On Jack Kerouac’s Spontaneity

AG: (Sense seeks and finds the thought” (William Blake) ) So “genius finds thought without seeking & thought thus produced finds the sense.”  Is that clear?  Is that clear?  I mean, does anybody not understand that reversal?  Because the sort of squarer, more rationalistic or literalistic thought is that you’ve got to know what you say before you say it. So, as Robert Duncan says, “How do I know what I mean until I say it?” Or how do any of us know what we think until we say it?  And actually the whole poetic process shares that.  The whole poetic process does, as far as I know it, work that way:  You don’t really know what you’re going to write until you write it, (or you don’t write it, you think it – you think it out or it appears in the mind or a phrase appears in the mind).  Yes?

Student: Did (Jack) Kerouac use that in his concept of spontaneous poetry?

AG: That’s what that was about, yes.

Student: Well, didn’t he kind of re-do his poems once he thought them up like that?

AG:  No.

Student: Pretty much.

AG:  He never touched them.

Student: Never?

AG: No!  No.  I touch mine but he didn’t touch his.  No, that’s what’s so curious.  If you look at Mexico City Blues, Grove Press, written in ‘(19)53, and published I think around ‘(19)58 or ‘(195)9, you’ll find a series of poems about this long – about eight, nine, ten, twelve, fifteen lines.  Approximately the size of a notebook, each poem, (or maybe one page, or no thicker, because he was writing them in a little notebook like that and that determined the size of the line).  Every morning he got up, smoked a joint, took a cup of black coffee and wrote down the first thoughts in his head, or the first conceptions. The first little rhythmic ditty that floated into his ear –  in one ear and out the other.  (He) did that for several months, or a month or two, perhaps two or three little poems a morning.  (He) did this on a rooftop in Mexico where he was living, a little hut, (and then) when he got back to New York he just typed it up, literally, keeping the arbitrary odd spacing, and then sent pieces of it on to me and Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder. And it astounded us because (they were) so limpid and liquid and larropping and rollicking and lolling around on the tongue. Perfect. Pluperfect gems of pure poetry, so to speak, with a lot of funny, funny conceptions in (them). He starts one little section about “No direction/No direction to go…” , “No direction to go/ (but)/(in) ward” – and then a big space – “Hm/ (rippling of paper indicates/ hopelessness anyway).”  It’s a comment on the bottom. [36th Chorus] –  And then (he goes) on to the next [37th Chorus – “Mad  about  the Boy..”] –  .

So he did keep it totally intact and integral, and that was the whole point, to graph the movement of the mind. That phrase, “graph the movement of the mind” (“graph of a mind moving“)  is Philip Whalen’s.  [In] Kerouac’s spontaneous prose or poetry the whole point is that, no, you don’t touch it.  You let it be. Yes?

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