Ted Berrigan on Jack Kerouac – 3

Ted Berrigan’s 1982 Naropa class on Jack Kerouac continues

Ted begins by playing the recording of Jack Kerouac reading (on the 1959 recording, “Poetry For The Beat Generation”, with Steve Allen on piano) “October in the Railroad Earth”   (“There was a little alley in San Francisco back of the Southern Pacific station at Third and Townsend in redbrick of drowsy lazy afternoons…”) . The piece is received with laughter.

TB: I allow that once. If anybody laughs even one more time just because little Steve Allen comes on and plays the piano, I’ll kill them. If it’s good enough for Jack, then shut up, you know, goddam it. He doesn’t do any harm at all, and in fact Jack uses him very nicely. And Jack liked the kind of little noodlings he was doing there, and he used to do it himself, you know, (tho’ not with his poems, but if Steve wanted to do it, well, that was ok with Jack). Also, it made it possible for the record to be made, because nobody was going to make no damn record of Jack Kerouac’s poems by himself at that time. They finally did made two others (and one of the others has two musicians on it too).  Poets don’t want no musicians on their records, they provide their own music, you know. But they don’t mind doing things, writing things, to go with musicians, but, generally speaking, with the words, with the human voice, you can put in all the music.

And there’s nothing funny about the fact that there’s that piano coming on there. I mean, that’s being …that’s like being really fake hip. I mean, nobody is telling anybody… I didn’t even notice who laughed but it.. it.. I’m tired, you know, after twenty years of.. of just even hearing that.  I mean, what’s  funny? what’s so funny? That isn’t funny. Literature’s not funny, Poetry’s not funny. It’s not funny to be a poet, It’s not funny to be alive (tho’ it’s pretty funny), but.. If you think it’s funny, you should find out how much I’m getting paid!

(Ted attempts to play “October in the Railroad Earth” again, but unfortunately the record continues to jump and stick)

 “I’m doing something wrong with this coin here (sic)… lets see that’s it. This is a shame, I’m really sorry about this, but I was the only one that brought the.. brought my records here – Lets see if we can.. if I can make it… It doesn’t always do this, that’s why it puzzles me, you know. This machine is too delicate, what we really need is a twenty-nine dollar machine, then it’d do fine  – that’s true you know, really – Does anybody know about these machines?  There’s a little thing on here which makes it.. there’s a little thing on here which you can make the arm not be so… be quite weightless..Nobody knows it?

Student: You pull it down towards the front 

TB: Well if you know, come and look. I mean it’s all full of dust that’s all, it’s not cracks

Student; This is the tracking, this is the weight for it.

TB: Yes, I just wanted the needle to press harder.

Student: To press harder?  Ok, you’ve got it up for as much weight as you can, but we can put a coin on it now……….. I should’ve wiped it with alcohol

TB: We’ll try it once more and then I’m going to kill myself. – (Ted attempts playing the record again)  – ….Yeah, it’s not too bad, it’s going to skip some of it, just one or two spots…

Yeah that took , I think,  according to this, that’s seven minutes and one seconds – How many pages is that I wonder?  Not so many. It would be a fairly longish poem but… it’s.. short enough that it could be a poem. Well, Jack wrote that in one sitting, or one or two, (as anyone could do). But that was his pace. I mean, I’m not advocating writing everything in one sitting – or not . Some things that he does there – his diction – he changes his diction all the time – “but and then at that time also”  – say that – in your works, if you say that, if you ever hear it – “but at then at that time also” – write those words down and look at the spaces in between them – “out/ of /sight” – “bought drink, got drink, drunk” – it makes sense –“brought drink, got drink, drunk – “and if I get drunk, I git” – I mean, he’s not just grooving, you know

Student: Getting back?

TB: It’s part of the way of telling the story. No, but it’s that kind of story. The way you talk has to be in conjunction with the feeling of what it is, of what story you’re telling. And it doesn’t have to sound like it’s a story. I mean, he’s not telling you how to get from here to Arapahoe, (sic)  you know. I mean..like.. a poem any kind of piece of writing, a poem is what it feels like to get from the first word to the last. That’s all. I mean, when you get to the last you’re not supposed to be anywhere, (except out of it (which is not even a pun, I mean) But you don’t have to have had delivered some directions (nor not have had to deliver some directions, directions are alright too. In fact, a good new form, would be, you know. how to get there from here). “How To Get There” is, in fact, a terrific… is the title of a terrific poem by Frank O’Hara (although I don’t know why because its just written somewhere ,and he’s not going anywhere).

But I want to be a real idiot here and see if I can’t play that other piece I was trying to play, because…because it has the one other thing there is to say that has to do with poetry and this being a poetry workshop.. And as you can see that, as you can see on that one, the skips are all on about the first two minutes and then it plays. It just sort of got beaten down from being played so much But there’s something that happens where it’s the..it’s the initial, it’s the surge of energy at the beginning that weighs it down and then gets into its grooves (grooves, right!) . I did play this last year at this school and it did play, but, let this be a lesson to you – Do not buy eight thousand dollar record players when you have masterpiece two dollar records or you are an idiot. (tho’ the person who sold them to you is not . I mean.) . I have just written a very short poem in saying that. called “The Economy” or “Economy”.  I mean that’s  what everything is all about . I mean there are record players so good now that you can’t play you best records on them because your best records are outdated for them. Fuck that, man! – I mean, you know. I can’t stand it really but..and because, in the studio, you know, you can do so much great things, so many great things when you’re making records that you almost don’t even need humans  (which is why we love to go to clubs too), but ..but what you hear on records is not even…not even human, you know, even tho’ it’s great. In Jazz it’s kind of that way sometimes, and certain terrific artists don’t let it be that way to the best they can, (like Bob Dylan tried to never let it be that way. I mean, he tried to do, you know, no more than one or two takes and he wanted that rough edge in there, simply so it would sound like it sounds when they do it). I mean it’s nice to be able to take out goofs, you know, that you didn’t catch when you were playing, and not have to start over again and have to lose your momentum. But sometimes, I think, even the goofs should be left in. (In music, I mean, I wouldn’t know, but in poetry, if you make a mistake, you sometimes trust that God wanted you to go that way so she made you make a mistake). So make a mistake, so you go that way. Now, if you were going to say, “I was sitting on the chair” and you said “I was sitting on the hair”, then you say, “it felt funny”, and you keep going, work it in. All poems need is continuity and continuity is, like, you write a few lines, and then you write a few more, and then you go back to see what you wrote in the first few, and then you use some of those words in the next few, and you’ve got some continuity. And you trust yourself in the meantime, that you are.. you’re not fooling around. I mean, you’re using play partly, but play – if you know how serious children are when they play? I mean it’s a wonder they don’t die of heart attacks! But, I mean, you’re not just fooling around. No writer is fooling around. I mean.. It would be very nice if this (bit will) play and if it does I ask if you would  listen to this one. I mean, grab onto the first word and stay there until it finishes. I mean the other one is that too, but the other one is excerpts from a long piece called “October in the Railroad Earth”, (which has been published in this Grove Press anthology called  The New American Prose – (Editorial note – actually, Evergreen Review Vol 1 (2), 1957), which is still in print) – but this piece is written whole.

(Ted plays Jack Kerouac’s “The History of Bop” from “Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation”)

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-seven -and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-four minutes in 

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