Monday, June 26, 2023

Remembering Philip Whalen


Philip Whalen (L) & Jack Kerouac

Today we remember Beat poet Philip Whalen, who died on this date -- June 26 -- in 2002 at the age of 78. He appeared in several Jack Kerouac works: as Warren Coughlin in The Dharma Bums, and Ben Fagan in Desolation Angels and Big Sur.

Whalen was a force behind the San Francisco poetry renaissance of the mid-50s, and was one of the poets who read at the famous Six Gallery reading on October 7, 1955.

To get a sense of Whalen's place in Kerouac's world, I highly recommend reading John Suiter's Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen & Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades. This is my favorite Kerouac-related book of all time (a gift from my great friend, Richard Marsh).

Whalen was a Buddhist, close with Lew Welch and Gary Snyder (who all met at Reed College in Oregon), and a much greater piece of the Beat Generation puzzle than he gets credit for, especially the West Coast aspect. You can read a brief bio and some of his poetry HERE. Whalen and Kerouac were also close, evidenced by the more than two dozen letters from Kerouac to Whalen included in Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1969 (Penguin Books, 1999). Here is an excerpt from a mid-August 1957 letter to Whalen:
Got your letter about the malefic flashes and forms just in time to stick them into my article ABOUT THE BEAT GENERATION where I catalog the visions experienced by members of our generation to try to show the general religiousness of "beat" (including Lamantia's and Allen's and all)--(my own, Gary's, etc.)-- (p. 67)
RIP, Mr. Whalen.

I provide a Jack Kerouac quote and you figure out the book (13th in a series)


This is the 13th in a series of posts where I provide a quote from one of Jack Kerouac's books and you figure out which one. Post your answer as a comment. Here's the passage:

Strictly speaking, there is no me, because all is emptiness. I am empty, I am non-existent. All is bliss.

Good luck!

Oh, and remember our policy on comments (over there on the right).

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Review of And the Rivers Thereof: Reflections on Riverine Imagery in the Writing of Jack Kerouac by Gregory Stephenson


In the past we have reviewed two different books by Gregory Stephenson: The ragged promised land: Jack Kerouac's America and Is Baseball Holy? Jack Kerouac and the National Pastime. I recommended both and now comes a third recommendation: And the Rivers Thereof: Reflections on Riverine Imagery in the Writing of Jack Kerouac.

As the title suggests, this short piece (44 pages) delves into the actual and metaphorical references to rivers in Jack Kerouac's written works. I had never thought much about this topic, but after reading Stephenson's book, I have a new appreciation for Kerouac's treatment of rivers in his writing.

Stephenson's thesis appears early in the piece:

It is my purpose in the following notes to consider certain of the interpretive dimensions of riverine imagery in Jack Kerouac's writing and to assess the role of rivers in the author's oeuvre. (p. 8)

Of course, references in On The Road are analyzed, but so is imagery found in Jack's August 1950 draft of his most famous novel, titled Gone On The Road. Also represented in Stephenson's work are The Town and the City, Kerouac's journals (e.g., one titled "Rain and Rivers"), Visions of Cody, Book of Sketches, Doctor Sax, Some of the Dharma, Maggie Cassidy, Visions of Gerard, The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels, Big Sur, pieces from Good Blonde and Others, the introduction Kerouac wrote for Robert Frank's The Americans, short works like "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" and "Belief & Technique for Modern Prose," and, finally, The Subterraneans.

In each instance above, Stephenson presents Kerouac's own words along with a thoughtful analysis of how the example cited shows how

during more than 20 years of literary writing, Jack Kerouac was repeatedly drawn to riverine imagery as a potent and evocative motif. (p. 41)

Kerouac mentioned many rivers across the above works. I may have missed some but these appear in Stephenson's book: Merrimack, Hudson, Mississippi, Shenandoah, Kanawha, Rio Grande, East River, Red River, Roanoke, Cimarron, Missouri, Fall River, Potomac, Neuse, North River, Wasatch, Yellowstone, Ohio, Orinoco, Ventauri, South Platte, Pajaro, Concord, Skagit, Obi, Amazon, Congo, Ganges, Yangtzes, Plate, Avon, the creek in Bixby Canyon, Guadaloupe, Palajo, Klamath, Columbia, Williamette (pronounced Will am' it - we have friends who live in the area), Snake, Hood, Dalles, Yakima, Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson, Pasco, Rainy, Brazos, Tennessee, Allegheny, and the Mekong.

That's an even 50 rivers by my count. Kerouac mentioning so many rivers in itself supports Stephenson's thesis.

Throughout Stephenson's book, a Kerouac devotee encounters familiar scenarios that become new again because of the emphasis on the river motif. For example, Kerouac's appointed meetings with a girlfriend beneath the clock hanging from the wall of Lowell High School in Maggie Cassidy take on new significance as a counter-example to "the Concord River, which knows another, deeper time" (p. 25). Indeed, in Kerouac's whole approach to prose -- spontaneous prose -- parallels can be seen with the flow of rivers as his sentences, "borne forward by rhythm and sound . . . have their currents and cascades, their rapids and meanders (p. 40). 

I won't take the time to give more examples of Stephenson's analyses, but they're all right on target and well-written. At times I wasn't sure where Kerouac quotes left off and Stephenson's writing began. As Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia says in a cover blurb, "the guy can really write." I think you'll find that to be true if you obtain a copy of Stephenson's latest foray into the writings of Jack Kerouac. Plus you'll see Kerouac's writings in a whole new riverine light.

A heavenly birthday wish for Beat poet Ruth Weiss


Noted Beat poet Ruth Weiss was born on today's date -- June 24 -- in 1928. I could not verify whether she appeared in any of Jack Kerouac's works.

HERE is a link to a documentary film about Weiss. You can read about her interactions with Kerouac HERE. It's a bit of a challenge to find her poetry online, but with some Googling you can find some. HERE is a clip of Ruth reading at the San Francisco Public Library, on the same stage that yours truly was part of a panel discussion in 2013 (click HERE).

Happy heavenly birthday, Ms. Weiss.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Just like Jack



We recently returned from an 8-month road trip around America in our camper van. We logged 30 states, 2 countries (we drove to the tip of the Baja peninsula and back), and 16 National Parks/Monuments.

We returned home to Maine on June 15, or Day 257 of our trip. On June 7, while we were in Michigan, I received word that my cat, Karma, was not doing well and in fact he died later that day.

The first thing that struck me was that the same thing happened to Jack Kerouac while he was on the road. As he reports in Big Sur (he had been hitchhiking from Monsanto's -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- cabin in Big Sur back to San Francisco and said it was "The last time I ever hitch hiked--And NO RIDES a sign):

THE NEXT SIGN IS IN FRISCO ITSELF where after a night of perfect sleep in an old skid row hotel room I go to see Monsanto at his City Lights bookstore and he's smiling and glad to see me, says "We were coming out to see you next weekend you should have waited," but there's something else in his expression--When we're alone he says "Your mother wrote and said your cat is dead." 

Ordinarily the death of a cat means little to most men, a lot to fewer men, but to me, and that cat, it was exactly and no lie and sincerely like the death of my little brother--I loved Tyke with all my heart, he was my baby who as a kitten just slept in the palm of my hand with his little head hanging down, or just purring, for hours, just as long as I held him that way, walking or sitting--He was like a floppy fur wrap around my wrist, I just twist him around my wrist or drape him and he just purred and purred and even when he got big I still held him that way, I could even hold this big cat in both hands with my arms outstretched right over my head and he'd just purr, he had complete confidence in me-- (Big Sur, 1981, Penguin Books, pp. 48-50)

Jack goes on to retell the content of the letter from his mother telling about Tyke dying.

It's just about too much to bear, being gone like I was. My great friend died and I wasn't there for him.

Another great friend of mine, Richard Marsh, had a similar relationship with his cat, Mr. Pooh W. Bah. And he knows the pain I'm in. I'm typing this through tears of grief.

RIP, Karma (2004-2023)

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Free copy of Beat Atlas


We're back from being "on the road" for 8 months. We left in our camper October 3, 2022 and traveled as far as the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, passing through 25 or so states, visiting 10 or so national parks, and just generally having an epic trip lasting 257 days start to finish.

Living in a small camper for 8 months was a challenge. One of the downsides is we didn't have room for books. Along the way I picked up a copy of Beat Atlas by Bill Morgan. I left my copy at home and figured I could always give away the newer copy when I returned.

As it turned out, I didn't use my new copy at all and it is in pristine condition. If you want it, reply to this post and I will send it to the first person to respond free of charge. Check back in case you are the winner and I'll get your snail mail address.

Good luck!

P.S. In case you're wondering, I am contemplating returning to regular blogging, so stay tuned.