Monday, April 16, 2018

Curation #35 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac

The 35th item in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this copy of Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac. This is a 4th printing of a 2006 copyright book published by Penguin Poets. It's in good shape and the provenance is likely that I purchased it used from Amazon. It's a small rucksack-worthy yet lengthy book: 4-3/4" x 6" but over 413 pages.

As it says on the first page after Condo's introduction, these sketches were

Printed Exactly As They Were Written
On the Little Pages in the Notebooks
I Carried in My Breast Pocket 1952
Summer to 1954 December........... 
    (Not Necessarily Chronological)

As the inside front cover indicates, sketching is a technique suggested to Jack in 1951 by his friend Ed White: "sketch in the streets like a painter but with words." For two years as he traveled, Jack "sketched" -- in his little notebooks -- observations and descriptions and musings and related mindstuff in spontaneous glory. He typed it all up in 1957 from 15 handwritten notebooks, at which time he added some new sketches (hence the the title page says "Book of Sketches 1952-1957).

Jack talks about sketching in his famous piece, "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose": "sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image." So sketching is similar to the technique he describes in the beginning of San Francisco Blues (see my April 12 blog) except he doesn't seem to limit a piece's length to one notebook page. Interestingly, some of Jack's handwritten entries are included in Book of Sketches (e.g., the title page and the "Finis" and assorted doodles throughout).

Book of Sketches is dedicated to Jack's sister, Caroline Kerouac Blake ("Nin"). That makes it an important statement in itself, but the words are the thing here, and they tell of Kerouac's power to make anything he saw elegant and mesmerizing, from "PANORAMIC CATALOG SKETCH OF BIG EASONBURG (backyard)" to "FRISCO Embarcadero Sept 8" to "RESTING BY A WINDOW IN THE LOUVRES [sic]." This is pure Kerouac from his notebooks, unedited and raw and . . . beautiful.

I hesitate to call this a poetry book (Wikipedia calls it "spontaneous prose poetry," but you'll want to read it like one and skip around, savoring individual sketches. One could argue that it's all poetry, but then one could say that about Jack's prose. Either way, it's all A-number one top-notch wordsmithing from a master of the craft.

Below is a picture of Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (16th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Scattered Poems by Jack Kerouac.

Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf

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