniversary), this article about the on-going legal battles over Jack Kerouac's estate caught my eye: Get Your Sordid Kerouac Estate Details Here.

The lesson? Have a will. Make sure it is clear, legal, and current. Provide a copy to your attorney, personal representative, and beneficiaries (don't forget to be specific about who gets your collection of Jack Kerouac books and memorabilia).

But only if you care about your wishes being followed after you head out on your last road trip.

You might also want to prepare a document containing details like social security number, bank account and investment information, insurance policy and retirement information, and other stuff it might be hard for those left behind to pull together or find out about (e.g., usernames and passwords, safe deposit boxes, outstanding loans). Oh, and a concise directive about what to do with your body and how you'd like us all to go about your send-off would be very helpful as well.

And no, it's not morbid. It's called being responsible and considerate.

Jack Kerouac: Blogger

I ran across a piece on that, if nothing else, makes me want to read Why Kerouac Matters, which has been on my list of books to read for a while (hint: my birthday approaches).

Here's the link: On the Road to the Bloggers' Hall of Fame.

Art show on Friday

Don't forget to attend the art show in Richmond this Friday night. It's the first one featuring Crystal's pottery. Details are on the postcard above.

Thanks for supporting the arts (and my love)!