Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Poetry Readings

Beat News: August 21 1999

by Levi Asher on Saturday, August 21, 1999 11:54 am

1. The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter End in New York City turned out to be an amazing night -- read all about it and check out some pictures here.

Also, Bob Holman was nice enough to remember the event by putting up the words spoken by Charles Plymell here.

2. Speaking of the Bitter End event (no, I can't seem to stop speaking of it), one of the reasons I'd thought to invite Lee Ranaldo to participate in it was that he's been working with Jim Sampas and Rykodisc to collect some of Jack Kerouac's best unreleased recordings onto a CD. The CD is a revelatory collection that anybody who is interested in understanding Kerouac will want to hear. While Kerouac's existing poetry albums are sometimes hard to listen to (I always found them somewhat stiff and difficult to enjoy compared to his written work), these newfound recordings of Jack's are charming, musically adventurous and surprisingly satisfying. Highlights include a plaintive version of the pop standard 'Rain or Shine', some complex verbal blues choruses set to music by David Amram, a 28-minute prose reading from 'On The Road' and, to top it all off, a rocker by Tom Waits with Primus (yeah!). This CD will be released in early September.

3. 'The Source', a well-researched and intelligent new documentary full-length film about the origins of the Beat Generation and its main players, is coming out in a couple of weeks. Directed by Chuck Workman (who also directed a movie about the Andy Warhol scene, 'Superstar'), the film focuses heavily on Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, and tries hard to fairly represent many other writers. It adds up to an informative and breezily entertaining introduction to this literary movement. Among the good points: the facts are accurate (though the chronology gets confused), and there are no boring talking-head shots of men in sweaters sitting in front of bookcases (thank God). At the same time I didn't find the film completely different enough -- much of the footage was familiar, and the summary style was pretty much the same as that of all those $35 coffeetable books about the Beat Generation that keep popping up in bookstores, whereas I wished to be taken somewhere new, to see some challenging connections made, either politically, spiritually, aesthetically or in any other way. A captivating filmed scene of actor John Turturro screaming the hell out of the great poem 'Howl' in an urban schoolyard is probably as "out there" as the movie ever gets, and this was for me the most memorable moment in the film. But even if 'The Source' sticks basically to the middle of the road, the movie is well worth watching, and nobody will regret the time spent soaking in the familiar footage of our lovable literary stooges, one more time.

4. And one lovable literary stooge who never played it safe was underground poet d. a. levy. I was happy to walk into Barnes and Noble recently and see, next to all those coffeetable books, the first trade edition collection of his works: ' The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail: The Art and Poetry of d. a. levy,' edited by Mike Golden. This guy was weird and a true original -- check this shit out.

LitKicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter End

by Levi Asher on Friday, July 30, 1999 03:36 pm

Wow. I can't believe it's finally over.

Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening

I wanted to do something special to celebrate the 5th birthday of the Literary Kicks website, and I decided to put together a small poetry reading that would showcase Beat writers and web writers together on the same stage. I invited a few readers, a few more signed on, the focus began to broaden and take on new dimensions, and the next thing I knew my small birthday party was starting to look like a huge poetry marathon.

I knew my friend Brian Hassett knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked him to get involved, and with his help we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club The Bitter End, in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept growing until I had assembled such an amazing group of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself. I spent much of the last few weeks running around the city like an idiot, trying to organize posters, hotel rooms, musicians ... in fact some friends report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway, Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was time to get on stage. Here's how the night went down:

Vermont writer Marie Countryman opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed by an excellent short story, 'The Shock of a Feather' by novelist David Alexander. Next, web writer Xander Mellish read the beginning of her short story 'Extraordinary' to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who read the introduction to her just-published Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.

The evening then started to veer towards the outer orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman, accompanied by legendary jazz composer David Amram on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I'd like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little more gentle when Briggs Nisbet read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed by two sublime haiku readings featuring, first, Beat scholar Walter Raubicheck and then Cor van den Heuvel, editor of the new 'Norton Haiku Anthology', both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.'s talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story, 'Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall', about strip poker and skin types, and this was followed by what was possibly the evening's most unique moment: a spontaneous spoken-word performance by John Cassady, son of Beat legend Neal Cassady. John had never visited New York City before, so a lot of people had come down specifically to see how Neal's son had turned out and what he looked like, and not only the Village Voice but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut. John is a nice guy but also a "regular guy" like you or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what all he'd say when he stepped up to the mike. As the Mighty Manatees (a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite) kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later John was riffing left and right on an unpublished letter he'd found in his father's papers, and the "John Cassady Rap" was becoming legend before my eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang Chuck Berry's "Nadine" as a tribute to the Dad he'd been missing for the last thirty-one years.

The show went on -- Robert Burke Warren stepped up to the mike and ripped into "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then the David Amram Trio went onstage to sing "Pull My Daisy" and jam. I read a short story of my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster Mark Thomas, creator of, who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop poet Charles Plymell who read an extremely affecting fable about John F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played behind him.

Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming screenplay, "Don't Be Denied", and after this began the main "I'm not worthy" part of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving independent writing/publishing scene of today. First was Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as a calming humming sound played on the PA, then Richard Hell a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent punk rock in the early 70's, and then having the talent to write the excellent novel ' Go Now ' in the 90's. Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us "I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway" (fair enough), and then recited his unique poem "Weather," which contains 12 different alterations of a single poem, each growing in its own unique direction. Hell was followed by Lower East Side poetry hero Bob Holman, who years ago helped start the spoken-word revolution with his friends at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in the East Village, and now helps to run the excellent About.poetry website (among many other things). Holman took the band with him on a bizarre "Peter and the Wolf"-style instrument-vocalization jam that had subtle moments and also occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming and yelling, Holman-style.

The show continued: Meg Wise-Lawrence delivered a smoky, snaky performance of her prose-poem 'Twelve Beginnings ... One End' accompanied by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, who read his powerful "I Will Not Bow Down" among other things, and Icelandic web innovator Birgitta Jonsdottir Next up was a thoughtful language poem by Aaron Howard, a light-jazz-toned excerpt from Breathing Room by Christian Crumlish (the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and funny moments with John Grady (whose "New York Bagel" is one of my favorites), and a closing performance by avant-garde/surrealist Gregory Severance. With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees, David Amram and John Cassady stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a couple of Dead tunes, 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road Feeling Bad'.

I know everybody who was there enjoyed it -- in fact there was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event that has made many of us, myself included, think back to that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and thanks to the Bitter End for letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn't stay out late enough to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night -- we learned a lot and will know better next time.

Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry, and this night proved it to me.

-- Levi Asher
-- July 28 1999

Richard Hell
Richard Hell

Briggs Nisbet and David Amram
Briggs Nisbet and David Amram

John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees
John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees

Birgitta Jonsdottir with Ron Whitehead
Ron Whitehead with Birgitta Jonsdottir

Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler
Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler

Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson
Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson

Meg Wise-Lawrence
Meg Wise-Lawrence

Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady
Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady

Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo
Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo

Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard
Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard

Xander Mellish
Xander Mellish

Charles Plymell
Charles Plymell

Marie Countryman
Marie Countryman

The Living End!
Litkicks Bitter End Blowout

by Marie Countryman

For over a week now, I have been struggling to capture on paper an event that was so much larger than the sum of its parts, that it overwhelmed me, staring at the computer monitor, fingers almost paralyzed on the keys.

The joyous 5th anniversary of Levi Asher's Litkicks' web site, organized and produced by Levi Asher and Brian Hassett was a marvel in meticulous planning and organization that came to life as spontaneous improvisation and collaboration between musicians and print and web poets and writers, many meeting for the first time.

If I had to choose a few words to encapsulate the experience, I would have to choose 1)continuation from the beats who broke the barriers of self expression to the freewheeling web writers of today, and 2)mutual appreciation and support. No egos knocking into one another, no one slamming on the stage or competing aggressively with one another to top the performance that just had finished. Fluidity and flexibility were also key, particularly when Charlie Plymell, who had made no previous plans for musical accompaniment, was so taken by Mark Thomas's piano rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' that he asked me to get Thomas to stay on stage as a Wichita Kansas segue into his set (which included a beautiful fable, 'The Prince of Tides' written on the event of JFK Jr's tragic plane crash). Also accompanying him was a woman only known as Jesse, who came up and improvised her own unique blend of scat and improv singing accompanient. Jesse had never worked with Charlie, in fact, she had never even worked with Hersh Silverman, who she had come to accompany for his reading. Among other pieces, Hersh read a new poem - 'The Literary Kicks Summer Happening' in tribute to the event. Both were flawless collaborations, among many sparkling and unexpected such joinings.

Among the musicians were the David Amram Trio, and the Mighty Manatees, along with "Ted the Fiddler", another mysterious performer known only to me still by his first name.

I was free to move about and my head was clear after being first at bat: so intimidated was I at the onset, that I didn't even want to 'jinx' my reading with a sound check, so I read my first poem two feet away from a microphone that was taller than my head. The audience got my attention before I launched into an autobiographical piece titled 'Shrinkwrapped' - and some one jumped on stage and adjusted the mike for me. After that, I had little problem finishing my set, ending with a poem dedicated to Bebop Jackson, Charlie and Pam Plymell's Labrador, with whom I had spent a joyous morning prior to leaving with Charlie for the city.

Some of the easy supportive atmosphere was certainly laid down prior to the 21st, when more than several of whom the Village Voice described as the 'arsenal of writers, poets and musicians' gathered at John Cassady's Chelsea Hotel room the night of the 20th for a rowdy rock&roll rehearsal party, with several of the Manatees present with their guitars, and amplifier. Thank god for the Chelsea, whose management and residents seemed to have no problem with our good natured ruckus.

We actually picked up what John Cassady quickly named our 'intern,' ("My dad said there was always a new guy, dubbed The Intern wherever the Pranksters were happening"), who was staying in the room directly above Cassady's, and who came into the room from the fire escape window, drawn by our party noise. He then appeared at the Bitter End for the show, the after show chowdown at the diner across the street - and finally back to John Cassady's room once more, where he sat up with Brian, John, and me until 7 am talking talking talking.. He told us we had changed his life, and got out 2 composition books full of his writing from 3 years ago. I do believe he has started writing again, and with fervor.

I can't begin to go into all the combinations and permutations of bands and musicians, other than to rave about their ability to jam: rock musicians with jazz, jazz with rock, with poets, with short story writers, and for me the 2 highlights: David Amram pulling our daisy, incorporating the lyrics Jack Kerouac wrote for the famous beat film as well as improvising lyrics which celebrated the present gathering (and following that with a tribute to international music), AND John Cassady on guitar, playing 'Nadine' (to which Charlie Plymell and I danced with abandon), and later, to my ever Grateful Dead loving heart, played Jerry Garcia sweet licks and soaring melodies within melodies to 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road' - which finally caused me to lose ALL inhibitions and jump on the stage to sing off key harmony and dance my soul free.

Haiku was another form that had many readers: Walter Raubicheck began reading some of Kerouac's haiku, then several of his own, including wonderful baseball haiku, and Cor van den Heuvel followed, reading among other pieces,more baseball haiku. John Grady later read haiku, and a piece called 'New York Bagel', and then segued with the band into a rollicking version of 'Bertha' which brought the house down.

Briggs Nisbet slowed the tempo and lowered the volume with a series of beautiful California nature poems she had written recently. The audience sat hushed by her lovely voice and images.

John Cassady took the stage after her, and with only a letter his father Neal had written, previously unknown and not yet published, showed us that he has his father's talent for story telling, beginning with a reminiscence of riding with Neal in the back of his '39 Pontiac, and then suddenly WE were the 'kiddies' in the back seat as John morphed into Neal, telling story after story with great good humor, enthusiasm, and shining smile. John, you've got the right stuff, all right! Robert Burke Warren came on after John's rendition of Chuck Berry's 'Nadine' and in keeping with Cassady's musical memories, sang two Buddy Holly songs and then 'Fever' as the place went wild.

Aaron Howard proved that you don't need to be anyone but yourself to be truly beat - if you closed your eyes and listened to his moody and rhythmic reading of 'Language' you could transport yourself back in time to the glory days of beat poetry readings, his voice and words transporting one from the abstract to the concrete and back again several times, very very beat.

And speaking of beat, bebop and improv, Bob Holman brought down the house with laughter and energetic good spirits as he used the band for backing and bopped with vigor for his piece 'Storyline' - assigning different instruments and their musicians riffs for different words. Truly spontaneous and very wonderful.

Lee Ranaldo and Richard Hell seemed to drift into the club from the dark of night, taking the stage, giving hypnotic readings (specially Hell's reading of his chap book 'Weather') and then drifting back out, both very NYC and somewhat mysterious. Christian Crumlish read a sweet piece titled 'Rosalita Jump a Little higher' - and I must give great praise to Breath Cox and Gregory Severance, our closing poets, who despite the thinning of the crowd by the late hour, put their all into readings of their most excellent pieces: Greg's own brand of surrealist poetry and Breath's paean to the wonders of country life in Cherry Valley, which she read with a decided city beat intonation.

All in all, I must say that I have never been so legally high in all my life.

Many thanks to Levi Asher and Brian Hassett for all the time and effort they put into making this event a magnificent 7 hour marathon triumph, as well as Laki Vazakas and Danya Reich for their marathon 7 hour filming of the event.

(Levi has declared he is going to edit all of the rehearsal and performance footage to an 80 minute DVD/CDrom. What a daunting task!)

marie countryman

Daniel Srebnick, John Cassady, Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell
Dancing the night away: Daniel Srebnick (on sax), John Cassady (guitar), Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell

Breath Cox
Breath Cox

Christian Crumlish
Christian Crumlish

Cor van den Heuvel
Cor van den Heuvel

Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck
Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck

Greg Severance
Greg Severance

David Alexander
David Alexander

Birgitta Jonsdottir
Birgitta Jonsdottir

Holly George-Warren
Holly George-Warren

Toby Kasavan
Toby Kasavan

Will Hodgson of the Manatees
Will Hodgson of the Manatees

Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady
Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady

Crowd Scene
Crowd Scene

Brian Hassett writes ...

The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
July 21st, 1999
The Bitter End, New York City

It went really great. Sold out and all that.

John Cassady said afterwards, "I swear to God, it's one of those nights you'll never forget. Like Hendrix in '68."

People were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the standing room area by the bar, and one of the owners told me that was the first time he'd ever seen that. It was sweet, impromptu, and very Beat.

In fact, the club actually called the next day to make sure everything went alright, and after how many gigs do you think they do that?! They said we could come back anytime and we probably will.

And speaking of Will, Hodgson was really one of the highlights.

My favorite mental picture of the night was the full band line-up -- one side being David Amram on grand piano, Daniel Srebnick on tenor sax, with Will's Mighty Manatees and the featured poet in the middle, then John Cassady on electric guitar with Ted The Fiddler on the other side.

Bob Holman used that line-up to rattle the rafters and rock the room with a "Peter and The Wolf" send-up, and all sorts of other musical variations assumed themselves during the night.

The New Yorker wrote about it, we were the pick of the day in Time-Out New York, one of the picks of the week in New York magazine, a highlighted show in NY Press, and had a nice long listing in the Village Voice describing our "arsenal of writers, poets and musicians."

The show started about 7 PM and didn't end till 2 AM, after which the 20- person-late-night-core went across the street and had a big chow with Dave Amram in a 24-hour diner just like that famous John Cohen diner photo that's now on the cover of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats, which we also tied-in with that night. Then a bunch of us went back to Cassady's room at the Chelsea for a final roundup till 7 AM.

For the whole first set we had the audience in the palm of our hands with about 200 people absolutely packed in and around every table.

John Cassady's reading/talking/playing was an obvious highlight for everyone. He'd read about a sentence of this letter from Neal which would then remind him of some other story and off he'd go with some reminiscence of zooming around with his dad, until finally he and the band broke into a rockin' lead-filled version of Chuck Berry's "Nadine."

Herschel Silverman read his new poem called, "The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening" that played with the styles and works of many of the other performers. Rolling Stone editor Holly George-Warren read in her sweet southern accent from her just-released Book of the Beats, and her husband Robert Burke Warren closed the first set as he and The Manatees had people dancing to Rave On, Peggy Sue, and Fever.

Levi was doing most of the hosting, although we traded off all night. We seem to make a pretty naturally symbiotic duo on and off the stage and you'll probably see us tootling the multitudes again.

The Amram Trio opened the second set with a special Lit Kicks / Bitter End "Pull My Daisy," and Lee Ranaldo did a couple of pieces to a taped background with the lights dimmed. Richard Hell, looking every inch the rock star with his black shades and loud red shirt, was funny and hypnotic reading an entire poetry chapbook with each chorus beginning, "The whole city seemed to optically snap," then going off into that verse's development.

Ron Whitehead and his fiance Birgitta Jonsdottir gave a tender, heart-felt dual performance -- their first together in NYC -- including a piece co- written by the Dali Lama called "Never Give Up." Breath Cox was in from Cherry Valley reading, torquing the vibes, and looking regal in a long evening dress, and Marie Countryman was down from Vermont being the best audience shusher and performer pep coach you could hope for. Charlie Plymell read his new and touching fable about JFK & and the Kennedy's, then did "Rapid Ronnie" with The Manatees' rock 'n' roll back- up that so inspired him he began free-form dancing on stage in between the multiple guitar players at several points in the night.

I didn't read anything -- told a story instead -- part of the screenplay. My Mom was down from Toronto so I worked her into the tale, telling it in first-person as a true-story so convincingly that afterwards people were telling me they came from divorced parents, too.

The next day the woman from the new Beat documentary "The Source" said the room was electric, and that's about the simplest, most accurate word for it. There's been a flood of calls and emails since, so it really did seem to warm and inspire some people -- like a good book brought alive with music and voices in a seven-hour spontaneous epic.

Keep ya toasted on the next one.


Check out the original web announcement

The Master: David Amram
The Master: David Amram

Thanks to John Grady and Bill Gargan for the photos!

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.


Subscribe to Poetry Readings