Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Poetry Readings

Beat News: June 20 1999

by Levi Asher on Sunday, June 20, 1999 11:50 am

1. The late satirist/writer Terry Southern is the subject of a new website,, composed by his son Nile Southern. It's good to be able to enjoy these great nuggets of late-period hipster culture (Southern wrote the screenplay for 'Easy Rider', among many other films and books). It's also nice to see a new trend growing: adult children of beat writers putting together websites as personal tributes to their parents (cf. and Zane Kesey's Today is Father's Day -- so check out these links.

2. The not-very prolific Buddhist/beat poet Philip Whalen has a new book out: 'Overtime: Selected Poems'.

3. If you can make it to New York City on July 21, come to The Bitter End in Greenwich Village for a kick-ass poetry reading I'm putting together. The occasion is the 5th birthday, believe it or not, of this website. I'm putting this show together with my poet friend Brian Hassett, who arranged a couple of excellent shows I participated in earlier this year at the Living Room in the Lower East Side.

One thing that made these shows so good was the presence of David Amram, an extremely talented and very serious musician who was Jack Kerouac's own piano player, back when Jack used to read poetry on stage. David generously offered to improvise behind a few of us less-seasoned neo-Beats as we read our own poems, and the amazing thing about the way he accompanies live poets is that he actually listens and plays according to what he hears -- no matter how humble or unimportant the reader or the words. He also does some songs of his own, and I'm very glad that he'll be at this event. Other special guests will include John Cassady, Neal's son, who'll be playing guitar and telling a story or two, poets Richard Hell, Lee Ranaldo, Ron Whitehead, Bob Holman, Herschel Silverman, Breath Cox and haiku master Cor van den Heuvel. And on the newer edge, representing the other side of Literary Kicks, I've invited a bunch of my webby friends to get on stage and kick some shit around -- Mark Thomas of Sorabji, Leslie Harpold of Smug, Christian Crumlish and Briggs Nisbet of Enterzone, Xander Mellish, Meg Wise-Lawrence and Phil Zampino. It's going to be a wild night -- check out the program and I really hope you can make it.

Beat News: February 2 1999

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, February 2, 1999 11:19 am

1. Lots of people have heard about the excellent Kurt Vonnegut graduation speech that got sent all over the internet last year before everybody figured out that Vonnegut never gave the speech. But here, and also pretty good, is something Kurt Vonnegut actually did say.

2. If you're in New York: there'll be a big Burroughs tribute bash Saturday, Feb 5 at 1 pm at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, with folks like Steve Buscemi, Richard Hell, Barry Miles, Maggie Estep, James Graueurholz reading. Then on Wednesday, Feb 10 at 7:30, there'll be a big messy Kerouac bash at the Living Room on 84 Stanton St in Soho, with readings by folks like Ann Douglas, David Amram, David's daughter Adira Amram, Frank Messina, Brian Hassett and me.

Beat News: September 29 1997

by Levi Asher on Monday, September 29, 1997 06:56 pm

1. I think I've been to too many Beat events in large lecture halls and sterile auditoriums lately. Take, for instance, the case of jazz musician David Amram, who back in the old days used to jam with Jack Kerouac at poetry readings. I'd seen Amram perform at various tributes and memorials, but he never clicked with me; I didn't like it that he dressed like an orthodontist (albeit with a variety of unusual-looking musical instruments around his neck), and I never liked his hammy, pull-out-the-stops performance of the title song (which he wrote) for the film 'Pull My Daisy.'

But then I caught his act at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe, sharing a bill with Ron Whitehead, Brian Hassett and others, on a night that happened to be the night William S. Burroughs died (though nobody knew this at the time). He didn't sing "Pull My Daisy" and I ended up loving every minute of his performance. I think the problem has been the bright lights, the uncomfortable chairs and the academic atmosphere of some of these earlier events. In a small dark smoky club way past midnight a vintage hip-cat like David Amram can finally show us who he is, and this night at the Nuyorican I understood for the first time why Jack Kerouac wanted him onstage while he read his poems. Amram's passionate belief in the power of music is infectious. At one point he had the entire crowd going in a two-part syncopated handclap -- one half of the room providing one beat, the other half complementing it -- that was, I realized, probably the most complicated musical arrangement I will personally ever participate in.

David Amram also has his own web page now, so I figure it's about time I write about him in Literary Kicks.

2. This must be my month for coming to terms with people I didn't appreciate before. A few weeks ago a young editor at William Morrow named Benjamin G. Schafer challenged me to read a book he'd just put together: the Herbert Huncke Reader, published by Morrow this month. I've always found Huncke an intriguing personality -- a more street-wise original-junkie friend of the core New York beat writers in the 1940's, he shows up as a colorful character in 'Junky','On The Road', 'Howl' and many other Beat classics. He's written books, (for Hanuman, Cherry Valley Editions, etc.), but I'd personally never read any of them, and I sort of casually dissed him as a writer in my Herbert Huncke biographical page here at LitKicks. Benjamin Schafer, who worked hard putting this book together, asked me to put aside my preconceptions and give Huncke a fair reading for the first time. He pointed out a few pieces for me to read, and I began with 'The Magician,' a haunting, honest tale of heroin addiction that reads like a Buddhist parable. I also tried, at his recommendation, 'Beware of Fallen Angels', 'Faery Tale' and 'Easter', and the long autobiographical novella 'The Evening Sky Turned Crimson.' And, okay, I admit it: Huncke is a talented writer, and obviously took the craft seriously. His picturesque slice-of-life tales express with honesty and humor the state of mind of the City Hobo: junk-sick, impoverished, stripped completely naked of his own morals. This theme reverberates in the writings of William S. Burroughs, as well as movies like 'Midnight Cowboy' and the songs of Glen Campbell (just kidding about the Glen Campbell part).

If you are interested in the roots of the Beat Generation -- it was Huncke, by the way, who introduced Kerouac to the term 'Beat' -- you don't want to miss this book.

3. Speaking of Kerouac -- he's all over the place lately. This month is the 40th Anniversary of the publication of 'On The Road,' and a 40th anniversary edition of the book has been published, along with some other fanfare. More interestingly, Viking Penguin has finally published an unseen Kerouac work of major importance: 'Some Of The Dharma.' It's a thick hardcover volume of Kerouac's notes and musings about Buddhism, and stylistically it's somewhere between a Joycean literary experiment and a personal journal about the tragicomic spiritual condition of mankind. It has no plot, almost no characters or dialogue, and the sentences are laid out like free verse. This book is not for everybody, but I've been skimming several of its hidden surfaces for a few weeks now, and I haven't run out of interesting discoveries yet. Among other things, we know now the origin of the phrase "God Is Pooh Bear" from the last paragraph of 'On The Road': Cathy Cassady, the daughter of Neal and Carolyn Cassady, said it when she was a few years old.

Other Kerouac web news: there's now an online version of Paul Maher's Lowell-based Kerouac Quarterly, and there's a new permanent web page to describe the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival which takes place this weekend. Still no news of the Francis Ford Coppola film of 'On The Road', and I'm figuring this film will never get made. One film that will get made, though, and which I'm really looking forward to, is a Burroughs-related project, partly based on the novels 'Queer' and 'Junky,' that will be directed by Steve Buscemi (I wrote about this in a previous Beat News entry, below, and have since gotten word that the project is still on and gathering steam).

4. Other new books: 'A Far Rockaway of the Heart' by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (whose City Lights bookstore finally has a web site!). 'A Different Beat: Writings By Women of the Beat Generation' is another spin on the theme begun by last year's excellent "Women Of The Beat Generation" anthology published by Conari Press. This book is written by Richard Peabody and published by High Risk Books; I just bought it so I don't know if it's good or not, but it has writers like Carolyn Cassady, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones, Lenore Kandel, Jan Kerouac, Janine Pommy Vega and Anne Waldman, so I'm pretty damn sure I'll like it.

Finally, my wife and I have both become incredibly fascinated by the new edition of the Folkways' Records 'Anthology of American Folk Music', originally compiled by Beat outer-orbit personality, experimental filmmaker and all around strange-guy Harry Smith in 1952. This thing is wild. We see folk music in it's rawest form: authentic jug bands, porchlight crooners, church choruses, and numerous other characters from the deep country, both white and black (you often can't tell which), singing and talking in a mega-hick vernacular as compelling as it is strange. Many of these singers were the country-hobo equivalents of the city-hoboes presented by writers like Herbert Huncke (above). When these guys sing the blues, they sing the blues.

This record was one of the first collections of folk music available in public libraries, and as such played an important role in the developing sensibilities of future folk-rockers like Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia. You can read more about this historic re-release in Wired News and Furious Green Thoughts/Perfect Sound Forever.

5. Farewell -- one last time -- to Mother Teresa, Princess Diana and William S. Burroughs.

Beat News: February 28 1997

by Levi Asher on Friday, February 28, 1997 06:36 pm

1. There's an excellent article in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun (a Buddhist journal emanating from somewhere near Naropa in Boulder, Colorado) about the mountain cabin where Jack Kerouac was a fire lookout during the mid 1950s. He wrote about these spiritual retreats in the novels 'Dharma Bums' (which ends with him ascending Desolation Peak) and 'Desolation Angels' (which begins with him descending it). It's fascinating to see pictures of the cabin and the mountain peaks, and to read an objective account of this severely isolated spot. As the author of the article writes, "Thoreau at Walden was never thrown back on himself to the degree Kerouac was here." The article, sans photographs, can be found in the Archives section of the Shambhala Sun web site.

2. Speaking of Kerouac: if he were alive today, he'd be celebrating his 75th birthday on Wednesday, March 12. (And can you imagine what a character he'd have turned into by now? Would he have ever stopped drinking? Would he have any friends left?). Anyway (getting back to reality), Stone Soup Poets of Boston will be sponsoring a celebration of Jack's birthday at the Old West Church in Boston's Beacon Hill at 8:00. The featured event will be a reading by the fascinating poet John Wieners and other writers and musicians. Tickets only five bucks (cheap!), write to Jim at for more info.

Nearby in Lowell, the Kerouac contingent there will be gathering at the Dubliner on 197 Market Street to listen to jazz and poetry and, in their words, toast Kerouac's Irish Connections. Sounds like a crazy night in Massachusetts this March 12.

3. Water Row Books, one of the most authorative Beat-related bookstores around, has just released 'Beat Speak -- An Illustrated Beat Glossary circa 1956-1959' by Asleigh Talbot. The title might seem a little faddish but the book is actually very gritty and double-edged, with a strong emphasis on the hard drugs, lurid sex and police-paranoia that marked the Beat community in its prime. Definitely an interesting perspective.

4. Oh yeah ... did you ever read those excellent in-depth interviews with writers in the Paris Review? The latest issue's interview subject is Gary Snyder. Can't read it online though, so don't bother trying.

Beat News: November 7 1996

by Levi Asher on Thursday, November 7, 1996 06:07 pm

1. Whoa! I just heard Gary Snyder will be reading at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square (17th St. around Park Avenue) here in New York City Friday November 8 at 7:30. I'm really psyched, as I've never seen him read before. To other New Yorkers out there: this is not likely to be often repeated, so don't miss the chance.

2. This is nowhere near as cool as the above announcement, but I've got more details about the Web Writers reading I'll be participating in on November 16th. It's called POISON: WRITERS ON THE WEB and it's at 3:30 pm at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library (66 Leroy Street, between 7th Ave. and Hudson). This is likely to be often repeated, but I hope some of you can come anyway.

Poetry at the Old Longshoreman’s Hall

by Don Carpenter on Friday, September 20, 1996 12:44 pm

A memoir by Don Carpenter

It was the spring of 1964 and Gary Snyder had just come back from several years in Japan, and I thought it would be a good thing for him to have a public reading of his new poems. Up until then the poetry readings I had gone to had been chaotic and profitless (for the poets), and so the trick would be to set up the reading on a professional basis.

Some years earlier I had hosted a poetry reading in my basement in Portland, Oregon, with Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen reading, and it had been awful, all except for the poetry. It was too crowded, too hot, and when we passed the hat to pay for the wine we only got $1.75. A window got broken and somebody trampled my nasturtiums. But hell. This time, I resolved, there would be planning, care lavished on every detail, the audience would be comfortable and the poets would make a few bucks.

I asked Snyder and Whalen if they would like to read together again if I did all the work and they got all the money, and they agreed. But, it turned out, Donald Allen, the redoubtable editor and translator, who sprung the Beat Generation on the world with Evergreen Review Number Two, had it in mind to offer Snyder and Lew Welch in a joint reading. A meeting was called at my apartment on Jersey Street and it was quickly agreed that we should pool forces.

Beat News: August 12 1996

by Levi Asher on Monday, August 12, 1996 07:06 pm

1. I've mentioned "Wisdom's Maw" before. It's a novel (and a website) by Todd Brendan Fahey about the same real-life characters Tom Wolfe wrote about in the "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." That book was a work of journalism, but Fahey's book is simply fiction, and this frees him to take us on several interesting tangents. We meet Ken Kesey (here called Franklin Moore) as a young would-be novelist discovering LSD while causing trouble among the snooty writers at Stanford's creative writing program, and we drop in on Big Sur with a sadly out-of-touch Jack Kerouac (who appears under his own name). Much of the book has to do with the mysteries of CIA involvement in early LSD experiments. There may be substance to some of Fahey's ideas about this, but in any case the book wouldn't be worth anything if it weren't an enjoyable reading experience. It is! If you liked "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," check this one out.

2. I saw a really wonderful show last week. Ralph Alphonso, longtime publisher of the beat poetry rag RALPH, did what I've always wanted to do: gathered together a few high-spirited pop/folk/jazz musicians and went on tour. They arrived in New York to play CBGB's Gallery last week (parenthetically, check out the new CBGB's website if you're interested in this legendary punk club), and put on a superb show. Ralph's style is kitschy on the outside but sincere within, and this is the way I like it (as opposed to the reverse: sincere on the outside but kitschy within, like, say, Sting's solo albums). I think the tour is already nearing an end, but please visit Ralph's website, where you can hear samples of his music, order his CD's or subscribe to his one-man zine.

3. A huge poetry/beat renaissance/spoken word festival in New Orleans starts this week. Here's the latest schedule.

Beat News: July 23 1996

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, July 23, 1996 06:45 pm

1. The Poetry Project has been a positive force in the New York/downtown lit scene for as long as I can remember. The Project runs readings at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, a beautiful old church that dates back to the days when the East Village was mostly farmland. If you're visiting New York, I'd recommend trying to catch one of these events. How will you know the schedule, you ask? Just check the new Poetry Project website!

2. The Goblin webzine has a lot of interesting beat-related material, like an interview with Ed Sanders and, in the latest issue, a Neal Cassady reminiscence by Charles Plymell. I also like the current cover story about the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, my fave underground comix when I was a kid.

3. Here's a reprint of an interview with Williams S. Burroughs conducted by Ron Whitehead, whose poem "Calling All Toads" also concludes the piece. One of the things they discuss is a huge New Orleans poetry fest Ron is putting together in August. Should be a blast -- I'd go if I had the money (dammit). See below for more info on this.

4. Thought I'd point you to a new site I like a lot. The Posi-Web is a constantly changing series of simple, quickly generated personal pages by a growing list of web people. Lots of interesting pictures and thoughts. Just for fun. There's no one starting point (each contributor maintains his or her own pages) but the above link goes to Jef'n'Gael's page -- they started this whole thing.

5. Also ... check out this nightmare image from some strange alternate universe where real estate and poetry are reversed. What a bad trip! (Thanks to Steve for finding me this).

6. Hey! Literary Kicks is two years old today.

Beat News: April 16 1996

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, April 16, 1996 06:12 pm

1. A couple of friends (Christian Crumlish and Briggs Nisbet, editors of Enterzone) went to the San Francisco poetry reading I mentioned below, featuring Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and others, and also attended a similar indoor reading the next day. They wrote a pretty cool report on these events; check it out.

2. I recently heard from a friend of the important counter-culture journalist Al Aronowitz, who was a part of the Beat/hippie scene that flourished decades ago. Aronowitz has suffered health problems recently, but he's also put together his own web site, including several Beat-related articles: here it is.

3. If you haven't seen Timothy Leary's website yet, it's worth a look. Though Leary is not generally thought of as part of the Beat world, it was Allen Ginsberg's enthusiastic endorsement of Leary and his ideas about LSD that set him on the path to fame in the early 60's. Leary is now seriously ill with cancer, and has set out to explore the fact of his impending death in an optimistic and highly public way. I have mixed feelings about many of the things Leary has done and said in his life, but his approach towards death is proving to be one of his more authentic moments.

An Evening At Biblio’s

by Levi Asher on Monday, February 19, 1996 01:05 pm

On Valentine's Day, Meg Wise-Lawrence and I hosted a fiction/poetry reading of Web writers at Biblio's cafe/bookstore in downtown Manhattan.

The agenda was pretty loose -- we'd selected an eclectic group of thirteen readers from various places on the internet, and we'd given no instructions except to keep it to under ten minutes. It turned out to be a great night! First ...


Meg Wise-Lawrence (aka The oMEGa Female,
whose work has also appeared in
Enterzone and Literary Kicks)
kicked off the evening with a
short spoken-word performance. I then pulled
out my guitar and joined her for an homage to
Patti Smith which had been inspired by a passage
Meg had read one night in a physics textbook.

Ted Fristrom read a short story, Space,
which first appeared in
Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour

Dave Kushner, who is a part of Sonic Net
and has also been published in Alt-X
read a piece he'd written for Details
magazine about his experimental cross-gender
experiences on the Net.

Peter Crumlish read a story, The Last to
, that recently appeared in Enterzone.

Clay Shirky, author of the book Voices of the
and frequent contributor to webzines like
Urban Desires and Word
performed an interesting hypertext piece,
Notes on Sinking, by mixing up a bunch
of index cards and reading them at random.

Maureen McClarnon, whose work has appeared in
the io section of Alt-X,
read a few short poems.

Phil Zampino and friends Will Perez and Dominique
Cocuzza presented a pretty wild Alfred-Jarry-esque
playlet, complete with props, drums and mask.

Ben Cohen, who runs the io section of Alt-X,
read a couple of pieces, assisted by
his friend Mary.

Galinsky, producer of Pseudo and
host of its "GO POETRY" venue,
is a real panic. He does energetic, warmly
humorous spoken-word bits about everyday life in New
York City, growing up, being a teacher in Brooklyn ...
if you ever get a chance to see him perform, don't
miss it.

David Alexander read a short story, Shock of
a Feather
, about a siamese twin. David's
stories have appeared in Enterzone.

Nicole Blackman, a Dorothy Parker for the 90's,
told us horrifying truths about Alanis Morissette
(published in Sonic Net) and read a piece about
traveling with an all-male rock band.

Jamie Fristrom (who runs Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour,
and who I hope will someday earn enough
money with his excellent writing that he won't have to
code video games in San Diego anymore) read a story
about a guy who codes video games in San Diego.

I closed the evening with my story, Snappers,
from my Queensboro Ballads web project.

The evening went really nicely, and I'd like to thank everyone who helped make it happen. We put this thing together because we wanted to start a trend. We'll see if it worked ...

(Thanks to Tony Leotta for taking the videos I used to get these pictures.)


Subscribe to Poetry Readings