This issue features an extensive profile and interview with James Koller by Peter Garland, Ken Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke, an essay on Kenneth Patchen as read by Kenneth Rexroth, Mark Howell’s recollections of meeting Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, and Jim Burns on ‘Underground London – Bebop and Beyond.’ There are additional memories of Ken Kesey’s visit to Filthy McNastys pub in London, although it is unclear whether the article references a 1978 or the 1998 visit, the 1974 bootleg publication of Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight and Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour visit to Kerouac’s birthplace at Lowell. The review section includes the selected letters of Wendell Berry, (a friend of Kesey) and Gary Snyder, and Nobody Home: writing, buddhism and living in places, Gary Snyder in conversation with Julia Martin.
The James Koller interview covers his biographical, personal and poetic influences, his novels, poetry and work on Coyote’s Journal and Coyote Books, which published Beats and ethnocentric poets. Born in northern Illinois in 1936, Koller became part of the Fifties North Beach, San Francisco scene, and was friends with Joanne Kyger, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen and Robert Creeley. He published Charles Olson’s famous 1965 Berkeley Lecture in Coyote’s Journal. He was inspired by Pound, cites Carl Sauer’s The Agency of Man On The Earth (1956) as a bigger influence than Olson’s work, anonymous folk songs, native American songs, which he translated for Jerome Rothenberg’s 1972 Shaking The Pumpkin anthology, the ethnocentric epics and Icelandic sagas. This comprehensive interview helped me to locate Koller as a poet somewhere between Ed Dorn and Jerome Rothenberg, as well as bring to light such figures as Jaime de Angulo, a poet friend of Pound, and author of Indian Tales. Pound called de Angulo the ‘American Ovid’ and was also highly regarded by William Carlos Williams. He tutored Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and was written about by Kerouac.
The Kesey article could have examined Sometimes a Great Notion and Paul Newman’s 1970 film of the book, more fully. It tends to follow a populist version rather than literary one of Kesey’s life and work. In fairness, there was a great crossover between the Merry Pranksters, Beats, Diggers and Deadheads. A truer understanding of the flowering of the Beats would require a grasp of many factors, historically from the eclipse of the old Left to the birth of the Internet. The Internet evolved as a direct means of communication within the Deadhead community, and a reading of that community with its numerous and continual allusions to and from the Merry Pranksters and wider San Francisco North Beach scene has yet to be written. A fuller picture would also relate the activism of Diggers to poets, such as Kenneth Rexroth, Ginsberg, and Pound, their connection to City Lights Bookshop, the Planet Drum Foundation, founded by Peter Berg in 1973, to ethnomusicologists, such as de Angulo, Frederic Lieberman, Mickey Hart, as well as poets, such as Koller, Kyger and Snyder, as well as the Whole Earth Catalog, which featured Kesey’s Further bus on its July 1969 cover, and other ecologically aware publications and groupings, and so on.
Jim Burns unearths an underground Soho scene from the late Forties and early Fifties, centred around Club Eleven, a bebop club opened in 1948 at 41 Windmill Street, not far from the Fitzroy Tavern, with its similar clientele of showbiz types, Soho characters, dealers, and military absconders. Here though the atmosphere was provided more by the smell of marijuana than beer. Burns notes that this particular ‘Underground’ predated there more popular Sixties notion, and provides useful literary references to support his findings.
There is, as ever, much to ponder in Beat Scene.
David Caddy 11th June 2015