It is true, though, that I've been avoiding my responsibilities as owner of this site. I've been going through a sort of dark night of the soul recently, and dealing with some heavy things in my life that I don't want to talk too much about, except to put it in brief: my marriage broke up last year, around the beginning of September. Meg and I are both doing fine, and the kids are too. But it's a heavy thing to go through and to be honest I just haven't cared about Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg or hypertext poetry or web-based fiction much lately.
I'm sure I'll get my enthusiasm back, and in the meantime I've been trying to think of ways to make Literary Kicks feel newer and more exciting, since it really hasn't been redesigned or rethought since it's birth more than five years ago (wow, it has been a long time).
I haven't crystallized my ideas much yet, but I know I want to start putting up some streaming video (yeah, I bought an iMac, tangerine, what a great machine). I also want to move beyond the Beat Generation and start covering a greater diversity of styles and genres. Most importantly, I want to open up the site to contributions from others, and turn it from a solo act into more of an ensemble performance.
Anyway, that's all coming at some time in the future ... unless it isn't, in which case it's not. As for what's happening out in the big world out there these days ... well, here are a few things that recently caught my eye.
1. Best new beat-related book so far this millennium: "Poems for the Nation", edited by Allen Ginsberg with Andy Clausen and Eliot Katz. This is a book of current political poems Ginsberg was putting together at the time he died. It features poems by Tuli Kupferkerg, Eileen Myles, Janine Pommy Vega, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka and many more. One reason I like the book is the personal enthusiasm of one of it's editors, the poet Eliot Katz, who is a true modern-day left-wing activist who told me excitedly about the book one Sunday on the Lower East Side as he ran from a poetry reading to a secret meeting of provacateurs who were planning to crash a World Bank/International Money Fund meeting in Washington D.C. Another reason I like this book is that it's small and quick to read and costs only six bucks (I'm sick of Beat books that cost $40.00). You can buy a copy here.
2. A sad recent death: Terence McKenna, a popular and much admired social critic of the neo-psychedelic school, in the tradition of Carlos Castaneda, Timothy Leary, etc. I wasn't personally familiar with his work (I've never been into psychedelics myself -- I took magic mushrooms once but nothing too special happened) but I've heard from many that McKenna was a truly original thinker and a very nice person. It's very sad that he died in the middle of a healthy happy life in Hawaiian seclusion, a victim of cancer at the age of 52.
3. On to the living: the great iconoclast Paul Krassner, who has been editor of the hippie propaganda rag "The Realist" for longer than I've been alive, now has a web presence. Krassner has done some interesting things with "The Realist" over the years -- for instance, he got in big trouble after the Kennedy assassination by accusing Lyndon B. Johnson of fucking Kennedy's bullethole on Air Force One. And I hear that was one of the tamer articles. Well, we all need a little realism, so catch a rare New York City appearance by Krassner, if you can, at an Earth Night party at the Bitter End on April 22 -- it's an all-night poetry jam also featuring David Amram, Bob Holman, Frank Messina and many others.
April is the cruelest month. Still, I believe things are looking up. You know, I don't believe in Jesus any more than I believe in magic mushrooms, but Easter is coming soon, and Patti Smith has a new CD out, and it's time to think for me about resurrection. So check back with me soon and hopefully I'll have an all-new, all-different Literary Kicks here to show you. Or maybe not.
I was also sorry to hear of the ailing health of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who announced that he will no longer be creating new strips. "Peanuts" was a part of America's post-war countercultural consciousness as much as "Catch-22", "Cuckoo's Nest" or even "Howl". I always thought the little kids would have grown up to be beatniks ... Schroeder would have moved on from Beethoven to Lennon and Dylan, and the way Linus always quoted scripture, I'm sure he would have gotten into I Ching and Zen. Charles Schulz never used the strip to air his political or societal beliefs -- but hey, we knew what he meant when he named the bird "Woodstock".
The new millennium is coming ... and if Charlie Brown will really be gone, I think the 1950's are now truly over. I wonder what will come next?
Happy New Year everybody! Literary Kicks will be changing a lot soon. See you on the other side ...
by Ray Bremser
. . .
we took the first road on our left,
pointed ourselfs to the gulf
& fled thru the falling valleys into
the tropic & lowland plains,
where the jaguar retches & Panfillo
Navarez got his copper-sheathed ass
nipped at, after the crocs & moccasined
Zipotecan active cannibals, who
tip their stings & darts w/curare,
found cause for concern with the
obsidian barbarians the whole
conquistadores were . . .
the truck makes a racous
clattering up rocky roads,
picking up gears
on into the rarified heights--
10 thousand feet up the mountain
which delayed Malinche
on his freaked-out march to
kill & capture the aztec empire,
destroy all the toltec art,
smach the olmec urns & statuary,
all in museums now / little bits and pieces
for man to contemplate their lost glory,
much like the dinosaurs --
up this very same road, under these very same stars,
when it was jungle below & a forest of
tropical fruits above.
& even then, a way, way up in the blue-black site,
hovering at the perigee, ten thousand warm young
kissed the conquerors fingers, old fingers
& i'll come back, born again . . .
i always have,
come back . . .
i'll come back from the dark.
i'll be different & new.
or the same & old,
but i'll be me.
born again always,
born again born again
I was in a skeptical mood, as usual, on April 18 when I dropped by the Knitting Factory, a fashionable downtown New York hangout, for an all-day reading to honor Jack Micheline. The room was packed, and I grouchily wondered if Micheline would have drawn such a large and adoring crowd if he were still alive and able to borrow money. But my defenses were broken immediately when Jack Micheline's son stepped up to make a speech. A clean-cut and polite adult who seemed to have suffered no scars from having an impoverished Beat poet for a father, he even cared enough to have created a new website, JackMicheline.com, in his father's honor. He held his young daughter in his arms and said she was what Jack Micheline had been proudest of at the end of his life. Okay, dammit, I was touched.
Then a young independent filmmaker named Laki Vazakas invited me to a screening of his new movie about the late Herbert Huncke's stormy relationship with a younger and more troubled companion, Louis Cartwright. Both Huncke and Louis were lifelong heroin addicts, occasionally switching to methadone maintanence or other substitutes, but in any case the routine of drug acquisition seemed to have ruled their lives completely. The film was shot with a handheld videocamera in their Chelsea Hotel apartment and other locales, without a plan or a script. Unlike the characters in MTV's "The Real World", though, Huncke and Louis were often too strung out and world-weary to play to the camera, and so the movie is filled with startlingly honest moments. Louis clowns happily in the early scenes, but then begins to slip into a drug burnout so devastating that even Huncke is forced to separate from him, and finally the camera catches Louis crying and alone, hiding in a dark apartment unwilling to face the beautiful weather outside. Finally he is murdered on a Lower East Side street, and we see the most startling image of all: a naked, aged, skeletal Huncke sobbing uncontrollably for his lost friend, groping for an understanding of what has happened. I hope "Huncke and Louis" finds its way to some kind of distribution deal; till then, if you're around New York City there'll be another screening on May 8 at the NYU Film Series, and hopefully more after that. Check the website about the film for more info.
The night of the "Huncke and Louis" screening, ironically, I wandered into an East Village bookshop and picked up the nastiest (and funniest) book ever written about the Beat Generation, "Crimes of the Beats," by the gang of lovably obnoxious New York City poets and storytellers who call themselves "The Unbearables." They've been published in book form before, and I've also written about their activities (such as their satirical protest against the 1995 NYU Beat Conference) earlier in these pages. Their new book is a collection of essays, poems and memoirs mercilessly trashing the legendary authors of the Beat Generation, as well as the hangers-on, wannabes and innocent wide-eyed believers they left in their wake. The pieces take turns savaging Allen Ginsberg for his marketing savvy, Neal Cassady and Herbert Huncke for their weak claims to mythical status, Gary Snyder (the "Buddhist budget advisor") for his placid personality, and even, surprisingly, Gregory Corso (a saint of the modern-day Lower East Side literary underworld as far as I can tell) for his blatant arrogance and nastiness. But this book is not a self-indulgent rant -- it's clever as hell, with each pointed barb carefully sharpened to hurt. The pieces are even short, a true rarity in these content-glutted days.
This book should be on the bookshelf of every Beat reader, and it can be ordered directly their publisher, Autonomedia. I have only one gripe, though: these Unbearables, whom I know to be mostly a bunch of poverty-stricken, zonked-out, sloppily-dressed writers who gather in the East Village to applaud each other at poorly-attended poetry readings, claim not to be Beat themselves. Yeah, right, and Leonardo DiCaprio isn't a teen idol, and my Aunt Melinda isn't an alcoholic. Sometimes the truth hurts.
If Herbert Huncke and Jack Micheline represent the thesis of Beat legend and hype, and if the Unbearables represent the antithesis, who represents the inevitable synthesis? I dunno, but I do like the Louisville, Kentucky-based poet Ron Whitehead a lot. His writings are powerful (like those of the original Beats), but he's also fresh and unpredictable and unpretentious (like the Unbearables). I haven't yet seen his new book of poetry, published by Tilt-A-Whirl Press, but the guy who designed Tilt-A-Whirl's web page wrote me about it, and I discovered that this guy had done some other excellent websites as well, including one for the excellent small publisher Soft Skull. He also had some fun web pages of his own (click on his hair).
Yeah, the Beat fad is tired; I can't stand the hype myself anymore. But somehow, if we get beyond that four letter word that once was useful but isn't any longer ... still, hiding in corners out there, from the San Francisco BART to the Chelsea Hotel, from Louisville, Kentucky to the Lower East Side and even out on the web itself, there is genius waiting to be found. So I'm not giving up hope just yet. Though I'm close.
I never wanted to be a poet.
I just wanted to be a human being.
Anyone who wants to be a poet is out of his mind.
Either you are one or you are not.
Most poets are not poets.
To be a real artist is a unique and valuable asset to this planet."
SAD FOR AN UNBRAVE WORLD
- Jack Micheline
Here's a true voice of the Beat Generation, a poet who has remained "underground" since he published his first book (River of Red Wine) in 1958.
Jack Micheline has never been published by the bigger presses, and according to himself he never will. He thinks he's living in "Siberia in the United States" - the loveless hell of people trying to get by in this greedy world. You'll never see this guy in a shoe commercial - that's for sure!
Jack Micheline was born Harvey Martin Silver on November 6, 1929 in the Bronx. The reason for the name change was his father, a postman in whom Micheline saw the money-grabbing that could be found everywhere in the ghetto. He never liked the cruelty and injustice in his own streets. So, like many before him, he went on the road.
He began his travelling at the age of seventeen and didn't rest until he was twenty-six. Now he found a home in the streets of Greenwich Village, where he lived the next five years. Rapidly Micheline identified himself with the tradition of American street poets, such as Vachel Lindsay and Maxvell Bodenheim. He walked the streets of the Village and Harlem listening to jazz, digging the vitality and humanity amongst poor people. He found a friend in the black poet Langston Hughes, who encouraged him in his writing. In 1957 he also won the "Revolt in Literature Award" at the Half Note Club in the East Village (one of the judges was Charles Mingus). Shortly after that he showed his poems to the publisher of Troubadour Press. He wanted to print them under two conditions: Micheline had to stagger his lines to make them look more unconventional, and get a famous person to write an introduction. Micheline was then living in the same building as poet Howard Hart, who was sharing his apartment with... Jack Kerouac!
Micheline showed his poems to Kerouac who began yelling, "Wow! A new poet!" Kerouac also wanted to write an introduction for the collection. Drunk and in a good spirit Kerouac wrote a page-long introduction. In Kerouac, Micheline also found a new friend.
The book 'River of Red Wine' was published in 1958. Soon Micheline found himself at fashionable literary and artistic parties, and just like Kerouac, he had a habit of getting drunk and trying to liven things up. He could run across the room shouting, "To be alive is to lead an exciting life!" or trying to get the proper girls into bed by using offensive language.
After a while he got bored with the stiff parties and started to hang out alone with Kerouac instead. They would walk the Bowery, drinking and talking to the bums. Because of his new friendship with Kerouac and his writer friends, he now was a Beat, meaning he was being published in anthologies covering the Beats. He wrote a lot at this period, and most of it is still unpublished. In the early sixties he continued his travels across the States and kept getting rejected by the publishers. He lived in rooming houses, stayed with friends and got in touch with other underground artists. In 1963 he married Marian Elizabeth Redding, a politician's daughter, and went to Europe with her. Just a year later the marriage broke up. The reason was that an earlier girlfriend gave birth to a child that was Micheline's (it was a boy and is his only child). Now he lived alone in the Village again. He continued to write poetry, fiction and even plays.
Micheline was an enthuastic participant in the counter-cultural movement of the sixties, but he realized quite early that the movement was being commercialized and wasn't going to make it all the way through. "They say we opened up society. What did we open up? We opened up the banks for some people in Hollywood." he said in the eighties.
At the end of his life Micheline lived in San Francisco, writing poetry and painting while still being ignored by the bigger presses. "Good work doesn't sell well they claim. I am a rare human spirit, the work is open, free and alive. I'm sorry if I frighten them. Maybe they want stories with condoms on them, clean and safe. My work is ALIVE! This animal is alive. Sad for this unbrave world. Sad state indeed. It makes one scream..."
He died on a San Francisco BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train on February 27, 1998.
Remembering Jack Micheline
2. Why are literary mailing lists on the internet so conducive to flame wars? Not long ago a virulent flare-up on the PYNCHON-L, involving a few list members who'd personally known Thomas Pynchon fighting against each other and the rest of the list, was actually collected and published as a book called 'Lineland'. A couple of weeks ago, an epic flame war on the BEAT-L mailing list, which I enjoyed being a part of for the past three years, caused listowner Bill Gargan to finally throw up his hands in disgust and close the list down for good. You can read more about the whole mess here. I was very sorry to see this excellent (if sometimes ridiculous) list go away, and I was happy when list survivors Diane Carter and Luke Kelly (proprietor of the William S. Burroughs-oriented website Big Table) managed to create a new replacement list, SUBTERRANEANS, in record time. If you're interested in reading about or joining this list, here's a FAQ that explains everything. The good news is that flame wars are banned on this list; the bad news is that in order to post to it it is necessary to know how to spell "subterraneans".
3. There's going to be a big memorial bash for Allen Ginsberg on June 12 and 13, arranged by the irrepressible scene-maker/muck-raker Al Aronowitz. The first event is on June 12 at the Central Park Bandshell in New York City, and is expected to feature Amiri Baraka, Richie Havens, David Amram, Anne Waldman, Rick Danko and Pete Seeger. The second event is at the Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey (where Ginsberg was born) on June 13. This has been in the planning stages for a long time, and until recently nobody was sure if Aronowitz was actually going to pull the event off. At this point it's starting to generate some real buzz, and may even turn out to be something special. Another Ginsberg memorial event at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in upper Manhattan on May 14 should also be good, and is guaranteed to bring out only the Beat faithful, since everybody else will be home watching the final episode of 'Seinfeld'.
Moving out onto a limb, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Carolyn Cassady show up in bed together, or close to it, in 'Three In Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times,' a fascinating new book about notable three-way sexual encounters in Western history. Other intellectual notables who show up in this book include Nietzsche, Henry Miller and the Pre-Raphaelites. The three co-authors (a man and two women, hmm, I wonder ...) cover a lot of cultural territory in this book.
Moving further out into the realm of the thoroughly subjective, I've been corresponding via email with a Beat-inspired young poet from Singapore, Yong Shu Hoong. He sent me a copy of his first book of poetry, titled 'Isaac.' The truth is, I have lots of email friends who send me samples of their beat-inspired poetry, but too often when I read the poems they go in one ear and out the other -- the poems are probably excellent, I just don't understand them. But I browsed through 'Isaac' and it immediately clicked with me. I love imagining the Singapore poetry reading that must have inspired this poignant small poem, entitled: "THE BUTCHERING OF HOWL":
You must think that I was rude
but I have no disrespect for you,
knowing that you are a poet
more adept at toying with Chinese words.
But listening to you attempt a reading
of Allen Ginsberg's Howl
(and in thr process mispronounce
Arkansas) just weeks after his death,
I'm sorry I had to reach for the door.
I know you were doing it
out of the best intentions.
I know you were spurred on
by more than a little courage.
But I couldn't help feeling indignant
at the mutilation of
his words, his anger, his genius,
turning to leave before you could even
flip the first page. Heavy-hearted,
I was never so sorry for any dead poet.
2. I pledged in these pages, after poet Denise Levertov died at the end of last year, that there would be no more legendary Beat figures dying in 1998. Well, it's only February and God has already called my bluff. Jack Micheline, highly authentic American street poet who stayed untamed to the end, died on a San Francisco BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train on February 27. Jo Grant of Bookzen.com has prepared a beautiful tribute page.
3. Damn, I hate this sad stuff. John Cassady sent me and a few other people a really touching note on February 3rd, the 30th anniversary of the death of his father Neal. It got me thinking. Intrepid Trips (the really excellent new website by Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs and the rest of the Merry Pranksters up in Oregon, who also continue to run Key-Z.com) put the letter up as part of their growing Neal pages.
4. I used to always say official websites sucked, plain and simple. I still believe this in theory, but you'll notice I linked to two good official websites above (run by Ken Kesey and the Henry Miller Library.) I should mention one more: the really carefully-put-together and innovative BobDylan.com. The most amazing thing about the site is probably the RealAudio recordings of rare live songs, not little snippets of songs but full tracks previously available only on bootlegs. This is good stuff. My friend Dan Levy designed this site, and I helped with some technical parts myself, so I know how hard Dan worked to make this "official site" not suck. And it doesn't!
The book 'Women of the Beat Generation' has some good material on her, especially an account of her confrontation with sexism in San Francisco's poetry crowd in 1957. Anyway ... when it rains it pours, but I'd like to mandate that no more legendary Beat or otherwise worthy counter-cultural figures shall die in the next couple of years. I plan to spend 1998 writing about lots of great new creative literary activities, and *not* looking back. Happy New Year everybody!