Thursday, June 7, 2018

Curation #59 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Old Angel Midnight by Jack Kerouac

Item #59 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this paperback Grey Fox Press edition of Jack Kerouac's Old Angel Midnight. The copyright page leaves one guessing as to its publication date, but I think this is a second printing from 1995. It's 67 pages, about 5-1/2" x 8", and in good shape. This edition has introductory pieces by Ann Charters and by Michael McClure.

Old Angel Midnight was originally published as a whole in 1973 according to Empty Mirror, but this review of Jack's Book in 1978 says it still hadn't happened. Parts of the work appeared in 1959 (Big Table), 1964 (Evergreen Review), and 1961 (New Directions in Prose & Poetry); and, of course, there are sections of it in different archives. According to the Ann Charters intro, Jack was "finally doodling with an endless automatic writing piece" in 1956, and she claims he was referring to Old Angel Midnight, then titled "Lucien Midnight." I've seen it reported that Jack references the work as early as 1953. It's commonly referred to as a continuous prose poem culled from five of Kerouac's notebooks.

Jack said (this is from the back cover):
Old Angel Midnight is only the beginning of a lifelong work in multilingual sound, representing the haddal-da-babra of babbling world tongues coming in thru my window at midnight no matter where I live or what I'm doing....

Dedicated to Lucien Carr (who my friend Cat De Leon would remind us is a principal catalyst of the Beat movement who gets little recognition for same), Old Angel Midnight is Jack Kerouac at his spontaneous peak power, only it is especially aural as he is concentrating on putting sounds to paper as he listens to the world outside his window. It's a difficult read -- right up there with Visions of Cody -- unless you can appreciate the sounds of the language, making it essential to read Old Angel Midnight aloud for the full experience. That helps get you through the rough patches where you are trying to bring meaning to the words and inevitably fail. It starts out:

1      FRIDAY AFTERNOON IN THE UNIVERSE, in all directions in & out you got your men women dogs children horses pones tics perts parts pans pools palls pails parturiences and petty Thieveries that turn into heavenly Buddha--

And that's just the beginning. See for yourself how wild the ride gets farther along....

P.S. You can click here for a PDF of the first five pages. You can read along with Jack here.

Below is a picture of Shelf #2 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (9th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: a third copy of Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac.

Shelf #2 of my Kerouac bookshelf

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