The Beat Writers
Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Beat Writers

Reading On The Road: First Encounter
Reading Dharma Bums
More Kerouac Books
Character Keys
Kerouac Links
General Beat Links
Beats Discussion List
Gary Snyder
Lew Welch
Allen Ginsberg
William S. Burroughs
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I started this page in 1997, and I was a total novice on this topic, but I was really interested in learning more. It's funny to think of how much I've read and how far I've come in my thinking since I wrote the pieces below this! I'm hoping to get some updating and additions done to this page (September 2000), and probably divide it up into a number of pages that can be expanded. As you'll read below, my first encounters with Kerouac's writing were troubled indeed, but out of it has grown some personal adventures. When I traveled over 500 miles this last month, just to hear a Gary Snyder reading, I was traveling in a very different mind-space than the one I was inhabiting when I wrote these paragraphs back in 1997. With many thanks for the inspirations ...I'll let the past speak for itself a little longer:-)

I finally read On The Road in the summer of '97. The year before that, I had dropped it in irritation, thinking: "Why am I wasting my time reading about a bunch of clueless 20-something males experiencing endlessly prolonged adolescence?" I had seen various Kerouac quotes and was expecting some great philosopher ...not some litany of aimless doings. So, disappointed, I gave up on it last year and the book idled on my shelves for a long time.

Summer 1997, however, the Portland Art Museum's Film Center had a series of films by and about Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. That link, by the way, leads to Mystic Fire's documentary on Kerouac. As an aside, I appreciated finding a film about Jack, and I really loved the actual interviews. However, the film also includes quite a bit of attempted reenactment of Jack's life with some of the cheesiest acting I've ever seen. Really poor. It rather detracted from the film ...or gave it a silly bit of comic relief if you're in the mood.

The best moment came in the Steve Allen Show clip where Kerouac reads the last paragraph of On the Road. It was a revelation, hearing these incredible words ...being read in this wonderful working class voice. Hearing him was not like anything I had imagined ...very down to earth ...yet uniquely artistic.

And as preparation for seeing the film, I dusted off On the Road and had begun a more patient reading.

This time, I was able to appreciate it more fully ... and was more philosophical about shrugging off or acknowledging the irritating parts --and there are many (I just won't even attempt to address the general demeaning attitude toward women, but I guess he's reporting the facts of his those times...:-). I really love some of the energized descriptive passages. It took me a little while to gear my thinking to the frenzied experiential flow ...but I began to see a new perspective.

Sometimes he would slip into a little more haunting mood before sliding right back into a manic recital of traveled roads and bus depots and towns flashing by the bit about the little old traveler he called The Ghost of the Susquehanna:

"I thought all the wilderness of American was in the West till the Ghost of the Susquehanna showed me different. No, there is a wilderness in the East; it's the same wilderness Ben Franklin plodded in the oxcart days when he was postmaster, the same as it was when George Washington was a wildbuck Indian-fighter, when Daniel Boone told stories by Pennsylvanica lamps and promised to find the Gap, when Bradford built his road and men whooped her up in log cabins. There were not great Arizona spaces for the little man, just the bushy wilderness of eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, the backroads, the black-tar roads that curve among the mournful rivers like Susquehanna, Monongahela, old Potomac and Monocacy."

...and I can just see Kerouac's little old hobo, muttering cantankerously and disappearing into the darkness and the lingering presence of woods and dark night. I especially like some of his descriptions of surroundings because he can really pull me into the story and I can feel the heavy night air and smell the river and swamps, like when Jack is with Dean and Marylou on one of their marathon high-speed rides, this time from Texas back to California, and as they leave Bull Lee and Texas behind:

"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? --it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."

...and near Beaumont, TX:

"There were mysteries around here. The car was going over a dirt road elevated off the swamps that dropped on both sides and drooped with vines. We passed an apparition; it was a Negro man in a white shirt walking along with his arms upspread to the inky firmament. He must have been praying or calling down a curse. We zoomed right by; I looked out the back window to see his white eyes. "Whoo!" said Dean. "Look out. We better not stop in this here country." At one point we got stuck at a crossroads and stopped the car anyway. Dean turned off the headlamps. We were surrounded by a great forest of viny trees in which we could almost hear the slither of a million copperheads. The only thing we could see was the red ampere button on the Hudson dashboard. Marylou squealed with fright. We began laughing maniac laughs to scare her. We were scared too. We wanted to get out of this mansion of the snake, this mireful drooping dark, and zoom back to familiar American ground and cowtowns. There was a smell of oil and dead water in the air. This was a manuscript of the night we couldn't read."

I really love that phrase: "This was a manuscript of the night we couldn't read." Hmmm, and "the too-huge world vaulting us," and I appreciate how he can draw me into an empathetic view of his friend Dean, a man who hectically leaps into and out of beds with the same alacrity he leaps into his Hudson, rapidly leaving three wives and as many babies behind in his frenetic pursuit of the next undefined SOMEthing. And believe me, keeping a sense of empathy for Dean is not always easy ...the word CREEP comes to mind ...but Kerouac dubs him "The Holy Goof" and somehow makes me see it, without removing the ugliness of a man who lasiviously measures any female, pubescent or prior. He takes Dean's feverish, mindless sexuality and softens the description compellingly:

"I could hear Dean, blissful and blabbering and frantically rocking. Only a guy who's spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes; beseeching at the portals of the soft source, mad with a completely physical realization of the origins of life-bliss; blindly seeking to return the way he came. This is the result of years looking at sexy pictures behind bars; looking at the legs and breasts of women in popular magazines; evaluating the hardness of the steel halls and the softness of the woman who is not there. Prison is where you promise yourself the right to live. Dean had never seen his mother's face. Every new girl, every new wife, every new child was an addition to his bleak impoverishment. Where was his father? --old bum Dean Moriarty the Tinsmith, riding freights, working as a scullion in railroad cookshacks, stumbling, down-crashing in wino alley nights, expiring on coal piles, dropping his yellowed teeth one by one in the gutter of the West. Dean had every right to die the sweet deaths of complete love of his Marylou."

And more than anything, Kerouac finds my own fear and fascination with time and our lives flowing away so relentlessly...

"So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, ..."

Or in the words of "On the Road"'s resident madman, Dean Moriarty ...

"And then we'll all go off to sweet life, 'cause now is the time and we all know time!"

Dharma Bums

My second Kerouac book was Dharma Bums, which was a very different experience. I've created a page specifically for Dharma Bums at that last link. I was pretty hard on Dharma Bums when I first created the page. Since then, I've re-read it a couple times and have mellowed considerably from the viewpoint I had when I first wrote a bit about it. I'm now seeing it, with a little helpful perspective from other readers, as one of Jack's most tender books, and a gentle book about friendship (not that I have to like the sexism of Jack and his times).

Gary Snyder:

An especially wonderful thing about Dharma Bums is that it introduced me to the story's rucksack Dharma hero, Japhy Ryder, who is based on poet Gary Snyder. I am so amazed discovering Snyder: truly incredible words. I'm working on putting together a web page about him. In the meantime, I have some things to say on my HotSprings page about Gary and the powerful experience of reading his poem Piute Creek.

I started reading some of Snyder's poetry from way back, RipRap and The Back Country, and I really loved it. There are many wonderful Nature-blessed viewpoints ...although some of it seems to go whizzing right through my head every once in awhile ...for instance, I'm still totally unsure what all he's saying in "In Praise of Sick Women." However, the thing about Gary is that I may have to read a particular poem over and over, all the while feeling like there's a very real and important connection that's simply escaping me --then suddenly it's a breakthrough! At that moments, I often find the door opening to some important idea of my own, that I had sorrowfully put away for "safekeeping" that I had given up hope of being understood by others. It's a feeling of ...communion.

Since then, I've been reading all the Snyder I can find; more about that at the Dharma Bum link below!

More Links Specific to Dharma Bums at the bottom of this link!

Getting back to Kerouac...

Since those first two books, I've also read Visions of Gerard, a little Beat homily about Saint Gerard (Kerouac's brother who died as a child and became the first resident ghost in the little pantheon of spirits that seemed to haunt Jack).

I began Visions of Cody where Kerouac seems to immerse himself in Beautiful Description of the Unbeautiful ...although I've had to take a break from it. This vision seems more bitter than any Kerouac had yet offered me ...the references to women are more disturbing than any other thus far. All but elderly women are presented as little more than breasts and vaginas with vague accessory faces and actions. A woman taking off her coat in a cafeteria is a "striptease." For all the inferred sexual fascination when referring to women, his descriptions are as empty as the ones he details of masturbating in gloomy public restrooms. The writing also seems ...drained, jerky, disjointed in many places. It makes me wonder what he could have written if he wasn't using Benzedrine jags to get it on paper ...between sloughs of alcoholic stupor and cat-chasing-his-own-tail marijuana marathons. His descriptive abilities are impressive. Visions of Cody makes me wish: If Only...

I wanted a break from Kerouac's melancholy, and I thought his journal-like Desolation Angels would be a change of pace. However, this just gave me serious post-Kerouac blues. Fortunately, I took up reading Gary Snyder at that point, and was lifted from the mire of despair and truly inspired!

I've created a web page with my comments on Big Sur. I find this one more gentle and lovely, yet sad and honest.

My most recent Kerouac book is The Subterraneans. I'm thinking that one over right now. When my thoughts settle, I'll probably do a webpage for it. Wow ...I can see why his lover, dubbed Mardou in the book, felt shocked and a sense of betrayal at the way he reported the most intimate details of her personal life --emotionally and sexually.

I'd love to have you email me with suggestions or questions (put a Beat title in the subject heading to alert me, I mass delete a lot of postings from email groups I'm tracking --don't let me erroneously send you away unread!!). You can also see a bit more info at my homepage at Hotsprings so feel free to drop in there! I also have a guestbook there, which I don't have here.

Blessed be and bless the Beat!

Character Keys to Kerouac (and other) books

Since so much of Kerouac's work is autobiographical --Kerouac spoke of eventually having an unbroken saga of his life written within all the different stories on which he would like to replace all the original, real-life names --character keys allow a reader to place the character in the context of the actual person. I find this helpful since Kerouac tends to write all his books as if we were all familiar with this crowd of characters (whose names also change from book to book).

However, when using one of these keys to "identify" the true-life people who served as characters in Kerouac's works, I think it's only fair to note that Kerouac's renditions are likely only dancing shadows of whoever these people really were and what they really did and said ...intriguing insights but not necessarily the whole picture since no one can give description without illuminating the writer more clearly than the actual subject, y'know?

LitKicks has a key

as does The Worchel Institute.

Beat SuperNova also lists out a number of "Beats" and includes their role or Kerouac alias in his books where applicable.

I also have started a small key linked to books I have pages about. I'll try to work it in to my pages in future.

Kerouac Links

Levi Asher's LitKicks is probably my favorite Kerouac site. It's possible that it's the primordial ooze, the inspiration, the very Mother Of All Beat Sites:-) He has info on a number of Beat writers and members of their circle. Also, check out Levi's own stories at his site: interesting.

Now seriously, Levi's stories are more than that ever ambiguous phrase. Short message? Go to Queensboro Ballads and START!

If you're still hanging around, I really can't do justice in a quick web-byte sandwiched between links. So, all I can cast at you is this: if you're chicken, I'll recommend Apparition --unless you're scared of the F-word too-- in which case just skip to the wonderfully link-layered web-onion Coming Back To Queens which is funny and also a beautiful web-mapping labor of love. It's a gentle story and easy to like. But even better when you stumble into it from the smokey shadows just before. I just like that juxtaposition of the two stories: a mind-jazzing leap of mood, somehow only later allowing me to realize that Levi's voice holds it together in a glinting, vanishing, reappearing needled thread quilting it all together. Though the story may jump unevenly, like a San Francisco getaway --up! Funny!...down, disturbing!...sideways, huh?-- (check out The History of the California Burrito and you'll see what I mean), Levi starts to feel like an old friend catching you up on the intervening unshared. Moods can be something nostalgic, turning inward, trailing you along like Where He can get there, as well as the wonderful photo-essay-like "Working Class Hero/Eleanor Rigby" by checking out his first single's a nice lead-in too, and Jack Kerouac still manages to pop up in unexpected places. Take a ride.

The Legend of Duluoz: A Guide to the Fictional Autobiographies of Jack Kerouac (June '97 issue) gives you each of Jack's stories in the format: In brief (thumbnail), A bite (quote), Brass Tacks (synopsis), and Banging it out (how long it took & circumstances of writing it). A quick and clever glimpse of Jack's writing. Actually, this whole issue is interesting, with interviews with Hettie Jones and Joyce Johnson, and brief articles such as King of the Beats.

Bohemian Ink is an on-line review of the history and future of experimental literature and poetry. It has a variety of pages and links including this one on Kerouac

History of Beat Poetry, with a couple more pages about Jack.

Kerouac reads...and sings

North Beach library collection and info
including a North Beach Beat Map

Jon Snowden's page addressing Jack's The Modern Spontaneous Method

Wooden Monkey has a very short byte on Jack and Gary. Don't miss his stories and poems page; Go sit in the stands of a very special game of girl's basketball, listen to Emery jingle those pennies, hang-out with the "Skags of Brockway" and their guardian spirits ...oh, just go there and see! Wonderful writing!

DHARMA beats: A Jack Kerouac Newszine, has articles about Jack and an Events Calendar.

More General Beat Links


Colin Pringle's Beat site

For a wonderful tour of the linguistic high-jinks of Beatnikism: The Hip Manual.

UnSpeakable Visions: The Beat Generation and The Bohemian dialectic has some fascinating material.

Worchel Institute For The Study Of Beat And Bohemian Literature

For a really unique presentaion, go to Dharma Beats by The Cosmic Baseball Association. Interesting bytes on different people involved in the Beats. And if that experience isn't enigmatic enough for you, check to see if you caught their report on the National Portrait Gallery's (now closed) exhibition: Rebels: Painters and Poets of the 1950s.

This is a wonderful link to a page at University of Pennsylvania about the 1950s! or you can go directly to a fascinating article about the writer's (James Wechsler) experience being on a discussion panel with Kerouac in the 50's in "The Age of Unthink"

More links to Kerouac Books

Desolation Angels:

Amazon's entry. The Reviews and Commentary are interesting.

Beat Discussion:

There's also a Beat Discussion Email group with a description at the Big Table site. This is a moderated list that developed more delineated expectations of participants after the previous (more free-form) discussion list was "flamed out of existence"around '98. As literary groups will do, the pendulum eventually swung back and the restrictions were lifted ...and the flavor of the discussion has undergone many permutations over the years.

Other Beat Writers:

Allen Ginsberg:

Shadow Turns Into Bone "The Clearinghouse For All Things Ginsberg"

The Naropa Institute has a lovely tribute to Allen. I also have a link (under General Links) to their writing department of which he was a co-founder with Anne Waldeman.

Al Filreis and his Poetry page at UPenn: Ginsberg links

Howl for the Students is a MUST READ:-)!
This is David Eads account of his reading "Howl" in his High-School class.

Beautiful Tributes here.

William S. Burroughs:

My comments following my first encounter with Naked Lunch are at my homepage at my HotSprings Homepage. This is the review that somehow got me indexed in Metacrawler under the term "Necrophilia." A mixed blessing, to say the least! Hey, use that word even once on your page and you're indexed! I use the word Midwifery about 80 times in my HotSprings pages, did that get me indexed even once? (answer: no) Sigh. Interesting priorities.

Big Table (which, if you don't realize, was one of Kerouac's suggestions for the Burrough's book title besides the eventually selected one --Naked Lunch).

InterWeb Zone

Bohemian Ink's link for Burroughs

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

I first read his poems quite recently (September '98) and really enjoyed it! So far, that includes Coney Island of the Mind and Pictures of a Gone World. Lovely stuff! Lawrence is also well-known as founding owner and publisher at City Lights Bookstore.

Reading of Ferlinghetti's works in Prague.

Lew Welch:

I've been reading quite a bit of Lew's work and correspondence, and I find what he has to say about poetry and being a poet very enlightening. Lew was a long-time friend of Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, and he represents his own special flavor that is and is not possible to categorize as "beat." I'm organizing some thoughts to put into a page about Lew. Right now, I would place Lew as my favorite poet, right after Gary Snyder.

Lew Links: LitKick's page on Lew.

Cosmic Baseball's Lew site.

SF Chronicle article at the time of the ceremony held honoring Lew in August 1997.

May 23, 1998 Tribute to Lew at San Juan Ridge.

Lew's Manuscripts are collected at U of C, San Diego, for you scholars out there.

Chilli is a Swedish site; it says (in the small English language translation section) that the site is about Libertarian socialism; however, I was intrigued by the quote at the top of their homepage, attributed to Lew Welch Swedish, of course, what could it be? (I'm afraid my great-grandmother was Swedish, but she was the last member of my family fluent ...and she's been dead over 30 years, so...I'm quite curious:-)

""De som inte har nåt att leva för hittar alltid nåt att dö för.

Och sen vill dom att alla vi andra ska dö för det också. ." -

Well, anyone?


Return to my Rainblessed HOMEpage
Other pages: Wallace Stegner, Zora Neale Hurston

or go to my Geocities HotSprings Page.