Monday, August 31, 2020

Review of BEAT SCRAPBOOK by Gerald Nicosia: So good it gave me the chills


Cover of Beat Scrapbook, Coolgrove Press, (c) 2020

I recently received a review copy of Gerald Nicosia's new and soon-to-be-published work, Beat Scrapbook. In short, I knew it would be good, but indeed it surpassed my expectations.

Readers of The Daily Beat need little introduction to Nicosia, but suffice to say that he is the renowned author of one of the first and best biographies of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, as well as the author of several other books (including two about Jan Kerouac, one focused around Lu Anne Henderson -- Marylou from On The Road -- one about the last 25 years in Kerouac history, and one on the history of the Vietnam veterans' movement). This is not to mention at least 6 books of poetry, counting this one. 

Nicosia moved to San Francisco in 1979 and became part of a circle of Beat poets including Jack Micheline, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso, David Meltzer, Jerry Kamstra, Howard Hart, Joanna McClure, Lenore Kandel, and Janine Pommy Vega, many of whom appear in this new book.

Nearly each of the 42 poems in this book is focused on bringing to life -- through masterful poetic descriptions -- people Nicosia knew and loved over the past years. Almost all of these portraits are people with whom Nicosia had an in-person relationship, and they are heavily focused on Beat and post-Beat figures that are familiar names to anyone into Kerouac or the Beat Generation. A few are more personal to Nicosia; for example, a couple are about his family (DADDIO PETE is a haunting tribute to his father, whose death reminded me of Leo Kerouac's), one is about growing up in Illinois (MIDWEST RHAPSODY) and one of my favorites is about an old flame, THIS IS YOUR LIFE: to Charmaine (it evokes shades of Kerouac's Tristessa).  

Tributes to lesser-known poets include ones to Paul Carroll (THE BEAT FATHER OF CHICAGO POETRY), to Jack Mueller (POEM FOR JACK MUELLER (1842-2017)), and to Jack Micheline (FOR JACK). One of my favorites is a poem built around the items on a grocery receipt Ted Joans used to write down some info for Nicosia on because it's the only paper he had in his pockets (A POET'S GROCERY LIST: for Ted Joans (1928-2003)).  

There are the expected entries about Kerouac, Corso, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti, and Gary Snyder (for whom Nicosia expresses sincere anticipatory grief for his inevitable passing -- "Your endangered self which/As you say/Will soon be no more" (p. 23 ). Death is a strong theme in this set of poems. I particularly liked FOR JOHN--NOW THAT HE IS NO MORE: in memoriam John Montgomery (1919-1992). This poem helped me better know John Montgomery, with whom I fell in love from his portrayal in The Dharma Bums (as Henry Morley), my favorite Kerouac work.

Not all the subjects could be seen as Beat figures (there's one on Bukowski), but they have their Beat characteristics. To wit, one poem is about a Pennsylvania death row inmate (DEATH ROW PENNSYLVANIA: for Robert Lark and "the childred"), and another is to veterans' rights activist Bobby Waddell (BEAT THE HEAT: for Bobby Waddell).

The piece that gave me chills* was THE GHOST OF KEROUAC, whose opening lines did it to me again as I was re-typing them here (from p. 23):

Every time I walk the streets of Lowell
And the leaves are drifting through the early dark of October
And the poor teenage school kids are hurrying home
Past the eternal drugstores and cheap food places
On ancient cobbled Merrimack Street
And the damp air of fall gets in my bones
And the smell of car exhausts rises and 
Disappears in the low grey murk
Of Massachusetts heaven
I think of you Jack
Maybe it's because I've walked those very same streets and thought of Jack, but I got chills nonetheless. Unlike some Beat tribute writers, Nicosia does not fall into the trap of only writing about male figures as he includes poems to or for Jan Kerouac, Lenore Kandel, Ntozake Shange, and of course, Charmaine mentioned earlier. One poem is dedicated to Janine Pommy Vega (THE BEAUTIES OF MY GENERATION).

One thing I appreciate about Nicosia's poetry is that it is accessible and straightforward while at the same time being -- well, poetical. He rarely drops obscure literary references, and he can be forgiven for going "inside baseball" and dropping the phrase "Stan and Lil out in Northport" with no further explanation in IN MEMORIAM JAN KEROUAC. We insiders know he is talking about painter/Kerouac friend Stanley Twardowicz and his wife, Lillian. 

I really enjoyed the two poems Nicosia wrote at the Mill Valley Book Depot. Perhaps that is because I can vividly picture him sitting there taking in the "scenery" and writing down random thoughts and observations that became these poems. Crystal and I met him for lunch there a few years back on our way from L.A. to Oregon and it was a great place for a poet/writer to hang out.

Because much of this work is from personal experience, we learn things about these people that can only be gleaned from Nicosia himself. Like the time Ferlinghetti took him to get a better microphone than the one he showed up with to interview the famous Beat book publisher and co-founder of City Lights in San Francisco.

Beat Scrapbook is a gem. Nicosia shows great insights into human character and an outstanding ability to put such insights to verse. He captures the true heart of the people he describes, and you get the sense that you're privy to something real about these intriguing and unconventional characters.

Highly recommended.

NOTE: The release date for Beat Scrapbook is November 15 by Small Press Distribution. If you want a signed copy in advance, contact the author at

*There's a name for that spine-tingling feeling you get up and down your spine: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Remembering Chandler Brossard


Chandler Brossard, who some claim wrote the first Beat novel (Who Walk in Darkness, 1952), died on this date -- August 29 -- in 1993. Brossard appeared as Chris Rivers in Jack Kerouac's and William S. Burroughs' And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

I wrote about Who Walk in Darkness HERE. I was not that enamored of the book, but then Brossard was not enamored of being associated with the Beats. A whole lot of disenamoring going on in that last sentence! In any case, if you're interested in the Village scene in the 40s, you may enjoy Who Walk in Darkness. Brossard wrote other stuff as well.

RIP, Mr. Brossard.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Happy Birthday to Gerard Kerouac


Jack Kerouac's brother, Gerard, was born this date in 1916. His death at a young age was the impetus for Kerouac to write one of his best works, Visions of Gerard. Gerard appeared as Gerard Duluoz in Visions of Gerard, Doctor Sax, Visions of Cody, and Book of Dreams; and as Julian in The Town and the City.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Remembering Bea Franco and, belatedly, David Kammerer

Bea Franco with son, Alberta -- Photo/Beatrice Kozera estate
Bea Franco with son, Alberto
Photo/Beatrice Kozera Estate

Today we remember Bea Franco, who died on August 15, 2013. We wished her a happy birthday back in October HERE. She was represented as Terry in Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic novel, On The Road. An excerpt about Terry, titled "The Mexican Girl," was published as a stand-alone short story in Paris Review in 1955; you can read it here. Bea also appeared in Book of Dreams as Bea.

Also of note, author Tim Z. Hernandez found Bea alive in 2010 after a multi-year search and as a result wrote the award-winning novel about her life, Mañana Means Heaven, which we reviewed here at The Daily Beat (click here). We also curated the book twice (click here and here), and featured a guest blog by the author (click here). You can read an interview with Tim here.

David Kammerer

Yesterday, August 14, we missed posting about it being the anniversary of David Kammerer's death in 1944. We wrote about Kammerer on his birthday in September HERE. Kammerer appeared in Visions of Cody as Dave Stroheim, Vanity of Duluoz as Franz (Swinburne) Mueller, The Town and the City as Waldo Meister, Ramsey Allen in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, and Alfred in The Haunted Life (Source: Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend).

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Remembering Herbert Huncke


On this date-- August 8 -- in 1996, Beat Generation core figure Herbert Huncke died. Huncke was Elmer Hassel in Jack Kerouac's On The Road; Huck in Desolation AngelsBook of Dreams, and Visions of Cody; Hunkey in Lonesome Traveler; and Junkey in The Town and the City.

Regular readers of The Daily Beat need no introduction to the man from whom Kerouac likely learned the word, "beat." Click on the link above if you want to read a short bio.

We curated an excellent Huncke biography by Hilary Holladay HERE.

RIP, Mr. Huncke.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Beat poet Diane di Prima turns 86 today

Today is award-winning Beat poet Diane di Prima's 86th birthday. I don't think she appeared in any of Jack Kerouac's works, but he appeared in hers in a randy sex scene in her Memoirs of a Beatnik. I liked that book a lot, in particular how she graphically but sensitively described her various sexual experiences.

We reviewed her 2015 poetry book, The Poetry Deal, HERE, and curated it HERE. We curated Memoirs of a Beatnik HERE.

In honor of her birthday, you can read about Diane and find some of her poetry HERE.

Happy Birthday, Ms. di Prima!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Jack Kerouac's father was born on this date in 1889

Leo Kerouac, Jack Kerouac's father, was born on this date -- August 5 -- in 1889 in Saint-Hubert-de-Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, Canada as Joseph Alcide Léon Kirouack. Leo appeared in several of his son Jack's books: Emil Alcide Duluoz in Visions of Gerard, Emil (Pop) Duluoz in Doctor Sax/Visions of Cody/Vanity of Duluoz, George Martin in The Town and the City, Emil in Maggie Cassidy/Desolation Angels, Pa in Book of Dreams, Charlie Martin in The Sea is My Brother, and Joe Martin in The Haunted Life and Other Writings.

Happy Birthday to the man without whom there would be no Jack Kerouac!

Monday, August 3, 2020

We missed some Kerouac-related dates

Ruth Weiss, William S. Burroughs, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (L-R)

I was away and therefore missed some important Kerouac-related birth and death dates in July and August.

What reminded me of my omission was seeing Jerry Cimino of The Beat Museum post on Facebook that noted Beat poet Ruth Weiss died recently (July 31). She would have made my recent post about Gore Vidal and Elise Cowen into a "three-fer" had I known. HERE is a link to her obit in the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook. I could not verify whether she appeared in any of Kerouac's works.

We missed musician Ramblin' Jack Elliott's birthday on August 1 (1931), and core Beat Generation member William S. Burroughs' death date on August 2 (1997). Neither needs an introduction to regular readers of The Daily Beat. Burroughs appeared in several of Jack Kerouac's works: as Old Bull Lee in On The Road; Frank Carmody in The Subterraneans; Bull Hubbard in Book of DreamsDesolation AngelsDoctor Sax, and Visions of Cody; Bull in Tristessa; Bill/William Seward Burroughs in Lonesome Traveler; Wilson Holmes Hubbard in Vanity of Duluoz; Bill Dennison in The Haunted Life and Other Writings; and, Will Dennison in The Town and the City and And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Elliott appeared as Jack Elliot in Book of Dreams.

RIP to Ms. Weiss and Mr. Burroughs and Happy Birthday to Mr. Elliott.