Sunday, October 25, 2015
On the 21st October, anniversary of Kerouac's birthday (--birthday? --his death day dammit! though any of us who've known deep loss begin at some time to confuse the birth & death dates-- a memorial conflation, both happy & sad, forever fused), I'm reading Lee Kofman's article Muses on Fire, excerpted from Kill Your Darlings magazine, reprinted in The Victorian Writer, April '15 issue, which I'd missed having been back home in England when it arrived and not seen till now. The iconic photograph of Cassady & Kerouac on full facing page catches my eye, apt even synchronous that it should crop up at this moment what with our HOWL 60th event of the 10th October still buzzing! Nothing like an anniversary to twig period, person, place. At every switched-on turn right now there's Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti et al. On Dave Moore's Jack Kerouac group's Facebook page I see Duane Potosky's drawing of Neal, no hands cigarette between his lips. There's Kerouac too, and on the artist's page sketches of his own stars of film, music, literature. Reading Lee Kofman and thinking of Karl Gallagher, who's been in my mind since Dave Ellison rang to tell me that our friend, painter, poet, on-line publisher of Fitzroy Dreaming, is in hospital, bearing up, in a good frame of mind he says, being well looked after. I mean to say, Karl Gallagher! --first candidate for what we've named the D M, that zone of heaven & earth where the desperate mystics disport, --desperate only as Lee Kofman has quoted Kerouac, "the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow candles…" --this "now legendary sentence" she calls it…
Digress here (--as though all or any of this isn't! --this hold-all prose --parenthetical --dervish-turning to reach the essence of the impulse to begin --and begin one must-- starting out with a few accessories, literary equivalents of apple, chocolate, pen-knife --thanks Boy's Own Dad for that! --thus Kerouac, Kofman, Gallagher shoring up the expedition) : found an email from Paul & Ann Smith recording same news of Karl plus a phone-number to call, which I do today, 24th October, reporting to H.Q., touching base. Kerouac's birthday I say, not yet aware of my mistake. Is it? he says. Fancy that. And how was the Howl reading? Kerouac running around with the jugs of wine, did you do that? Hah! Helped ourselves! And who read Howl? Several poets, I say, male & female voices reprising & renovating the original. Organised by George Mouratides, who's one of the four younger scholars who edited the Scroll version of On the Road --I suggested or recruited a few readers, David Pepperell, Ken Trimble, Larry Schwartz. I was Mr Rexroth as MC, joking & kindly growling --and Ken Trimble… Ah, he's the real thing isn't he, Karl says… he read the McClure poems, I said --he's off on his world tour next year with new book of poems --Melbourne, Kyneton, & New Mexico with… Begin to pronounce "Joe Bottone" but swallow what could have spun into another Beat/God saga, though every reason to extol Joe's new poems, billowing sumptuous as the refrain of the Nick Cave song Into My Arms, which Ken's current poems coincidentally chime, and judging from his Facebook, Merton & Bede fulsomely in the wings… Image in mind now of Joe's monastery, Camaldoli, often quoted by Ken following his visit to Big Sur, and of Father Bede's Shantivanam, similarly experienced --also, sudden glinting, Bede Griffiths' Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire preceding Dom Sylvester Houedard --hah! hardly believe it! --comes to me out of the blue --sad to say out of the nowhere the British counter-culture's largely consigned to --Dom Sylvester as various as Merton, monk & poet of that era, Sixties & Seventies increasingly incredible as one's own momentum turns full circle effecting belated consideration & remembering… And then of image of Meherabad as shown me over the years by Dave Elison, but most recently illustrating one of Paul Smith's verse memoirs from his own New Humanity Books, inscribed in my mind from Karl's postings of his pilgrimages, with Phil Motherwell too, among fellow Baba lovers, amidst less Indian cliche dust & petals than fertile Maharashtra lawn & grove…
Returning to Lee Kofman --she's keenly aware of brilliance's terrible other half, I say to Karl --exemplary of Neal Cassady & June Miller in the article : "while 'burning people' have the gift for making those around them feel fully alive by rendering the everyday into a glittering fairytale, in the process they often burn themselves out". I'm wary of imposing too long with this hospital phone-call. Though he's been up for it he eventually says he'll probably hang up, but not before hailing Cassady & Kerouac. You know, he says, spiritual guys would go to San Quentin to talk to the prisoners, and they'd sometimes see Cassady, at the back, and he'd be glowing…Yes, and Kerouac, --the hopeless alcoholic, Karl says matter-of-fact.You were onto him quite young too? Yes, heard of him before I first read him… Dropped out of College, '64, desperate for deliverance from the cultureless town, poet & artist I assumed I was, --looking for any way out of it --escape to Paris? --quashed --Wales then, great in some respects but fell out with the mate I'd gone with-- hung out at the wonderful Southampton Art Gallery and the amazing upstairs Reference section of the Central Library --my 'further education'! --found Ihab Hassan writing on the post WW2 Americans, describing Charles Olson, for example, as the 'Dean of the Beats', --the Beats! Read about them, took notes in little fold-over letter-pad --but the first Kerouac I actually read was Big Sur, which was one of the numerous paperbacks I was selling in tiny kiosque aboard Sitmar Line'sFairstar late '65, the job I'd been demoted to after failing to cut it in the big shop according to my managers, --obliged to wear northern waters' blues and tropical whites past the Equator but evidently not really presentable to the passengers, aside from my atrocious attempts tying products in the hold for hoisting up to the main deck! --they were glad to hide me behind that little hatch, selling cigarettes, confectionary, & paperbacks! --and one day I picked it out, BIG SUR : "The story of the crack up of the King of the Beats" --and disbelievingly opened it --but the impact of that first line : "The church is blowing a sad windblown "Kathleen" on the bells in the skid row slums as I wake up all woebegone and goopy, groaning from another drinking bout and groaning most of all because I'd ruined my 'secret return' to San Francisco by getting silly drunk" & et cetera has remained with me these fifty years --I was his boy, once & for all! Quick thoughts in my head about autobiography as history, and the chronicle poems of my friend Philip Kanlides, and, quite a propos, the celebrated Pi O whose epic, Fitzroy, was launched a week ago. Karl says, Kerouac kills a mouse and he's guilty & sad forever. Reading Kerouac, Karl says, I was knocked out by his honesty… I never heard someone talk about God so openly, he says. We share taking-it-all-in chuckles. Boys or old men, no where else to go.
[--fin, 25th October, '15