Wife: The Smart Aleck and the King of the Beats
by Joan Haverty Kerouac, intro by Jan Kerouac
Foreward [sic] by Ann Charters
Creative Arts Books, Berkeley
Joan Haverty Kerouac (Kerouac's second wife, mother of Jan Kerouac)
has just joined her daughter and Carolyn Cassady in the unofficial
club of women in the shadow of the Beats who wrote books rivaling
those of their male counterparts--which may not be so acrobatic
languagewise, but rise to the literary occasion and make their mark
through an honest biographical page-turning voice.
The first hundred pages of this posthumous
novel are all about Joan Haverty, an attractive young woman growing
up in the 40s, dealing with oppressive guys who tell her how to
act and smother her free spirit, treat her like a subpar human and
try to rape her. She is so disillusioned and so confused by this
attitude that when young Kerouac comes along acting like Neal Cassady
and pressures her to marry him, she does so for reasons of convenience--mainly
to keep the more sexually aggressive element away. After that, she
finds herself living with Jack and his mother in a marriage lacking
affection and respect.
If you've ever wondered why old bloated
Kerouac settled for that third wife with the cateye glasses who
stood behind him in his wheelchair and took on the role of his mother,
you will find the answer in this book. Jack is revealed as an immature
adolescent who moodily regards all women as his mother, and tries
to build a harem to take care of him. Joan is kept as an unfulfilled
sexslave cook whose duty it is to take care of his socks, listen
to his arrogance, put up with his tirades, kowtow to his mother's
rule, bring home the bacon while he goofs off, and spread her legs
for quickies, while all the while being his muse and adding insight
to his craft.
This is an image-shattering book of
one of America's greatest icons. Everybody knows that Kerouac and
co. were chauvinistic, but never before has any firsthand experience
illustrated it so convincingly. Which makes this book an important
historical factor in the ongoing On-the-Road dialogue--as
the author exposes the hypocrisy of her husband's myth, then notes
this regarding the fetus inside her: "She'd have Kerouac blood,
she might even have the Kerouac face and features. And maybe she'd
even possess a Kerouac literary gift. But she'd grow up with me,
learn to see the world through me... And if I raised her to think
for herself and to value learning and to ask questions and be honest,
maybe she'd take the Kerouac legacy one step further: Maybe she
would write the truth."
And so another truth was written (Baby
Driver). And then another (Trainsongs). And then another
My only criticism of this book is
that it goes on a chapter too long. It could've ended more forcefully
on Chapter 20 (and beautifully too), but an added chapter was tacked
on to bring the reader up to date, thus ending the novel with less
emotional punctuation than it deserved. This minor blunder in structure,
however, can easily be disregarded in lieu of what we're given:
a sometimes poetic, always intriguing, portrait that does more than
just remember an amazing life--it recreates it, which is what memoirs
do when they transcend their genre.
for Bob Kaufman, by Neeli Cherkovski
Sun Dog Press, Northville, Mi.
Whenever someone writes an epic poem, or at least a very very long
poem (whether it be split into parts or not), we should always take
note of its publication, because it could very well be the epic
poem of a generation. Not in the sense that "Howl" was the big hit
poem of the Beat generation, but more in the sense that Antler's
humbler "Factory," for example, was a generational poem--that is,
it briefly spoke to a generation in which there were no poets of
any generation any more, since other things stole the thunder of
Without getting too much into what
I mean by this, let's just say that there ain't many poems out there
these days longer than 20 pages, but Neeli Cherkovski's elegy is.
Which is why it can enjoy the luxury of hanging out with poems by
Blaise Cendrars, Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, Ginsberg, Whitman, Dorn,
Olson, Williams, etc. And all the other big long poems that did
something that almost no one is aware of.
What am I talking about? I'm talking
about the rarity of verse that's long enough to make a book, and
what it means when this happens. Oftentimes it means nothing at
all, but other times book-length poems can't help automatically
making socio-political generational statements--as does Elegy
for Bob Kaufman, which doesn't go about the task in a grandiose
manner, but rather, approaches it with the measured and sublime
sensitivity of a poem with several purposes. The first purpose,
of course, is obvious, but a secondary purpose is to give an account
of the Bob Kaufman North Beach Friscocity scene of the 70s, which
Kaufman made an impact on, starred in, and made legend before eventually
checking out in 1986. If anyone wants to pursue this bent, go for
it. Now that I've mentioned this, I'm changing the subject.
In Elegy, the poetry is handled
clearly and concisely, with a user-friendly voice that steers clear
of pomp and pretention--much like a polite voice of Bukowski, whose
1991 biography (Hank) was written by Cherkovski. Meaning
that the poem is laid out in the style characterized by the modern
American narrative poem (à la Bukowski, who pretty much set
the standard standard): lots of articles and single-word lines,
hardly any line containing more than 5 syllables, simple cadence,
fluid flow. Which makes for an honest feel, in comparison to many
of the loftier long poems of the 20th century. So bravo on that,
In Elegy, metaphor is rare--but
not absent, and usually, always, easily decodable:
one day I told
a panther to step aside
so that I wouldn't succumb
but land on shore, I feel the need
to talk to one whose ashes
we tossed into water
during viper's reign
sometimes you step back
to hear another man's talk, maybe
you feel the woman in your body
or the animal in your desperation
you know a white rose
from a red one, a shattered window
from broken glass
And the poems don't get mushy either,
as one would expect in an elegy. Cherkovski maintains a celebratory
tone throughout the piece, doesn't over-romanticize too much, and
avoids the trappings of boot-licking by keeping the narrative smart
and respectful, not to mention heartfelt:
then one day
from his bed
and ran into
the kitchen, grabbed
into my eyes
with Langston Hughes
and more rivers....
I tossed ashes
into your eyes.
I threw my body
into your ashes.
I gave your fingers
to a storm
and passed your ashes
I saw tears in Neptune's
and gave ashes
Cherkovski's grief is organized. It
is not a wild hysterical cry. He has learned from Bob Kaufman, who
he honors by employing his poetics. Still, Cherkovski's analyses
are not anal. They are appropriately vague, since they come from
that abstract realm of feeling, which (according to Kenneth
Patchen) is the domain of the poet. For example:
heard his eyes, they
said Bob was an entire
mountain range, dumfounded
voices found space
inside of his own
far from the art
and placed them
so that they were
a wild, rock-strewn
battered and admired
night and day
by equally feverish waves
If anything, this long poem could
benefit from what all long narrative poems could benefit from: less
words. This small and dismissable gripe aside, however, I'd say
that this is a work to aspire to, for poets out there trying to
make sense of the dead.
Elegy for Bob Kaufman is interesting
in the space it fills in the literature surrounding the late great
"Bomkauf," who, like other gone poetry icons, are remembered more
for the words about them than by the actual words they wrote.
of a Naked Youth, by Billy Childish.
Sun Dog Press, Northville, Mi.
Billy Childish has written a "biographical novel" under the influence
of Céline, who he was obviously affected by before and after
his co-translation of Casse-pipe came out in 1988 by Hangman
Books in the UK.
Unlike Céline, however, Childish's
"great gob of literary disgust" (this is what it's called on the
back cover), uses a phantasmagoric combo of constant action and
slanguage to reach much more tender and believable moments in literature
than Céline ever did. The novel is about an often snotty
pimply punk with sniveling issues who fancies himself a writer.
His misadventures lead to an odd reader empathy. On one hand, you
want to kick the paranoid protagonist in the ass for his pitiful
arrested development (he has the emotional stability of a seven
year old), but on the other hand, his pathetic situation is deserving
of a reader's attention--since the delusions driving the character
are handled in such a delicate manner that our sympathies are provoked.
"Kursty is worried by the idea of
me pushing my thing inside her and she doesn't like me licking her
arse, which is like a star of god. I ask her if I can fuck her in
the arse but she says that it is unnatural, and that her school
psychiatrist says it is actually illegal. Which is a stupid thing
"I lie in her arms and she breast
feeds me and I feel like a powerless little titty-boy whose mother
is going to leave him soon. I will soil her and degrade her and
look for any excuse to make her sorry, to make her apologise for
all the past wrongs done unto me, so help me God! Because I know
that in the end, no matter what depths I sink to and how much I
crawl, Kursty will smash me and take the favour of her body with
her, and thereby prove that I am unlovable... And I shall be shamed
and stand there wanking into the darkness as she runs smiling into
the arms of her shiny new man.
"Her name is Kursty and it will always
be Kursty. And her name means everything to me and it will always
mean everything to me. And I love her out of sheer gratitude that
she could kiss and hold one as low as me, and allow me to press
my foul stinking body into hers, to allow me to kiss and lick her...
and for her youth and beauty, and for her fearlessness in not being
afraid to walk the streets by my side and show this vile hiccuping
world just what sort of beauty I am capable of possessing. And so
I bow down to God in thankfulness for this miracle; that such a
woman could love me, which I don't believe and will never believe,
and I will break her so-called love just for the sheer hell of it--to
call her bluff and prove that it never really did exist at all,
and I will smile at her tear-stained face and trembling lips and
hate myself for it".
This playing around with Kursty's
name ("Her name is Kursty and it will always be Kursty") is boldly
repeated here and there throughout the book, in an effective Nabakovian
manner (see first page of Lolita), reappearing in other poetic
variations, and always with a sensitivity that verges on heartbreaking
absurdity. Childish pulls it off though, merging the lyrical and
ludicrous, the furious and forelorn.
Then a shift occurs in the third part
of the book, in which the character releases his ever-precarious
hold on reality, to descend into the depths of a Célinian
madness. We see it in the narrative, we see it in the language.
So vivid is it, in fact, that any readers familiar with Céline
will forget that they are reading Childish, and will find themselves
in some lost chapter of London Bridge, or Death on the
Installment Plan, cavorting through an underworld of Nazis,
strippers, and sundry other lümpen-dregs. The problem with
this, however, is that the book here becomes too Céline,
gets tiring, and is out-of-context with the rest of the novel.
Nevertheless, the first two parts
of the book are successful for the narrative voice, which, like
Confederacy of Dunces, employs an unlikeable protagonist
with riveting delusions.
by Dan Fante
Rebel Inc. an imprint of
Canongate Books Ltd. Edinburgh
Last night I stayed up till 3 a.m. reading this book. The cover
fused itself to my hands, I couldn't put it down. That's what kind
of book it is.
Mooch is the sequel to Chump
Change, Fante's first novel. It's about a drunk in 7-Elevenland
who gets a job as a telemarketer and becomes involved with a half-Mexican
half-Iranian blue-eyed blowjob crack-whore with a sensational ass.
She drives him bonkers, he loses his job, goes on a nine-day bender,
shits himself, has run ins with rednecks, cops, rhetoric-spouting
salesmen, an earless divorcee, etcetera. The terrain is Venice Beach,
various malls, liquor stores, porno-booths, corporate cubicles,
and the freeways of L.A. And the pace is frantic with a sense of
humor and in-your-face language.
What really propels Mooch are
the interactions between characters, who range from being major
components in this novel to those who don't affect the plot at all,
except to provide comic relief from a cartoon reality. Simply put,
it's hilarious to watch Fante dealing with people, as he lampoons
everyone he meets with a satiric streak that's gonna make a mark
(and not a skidmark) on contemporary lit. Just you wait and see.
I laughed out loud when Fante's character
met the five-year-old son of his lapdancing lover, a blabbermouth
genius with the intellect of a random anthropologist going into
commentary on everything from street names in L.A. to DVDs and Guatemala.
And even then, the boy remained believable, caught up in a delicate
situation, abandoned for kicks in Vegas. Still, Mooch is
not just a comedy. It's also a serious novel about a guy who finally
pulls his head out of his ass and accepts responsibility, for himself
as well as others.
I tried to be objective while reading
this novel, but in the end I couldn't come up with any criticism
to balance out my bias for this writer. There might've been a few
places where I thought a pronoun wasn't needed, but that was it.
I've got nothing to complain about regarding Mooch, except
the fact that it wasn't longer.
If you want to take a look, the Corpse
is debuting the novel in serial form starting in this issue.
Beast God Forgot to Invent, by Jim Harrison
Atlantic Monthly Press, NY
Oh, I gave this trilogy of novellas a chance at first, but it bored
me, so I quit.
The first piece wasn't that bad, but
it wasn't that good either. The narrator was pretentious, but that
was his fuddy-duddy voice. He's a 68-year-old erudite guy in love
with a lovely ass. Her boyfriend has a motorcycle accident, so goes
running around the woods with a head injury, living in caves, sleeping
in trees, hanging out with bears and wolves. The erudite guy and
the lovely ass try to keep the nature guy out of trouble. It doesn't
The only saving grace of this story
is the sex. That's the only reason I kept plodding through it, up
until I realized it wasn't worth the effort. I mean, this is about
as good as it gets:
"Anyway, I was having a splendid though
distorted dream of this marital fuck feast and when I awoke Ann
had 'covered' me for what I'd guess was a five second sprint. She
murmured that her gesture was 'a thank you note' for all my kindness.
Still in a dream state where I wasn't sure if Ann was my ex-wife
I merely looked at the rough board ceiling, grimacing as a pain
shot through my prostrate like a hot hat pin. When the pain subsided
I began to go back to sleep but then she began weeping."
See what I mean by fuddy-duddy voice?
Okay, then the guy sees a raven out the window, so he grabs his
"I turned to Ann who had her elbows
resting on the windowsill, which drew her bare breasts upward. She
was kneeling on the bench, which gave the inanimate bed a view I
would have loved. I took courage from the ravens and said that I
had to get the small pair of binoculars I keep on the nightstand
for bird and beast occasions. So I caught the view of her upraised
bottom at the window and there was the urge to howl 'praise God'
but of course I didn't. My member was becoming swollen again, a
matter of some pride to this geezer, but when I returned to the
window she laughed, gave it the briefest squeeze, and went downstairs."
This erotic bombastica is supposedly
a report to a coroner in a narrative in which the reader becomes
accustomed to suspending his/her disbelief. But what's the pay-off?
I don't know.
Then there's the next novella, a story
about a displaced Indian from Michigan who goes out to L.A. to recover
a stolen bearskin and runs into all sorts of whackos.
The saving grace of this story belongs
to the one-liners: ie: "With Bob's bankroll he probably got more
ass than a toilet seat," "he hailed from the Midwest where over-eating
is frequently regarded as an act of heroism," etc.
Then I started the next novella. It
was another fabricated voice. All in all, I just got the sense that
Harrison had run out of steam, or was trying to meet deadlines so
got sloppy. The stories were all formulaically written: insert character
here, insert rugged language there, throw in nature, throw in dialogue,
meet the word count required on the contract.
Anyway, that's my disappointed opinion;
The Beast God Forgot to Invent was the book Jim Harrison
forgot to write. Because he didn't use his own voice.