Thursday, 13 September 2012

Beat Books

When I was in Victoria a few weeks back, we stopped in on this street festival in Chinatown.  In this area of the University city, packed full of vendors, bars, and busking courtyards, is what is known as the narrowest alleyway in Canada, Fan Tan alley.  My Dad, sister, and I wandered down the dim side street, until a vintage bookshop caught our eye.  It was a long room, with white glass paneled cabinets, and secondhand clothes hanging on the racks comfortably set in the back section.  I don't remember what the guy behind the counter was wearing, but he was setting a record onto a turntable when we entered.  I was immediately drawn to the closest bookshelf, where a jumble of literature and novels were packed.  I smiled as I noticed Allen Ginsberg's Collection of Essays, Deliberate Prose, since I had my Portable Beat Reader collection stashed ecstatically in my purse.  The shelf across from the counter, where next I turned my attention, was equally resonant, as my hand passed over a copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Catch-22.  A thin, square, black book caught my attention.  I had barely pulled it half ways out from the row when the guy at the counter, let's call him Snyder, spoke. "It's an original," he said.  Howl was in my hand, a City Lights edition, not a first printing, but still decently coin.  "So you like the Beat poets?  I had tickets to go see Allen Ginsberg, you know." "No way!" I exclaimed.  The idea of someone actually meeting the poets I had recently discovered was like someone saying they had seen Dostoevsky walking down the street.  "It was cancelled, because he was ill, it was only a couple months before he died. In '96?"  I nodded, but didn't really know. He pointed me to Kerouac by Ann Charters and pulled Deliberate Prose.  I didn't have money to spend, but he was a good con, and a good hipster, and I bought all three, thinking, what the heck, if this is what I want to study for my graduate studies.  And he took off a couple dollars, bringing it to 28.00. Maybe I was taken in by his nervous way of talking, excited to meet someone in the wild drifts of life who knew what I was talking about.
Clockwise from left: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Lafcadio Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso in 1956.
Howl I had read before, though I enjoyed reading through "America" again -

"America, I've given you all and now I'm nothing"

Kerouac became my transit material, stuck in the back pocket of my purse, reading through the indefinable bus hours the sad life of a melancholic alcoholic disillusioned inspired lonely angry searching wild writer who defined his generation without ever really feeling part of it.  Charters' method was as Factual as Burroughs, and though it was a tragedy with brilliant moments of clarity and hope, I felt encouraged as a writer.  Kerouac pursued what he felt was his calling as an artist, for better or for worse, wherever he was whatever state he was in.  I was inspired by his use of spontaneous prose, something he preached to everyone, and his transformation of his life into legend.

Just reading Deliberate Prose now; even on drugs, Ginsberg writes millennias better than myself, such power and eloquence of language, expressed from his being as a passionate Soul on earth. So far, and excellent and mind-stretching read.