Since Levi's been reading Richard Hell and Johnny Temple's letting us all in on his punk indie publishing philosophy over at The Book Standard, it seems like a good time to let you know about another important punk literary event, the opening of CBGBs: A Place that Matters, a collection of statements and photographs of and by musicians. The collection will be on exhibit today through Wednesday, September 14, 2005 at Urban Center Gallery, 457 Madison Avenue at 51st St in NYC. The opening coincides with a reception and book signing for CBGB and OMFUG: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock.

view /CBGB
Monday, July 18, 2005 05:14 pm
Caryn Thurman

I recently posted about possible plans in upstate New York for an "American Tragedy" reality tour of sorts, and we've also featured stories about other literary landmarks. Just like other types of "favorite sons" (or daughters, as the case may be), an author's hometown can bring a lot of attention (and tourism dollars) to even the smallest town. Many times, the places where an author lived and worked play a big factor into the style and subject matter of the writing. Author hometowns, literary landmarks and the backdrops to our favorite stories are a source of pride for the residents who share the connection and a source of information and fascination for literature buffs the world over.

Here are two pretty interesting items I ran across this week. They may come in handy if you need to take an impromptu road trip.

--Tomorrow, July 19th, kicks off the 25th Annual Hemingway Days festival in Key West, Florida. The festival runs through Sunday and includes a Hemingway look-alike contest, fishing tournament and several readings, as well as a short story contest. On July 21 (Papa's birthday, mind you), the local museum will unveil a life-sized bronze statue of Hemingway.

--A great Associated Press article is making the rounds on a "reader's pilgrimage" through the state of Maine. Turns out, there are quite a few literary connections in Maine, from Edna St. Vincent-Millay to Thoreau -- not to mention Stephen King and several others. The article by Beth Harpaz shares the highlights and provides some great information should you decide to make the trek.

So, those are my two lit-tourism spots for this week. Do you find yourself seeking out literary landmarks in your travels? What author connections do you have in your hometown or state (or country)? If so, tell us if it's worth the trip.

view /LitTourism
Monday, July 18, 2005 04:14 pm
Caryn Thurman

If you're up for a field trip and you love taking tours that revolve around a century old murder, there's something in the works just for you! The residents of Herkimer County, NY are already planning centennial events to mark the county's most famous murder case. The story of Chester Gillette, the murder of Grace Brown and the subsequent trial became the basis for the classic American novel, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. July 11, 2006 marks the centennial of these events and that gives you plenty of time to plan your next summer vacation.

view /TragedyTour
Saturday, July 16, 2005 08:15 pm
Caryn Thurman

Developers plan to build a retail and residential complex on the seafront that inspired James Joyce's Ulysses. Historians, preservationists and Joyce fans are campaigning against the development -- which proposes shops, apartments, restaurants and even a concert venue to be constructed along Scotsman's Bay, Dun Laoghaire, outside Dublin.

Also, the Godrevy lighthouse -- made famous by Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, is slated to be decommissioned by the lighthouse authority for England and Wales. Protesters argue that the change could endanger fisherman in the area. There are no known plans to dismantle the lighthouse completely.

view /LitLandmarks
Tuesday, May 31, 2005 07:35 am
Caryn Thurman

Concord, a small country town about 15 miles northwest of Boston, was where the colonial American militia stockpiled their guns and ammunition in the months preceding the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The British attempted a surprise attack on the weapon stores in Concord on the night of April 18, 1775.

The colonials had already anticipated this, and on the first sign of British movement Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott and William Dawes rode ahead of the British armies to spread the word. American defenders gathered in Concord and Lexington, and the result was a rout of the British forces and a major victory for the cause of American independence.

Two generations later, a literary and philosophical revolution began in the same town. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott and other progressive thinkers began holding meetings to discuss anti-slavery activism, spirituality, education and the idea of a uniquely American sense of art. They founded a literary journal called "The Dial" to help spread the word, and New England Transcendentalism was born.

Later additions to Concord's Transcendental crowd included Emerson's eccentric younger friend Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott's talented daughter Louisa May Alcott, whose novel "Little Women" describes life in a 19th century suburb of Boston.

Concord's reputation as a crucible of unexpected innovations was further extended in 1849 when horticulturist (and friend of the Transcendentalists) Ephraim Bull discovered an ideally robust and delicious new grape, which became world renowned as the Concord grape. This was the first grape to be successfully bottled and mass produced as grape juice by the Welch family of New Jersey, twenty years later.

Most of Concord's historical sites are well-preserved, though they have taken on the dull sheen of school trip fodder. The North Bridge battle site, the Old Manse where the Emerson family lived and the Orchard House where the Alcott children were raised are all within walking distance from the center of town.

Before I first visited Concord, I was warned by several people that a visit to the birthplace of the greatest book to emerge from Concord would be a disappointing sight. I had to drive around a bit before I located Walden Pond, and once there I found a quiet sandy beach on a wooded lake, and a few Hispanic-looking families (I guess the white bathers go to Cape Cod) hanging around in bathing suits. There was a replica of Thoreau's cabin near the roadside parking lot, and a marker at the spot where his actual cabin stood, deeper into the woods.

I wonder why so many people find the pilgrimage to Walden Pond disappointing? Perhaps they expect some kind of grand epiphany, like doves floating overhead reciting the works of Shakespeare. Walden Pond today is exactly what it should be -- a humble place waiting for somebody to come along and love it.

If you are on a literary pilgrimage to Concord, you may also want to visit Jack Kerouac's Lowell, a few miles to the north.

view /Concord
Friday, March 16, 2001 06:54 pm
Levi Asher

When Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were creating the Beat sensation in the mid-to-late fifties, their friend and mentor William S. Burroughs was halfway across the world in Tangier, a seaport city on the North African coast on the Strait of Gibraltar.

Having run into legal troubles in America and Mexico, Burroughs chose to hide in Tangier after reading about it in the works of Paul Bowles. Paul and Jane Bowles became Burroughs' close friends in Tangier, as did his future collaborator Brion Gysin. Burroughs was visited there by Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, who liked Tangier, and Jack Kerouac, who didn't. It was here, though, that Kerouac picked up Burroughs' scattered writings and insisted that he publish them under the title 'Naked Lunch.'

Other cities on the coast of North or West Africa were important destinations for the Beats and their crowd. Allen Ginsberg travelled to Dakar, Senegal, on the Western coast, as a young man, and this is mentioned by Kerouac in 'On The Road.' Ginsberg was trying to find more satisfaction than he'd found following Neal Cassady around Denver, but he found that the 'Dakar Doldrums' were no better than the Denver kind.

In the sixties and seventies, neighboring Algeria was the escape of choice for American refugees like Timothy Leary and Eldridge Cleaver.

The seaport city is among the oldest cities in Northwest Africa. Originally settled by the Phoenicians from the Middle East, it fell under the Carthaginian Empire, than became part of the Roman empire in 82 B.C. It was taken by the Arabs in 705, but unlike many other Muslim cities it never became part of the Ottoman Empire. It fell under Portugese rule in 1471, and became an international port city in 1925. This made it an unusually permissive place to live, which appealed greatly to Burroughs. He wrote of a mythical place called 'Interzone', which recalled the 'internationalized zone' of Tangier. When Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956, Tangier became a part of the new nation.

An interesting fact: when a small new kind of Chinese orange known as the Mandarin was sold in Tangier ports, it acquired a new name: the tangerine. The tangerine has played a strangely prominent role in the rock music of the 60's and 70's: think of songs by Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, 'Tangerine' by Led Zeppelin, the band Tangerine Dream, and the first line of the Beatles' 'Savoy Truffle.'

And as for Tangier itself, think of Bob Dylan's song from "Blood on the Tracks":

If you see her say hello
she might be in Tangier ...

view /Tangier
Sunday, March 19, 1995 02:39 pm
Levi Asher

The early-to-middle 1970's were good years for alternative culture in America. The antiwar movement of the 60's proved itself wiser and more resilient than the pro-war military establishment, and by 1974 America was fully out of Vietnam and President Nixon was hounded into resignation. This same year, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman created the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Naropa Institute itself was created by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a remarkable Chinese/Tibetan guru whose confrontational, unpredictable teaching style was smart enough to impress Allen Ginsberg into fully adopting the Buddhist religion. Trungpa taught a rough and humorous form of Buddhism, designed to force change by confronting the deepest roots of complacency with whatever means possible. After first meeting Ginsberg and sensing such a complacency, Trungpa challenged him to shave off his beard; Ginsberg did so. Years later, when Ginsberg complained that he was not taken seriously due to his hippie image, Trungpa commanded him to begin wearing suits at public gatherings, which Ginsberg did for the rest of his life.

Trungpa's confrontational style might have gone too far, though, when in 1975 the poet W.S. Merwin and Merwin's girlfriend Dana Naone visited Naropa to experience his instruction. Unable to elicit satisfactory responses from these two, Trungpa finally instructed other students to drag them into a large gathering and forcibly strip them naked. This act naturally shocked and outraged the American Buddhist community, and soured the public reception of the Naropa Institute for at least a few years.

The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the poetry school at the Naropa Institute has been a tremendously positive force in the American post-Beat poetry scene for decades.

Here's Stephen Scobie's report on a summertime Beat Gathering at Naropa in 1994.

view /Naropa
Thursday, December 1, 1994 01:48 pm
Levi Asher


Philip Lamantia reading mss. of late John
Hoffman-- Mike McClure, Allen Ginsberg,
Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen--all sharp new
straightforward writing-- remarkable coll-
ection of angels on one stage reading
their poetry. No charge, small collection
for wine, and postcards. Charming event.

Kenneth Rexroth, M.C.

8 PM Friday Night October 7,1955

6 Gallery 3119 Fillmore St.
San Fran

The Six Gallery was a small art gallery in a former auto repair shop near the intersection of Union and Fillmore in San Francisco. Kenneth Rexroth came up with the idea to showcase a few of his young poet friends in a joint reading, and five promising unknowns were selected.

Much legend surrounds this event, which took place on October 7, 1955, though the date is sometimes given as October 13 and Michael McClure himself states in his book "Scratching The Beat Surface' that it took place in December. (Despite the fact that McClure got the date wrong by two months, though, his fascinating book was one of the primary sources for the information on this page. So many Beat writers have published their version of the evening's proceedings that it is impossible to find two accounts that do not contradict each other in some way.)

This was the first public reading by several of the poets, some of whom had not met before. It seems that about 150 people were in attendance, and that Jack Kerouac, who had been invited to read but chose not to, collected money from the guests and ran out to fetch three jugs of California burgundy, which helped to loosen everybody up. On the night of the reading, the Gallery was decorated with surrealist sculpture built from orange wood crates and plaster of paris.

Philip Lamantia, a moderately well-known Surrealist poet, went on first, reading a series of poems by his late friend John Hoffman, who had just died of a peyote overdose. Kerouac, in the loosely fictionalized account of the evening he published in 'The Dharma Bums,' mocks Lamantia's 'delicate Englishy voice,' though he says he got to like Lamantia later.

Michael McClure read 'Point Lobos: Animism' and 'For the Death of 100 Whales.' McClure had not met Gary Snyder or Philip Whalen before this evening.

Philip Whalen read 'Plus Ca Change.'

Allen Ginsberg was second to last and stole the show. He was twenty-nine years old and had hardly published any poetry yet; he had also never before participated in a poetry reading. He had written 'Howl' in a mad frenzy only weeks earlier, so nobody had yet heard this revolutionary work with its long unbroken lines of Biblical verse, proclaiming glorious defiance in the face of isolation and disaster. Gathering confidence as he went on, he began singing the lines like a Jewish cantor, glancing quickly at the manuscript at the beginning of each new line and then delivering it in a single breath. The crowd was transfixed, and Kerouac, now sitting on the edge of the stage, began shouting 'GO! GO!' in cadence. By the end of the poem (only the first part; the rest had not yet been written), Kenneth Rexroth was in tears and Allen Ginsberg had launched his massive career as a poet.

Gary Snyder waited, wisely, for the crowd to settle down, before he read his excellent poem, 'A Berry Feast,' a stark and many-layered celebration of tribal ritual.

At the end of the evening, the poets went to a Chinese restaurant, then to The Place, one of their regular drinking spots.

By the next morning, word had gotten around about the dynamic reading, and the five poets became locally famous. The entire evening's proceedings were repeated several times in coming months, now to much larger crowds. The significance of the first reading at the Six Gallery is that it crystallized the San Francisco poetry scene, and turned several of the young poets, especially Allen Ginsberg, into instant celebrities.

Here is what Michael McClure says in 'Scratching The Beat Surface':

In all of our memories no one had been so outspoken in poetry before -- we had gone beyond a point of no return. None of us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the intellective void -- to the land without poetry -- to the spiritual drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the process of it as we went into it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision.

Here's a description of the site where the Six Gallery reading took place, sent to me by a reader, Tony Willard, in 1995:

In response to your Web page on the Six Gallery, I checked out this ruined but not so bare choir on a recent visit to San Francisco.

Fillmore between Filbert and Greenwich is part of the now trendy Cow Hollow district. It is a busy block of cafes and retail shops. 3119 Fillmore stands in the middle of block's west side, canary yellow with royal blue awnings, black flower boxes full of exuberant geraniums at the second-story windows. It houses a store called Silkroute International, whose rugs and pillows spill onto the sidewalk.

Inside are more piles of rugs and pillows, along with wooden masks and sculptures. Various other tchatchkes of ostensible southwest Asian origin compete for the attention of the frugal decorator. The low-ceilinged front of the space opens into a dim warehouse of bare rafters and dusty skylights, reminiscent of the automotive garage this once was.

Farthest from the street, the floor is raised about a foot and a half. This must have been the "stage". If Kerouac sat on the edge of this during the reading, he would have been almost at floor level, and out of sight of most of the audience, not nearly as distracting as accounts suggest.

From a cluttered, makeshift office to the north side of the "stage", the shopkeeper keeps an intimidating eye on his domain, discouraging this literary pilgrim from more audibly recreating scenes of beat glory.



view /SixGallery
Sunday, October 23, 1994 12:48 pm
Levi Asher

I don't know much about Reed College, except that it is in Portland, Oregon and that it is notable in Beat history as the meeting place of three future writers, the nature-minded poet Gary Snyder, the buddha-minded poet Philip Whalen and the least-grounded and most unsettled of the threesome, the enigmatic but highly appealing Lew Welch.

It's fun to think of these three as nondescript undergrads hanging around campus. I bet they had some good times.

view /ReedCollege
Friday, October 21, 1994 01:53 pm
Levi Asher

Berkeley, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, is an extremely cool town. It's not necessarily the University that makes it cool, or at least it's not the undergraduates, who don't look much different from undergraduates anywhere else. What it is is the mass of scraggly humanity that the town has built up over decades and decades of being an alternative-minded kind of place.

Telegraph Avenue is the main thoroughfare. It's got some of the best bookstores in the country, enough guitar-strummin' storefront coffeehouses to keep you high on caffeine and humming James Taylor songs all through the night, and loads of 'street people', the Berkeley term for homeless people, although most of the street people are young, healthy and obviously there by choice.

West of Telegraph is the residential area (Shattuck Avenue is the main street) that Jack Kerouac immortalized in his novel 'The Dharma Bums,' about the Buddhist fad that swept through Jack's crowd of poetry friends in the mid-1950's. The Beats were still obscure at this time, but they were about to become world famous, especially after Allen Ginsberg and four other local poets presented the seminal poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.

Other Random Stuff About Berkeley

Berkeley was famous for its student riots in the Sixties. A small patch of land east of Telegraph was the subject of a bitter fight between the University and the 'People'. The People won, and the patch of land is now, appropriately, known as People's Park.

The city was named in honor of the great Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, the second of the three philosophers known as the British Empiricists (along with John Locke and David Hume). Berkeley once famously stated "Westward the course of empire goeth", thus inspiring the founders of this western town to name it after him. His unique and somewhat extreme belief system was based upon the idea that absolutely no knowledge about the material existence of the physical world can be discerned from sensory or empirical experience, and I really cannot figure out how this epistemological idea reconciles with his famous statement. How can we know there is an empire? How can we know it goeth westward? It really doesn't make sense to me. But that's okay.

Patty Hearst was living in Berkeley (and studying at the University) when she was abducted in her apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Elaine Robinson, the character Dustin Hoffman's character falls in love with in 'The Graduate,' was also a student at Berkeley, and there are a few quick shots of the campus in the movie.

Several radioactive elements were discovered at Berkeley, and one was named 'Berkelium' (atomic number 97).

The Computer Sciences department at Berkeley led the Unix revolution of the mid-80's, surpassing AT&T as the center of Unix innovation during this time. Among their credits: the 'Sockets' interface (sometimes called 'Berkeley Sockets') that made Unix and TCP-IP work together so seamlessly. If it were not for Berkeley's Computer Science department, you would not be on the Internet right now. You might be on something, but it wouldn't be the Internet.

My favorite literary web-zine, Enterzone, was originally served from a Mac in Cal Berkeley's Anthropology Department, although it has since moved to a higher-capacity site.

I have to say that some of the Indian and Mexican restaurants on University Avenue are disappointing. I'm from New York and I like my food spicy. I complained to a waiter at an Indian restaurant on University Ave. that there seemed to be virtually no flavor to the food. "Yes," he said to me in a polite Indian accent, "but that might upset some of the customers." He actually said this. Later on the same trip, we had a Mexican meal so bland that a friend of mine almost wept into his refried beans.

But that's the only thing I have to complain about. For street culture, stores, and freaky political-artistic zeitgeist Berkeley is the best.

view /Berkeley
Sunday, September 11, 1994 01:20 pm
Levi Asher