TB: Here’s something Jack (Kerouac) wrote. I made a.. I was reading a lot of Jack’s works to come out here and I realized I could make this set of works , and I mean I consider these, poems, as a matter of fact , and they’re poems in the sort of prose tradition of poetry, though they’re not prose-poems. (although that is a very valid tradition and if you want to read an essay on it there’s some by Ezra Pound). So, up in the corner, it says “From the Kerouac Commentaries” (but, in fact, this is just.. these are just some lines by Jack, from some work by Jack). And I decided to call this (“Thirteen”) “ XIII “ – I can’t remember why. I thought it looked good. And I can’t remember at all why. I mean, it could have been called.. I like titles, so.. I guess I wanted to be visual), and also thirteen’s a nice number, its sort of one short of a Sonnet) – (“O Will Hubbard in the night! A great writer today he is. /He is a shadow hovering over Western Literature, and,/ no great writer ever lived without that soft and/ tender curiosity verging on maternal care about what/ others say & think, (think & say), no great writer/ ever packed off from this scene on earth without/ amazement like the amazement he felt because/ I was myself.”
Student: Will you read that again?
TB; It’ll still sound the.. it’ll still do it .. Why don’t you read it? I mean, just because I’m afraid I’ll try to mimic how I just read it then. Read it out loud tho’. There’s a place where it says ”Today up above”, do you see? and that’s included in, and there’s a place where it says “he is/ He is”, and at that place it says – “A great writer today he is/ He is”.
Student: And that’s repeated.. ?
TB: No, no, the sign of a great writer is when you can use words like “there” twice in a row – “It was good to be there there” – or.. you know. That comes under “cheap tricks” category, but it’s always a delight to see it, you know. It’s like they..they..they feel..they.. “They are happy as well as well”, you know. (There are better examples, but I love that kind of thing, because it looks so startling when you see it, and then it makes sense, also it’s like people talk too) – ok
Student – (Student reads Ted Berrigan’s poem) (“O Will Hubbard in the night!… )
TB: Dig it. See, it’s like.. I mean, I caught.. I was just reading, you know (I read very fast too), and I suddenly caught that Jack had put me in this place that I had to see each word in order to be there. He’d turned me around and made me feel great, and the “me” was not “Ted Berrigan” but the reader. It was so beautiful, and it was a very minor part of it, it was just a rhapsodic part, but it also said something and, you know, I often feel that if you catch a poem somewhere in the air, you know, anywhere, well, if you don’t take it maybe no-one ever will, and it’ll be lost. And, I mean. I‘m perfectly happy to have that be recognized, for example, as coming from Jack . On the other hand, I don’t care whether it is or not.. Because after enough years go by all poems will be signed “Anonymous”, you know, (or if they’re signed “Li Po” – who’s that?, you know?) – That’s not the point at all. I mean, you do not know anything more about a poem by..by the name at the bottom of it (even if you read fifteen biographies of that person and know them very well and very closely, you still don’t know a single thing more, because the words work their magic.
Okay – look I’m sorry, I didn’t do a million things I said I was going to do for you but I believe you can.. (or to you, or asked you to do), I believe you can do them yourself. I suggest that you get some good reference books. I mean, I suggest that you get some books like any of those Kenneth Koch books teaching poetry to children, and write all those poems where he gives those ideas to get children to write poetry, only, be yourself, write your own. Don’t be a child – or be one – but write your own. You have.. Those are forms and they’re not used hardly ever and you have something to say there. And they’re sensational, They’re really marvelous. And often, they seem so simple-minded that if you thought of them yourself, you wouldn’t use them, but take a phrase like “I used to be but now I am” and make it, like, a couplet – “I used to be blank/but now I am blank”, and then make there be seven of them and find out what a sonnet is, and then do it like a sonnet, and ten be accurate and choose and do it the way you would do it and you might have something ad it might be something beautiful and, I mean art should be amusing, beautiful (that doesn’t preclude ugly, terrifying. but there are those ideas, you know. Other places to get ideas about subject-matter, all the old books, of course, I mean all the old books of poems, all the old poems by the dead guys – all the dead poets of the past that everybody says are great are quite great. It’s just that it’s hard to read them as if they are not museum people, but it can be done, quite easily. There’s a marvelous book by my wife, Alice Notley, called When I Was Alive. It’s short poems and that was her conception to write a lot of short poems and use sources, and she’d get these little books that cost about a dollar, like the Laurel Ben Jonson, the Laurel Herrick, plus a few books of Chinese poetry and so on, and she went through looking and reading and finding ones which could suggest to her something out of her life. And then, she didn’t copy the form, you know, the way you might have to copy the a pantoum or sestina but, in another way, she.. she copied it like an American would, you know, and she wrote these really amazing poems. But you can see from that book how to do that too. It’s quite something.
Many of the great great poems of English Literature are found in the sections of the. these big books that I like, like The Complete Works of Ben Jonson, in a little back section, it’s called “Occasional Poems”, you know, writing to a patron, thanking him for (the) five-dollar gold piece, and, over here, you find a poem on the death of his son, and they are only.. these are, these little things in there and they are it, even more so, many times, than the big ones.
Yeah, you look for those kind of things too. You look everywhere. You do it only in s far as you feel like doing it but you do try to make yourself feel like doing it as consistently as possible. It’s necessary to read everybody that you know everyone thinks you should read, and every one else too. But, in your own time. And you don’t have to start at one end. You can start at either end or in the middle or anywhere and don’t let anybody tell you what to do, or how to do it, or anything, unless you’re taking a class,for credit, and then do it the way they tell you so you can make A, but I mean, make sure you get what there is to get out of that too. All you do that is read those works, read them, really read them, don’t just do what you’re doing in school. Those poems that you remember from the seventh grade that you had to memorize, that made you hate poetry, you still remember, and so you loved them, you just didn’t know it. “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven” and poems like that and the reason that you remember is because they’re beautiful and they might have sounded silly or they might… but they weren’t silly, there’s nothing silly about “The Raven”, It’s. it’s a little melodramatic but..done the way it could be done now… and especially “Annabel Lee”, for example, we don’t know how Poe read that, or whether they even had poetry readings that much then. But how would you read it now? So you read it that way Read it how you would read it now if you had written it and you were talking about the death of your wife, or husband, or lover. It happened when you were both young and you got married young, and then one died – (TB reads) “I was a child and she was a child…”more than a love’ – I mean read to with some rage and see what it sounds like. It’ll rip you out of your mind, let me tell you, out of your mind. I mean, or maybe it won’t. I remember. Those poems are there. I remember. (There’s a poem) that I can’t even remember the titles of but there’s this poem called “The Leap of Roushan Beg” and I’ve always been trying to remember who wrote that [Editorial note – Longfellow] and it was in my 6th or 7th grade book, and it said, “Mounted on Kyrat strong and fleet/ His chesnut steed with four white feet..” – “Roushan Beg, called Kurroglou,/Son of the road and bandit chief,/Seeking refuge and relief,/Up the mountain pathway flew.” – And it always struck me that this guy’s name was “Roushan Beg” but he was called “Kurroglou”, and I thought that that was the greatest thing I’d ever seen, (and I didn’t know that that’s what I thought, but it was just sensational, you know). But I remembered it, Why do I remember that? Isn’t that’s supposed to be doggerel, bad verse, and so on? . No, I mean, I’m old enough now to be just cocky enough to think there’s something good about it (which is why I remember it).
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here,beginning at approximately sixty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-six-and-a-quarter minutes in