Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jack Kerouac & Emily Dickinson

I've loved Emily Dickinson since high school. I "got" her poetry. And that was an oasis of wonder amidst all the prescribed writing we had to suffer through (yes, suffer - because neither did we understand it nor were we interested in understanding it). But her poems "got through." I connected.

I had forgotten about a possible Kerouac-Dickinson connection until the other day when I was researching whether Kerouac had ever met Alan Watts. I knew they were contemporaries who opined about each other, but I couldn't remember a meeting.

Anyway, while thumbing through Gerald Nicosia's Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, I saw a passage I had marked up in which Nicosia was speculating about influences on Jack. In particular, he was focusing on Jack's use of a motif: "the slanting red light of afternoon sun" stirring "wonder in man" (1983, p. 312). Nicosia postulates that Jack may have learned to express this motif from the following Dickinson poem:

There's a certain slant of light
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything.
'Tis the seal, despair--
An imperial affliction
Sent us of air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 'tis like the distance
On the look of death.

Jack Kerouac and Emily Dickinson. Can you imagine them collaborating? I know. Jack would fall in love with her and want to take her to bed. But afterwards, after all the fol-de-rol, when they got down to writing, wow . . . .


Crystal said...

Love that poem! Hey, they grew up only about 100 miles and a 100 years from each other.

Ronid Aka Akhu said...

Great to land up on your BLog. I been wanting to read much about Beat. A poem i wrote imagining Jack and Ginsberg in my hometown :

Welcome Jack
Welcome Allen
welcome to our valley
we are the children of kangleipak
we rule the valley day and night in our poetry
Please forget your old Whitman
here you wont hear America singing.
All we have here is Thangjam Ibopishak
who wants to die with an Indian bullet
and some odd poets
who believe Loktak Lake is an ultimate poem

We got hundred scrolls of poems
which were never read by any one
Lets recite it in the army camp
lets play Jazz in their jukebox
lets drive my father's new car
on the highway #53
along the highway #39
from Ukhrul to Moreh
from Imphal to Tamenglong
from CCpur to Nambol
from Sekmai to Mao
This is how we dream to celebrate Manipur

Lets smoke all the marijuana plants
growing on the bank of Kongba river
Lets wear the tricolor flag
around our waist with no underwear
underneath it
Lets have sex with the mountains
Lets kiss the sky and cry with laughter
Lets see how the soldiers masturbate
with the ak47 slinging on their shoulder
lets write a story
that runs faster than 1400 miles per hour
and lets carve it on the mountains

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Fellow bloggers, heed this post: it is way beat! Stiff competition for December!