Growing Up With Literary Kicks

Beat Generation Being A Writer Internet Culture Litkicks Personal Poetry Readings Reading Spoken Word Technology Tributes

(Literary Kicks is twenty years old today. This fact has left me speechless, so I asked Jamelah Earle to send some retrospective thoughts. -- Levi)

When I was 16, I was on my high school forensics team. This was not in any way related to anything you might see on an episode of CSI, but instead was competitive speech and dramatic performance. That year, I had chosen poetry as my event, and I was looking for a poem to perform. The trick with forensics events, I had learned in a previous season, when I did storytelling with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, was to come up with something that nobody else would be performing — Alexander was a popular piece, and more than one time I would be in a competition round with another person doing the same story. So, when I switched to poetry, I was determined to come up with something nobody else would do.

My coach gave me a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems to see if anything in it would work for me. I eventually ended up choosing the poem "America" and I had a great season. I think I would've made it to the state championships that year, had I not gotten laryngitis so severely that I was rendered essentially mute during regionals. Alas, I'll never know, so I can just imagine that I would've gone all the way. Maybe I could have even won the chance to tell my hometown newspaper how to spell "Allen Ginsberg".

What I do know is that I read Howl and Other Poems cover to cover several times over the second half of my 11th grade school year. This was both an easy feat — it's a small book — and a not-so-easy one. I'd never read anything like Howl before. It wasn't the type of book that came up in my school English classes, and though I was (and still am, to a degree) a voracious reader — basically, put anything that has printed words in front of me, and I will read it, regardless of how interesting or dull it may be or how many times I've already read it, which is why I have the ingredients list on the back of my shampoo bottle in the shower memorized. But I'm not sure I would've come across Ginsberg on my own had it not been for my coach Amy handing me that book.

I wanted to know more, though, so I fired up my coal-powered modem and looked Ginsberg up on the internet. It was then that I found a site at charm.net called Literary Kicks. It was broken up into different pages about different writers. I read more about Ginsberg, I read about Burroughs and Kerouac. I liked the site; the writer, Levi Asher, was engaging and interesting, and I would check back from time to time and read the updates on the Beat News page, which was essentially a blog, before the word "blog" existed. I never sent Levi an email, because he said he didn't answer them, but Literary Kicks was a go-to website for me. I learned from it, and I got a lot of reading recommendations.

Not long after, I started my own website at Geocities. The site was mostly links to other sites I liked, but I also had a page where I'd write thoughts about things. This was just a static HTML page that I'd update from time to time with a paragraph or two, and it was the genesis of the site that I run these days. Nothing of it even remotely exists now; I cleared out the last vestiges of it in, I think, 2005, when I was using Blogger to create updates and I decided that since the blog (the word "blog" existed by then) was the only really active part of the site (the other sections were pages of photographs, fiction and poetry), I would convert to having only a blog and get rid of the rest. I used my website to learn how to create things for the internet — I taught myself HTML and CSS and my site was always under construction, because I always had to try out this new thing I just learned. When Litkicks became a blog in 2004, it went live with my design (tweaked, because Levi and I never agreed about colors).

I'm getting ahead of myself.

During my last semester of college, in 2001, I went back to Litkicks for the first time in a long time, and I noticed that the format had changed: there were message boards. I didn't post anything for awhile, but I did read them from time to time, figuring out the lay of the land, as it were. I think my first post on the boards was in April or May 2001, right around the time I graduated. I posted a little, here and there, but didn't really get sucked in until later that year. I always wanted to be a writer, whatever it means to be a writer (I'm still not sure, except that it involves writing — beyond that, the particulars are sketchy), and in Litkicks, I found a community of people who also wanted to write, who wrote, who shared. It was in this community that I began creating work and sharing it for comment, an act that had seemed so terrifying when I was a student that I stayed out of all possible creative writing classes in college.

I learned a lot, and I wrote a lot. I've never been so prolific since (there was something strangely magical and compelling about that little text box I would type into when writing a Litkicks post — a blank Word document just doesn't have the same pull). I also met a lot of people, made a lot of friends. I talked to people from all over the world about books and writing and everything else; I still talk to some of those people to this day. (I also got my very first stalker and death threats thanks to Litkicks — it really was a wealth of experience.)

In August 2002, about a year after I started hanging around Litkicks, I traveled to New York to perform at a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, and I stayed at Levi's apartment. I had fun that weekend, doing a practice run at the famed Chelsea Hotel, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club, shooting pool at a bar after the show, hanging out with Levi and Caryn. It was during this weekend that I learned that Litkicks was run from a computer in Levi's kitchen, and not from some magical room full of computers and servers like I'd imagined. It was also during this weekend that I agreed to become part of the Litkicks staff.

Litkicks already had been such an integral part of my life, but after joining the staff, it became even more so. Levi, Caryn and I had regular meetings on AIM (remember AIM?!?) about what we were doing with the site. We did some cool events (The QUEST, 24-Hour Poetry Party, October Earth), we published a book (Action Poetry), we had some ideas that barely made it out of beta into production (Indie Writers' Marketplace). I remember it as a somewhat frenetic time, though my personal life was also somewhat frenetic in those years so I'm sure that's related, and we had fun.

Since 2004, when Litkicks switched from message boards to blog, I've been around here and there — weekly at the beginning, and much less frequently in recent years. I will say this, though: out of all the places on the Web, there's still just the one place that feels like home, and that's Literary Kicks. In the past decade, I've worked with another online community, and restructured my personal website too many times to count, but these days, when I barely turn on my computer when I get home from work, if there's a site that I drop by, this is it.

This is how my own internet history has gone full circle, I suppose.

I've been around Litkicks for most of my life. I've learned so much here, about writers, about writing, about graphic design and user interfaces and maybe trying the fluorescent green. I've laughed, I've cried, I've traveled, I've argued about all sorts of things, from CSS to whether jam bands are listenable to if we'll ever have world peace. I was hanging out with Levi and Caryn a couple of weeks ago, and I thought how funny it was that back when I was a teenager, I looked up Allen Ginsberg on the internet, and then, nearly 20 years later, I was having a beer and talking with the guy who created the website I'd found way back when. Life is funny, and that's the best thing about it.

Happy birthday, Literary Kicks.

24 Responses to "Growing Up With Literary Kicks"

by ds on

Happy anniversary, LitKicks. 20 years is a huge milestone. Here's to 20 more!

I discovered Literary Kicks by searching for information about Jack Kerouac. I think it was around 2005 but it's all a bit foggy now. I treasure all the people I've met through Litkicks and hope I haven't alienated anyone by my past shenanigans. I owe a lot to Levi, Caryn, Jamelah, and other LitKickers.

by TKG on

Bill -- I always know'd you was a Florida Lit Kicker.

Jamelah -- great look back.

Levi -- parece como ayer.

by James Staley on

I do hope you continue to write and I also hope you find that you can write with the best. Please continue as I love to read your expressions of life. May yours always be well Lived.

by Levi Asher on

Thanks folks!

Bill Ectric, you mean 1995, not 2005, right? By 2005, you were already an old-timer here at the Kicks.

by mtmynd on

Our oldest son had turned me on to Litkicks back before the message boards which I perused with great interest and then got involved in other things until one evening I returned to find the boards and was especially hooked by Action Poetry and all the wonderful and different poetry stylings ... I was hooked and read over everyones "shoulders" absorbing the variety until one night i replied which gradually increased until I felt like one of the regulars. A magical time for me and so many others, Levi's archives are a treasure of those times that I have revisited several times the past few months.

Congratulations on the 20th Anniversary of your wonderful site, Levi, and may another 20 years plus be in the cards you've played so well.

by mike on

yeah i kinda knew bill was here in like 99 (oops maybe it was 01 or 02) when i found it via a barnes and noble free class(anyone one remember barnes and noble university ?) anyway... litkicks was listed as a further reference for beat poets or something. I go there and make a post straight away.. I think i say : Has anyone read 'howl' and someone named brooklyn replies I read it today... beginners luck eh? anyway it has been a great run Congratulations ! brooklyn, may the next 20 o be even better for you and your loved ones and the site as well. mike(um)

Yes, I meant 1995, not 2005!

by Wo on

i probably would have discovered the Beat Generation without Litkicks, but not with as much excitement and wonder that reading those first pages inspired in me. This must have been 2003-2004 my senior year of high school.

i immensely enjoyed action poetry.

philosophy weekend is something i look forward to even though much of it is often beyond my comprehension.

congratulations Levi and everybody who has been involved in keeping this site what it is today, it is a true gem!

cheers.

by Steve Plonk on

I have been posting on Litkicks.com since 2004, so I've been here about half the time. Congratulations, Levi, Firecracker, & Jamelah, et al, for keeping this site moving with the times. I noticed that one of your defunct "Action Poetry" threads is still active ...

Twenty years is long enough to apply for government work, which is ongoing ... Wish the Democratic Underground site was this interactive ...

by mike on

yeah Cecil, I agree action poetry was kick ass(and utterances the bomb) - and the software which I believe Levi wrote by himself was some of the best uses of this medium I've seen. Beat(no pun intended) the hell outta chat and cat videos (and another way to watch tv) eh. I'm sure I was an abuser of it (sorry about that eh). Where;s judih, qat. doreen, lightnin rod, jota, luminara .. and the rest Then we all (or me and a few others I mean) got demoted to mindless chatter. Great times though Levi.. thanks again for a fun ride

by mike on

hey i found that original post (too cool- to me anyway)

me:

Anybody read Howl or prufrock lately ?

Brooklyn:

Every damn day ...

-- Levi

by WIREMAN on

many old litkickers are at Doreen's studio eight forums, if u google that you'll get there and find many old litkickers still doin the poetry and writing thing.....20 years and my how the worlds changed......faster faster faster.....caught up with litkicks in 2001 while doing a gary snyder search.

by chad on

i never became very intimate with any particular person on lit kicks, but for many years, this site was just about all the intimacy I had. I started reading and posting (admittedly more reading than posting) back in 2001. I had just moved to Missoula, Montana from San Francisco on a whim, to attend the University there. It's hard to believe that i didn't have a lap-top or a computer back then, but I guess that was pretty common. So many late nights in the basement of Pantzer hall (upperclassmen dormitory) where the computers were located, dicking around on litkicks. I was lucky enough to take a counter-culture class in 1997 during my senior year in high school -- kerouac, burroughs, ginsberg, kesey - all on the reading list. By 2001 i had read most all of kerouac. I remember working on the stock exchange just before my move to montana -- ignoring the option trader's phone calls for batteries for their trading apparatuses , and instead reading my tattered copy of tristessa, and my copy of Dharma Bums, which i would eventually have signed my gary snyder himself, -- and he so aptly signed in Japhy Ryder. So its of little surprise that i found great comfort among others who also shared my beat gen affection. After montana, so many turns in my travel, but for at least 7 or 8 years after 2001 -- litkicks would be the first site i would go to when my computer was turned on. for many of those years i believe it was my homepage. levi wouldnt recognize me from anything, neither would jamelah. But how close I felt to you guys. How many conversations i had about litkicks in bars, brothels, and baseball venues.The years i spent in brooklyn and the lower east side, always wondering if i'd see levi popping in or out of a bar, and whether i'd say anything, or if i'd keep my stare to the pavement and pass on by, slinking into the guttural offal of a tightly wound spent night. anyway. thanks guys for this. it really did get me through some tough times. (and i'll still keep saying: i miss those boards)

by Michael.Norris on

A little belated response. I've said this before but in 2000 when the tech bubble burst and everything was crashing around us, Levi said something like "we didn't go out of business because we didn't have a business plan. That made me smile.

Also don't forget Levi's great explication of Prufrock, and the tech memoir.

And much much more.

Happy 20th Levi - here's to 20 more. To paraphrase Keith Richards, I hope you're still rockin' when you're in a wheel chair!

by Arcadia on

Happy Birthday Litkicks!!!!!!!! I found Litkicks googling about buddhism and beat writers on 2003... for me it was great to enjoy something having no idea of what was really going on (first time on a web community, not writing and reading in my own language and the delicious vastness of Litkicks poetics trees...!). Good to see Levi, Jamelah & old Bill still kicking around, big hugs to all of you!!!!!

by Levi Asher on

It's great to hear from so many old friends!! Love these comments and memories, thank you all.

by wjwiippa on

First, excellent post by Jamelah.

I am now reading Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in a Nightmare, a book I spotted & just bought because I read about it here and that has been over 10 years ago?

Also 10 years ago, there was a series of Q&A where Levi would post a question and readers posted short answers/ essays. This was when I think I first posted here.

Whenever I can get online, I check in here to see what I have missed.

When I very first came here, I read Brooklyn's posts on Kerouac which all seemed dead on.

Pls. keep on keepin' on.

by tolmsted on

I discovered LitKicks after bumping into Levi at a name tag table on my way to some BEA Book Bloggers event a few years ago. I'll never forget how incredibly generous he was to a very new and very nervous blogger still trying to get her feet under her. After visiting the site though, it all made sense. Happy 20th Birthday! I hope you'll still be inspiring by example for years to come!

by Terry Erickson on

Wow, talk about the circle of (literary) life. Haven't been around for awhile but I find litkicks is still the rock I found it to be almost the whole twenty years ago. And a big wink and hello to Jamelah.

by Mandy on

Wow. It's been about ten years or so since I wrote on litkicks (lovemagic or mandyflyme was I)

I even wrote a poem announcing the birth of my son on here :)

I am now doing a full time writing course, and have just posted a link of this site for my fellow students to have a gander at. Thank you for creating.. I often go back into the famous action poetry boards to see what was writ all that tiime ago. I still keep in contact with a few fellow poets I met through here. Onthebus, Judih and Jazzcat.

Keep the magic alive!!

I was in need of some inspiration for my literary blog Author's Diction. Though basically an author of Romantic Fiction, I enjoy writing blog about books written by other authors.

Your blog is superb !

by michael feigenbaum on

i discovered Lit Kicks back in late 1990's. i was looking for such a forum to read and keep my mind plugged in to the creative juice that is Beat mind. i first read Howl in 1968 high school. we performed many poems live at my small vermont school. i discovered McClure having read Freewheelin Frank, the hells angel bio he co wrote. i eventually landed at New College of California 1976-1980. i was lucky to have classes with a huge number of poets. Duncan, McClure, McNaughton, Baraka, Berkson, Clark, Kyger, Creeley, Snyder to name a few. These folks and many more are the real voices of vision of what we could be as a society. Lit Kicks has kept me in touch with my own response ability to work to that end by keeping me in touch with a voice i forget to hear so often. thanks Levi, i appreciate this work you have done all these years.

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