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".

Sunday, March 29, 2009

REVIEW: Gestalt & Pepper

GESTALT & PEPPER issue 1 (there may or may not be any more) is a zine produced by Madrea Marie in Old Town Florida. Madrea's the daughter of Wild Bill Blackolive, America's most celebrated underground writer, and a substantial part of the zine features correspondence between Bill, herself, her husband Eli and various friends. Maybe you'd have to be a fan of Bill or Madrea as writers to find that interesting; I'm a fan of both, so I couldn't tell you how much that influences my judgement. But I found the letters, which cover topics as diverse as 9/11, jail and the problems of getting good, radical work published anywhere, really entertaining. There are also poems and some very fine ink drawings (or designs maybe), by Madrea. She says she's considering doing a comic strip for a local paper, but I think she should be designing cd covers (if such a thing will exist in a few months) and t-shirts for bands. Ok (as so many people seem to sign off nowadays).
You can get a copy of GESTALT & PEPPER by writing to Madrea direct at 6NE 558th Street, Old Town, Florida 32680, USA. There's no specific cover charge, but be a pal, support the good work she's doing by sending a little cash, or stamps. Community spirit and co-operation are the only way these things function, and we need them just as much as we need another poetry magazine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

REVIEW: "Bird Effort"

by Ronald Baatz

Kamini Press Ringvagen 8 4th floor SE-117 26, Stockholm, Sweden

This is another of those gorgeous little editions Henry Denander, who's a poet of considerable talents himself, is producing on his Kamini Press, and number 4 in the series is another selection of poems by Ronald Baatz. 46 (I make it!) American tanka, one might as well call them, and two haiku about nature, animals and ageing--which may not sound promising to anyone who prefers urban poetry or who isn't versed in the traditional forms Ronald adapts so marvellously to the modern idiom. But trust me if you can! The poetry is melancholy, funny, lyrical and even the simplest observation echoes in the mind with revealed truths for a long time afterwards.You'll read it, then you'll step outside and notice something you've never seen before. He's the successor to Kerouac as a poet in adapted Chinese and Japanese verse forms, to my mind, is Ronald, and very few people could have taken Jack's mantle off his shoulders.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

t. kilgore splake

cojones time

“sun light here i am”

charles bukowski

muse long gone

no blank page contests

past distant memories

destiny in hand

hot chivas rush

bardic blood boiling

brain skull cavity

distant gray fog

dull hum hum humming

.357 ticket to ride

spared nursing home

score tied

overtime eternity

compulsive voyeur

talking only to talk

never understanding

emptiness of spoken word

drying alone on hospital gurney

helpless afraid

his song unwritten

winter diary

too late

to tell my story

artistic essence fading

shadow dancing

across new borders

something more intense


sweet dreams

only white guy

ghetto hoops team

big city metro

jukes and dekes

pulling up

skyin’ high

top of the key

soft fade away j

rippling chain net

street cred

waking from darkness

tortured eternity

writer’s black brain death

skull cavity empty

first dawn

streaking far horizon

steady light snow

turning paris white

rue montparnasse

lover’s footsteps

vanishing in

early morning light

tru gen

fancy workout threads

logging exercise miles

video with jake

air conditioned

knotty pine

bulls in hot pursuit

wanabe lady brett

cohn flynn

on pamplona holiday

bloody shit stink

wine soaked sweat

wild ass frenzy

racing toward


black side

time to go home

midnight quiet

streetlight blinking below

seventh story window

hospital cardiac unit

saline iv solution

staccato rippling echo

distant owl calling

winter coming

mad poet passing

waking from blackout

night light shadows

scattered jelly glasses

empty thunderbird deliriums

gone gone gone

“last train to clarksville”

racing through the station

chest throbbing

jackhammer heart pains

stomach acid boiling

oxygen tank hissss

needing new diaper

distant graying poet

nurse stealing meds

no longer feeling welcome

“shit and git”

vanished youthful memories

boy doing things

missing sweet wet kisses

no more nights together

black magnum solution

hole behind his ear

left this morning

never coming home

last clarksville train

washing down aspirins

warm blue ribbon suds

damp gray first dawn

jerry lee’s cassettes silent

black terminal loneliness

yesterday wife saying

“things got to change”

squeeze the trigger

gain methodist salvation

promised better life

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: COKEFISH ing

A Beat-Post Beat Independent Poetry Broadsheet
January 2009

"Cokefish" or "Cokefishing" is a pretty unique publication in that it really is a broadsheet, printed on two sides of a giant piece of paper which arrived at my door (at least) folded in quarters, and set in a variety of types, largely because the type that each poem or letter (it features author letters too) was submitted in seems to have been copied directly onto the broadsheet. And this is a choice the editors Dave and Ana Christy are making: "This broadside is dedicated to the small press and the way it used to be," reads the legend over the top of the first poems, next, in this issue, to a photocopied picture of the late, much lamented Dave Church, whose passing several poems and letters commemorate.

I like their style here. This is the sort of homemade, no-frills publication which sold me on the romance of the small press in the first place, when Bryn Fortey was doing something similar in Wales, though he folded his sheets in half and stapled them. Bryn introduced me, through his "Outlaw" magazine, to some of the best living poets, including (as he was) Church and t.kilgore splake; and Dave and Ana's roster includes both of those old greybeard heroes, along with Steve Dalachinsky, whose work I found impossible to format for BEATNIK (sorry Steve) and Gundy, whose name I came across a few years ago and haven't heard from for a while, during my own weird peregrinations around the literary world and in real unreality. It's good to know that there are still some places where the way a magazine/ publication looks doesn't matter and the way it reads does. Lately even Beat-influenced sites have gone for fancy production which has nothing to do with the original spirit of the writing.

You can track "Cokefish (ing)" down via Alpha Beat Press and Dave and Ana Christy at 806 E. Ridge Ave. Sellersville PA 18960 USA. And like I said, it's a buck an issue, so remunerate the Christys accordingly.

Monday, January 19, 2009


by Ronald Baatz

Kamini Press
Ringvagen 8
4th Floor
SE-117 26

A beautiful little volume, this; and little it is--a three stanza poem by Ronald on high quality paper tastefully presented inside a harder cover which itself features a picture by Kamini's Henry Denander. The picture illustrates the main subjects of the poem: two sparrows feeding. But of course, Ronald's not just a nature poet describing the pleasurable things he sees in front of him when he looks out of his window. He's a little bit of a Zennist and a little bit of a Surrealist, writing with the elegance and mystery of the former tradition and the sly intelligence of the latter. There's a lot going when Ronald writes about two sparrows. But to try to tell you what it is would be absurd, a complete waste of time. The birds would only fly away.

You will read him if you want to.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal

ed: i think there's something subtly original in Luis' poetry, which is why i'm always thrilled to publish anything he sends.i don't quite know what that quality of originality is--how exactly to define it--but it's there. have a look for yourself and tell us what you think.


I harvest fears
like a worried farmer.
My tools of the trade
are my thoughts.

My nights are sleepless
and my days are long.
I can't stop looking
over my shoulder.

Every step I take
I fear will be my last.
I succumb to
my fears sometimes

and I hide under
my bedcovers.
I worry about
spiders and bedbugs.


I was online at an early hour.
I was living online.
I was one of the stones
in this great online city.

I was the stone Sisyphus
could not budge. I was not soft
and I stood out. Man after
man tried to push me offline.

A minister thought I was evil.
At three a.m. the minister
could not bear my presence.
His sermon e-mails went straight
into my spam folder. I was
an unholy stone in the online city.


I heard another voice
in my head that
put me in a bad mood
and made my heart
beat without rest.

The voice made me shake
from my head to my ankles.

It was not pretty.
Another voice made me come
apart and took my pride.
I was not much of anything.

I asked the voice
politely to get out of my head.
The voice paid me no mind.