Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Jan Kerouac A Life In Memory

edited by Gerald Nicosia, Noodlebrain Press, 2009
$25 from USA , $30 from Canada and overseas

We all know Jack Kerouac, of course. Every poet and writer and half-hip culture fan of the last 60s knows Jack. But we still don't know his daughter, most of us. I've told people before, and while reading this book, that he had a daughter whom he largely disowned, and that Jan was a talented writer herself, author of two published books and one that she didn't complete before her death in 1996, and the reaction has always been one of bored surprise. (I say "bored surprise", if such a thing can exist, because nobody at least who I've told cares that much: let's not kid ourselves, outside the legalistic world of the literary estates, the story of Jack and Jan Kerouac is only a big deal in that people are generally appalled he could have been such a shitty father.)

Given the global sweep of the Kerouac myth, the relative invisibility of Jan Kerouac in literary terms (and she was a good writer), is surprising, and perhaps an indictment not only of the forces ranged against her in the carpetbagging frenzy that followed Jack's death and the alleged (by Jan among others) forging of Memere's will turning Kerouac's estate over to the Sampas family; but also the intrinsic sexism of the literary world, where a woman is expected to write romances and faux-historical novels, not serious books, and even the judgement of other women is predisposed to favouring their male counterparts. You could argue that attitude, that ingrained prejudice, is slowly disappearing, but if it is then it disappeared too slowly for Jan.

This book, edited by Gerald Nicosia, tries to redress the balance for Jan Kerouac. In a series of essays and short pieces by Nicosia himself, Phil Cousineau, Brenda Knight, Carl Macki and Neal Cassady's son John Allen, among many others, the story of Jan's life that doesn't feature in Baby Driver and Trainsong, with special emphasis on her efforts to write her last, incomplete novel Parrot Fever while battling the illness that took her life, is retold in what Gerry calls a "mosaic"fashion, darting back and forth through time, allowing certain repetitions for emphasis and greater elucidation, slowly building a picture of this indomitable, gifted woman that walks off the pages with (if you'll forgive me mixing my metaphors) hologrammatic clarity.

We also learn about Jan's battles with Kerouac's literary executors as she fought what she considered to be the piecemeal selling-off of Jack's marvellous works and his iconic image to the highest bidder. Though the battles surrounding Jack are horrendously complex and characterised by immense bitterness and recrimination, Jan's case--which in my opinion seems a fair enough thing for the man's daughter to undertake--culminated in her being ejected from the Beat Generation conference in New York in 1995 with the complicity of Allen Ginsberg, of all people, who claimed (as reported in the book) to have investigated Jan's claims against the Sampases and found them substanceless. Bad enough that the most famous group of underground writers in the last 60 years in America should have agreed to let their works be subsumed into the mainstream by something so bourgeois and ridiculous as a literary conference. Appalling, though, that the author of Howl should have sided with the money men against another legitimate author and the daughter of one of his best friends.

Well, Jan is gone now and Ginsberg is gone now, but the sour aftertaste left by Jack's treatment of his daughter and the Beat and wider literary world's arrogant dismissal of her talents and her claims stays in the mouth. It's something for us all to learn from. But Jan's story isn't a tragic one for all that. A vibrant, funny, intelligent, gifted woman shines through these pages, in the essays, in the many original photographs Nicosia provides. I think you'll be pleased to meet her.

Please send payment in well-concealed cash or bank cheques in US Dollars to Gerald Nicosia, PO Box 130, Corte Madera, CA 94976-0130 USA.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Steroid Era

sports scandals abound
funnelling fees to attorneys
squalid headlines
and tarnished reputations
we can turn this situation
about-face by a sanction of
the steroid era
make enhancement drugs
available to athletes
with million dollar contracts
they can afford to enrich
pharmaceutical companies
advertiser revenue
would increase
more long-standing records
would fall
players would perform
heroic feats
fans would enjoy
more high-flying games
ticket sales would escalate
drugs of lessor potency
could be offered to
bush and little leagues
players would not have to
resort to subterfuge and denial
let's draw an imaginary line
through the void like B.C. & A.D.
start the steroid era
and everybody wins

~ Joe Speer, Las Cruces, N.M.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

sonny waited

for mikey

to get

all the

way out

of the

car before


him in

the face


tire iron

the lenses

of mikey's


flew in



& when he

fell side

ways his

red eye

brow was


~ Todd Moore

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

REVIEW: THE WINTER DIARY by t. kilgore splake

ISBN 978-1-60743-432-0

"The Winter Diary" is the autobiography of t. kilgore splake, perhaps Michigan's most celebrated poet/ photographer/ filmmaker, who's been carving out a significant reputation for himself in the small press, as well as a voice that could belong to no one else poetically, for twenty years or more--ever since, as this book reveals, he put down the .357 Magnum he was planning to use to blow his own brains out after a long and unsatisfying academic career teaching at American colleges, took early retirement and disappeared "up country" (as the song says) to find his true self and fulfil his dreams.

"Diary" tells you how he got to the momento de verdad with the Magnum--that teaching career chasing "the bitch goddess of success", a string of relationships that ended in disappointment, pain, craziness--in a series of flashbacks provoked by present day associations as splake pursues his well-documented days in Calumet drinking coffee at various cafes, flirting with the waitresses, hiking up his beloved cliffs; it delves far back into his childhood and early years to relate how the character was formed which made the grievous errors, but also gave him the vision and the courage to put it all down and reinvent himself as a poet. So it's a picture of the nation too across much of the last century, given that he also supposes about the lives of his parents; but its real value is just as a fabulous story told by a man rich in experience and made wise by love and by too many close encounters with grief and death. splake has always seemed to be running as fast as he can from what he himself has labelled "rat bastard time", but it's his knowledge of time's ravages which gives him his incredible drive and commitment to his poetical vision. "That which does not kill us will make us stronger," as someone else said. If we all knew how soon Death comes we'd fucking hurry up.

At the end of the book splake documents some of the discussions he had with other writers and poets about the form the book should take, whether his customary lower case would be appropriate, whether a formal structure (as opposed to the near stream of consciousness style he adopted--reading it reminded me of talks you might hear on the radio) would have made it more atttractive to a conventional publisher, whether the descriptions of other people lacked depth of characterisation. To me, none of those things really matters. splake is splake. His subject is himself, which it actually is for most poets; it's just that t. is more honest about it. And conventionally structured and edited autobiographies are dull as dishwater anyway. If you have to compromise your vision to be a success in the literary world you might as well be back teaching political science, or striding about a supermarket in a security guard's uniform, or working in a bank. splake is a long-time correspondent of mine so perhaps I'm biased--and BEATNIK doesn't review stuff I don't like anyway--but for all its eccentricities, in fact partly because of its eccentricities, THE WINTER DIARY is a fine work.

People will be assessing and reassessing and arguing about splake's writings long after the rest of us have been forgotten.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009



A necessity
A 5-exclamation point
"We're out of Q-Tips!!!!!"
I hate the wet feeling
of water drying in my ears

walking zombie

did i get any sleep?
or was it just a dream
lost in between
the hours of the night

these poems first appeared in "GESTALT & PEPPER".