Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Kerouac three-fer date


Gore Vidal, Elise Cowen, and Ruth Weiss (L-R)

Writer and bon vivant Gore Vidal died on this date -- July 31-- in 2012, Beat poet Elise Cowen was born on this date in 1933, and Beat poet Ruth Weiss died on this date in 2020. Vidal appeared in Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans as Arial Lavalina and in Old Angel Midnight as Gore Bedavalled. Cowen appeared as Barbara Lipp in Desolation Angels. I could not verify that Weiss appeared in any of Kerouac's works.

I said a little bit more about Gore and Cowen on their birth and death dates HERE and HERE. Gore was born 8 years before Cowen but outlived her by many years (86 v. 28). Weiss's obit has details on her life HERE

Given my personal history with depression, I should note here that Cowen ended her own life (not dissimilarly to Natalie Jackson) by throwing herself out of her parents' 7th floor window.

If you are thinking about suicide or just need someone to talk to about emotional distress in your life, you can text Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

RIP, Mr.* Vidal and Ms.* Weiss, and Happy Birthday, Ms.* Cowen.

*These are guesses at preferred pronouns. If I'm wrong, let me know.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Happy Birthday to Chandler Brossard


On this date -- July 18 -- in 1922, American writer Chandler Brossard was born. He would have been 99 today. Brossard appeared as Chris Rivers in Jack Kerouac's and William S. Burroughs' And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Some claim Brossard's Who Walk in Darkness (1952) was the first Beat novel. Brossard was not pleased with being associated with the early Beat writers, but given the content of Darkness it is hard to dismiss the connections. I wrote about that book here.

So Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mr. Brossard!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Happy Birthday to Robert LaVigne


On this date, July 15, artist and Jack Kerouac friend Robert LaVigne was born in Idaho in 1928. He was Guy Levesque in Kerouac's Desolation Angels.

We said a bunch about LaVigne back on February 20 (click HERE ), so there is no need to repeat ourselves today. Don't believe what Ginsberg said in the above picture about LaVigne being Robert Browning in Big Sur. See my February 20 post for an explanation.

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mr. LaVigne.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

A double Kerouac birthday


Stanley Twardowicz (L) and Peter Orlovsky

Two important Kerouac figures were born on this date -- July 8: Painter Stanley Twardowicz in 1917 and long-time Allen Ginsberg partner Peter Orlovsky in 1933. Twardowicz appeared in one Kerouac novel, Satori in Paris, under his own name. Orlovsky appeared in several Jack Kerouac works: as George in The Dharma Bums, Simon Darlovsky in Desolation Angels, Simon in Book of Dreams, and Paul in Beat Generation.

You can read more about each in our recent remembrances HERE (Twardowicz) and HERE (Orlovsky).

Happy Heavenly Birthday to Messieurs Twardowicz and Orlovsky.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?


A few days ago, I received a check for nineteen dollars and change as an Amazon royalty payment for The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions. Not to spill too many beans, but that translates to about 5 books given what I typically earn per book in Amazon sales. It's the 4th biggest royalty check I've ever received. I can't explain the sudden surge and would sure like to know the reason behind the bump in sales. If you bought a copy (or copies) in the last couple of months, leave a message and tell me why.

If you wish to buy a copy, click HERE.

P.S. The Shadow-y title of this post was just what came to mind when I thought of a fitting title for a post that seeks an answer to a question. Plus Jack Kerouac was into "The Shadow."*

* For an explanation of The Shadow influencing Kerouac as well as Sylvia Plath and Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, click HERE.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Happy Birthday to Ted Joans


Jazz poet and trumpeter Ted Joans was born this date -- July 4 -- in 1928. He appeared in one of Jack Kerouac's works, The Subterraneans, as John Golz.

Joans moved to NYC in 1951, where he met and became friends with Kerouac, Ginsberg, et al. Click HERE for a website dedicated to Joans. He is credited with saying, "Jazz is my religion, and Surrealism is my point of view." HERE is a link to an obit in SFGate. In that obit you'll find this gem of a story:

Mr. Joans was born July 4, 1928, in Cairo, Ill. His father was a musician who worked aboard the riverboats of the Mississippi River, and he instilled in his young son a strong work ethic and love of jazz.

"The story goes that he gave Ted a trumpet when he was 12 years old and dropped him in Memphis with the words, 'OK, son, go make a living,'" recalled Gerald Nicosia of Corte Madera, a friend of Mr. Joans' for 40 years.

According to editor Ann Charters in a note on page 211 of Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1969 (1999, Penguin Books), Joans was present at the poetry reading on February 15, 1959, at the Artists Studio in Manhattan where Fred McDarrah took the famous picture of Kerouac reading from On The Road, standing on a stepladder, arms outstretched (see below).

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mr. Joans.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Review of Marjorie J. Levine's Road Trips


Marjorie J. Levine is a masterful poet. Her haunting words take you to places both familiar and unfamiliar and evoke deep-seated emotions. The power of her verse sneaks up on you as you find yourself compelled to re-read whole poems and sections of poems to glean every drop of meaning.
In her new book, Road Trips, Levine explores themes of memory, love, aging, film, color, light, place (often NYC) and weather as she gives us an extended glimpse of herself through 60 poems in 4 parts. As the back cover states:
The poems in NAP TIME unfold as fantasies and reveal how memories shape a life. In DELINEATIONS, pieces of lucid dreams push life along through time. SIX POEMS is a personal perspective next to views of other lives from different angles. The last part, STREET POEMS, comes from a place of reality which brings all roads to one place.
Levine takes the bold step of using recurring phrases across poems -- like "pristine gown clinging like translucent second skin" in "NAP TIME" and "DAWN ON SEVENTH AVENUE" or "she shares ambrosia with gods" in "SPINSTERS AND GHOSTS" and "OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER." At first read I honestly thought this was an oversight, but soon realized that she was deliberately playing with the notion of forgetfulness, challenging the reader's memory as her own memories play out before our eyes. Indeed, she includes a couple of poems that are nearly identical -- "TWO DAYS TAKE ONE" and "TWO DAYS" describing time at Long Beach and in Westhampton and "BORDENTOWN" and "REVISITED" about visiting aunts "on old Burlington Street." But there are subtle differences, with phrases substituted here and there and meanings slightly altered via small changes in wording. The repetition of words and phrases and even longer passages serves to emphasize the importance of various symbols in the author's experiences.

There are several poems I connected with strongly. "MURMURS IN THE DARKNESS" is a heart-breakingly drawn portrait of loneliness and memory. "BLOOD RUMINATIONS" hopefully advises the reader to "go paint in blended watercolors a new picture" despite the "tangled mess" life ends up being. My own lost loves were brought to mind by "THE DISTANT LEFTOVER." "WHAT GROUNDS A TOWN" is hauntingly melancholic, and I loved "THE WAY HE LOOKED AT HER." It literally brought a tear to my eye in its straightforward acknowledgement of loss.

I learned a new word or two from Levine: pentimento and aldehydic and charientism and gongoozler and entelechy and triptych all sent me scrambling for a definition. I thought I knew some of them but needed confirmation. She uses these words in just the right ways and not just to impress -- they are necessary.

One theme struck me savagely: aging. My father was 51 when I was born and I remember him oft-repeating the phrase, "Don't get old -- it's bad business," and other colloquialisms about the endless losses associated with becoming old. In "ON 82ND STREET" Levine states, "What a monster aging is." Ouch. She deals with aging in several other poems, notably "INVOLUNTARY PASSAGES" and "BENDING TO ENTLECHY." I found myself thinking, "my dad would dig these poems," despite him being more inclined to read Raymond Chandler than poetry.

I get the feeling that writing poetry is cathartic for Levine, and I'm glad she took the brave step of sharing her personal and penetrating abreactions with readers of her book. Road Trips will linger on your mind long after you finish reading it, and you will want to revisit it again and again to experience the exquisite way words can trigger your innermost feelings and bring you face-to-face with an author's life journey.  

NOTE: Levine was the winner of the Beat Poetry Contest we held in 2009 (click HERE). Her winning entry, "WHAT WAY TO GO TODAY," opens Road Trips.