Kerouac at 100
We’re joined this week by Are We Here Yet? podcast past guest and American Prose Poet Joshua Michael Stewart.
This gave us an opportunity to recount moments in the historical and literary life of Jack Kerouac.
Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac March 12, 1922 in Lowell, MA Kerouac is widely considered father of the counter-culture phenomenon and literary movement known as the Beat Generation.
Jack considered the term BEAT as shorthand for Beatitudes. This suggestion of a spiritual ethos behind the beats is explored at length in our discussion, which is rife with the Buddhism Keraouc explored and the Catholicism he was born to.
We read from several of Jack’s books including Visions of Gerard, Dr. Sax, Dharma Bums, On the Road, and from Jack’s Letters which have been posthumously published in two volumes.
It is the development of literary forms post mid-century influenced by beat lit that determines the movements relevance beyond its own time. So we recount excerpts from Josh’s Bastard Children of Dharma Bum which we print in this episode script below.
Many of Jack’s artifacts including the original teletype of On the Road are currently on display at the Boott Mills Cottom Museum in Lowell, MA.
Listen if you love beat literature, Lowell, writing in general or mid-century discussion of phenomenon Listen now.
Wondering if I heard
the gas station payphone,
my fingers chatter
with a jug of wine.
The astonished poet—
a hip girl in love
refuses to subscribe
to the privilege
of consuming crap
and making children,
writes poems wine-soaked
and wild, praying cops
and the Republicans
learn how to wake up
and start breathing.
I sleep good, live cheap,
and don’t give a shit
for all that machinery
in a house. I got songs
made up plucking
on strings tucked away
in my brain. We walk
on both sides of the street
not hurting anyone.
Raspberry Jell-O in the setting sun
poured through unimaginable craigs.
Rose-tint hope—brilliant and bleak.
Ice fields and snow raging mad.
I read snowy air and woodsmoke.
The wind dark, clouds forge.
The sing in my stovepipe absorbs
vaster, darker storm closing in
like a surl of silence. No starvation
turmoiling. My shadow the rainbow
I haloed. Your life a raindrop.
I stood in rose dusk, meditated
in half-moon thunder.
My mother’s love drenching rains
washed and washed.
I called Han Shan in the mountains.
I called Han Shan in morning fog.
I closed my eyes, yelled dark wild
down in my garbage pit.
My hair long in the mirror.
My skin soaking pristine light.
My fire roaring. I hear the radio
singing, She was the wind
which passes through everything.
Birds rejoicing sweet blueberries
for the last time. Sitting, I twisted
real life and cried cascades
answering the meditation bell.
I know desolation.
I owe gritty love back to this world.
Poems from Love Something (Main Street Rag, forthcoming Fall 2022)
A bird crashes against a window
The children scream, the mother screams.
The bird’s in the dirt flapping its broken wing
as the children run through the rooms
flapping their arms like wings, slam
into walls, smash into each other, whoop
and holler and laugh, and unsheathe their little teeth—
so tiny it seems they wouldn’t break skin.
This house that smells like a woodpile
under a tarp after three winters,
where a social worker wrote in her notebook,
This mother clearly doesn’t love this child,
where a river runs through the living-room,
and wildfires bloom in the bedrooms,
where there’s something about my heart that isn’t right,
and I’m an old rug left out over a porch railing in the rain,
where tomorrow will come, and I’ll still be here
in one form or another, here where I can take off my shirt,
and bare the scar on my shoulder
that fits my younger cousin’s mouth.
ELEGY FOR WHO I ONCE WAS
Summer. We were walking,
a country road before dawn,
and you were dead.
I don’t remember your dying
but there you were, dragging your feet,
your eyes like the bottoms of glass ashtrays.
I said it smelled of death
and you just groaned.
I felt like an idiot.
I never wanted this.
I never wanted it to rain.
Do you have any idea
what a soggy corpse is like
so early in the morning?
I tried to pick up the pace,
but all you could do was slosh down the road.
Eventually, we came to a barn
and hobbled inside to get dry.
Soon the sun was up. The rain had stopped
and the insects were getting jiggy in the fields.
You slumped into an empty stall.
Sunlight beamed through slits in the boards
and the dust of your body mingled
with the dust of the barn, the outside world
and possibly me. Despite the decay
you looked lovely disappearing like that.
And I confessed if I wasn’t such a fool
I’d love you right down to the bone.
“Vultures usually do.”
It was the first thing you’d said all morning.
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