Ted Berrigan on Jack Kerouac – 4

Ted Berrigan (1934-1983)

Ted Berrigan on Jack Kerouac continues – from here

TB: ….not heavily but not lightly. This was just the Fifties, you know. There were no freedom rides or anything like that yet, you know. And because the poet is a prophet, because there is that antennae (but that’s not what the poet is interested in being, it just happens) – “his imperialistic kingdoms are coming” – his history is here to stay” – And then the answer to all that – that “the Negro in America is just like us” (like us, not the same, different). “Negro” is a word that could stand for anything-other-than-White, you know. I mean, including…Dig it, I mean – or else, suffer! – But that was.. oh well, Jack wasn’t thinking anything like that I’m sure but, if there were no skips on this record.

There’s this other thing, and I don’t know if any of it came across there, but when.. when these damned records play correctly, when that.. I like to play that piece, after.. you know, several times, over the course of a couple of months, or whatever, plus other pieces, and get them used to the voice. Two years ago I was teaching at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, which is a very good technology school , right, it’s about after, the third (or) fourth after, MIT and CalTech.And I mean, these guys didn’t want to be taking any poetry courses or anything (but) they had to, I mean, it was part of their requirement for a degree, But so…alright, so I was the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Literature for one year (for which they had an NEA grant). And, you know, I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. So I did anything I wanted, you know.

(And one thing I’d like to do now is turn this off (sic) but… (recognizing continuing problems with the record-player)) – One day, then, I would like to play that piece, “The History of Bop”, and when I would finish playing it.. by (that) time I would get them (the students) to pay attention, where they would be able to listen for the whole duration.. it’s hard to sit in a classroom and take something in, but.. And then when it was over, I would just take the record off, and then I would say, “Who caught it?” Who heard it?” (like I could have said here, but it didn’t play) . “Who heard it?”. And the time that I did that at Stevens, everybody just stared at me.

Student: Hey Ted, can you talk up just a little bit?

TB: Yeah. Everybody just stared at me for a bit, and then this poignant young woman put up her hand.. and I noiced a guy on this side of the room with his hand up about this far . And I had been looking at them, you know, (walking around the room and being as unobtrusive as possible, but..) So I said.. There were only twenty-three students, you know, and I knew them all quite well by then – and I said to this one, the fellow, I said, “You heard it, didn’t you?” And then he said, “Yeah, I guess I did”. And I said “Who else heard it?” , and about two more people put up their hands. And I think I said to one other person, ”You heard it, I don’t know if you even know you heard it, but you heard it”. It’s here, you know. That is, it was a work of art. It was all of a piece. It worked. I don’t know what the name of it is even yet. It’s not a poem, it’s not a short story, it’s not an essay either, it’s a magazine piece (that’s not generally considered under the category of art – (but) when you have an artist doing it – art is art and art and does what art does and it doesn’t matter if it’s a tin can or a… whether if it’s a Campbell’s soup can, (i.e a painting that people say is just a Campbell’s soup can but is actually just a canvas with some colors and a shape on it), or whether it’s a Jackson Pollock ,or an Andrew Wyeth or a (Henri) Matisse, or whatever, oil.. or music, or whatever. There’s something it does. And it does itself, and when you catch it, you’ll be doing yourself then. And nothing is in-between. And you’re not it. and it’s not you (art is not your life, it’s someone else’s art, but it..) For one thing, just abstractly, it does show you that you’re not alone, that is, your not crazy, you know. No matter what thoughts you have, no matter what feelings you have, terrible, or.. you are not crazy – nor are you superior, nor are you inferior, but you are here, you are sentient, you are alive, and that’s something. And that’s what you want of things you make to be. And, by God, its not so very difficult to do so either, though not all of you can make… can write Beethoven’s symphonies, or Bach’s music, or do Jack’s pieces. Why should you be able to? I mean, they did them anyway. But I mean, you know, there are as many kinds of art and.. (types is a word I don’t like to use, but, numerically), there are as many kinds of art as there are human beings (and I’m just restricting myself to the area of human beings, I mean we won’t go into the other – I mean people tell me that bird songs can all be explained in terms of mating calls, hunger, etcetera. Sure, so can art! – but that’s beside the point). I think we make art for the same reason that birds sing, because it is given to us to be able to do so. So we do. And if we do.. if we.. if we seize on that and do it consciously, it’s nicer, because otherwise we’re doing it unconsciously and we’re making bad art which is, that is, our lives (and, you don’t try to make your life be a work of art, you know. I mean, good god! – but you really don’t want your life to be a work of bad art). And so perhaps it should…

You can know what the word “art” means. I mean, and you’ve just learnt some, and you’ve seen some and.. but you go to the museum – that’s not art, that the art of paintings, if it happens – if it happens! . .You’ve had “the art experience”, that’s wonderful, it can happen anywhere, you know, but..
When someone did it on purpose then there is also human generosity. I mean we are, we have incorporated gentleness into our..what we have, which is quite something, which includes generosity. That’s good, that’s good. In fact, we’re better at it than we are at being war-like creatures, because we’re all soft, you know, we’re soft in the gut and.. (but we’re not soft in the heads – yet! – and we’re not so soft in the gut that we can’t make something with our hands, or write something, or play an instrument, and you may not become a person with as much technique as (Pablo) Casals had when he was thirty two, but you can still play the cello and make something – or you can take up the violin like Ornette did, Ornette Coleman, when he was..you know.. after.. when he was thirty-five, and you can start playing pretty soon, right in, with your pieces, because anything you can do you can then use it for something else. And anything, you know.. So if you know how to play an instrument well, you can take another instrument and do something with it too, and make something, especially in conjunction with other instruments. Those pieces that where Allen, where Allen Ginsberg has written over paintings of Karel Appel, over at the gallery, not bad – they’re not bad. They are art. I mean, they’re not very high art but…(because the boys are new at that game yet, but, I mean, that is a valid game, art game,and there are, in fact some high examples of that too).

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heardhere beginning at approximately forty-four minutes in and continuing until approximately fifty-three-and-a-half minutes in  


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