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Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

     Marc Maurus’s Building Stonehenge is revealing and vulnerable in the way that Kevin Ridgeway and T. Anders Carson’s is, allowing his readers to have access to the complex interior life that many people hold secret. It is a work that comes not so much out of a suicide attempt, but at the vitality and life that followed it. Maurus intentionally drove into a concrete barrier at sixty miles an hour without an air bag or a seat belt and lived but experienced extensive brain damage. His doctors told him that his only possible path forward to recovery was by reading constantly, which he did, and against the odds, that treatment worked. What followed was a period of exceptional creativity, introspection, and even joy, and these poems are a result of that time. On my first reading of the collection, I thought of “The Day My Life Stood Still” (51) as the central poem of the collection because it describes his injury and cause of it. I think that was a mistake however. I think what is central to the collection is what brought him back to happiness and healing.

     Healing came out of a time when he read every moment that he was awake, and certain authors, especially Beat poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg, found their way through several of these poems. He has a gratitude for them. He constructs the cento “Timothy Leary’s Dead” out of a number of sources, but relying on these poets for key lines and understanding to his meaning. What he creates is not simple nostalgia, but a way of reseeing the old ideas and reapplying them to our world now. He does not reference only these writers by any means. They just seem central to his thinking. His poems convey a broad sensibility and a good deal of reading the books that he loved. Because of his brain injury, he would read these books again and again, and to me it feels like they have become a part of who he is and how he filters experience. This is not a bad filter.

     Another theme that runs through the book is a kind of call to humanity and to recognize that everyone is deserving of the human experience. Now that he is in recovery, he is able to hold a job, and one of those is as an ice cream man. He describes a moment when he gives a child who has little money an ice cream. This basic kind of dignity seems to be the mission that all of his reading has led him to. He inspects his own complicity in the poor race relations of the United States and looks to himself to improve, showing others a way forward. He praises those who do good and exhorts us to do the same. For me it functioned as a reminder of what kindness is and how to express it.

     It is no surprise that constant reading leads to kindness. Anyone who reads deeply knows that it helps to develop empathy. I think the great take away from the collection for me was that reading and thinking deeply leads people to their best selves. It has certainly let Maurus in a positive direction.

John Brantingham 4th June 2021

Slow Walk Home by Young Dawkins (Red Squirrel Press)

Slow Walk Home by Young Dawkins (Red Squirrel Press)

There is a pilgrimage of sorts in Young Dawkins’ writing of these poems and it is evident in reception of them as audience in both hearing them read by the poet and in reading them from the page. That the poems are biographical there is little doubt. 

Restlessness is arrested over and over by the poet’s recognition of ‘isness’ in the circumstances from which each poem has its evocation, ‘saying it as it goes’ as Robert Creeley once said, culminating in a collection that is ever-looking through one situation to the next.

The place Young Dawkins is in search is not defined geographically, although it ultimately manifest itself so, but in the ‘Slow Walk Home’ to himself and where his ‘heart finds rest’, to quote Robert Duncan.

He is witness to and speaks out of moments of disconnection as in the poem ‘Radio’ where he finds himself astronaut-like, searching for attachment through tenuous radio messages.

            Sometimes late at night

            I play with my radio,

            trying to tune in the dead.

            A nine-band Panasonic,

            ears on the world,

            AM, FM and Shortwave.

            I believe this is how

            those gone will reach me,

            …

            Old friends will find me,

            maybe my mother;

            I keep my radio on.

There is no piteousness in the poem. It’s a situation in which the poet finds himself on repeated occasions – his radio tweaking another endeavour, not only in his search for home but in discovering a definition of home – the last line a disclosure of his openness.

Poems in this collection often lay bare unhappiness as contributory to life as much as pleasure and cameo them in close association.

In many of the poems, there is deceptively delivered lightness yet one that remains reverential to the seriousness of a circumstance – in style, more caring than laconic.

Friendships / relationships are key to this collection.

Dawkins picks up the importance of his male bonding in poems ‘Going Up’ and ‘Fishing With The Dead’, both concerning his buddy, Billy Hoops; Billy signposted again in the poem ‘Letters’, in which Billy is an agent of unification in Dawkins’ lapsed friendship with Malcolm. Billy is there in ‘Sporting Life’ and ‘The Secret To Trout’ – an outdoorsman, a rugged friend, home-spun philosopher and an indelible character.

Elsewhere are poems reflecting the poet’s concern with family, writing colleagues, journalists – he spent many years and travels being a journalist before engagement in academic life as a university lecturer.

The influence of Beat poets is well-drawn but subtly so: Kerouac and Ginsberg are written-in, as is jazz.

Dawkins’ is a seasoned performer of poems to music, notably jazz, and it is the gentle swing of language and phrasing that is at the very heart of his poetry: it is profoundly musical.

In the elegantly anecdotal poem, ‘Billy Collins And My Lousy Poetry Career’, Dawkins relates a reading with the one-time USA Poet Laureate -there is a murmur of likeness in both the styles of Dawkins and Collins. Certainly both advocate and write poetry that ‘often has two subjects, the starting subject and then the discovered subject’ (Collins) and both often write private poetry they want the public to read. 

Young Dawkins has lived in many places in USA but later in life found employment and

‘a home’ in Scotland, establishing himself there for several years. It was also there he met his wife and wholeness to that he had sought for many years.

However, that was not to be the end of the story to ‘Slow Walk Home’. He now lives in Hobart with his wife and son where the final poem in the collection places every important piece in its place. 

Young Dawkins’ imperative is met and it’s here in this generous collection of poems.

By way of friends and relationships he has navigated to a geographical and spiritual place and condition he can finally say is home.

Ric Hool May 20th 2021

Unnatural Selection: A Memoir of Adoption and Wildness by Andrea Ross (CavanKerry Press)

Unnatural Selection: A Memoir of Adoption and Wildness by Andrea Ross (CavanKerry Press)

Andrea Ross’s Ploughshare’s article “A Feminist Look at Edward Abbey’s Conservationist Writings” details the way that Abbey sexualizes the landscape in his many writings of the American Southwest, taking a racist and misogynist approach to the wild world. Ross has a complex relationship with the natural world of the west as a former ranger and current English professor. She often works with writers of this area, people like Abbey, Jack Kerouac, and Kenneth Rexroth, so I was excited to see her take on the landscape, how she would use it in this memoir about finding her birth family while trying to find a home within the natural world. What she finds in her relationship to the land is exceptional. Ross, unlike these other writers, is able to see the natural world as a place of rest; in her long journey to find her birth parents and herself, she finds home in nature.

     While Unnatural Selection is in large part about her journey through the bureaucracy caused by laws that seal the records of adoptees and their birth parents even when everyone involved wants to connect, the center of it is Ross’s search for a place where she belongs, a home. She tries to find this through other people, and through various careers outdoors, but underneath the surface of all of this is an awareness that she is learning where she belongs in this wild world. An early boyfriend asks her to find it through adventures in the backcountry, most notably in mountain and rock climbing. She feels as though she should because the people she admires seem excited about it. Unfortunately, the danger of it just doesn’t thrill her, and she abandons this sport and with it, the boyfriend. She tries to share it with people in her life. When she is a ranger at the Grand Canyon, she tries to show her adopted mother the beauty of the canyon floor and the two of them explore the domestic ruins of the Native Americans who lived there. What she is doing as she proceeds in this journey is finding not only where she belongs but how she belongs in the wild, what her role is. She is not someone who seeks adventure or domination of it in the way that Abbey describes. She wants to be a part of it.

     Her journey toward a complete family that includes her adoptive parents and siblings and her birth parents and siblings is no less compelling than her discovery of nature. It is, however, a much more difficult journey and contrasts with her treks to the wild world because it is so unnatural. She has to deal with artificial laws that separate one of the most important relationships of a person’s life. While her mother certainly wants privacy in the beginning when she is an unwed teenage mother, that desire turns on itself, and she begins to feel a need for closeness to her missing child. Ross too benefits from the adoption, gaining a family that loves her, but that doesn’t mean that the rift between parents and child needs to be permanent. The search is long and unnecessarily difficult even though she has a genetic disease that she wants to understand more fully. 

     Ross’s journey and her pain are shared by many people who have gone through the adoptive process. Unnatural Selection is the kind of book that lets people who have been dismissed and not listened to about an emotion they are living with that they are not alone. Her book gives us a way forward in a world that often feels hostile.

John Brantingham 16th May 2021

Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road With Friends (A Freedom Books)

Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road With Friends (A Freedom Books)

Marshall Deerfield’s Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road with Friends is part of a larger project that mixes haiku and haibun to create an ongoing travel narrative over multiple volumes. It comes out of a tradition from writers like Basho, Snyder, and Kerouac, but it has its own environmentalist edge prompted by what we have learned about the destruction of the natural environment and how the American West, which is the focus of this collection, is being transformed by forces like drought, climate change, and the pine bark beetle. However, it is not only a look at the destruction of the west; it is much more a celebration of how life can be lived with a kind of joy on the road. Marshall Deerfield edited the volume, and it is filled with his work and the work of his friends as they engage is these road trips.

            What struck me immediately is how this feels like the volume that might have been written by a side character in Jack Kerouac’s novel Dharma Bums. It has that kind of enthusiasm for life and travel. Some of my favorite haiku in this vein are:

            Clouds billow outward

            sifting rain from vapor’d chaff

            cliffs left unexposed (136).

            Volcanic bellies

            water so cold that it stings

            an anomaly (80).

            A lake so blue that

            jumping in feels like falling

            down into the sky (78).

There is a joy here for nature that is infectious. With the haibun, these haiku create a narrative of young people going into the new American West to find what remains to take pleasure in. Much of what we have read in older works that have the same kind of approach is gone. Times have changed and we have lost that world. Deerfield is trying to find what is there now and how to lose himself in these places.

            Deerfield also makes the point of discussing the environmental destruction that continues to plague the American West. As they drive through Texas, he writes, “This is the Gulf of Mexico. To get here, I had to ride through a literal ring of fire made up of oil refineries with their smoke stacks spewing blue, green, and red flames up into the heavens” (18). He also discusses the rise of the pine bark beetle. The beetle is a creature that lives in all pines and has for a very long time. By itself, it is not a problem, but drought, climate change and the overproduction of trees because of bad fire policy has caused the beetle to turn forests into places of tree death. In most western forests currently millions of trees stand dead and brown sprinkled among living trees. Deerfield writes,

As an ecoactivist, I never thought a forest’s demise would come from inside of it. These pine bark beetles are unlike any bulldozer or logging caravan. Chaining yourself to a tree to protect it has no use if the tree is being eaten alive from within (102).

In this, Deerfield expresses the frustration of the environmentalist raised on Edward Abbey but facing the reality that it is not just one person or company harming the natural world. It is a way of life that cannot be easily amended.

            Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road with Friends is a balm for me now in this time when I cannot travel because of the quarantine. It helps me to live through his journeys and it brings me back to my own.

John Brantingham 4th April 2021

Along Mosaic Roads by Calliope Michail (The 87 Press Ltd)

Along Mosaic Roads by Calliope Michail (The 87 Press Ltd)

This is a very promising debut collection of poems and I shall want to read more of Calliope Michail’s work. The words on the back cover of this handsomely produced little volume open up a sense of the mystery of travelling: “lyrical peregrinations that chart journeys into the real and imagined spaces of wanderlust, desire, origins and memory”. Contained within the margins of stasis, five sections of poetry titled ‘Standing on the Sun’, the reader is posed questions which prompt further enquiries about what is contained within the notion of journeying. One of these questions links the world of hope and memory, the routine of what expectations we carry with us when we venture beyond where we already are:

“Memory doesn’t always serve
the precise contours of a history or
is a rosary still a rosary if
the beads have lost their thread”

Memory of course is threaded with imaginative reconstruction and the past exists only as we now view it, narrate it: its contours will be constructed in the now. There is something enclosing about the chain of rosary beads which are designed to pull us back all the time to a set sense of obedience. Like the drawing pins, doubtless with prettily-coloured heads, that can be pierced into a wall-map to denote both where we have already been or where we have yet to go. They are placed there with a sense of achievement and aspiration and put on the wall to remind others of one’s well-travelled life! But Michail’s journeying is far more true to a real sense of wonder and as such it opens up far greater possibilities than the world of repetition or self-satisfaction:

“The map on my wall gets people

asking,

where are the pins? The pins on the

places

you want to see, but don’t want to see through eyes

alone

places to soak in the colours, inhale the

sounds,

listen to the stories that float like bubbles above the

smells

of the waterfalls of people in the subway; the

windows

and doors that you wrestle with, the

smog

of the wet grass and dry dirt and damp

sidewalks

ripe with the after-fumes of

dog-shit.”

The epigraphs to this important poetry debut are from Walt Whitman, unsurprisingly since he wrote his ‘Song of the Open Road’, and Charles Manson, more surprisingly (despite his connection to the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry) since he spent his last 46 years in California State Prison. As Manson is quoted “I don’t really go anywhere. You can’t move. Anywhere you go, you always there.” After all wherever you travel you take yourself with you and see through your own eyes; and as William Blake knew “The fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees”. Whitman’s quotation, however, opens up the road ahead as we hear that he believes “that much unseen is also here” and it heralds another ghost haunting this little book of poems, that of Jack Kerouac. As Calliope Michail puts it “things happen / and happen and / happen somewhere”. For her “time / moves” and it moves far away from “lInguIstIcmazes” and only concludes with the sun as “a mandar // in your palm”. In both ordering and sending…this poetry is on the move.

http://www.the87press.com

Ian Brinton 12th November 2018

UnNatural Music: John Lennon & Yoko Ono in Cambridge 1969 by Anthony Barnett Allardyce Book

UnNatural Music: John Lennon & Yoko Ono in Cambridge 1969 by Anthony Barnett Allardyce Book

In the closing lines of this attractively produced little piece of history Anthony Barnett refers to Yoko Ono as Eiko and thereby brings back into focus another little fragment of history. Some eight years ago I received an email from Michael Rumaker, Black Mountaineer who had been taught by Olson in the 1950s, in which he commented upon my determination to locate and read his first novel, The Butterfly:

‘You mentioned you plan to read my Butterfly this weekend with an eye to comparing it to Douglas Woolf’s Wall to Wall. I’m glad I have the chance to warn you the comparison will not stand up. Butterfly was my first novel and as with all first novels is riddled with flaws, and in this case, excessive emotion and not as direct as I would have written it in a later time. That, despite its being highly autobiographical, and also perhaps its being of some historical interest, since the character of “Eiko” is actually Yoko Ono (no secret anymore since Albert Goldman wrote about that fact in his 1988 The Lives of John Lennon) and the character of “Alice” is actually Joyce Johnson, former girlfriend of Jack Kerouac who was with him when On the Road hit it big).’

When Barnett’s recent publication was reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement on May 20th J.C. opened his piece with a fine piece of tongue-in-cheekery:

‘There is something appealing about a music memoir that opens “I do not have to tell you how disgraceful John’s attitude was and Yoko’s is”. The author of UnNatural Music is the poet Anthony Barnett who produced the Natural Music concert in Cambridge in 1969…’

The tongue-in-cheekery is of course that Barnett does have to tell us and what he tells is clear and to the point. His historical reconstruction, a past that never simply gets swallowed up in a present, is immaculate and the whole book is presented in a style that over many years Anthony Barnett has made his own: a type of signature publishing dish. Buy a copy NOW!
The historical reconstruction undertaken here is not simply about that concert in 1969; we enter into a spectral world of the past as the book opens with the words ‘For a while from 1965 I worked at Better Books, New Compton Street, round the corner from their Charing Cross Road shop. That section of New Compton Street no longer exists. A redevelopment covers it.’ We are immediately drawn into a world that will include Nothing Doing in London One, ‘which included a music score by John Tchicai’; the letterpress literary and arts loose-leaf folio review also included work by Samuel Beckett and Anne-Marie Albiach. In January 1968 Nothing Doing in London Two appeared with work by George Oppen as well as Yoko Ono’s ‘On Paper’. As Mr Barnett tells me the title page was ‘set in Castellar font, and the names in Plaintin font’. Needless to add that both are now collectors’ items!
Rumaker’s novel opens in a hospital which conveys a haunting sense of the prophetic for Ken Kesey’s later masterpiece, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

‘The low stucco buildings of the hospital with their harsh green windows and heavy wire screening stretched out in all directions as far as the eye could see.’

Anthony Barnett’s magical reconstruction of long gone days comes off the page with similar focus.

Ian Brinton 29th May 2016

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features along essay by poet, Ron Loewinsohn on the North Beach, San Francisco scene in the mid-Fifties before City Lights bookshop, Allen Ginsberg became famous and made the area a mecca for beats and hippies. Loewinsohn was encouraged to write and submit poems to LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka’s Yugen magazine, by Ginsberg. This eventually led to Baraka publishing his first book, with an introduction by Ginsberg. The memoir centres on the April 1956 Berkeley Community Theater reading hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, and how it transformed poetry reading events in the area from the literary equivalent of a polite piano recital to an informal gathering with the distinction between poets and audience blurred. On stage the poets commented on each other’s poems as they were being read and cheered good lines, along with the audience. It was here that Ginsberg gave the first full reading of Howl:

… pacing himself so that the intensity of his delivery built to three separate climaxes at the ends of the poem’s three sections. It was an extraordinary performance. It was far more than a recitation to a passive audience. This interaction between the poet and his audience affirmed the community that had been formed by the occasion: the poet articulated the community’s values and its ethos, while the community then affirmed the poet as its spokesman.’

Jerry Cimino writes about the re-discovery of Neal Cassady’s ‘Joan Anderson letter’, which inspired Jack Kerouac’s writing style. Eric Shoaf is interviewed about his career as a bibliographer and collector of William Burroughs literary works. Dan Poljak interviews Pierre Delattre, who was part of the North Beach scene in the late 50 and 60s about his memories, in particular of the arrival and influence of the Black Mountain College alumni and also Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

Jim Burns’s essay on Discovery magazine, the paperback pocket-book size journal, edited by Vance Bourjaily, details its relevance to the Greenwich Village scene. Kevin Ring offers his thoughts on Tom Waits reading of Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana poem, on a film set in Forest Hill, London, and Paul Lyons essay on John Wieners quotes heavily from The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (Sun & Moon Press, 1996) and delineates its background.

The joy of Beat Scene is always in the discovery of forgotten writers, poets and magazines and its extensive review section. Here David Holzer writes about Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change (1961), an English beat novel, republished by Five Leaves Press in 2012 in its New London Editions. The novel has received a strong review in Modern Review describing it as ‘an essential piece of literature that, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, sums up not only a generation or movement, but a sentiment of restless youth and rootless verve that lives on in today’s society as much as in any other’.

As ever, there is much to enjoy in Beat Scene. Subscriptions are 4 for £26. Email: kev@beatscene.freeserve.co.uk

David Caddy 28th January 2015

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Penniless Press Publications 2014

http://www. pennilesspress.co.uk/books/ppp

 

Jim Burns’ fifth collection covers an extraordinary range of artistic, literary, film and music activity through a series of interlocking essays that show extensive reading. Written in an engaging, clear and non-academic manner they were first published in magazines between 1973 and 2013. The topics range from the history of Paris Dada, the Cornish coastal artistic communities, Sven Berlin, the letters and lives of Jackson Pollock’s brothers, the American radical documentary film tradition, the stories of Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac’s magazine writing, the history of Black Mountain College, the work of literary magazines, such as Origin, The Noble Savage, Art and Literature, the music of Billie Holiday and West Coast jazzmen, the Objectivists, Olympia Press, early Beat criticism, and the Bohemian scenes of Tangier and Soho, and so on.

 

Burns is adept at debunking generalized overviews of literary and artistic movements, uncovering key figures, lost connections, neglected links and understands that there are those that find prominence and others that do not but might well be of equal stature or interest. He gently points out some of the beautiful failures, the underdogs, and the omissions of critics and anthologists. He is brilliant at uncovering contrary readings, positions that offer less conventional viewpoints, the role of marketing and magazines, and has a healthy disregard for official versions of literary and artistic movements and periods.

 

The essays take the reader on a journey through the prominent points of understanding and analysis as well as suggesting other viewpoints. They are perceptive, highly informative and, at times, personal. His essay, ‘Words For Painters’ on the impact of abstract expressionism has a wonderful personal slant that helps the reader appreciate the impact more profoundly. He writes:

 

‘It is the personal effect that the paintings have had which interests me. I’ve always found in much of Willem de Kooning’s work a wonderful reaction to the city. I recall coming out of the Tate Gallery in London after a de Kooning exhibition in the late-1960s and realizing how alive I was to the colour, noise, vitality, and variety of the streets. In Dore Ashton’s fine book, The Life and Times of the New York School, she says of de Kooning. “He loved the complexity of the cosmopolis, and he found in its physical appearance an excitement and beauty that he consciously tried to reflect in his paintings.” I read that a few years after first encountering de Kooning’s work, and it confirmed what I’d felt about the paintings.’

 

The essay is beautifully constructed, effortlessly moving from the personal to the critical, to apt use of sources and quotation, from general to localized reading.

 

‘With a painter like Franz Kline, possibly my favourite of all the abstract expressionists, it similarly struck me that his large black and white canvases were also representative of urban life. It maybe a tougher street-wise version of it when compared to de Kooning, whose European sensibility still came through despite his years in America. Kline was once described as “a night person, drinking with friends first, painting later, and sleeping during the day. Kline’s nighttime joy, his love of night as a congenial time permeates the warm, expansive blacks in several of his abstractions. Like night itself, these paintings are filled with unpredictable encounters with light: incandescent flashes and glowing reflections.” Interestingly, it always seemed that Kline was the least talked about of the abstract expressionists, both in terms of conversational focus and critical evaluation.’

 

The essay, which is typical of the collection as a whole, moves economically forward covering a lot of ground on Kline, his contemporaries and their work, and leaves the reader wanting to view the paintings and read more about the painters.

 

This is an exceptionally strong collection of diverse essays, which serve to illuminate and widen understanding. The reader finishes the book in a happier and more informed mood.

 

David Caddy 17th June 2014

 

 

In The Footsteps Of The Silver King

In The Footsteps Of The Silver King

As an admirer of Paul Kareem Tayyar’s energetic poetry, I looked forward to reading his latest novella, In The Footsteps of the Silver King (Spout Hill Press 2012) and was not disappointed. The narrative moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Oregon and to Iran in a transformative quest for the narrator’s dead father’s World Games silver medal. It effortlessly draws the reader into American popular culture and history from the perspective of the son of an Iranian who immigrated in the mid-70s. The novella offers a reading of recent American history that is witty, engaging and heavily anchored with cultural references. Characters that the narrator meets are representative of the highs and low of Californian life and intimately connected to the politics, culture and sport of the period.

 

Miller was getting romantic, a sportscaster-poet channeling his

inner Kerouac to give us a sense of the moment. I couldn’t blame

him. “And there’s a hanging curve just off the corner. Ball. 1-1.”

 

One sees that baseball in America occupies a similar place to cricket in England with the same fascination with radio commentary and importance of playground. Indeed, this is a playful novella that asserts the pleasures of the physical and is driven by considerable wit and charm. In short, it is a joy to read.

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