Mind, Mouth and Page – 3 (Williams and Kerouac)

Jack Kerouac, 1944. Photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

William Carlos Williams, Self Portrait (1914) via ACSU Buffalo

Student: Allen? Had (Jack) Kerouac written, say, On The Road, by the time (William Carlos) Williams met him?

AG: Oh yes, yes.

Student: And Kerouac admired Williams?

AG: Yeah.

Student: Did Williams read any of Kerouac?

AG: Yeah, Williams read quite a bit of Kerouac, and he read his poetry – and liked it. I mean, not a great deal (by the time they met, Williams had had a stroke and was not active reading a lot – he was active writing. He was finishing Paterson, and he read here and there, but he was still in some shape. Actually, I brought him manuscripts from On The Road, before it was published. He’d read that before (they met).

Student: Doesn’t Kerouac somewhere mention that meeting?

AG: Yeah. A couple (of) places. But I have a little poem about it with…

Student: (Him) lying in bed or something..

AG: Pardon?

Student: I kinda got the impression that he was (lying in bed)

AG: No, everybody was sitting around in his living room.

Student: Uh-huh.. (Yes)..That thing about the differences between them that we were talking about earlier..

AG: About whom?

Student: Between Williams and Kerouac.

AG: Yeah..

Student: That Romanticism (on one hand), and the bare attention on the other hand – did that come up?…during.. do you see what I mean?.. Could you (perhaps) shed some light on what Williams was thinking?

AG: Well, he liked Kerouac’s writing, because, romantic as it was, it was all done through Okie talk, it was through American speech, and it was rhythmically romantic – ….extended inspired breath, inspiration, breath, but (it was) done in a tone of American workingman’s language, basically, rather than in the tone of a literary, literate New Yorker observer. There was a basic enthusiasm, as well as the American speech, in Kerouac, that he recognized immediately. As he recognized Peter Orlovsky’s poetry, and said that, of all of the group, Orlovsky was the best lyric poet (which is an amazing thing for him to say on the basis of very few poems and Orlovsky’s almost-complete illiteracy – he saw through that and understood the heart and also the eloquence that Orlovsky had). He understood Kerouac’s line, he understood Kerouac’s sound, American sound, as well as the detail in Kerouac he liked. I don’t suppose he read through all of him, or (that he) read much Kerouac, but he read many pages.

Student: I was wondering how he related to the Romanticism angle of it, though..

AG: Well, of Kerouac, and of “Howl” (both were “Romantic”) – but he wrote an essay on “Howl”, in which you can see how he related to it. Simply by – “this is another generation going through its throes and being romantic in an American way, rather than a European way” – I think, was what he was interested in. It was a home-grown Romanticism, and therefore genuine to the lyric nature of the young people of its time, in their place, here, not a borrowed Romanticism. And the romanticism about cars – “she leaned on the door of my car” (remember?)

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