Sunday, May 01, 2005

Suggested research

Last Monday, I finally presented my findings from this ongoing project to my professor and my class. In my talk, I suggested several paper topics that could still be written on the subject of women of the Beat generation. Here are some:

1. “The Representation of Sex in the Writings of Women of the Beat Generation.”

I'm thinking particularly here of Lenore Kandel's The Love Book, a book of erotic poems that was incredibly controversial when it first came out in 1966. Like Allen Ginsberg's Howl, The Love Book was brought to trial for indecency. Also, Bonnie Bremser's Troia: Mexican Memoirs and Diane di Prima's Memoirs of a Beatnik are filled with incredibly explicit sex scenes. Di Prima admits that her book was mostly fictionalized, while Bremser has said that she was forced to slap the word "Troia" (meaning "whore" in Spanish), onto her title in order to sell it. It's hard now, in a post-Second wave feminist era, to imagine the paradox of these women's lives: sexually liberated but domestically restricted. It would be fascinating to track this paradox through the writings of women--comparing it both to the explicit sexuality in the male writing of the 1960s and also to the reality of their lives.

2. “Jews and Counter-Culture: The Rebellion of Women of the Beat Generation.”

I've already discussed this in a past post.

3. “The Typists: Documentation of Women’s Contributions to Beat Manuscripts.”

Elise Cowen typed Ginsberg's Kaddish. Bonnie Bremser typed her husband Ray's poems. Hettie Jones typed poems for YUGEN, the literary journal that she and her husband LeRoi Jones ran out of their house. Hettie also had a job typing for the Partisan Review, and it was through this association that she was able to get YUGEN distributed through Partisan’s mailing list, thus ensuring a wider audience for the likes of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the typewriter era, but it's fascinating to me the role that women played in getting the Beat men's words on paper. Did they, perhaps, make changes along the way? All I know is this brief excerpt from Tony Trigilio's essay "Reading Elise Cowen's Poetry" in Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation:

"In his essay "How 'Kaddish' Happened," Ginsberg himself describes Cowen's typing of his "Kaddish" manuscript as, paradoxically, both uninspiring and influential. As for her typing, Ginsberg characterizes Cowen as an insignificant other, the "girl [he had] known for years and had fitful lovers' relations with" and who simply retyped material from his original typed draft of the poem. Yet he also writes that when Cowen gave him a final typed copy of the manuscript, she critically observed: "You still haven't finished with your mother." (p.120)

Saturday, April 30, 2005


New York Times writer Sarah Boxer drives me nuts, but I thank her today for bringing my attention to UbuWeb and Dial-A-Poem (see the full text of the article below). How did it take me so long to find it? It just goes to show you what's buried there in the deep web, away from the spying eyes of search engines. UbuWeb include some recordings from the 1960s and 1970s by Beat generation women Diane di Prima, Lenore Kandel, Anne Waldman, Helen Adam, and Joanne Kyger.

April 30, 2005

Dial-A-Poem Enters the Internet AgeBy SARAH BOXER

It's 1969; the phone is the medium and the poem is the message. Dial-A-Poem is brand-new. You pick up your phone, dial (212) 628-0400 and hear one of a dozen recorded poems by William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, John Cage or who knows who. The next day there's a fresh dozen. Some are dirty. Some are radical. A lot are about guns. Some really aren't poems at all but songs or rants or sermons.

Millions called. "The busiest time was 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so one figured that all those people sitting at desks in New York office buildings spend a lot of time on the telephone," wrote John Giorno, the founder of Dial-A-Poem. "The second busiest time was 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. ... then the California calls and those tripping on acid or couldn't sleep, 2 a.m. to 6 a.m."

The phones are now long gone, but Dial-A-Poem is still out there waiting for you day and night on the Web. Though it isn't exactly what it used to be, it is as close as you can get.

Dial-A-Poem was first set up at the Architectural League on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "It was one room and 10 phone lines," said Bill Berkson, one of the Dial-A-Poem poets who occasionally minded the store, noting that "the will to subversion was intense."

What callers got was not just three-minute hits of poetry. They got Black Panther speeches, and they got Buddhist mantras. Dial-A-Poem was part of the downtown scene, the antiwar movement and the sexual revolution. "It was agitprop," Ms. Waldman said.

In its brief existence, the phones moved from place to place, off again, on again. By 1971 they were gone.

Now you get Dial-A-Poem by clicking on, one of the subdivisions of UbuWeb, a huge online archive of avant-garde poetry. There you'll see a menu of a dozen Dial-A-Poem albums put out by Giorno Poetry Systems.

One warning (which the site does not provide): many of the poems labeled "Dial-A-Poem" were never on Dial-A-Poem. Those recorded after 1971 were too late for the phone lineup.

You can rip through the early albums, picking and choosing the poets you like or have always wanted to hear.

Burroughs in his dry cackle describes an old Mexican assassin "with eyes the color of a faded gray flannel suit." Diane di Prima talks calmly about the proper use of knives and Molotov cocktails. Clark Coolidge drags out every four-letter word he can think of: taps, buns, keys, cans, arms. Taylor Mead sputters like a motorcycle. Bobby Seale charismatically hates white people, while people cheer. Ms. Waldman singsongs about her sagging spirit at age 26. Jim Carroll coolly reports how he took off his shirt, then his pants, for his coach, when he was 12, to try on a new uniform. "He told me it fit perfectly over my body."

And there's Ginsberg, cheerfully raging against the machine that carries his voice: "I'm a victim of telephone. ... Ring, ring. ... Always a telephone link to all the hearts of the world beating at once, crying, my husband's gone, my boyfriend's busted forever, my poetry was rejected. ... And I lay down back on my pallet ... drowsy, anxious, my heart fearful of the fingers dialing. The deaths, the singing of the telephone bells, ringing at dawn, ringing all afternoon, ringing up midnight, ringing now forever."

Ah, you think to yourself, I can swallow this whole movement in a day. If you don't like a poem or, hey, you get the point already, just click on another selection.
Click. Click. Click. You're in control, and there's the rub. You're not waiting on the telephone to see who in the world is going to whisper or shout in your ear. You're not looking nervously over your shoulder to see if your mother is going to walk in while you're listening.

It's just you now, the gray zip of your QuickTime player and a whole lot of choices. You can listen through headphones or speakers. You can fold laundry while you're at it. You can make a poem repeat over and over. You're the consumer, and you know best.

Was this what Mr. Giorno intended when he created Dial-A-Poem? He would like to think so. He credits Dial-A-Poem with inspiring "dial-for-stock-market-info and dial-for-sports-info services, the explosion of 1-900 telephone promotions, not to mention the delivery of the Internet over phone lines."

In short, if you believe Mr. Giorno, Dial-A-Poem helped spark the world of the Internet. Now the Internet has given Dial-A-Poem back to us. But it's changed, changed utterly.

Every now and then, you get a hint of what the old Dial-A-Poem must have been, a sudden jolt, a vibration in the ear. Brainard sounds like an altar boy: "I remember when girls wore cardigan sweaters on backwards. ... I remember shirt collars turned up in back." He stumbles over the word "mouth," pronouncing it "bouth," and then corrects himself. Brion Gysin's recitation of "I am that I am" makes the Bible sound like Dr. Seuss. Frank O'Hara's voice is crisp and clean, with the hint of a lisp.

So what if it isn't 1969 anymore? So what if browsing your way through the Dial-A-Poem movement isn't radical or chic anymore? It's better than nothing. Three lines from John Cage's "Silence" says it all: "It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else. Here we are now." But then, going somewhere else is what the Internet is all about.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

"So Fucking Uncool"

It would be interesting to track the use of the words "cool" and "uncool" in relation to the Beat generation. I have come across a lot of references in the literature about women of the Beat generation to the fear of seeming "uncool," including the implication in the title of the recent book Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Supposedly, it was uncool to talk too much about one's emotional attachments or to be encumbered by a house and children. Therefore, men were "cool" while women were usually "uncool." Diane di Prima's 1961 poem "The Quarrel" attests to this language being used at the time in this way:

The Quarrel

You know I said to Mark I'm furious at you.

No he said are you bugged. He was drawing Brad who was asleep on the bed.

Yes I said I'm pretty god damned bugged. I sat down by the fire and stuck my feet out to warm them up.

Jesus I thought you think it's so easy. There you sit innocence personified. I didn't say anything else to him.

You know I thought I've got work to do too sometimes. In fact I probably have just as fucking much work to do as you. A piece of wood fell out of the fire and I poked it back in with my toe.

I am sick I said to the woodpile of doing dishes. I am just as lazy as you. Maybe lazier. The top of my shoe was scorched from the fire and I rubbed it where the suede was gone.

Just because I happen to be a chick I thought.

Mark finished one drawing and looked at it. Then he put it down and started another one.

It's damned arrogant of you I thought to assume that only you have things to do. Especially tonight.

And what a god damned concession it was for me to bother to tell you that I was bugged at all I said to the back of his neck. I didn't say it out loud.

I got up and went into the kitchen to do the dishes. And shit I thought I probably won't bother again. But I'll get bugged and not bother to tell you and after a while everything will be awful and I'll never say anything because it's so fucking uncool to talk about it. And that I thought will be that and what a shame.

Hey hon Mark yelled at me from the living room. It says here that Picasso produces fourteen hours a day.

--Diane DiPrima (c) 1961
Taken from No More Masks: An Anthology of Poems by Women


How did this terminology come about? The Oxford English Dictionary has several dated entries for "cool." The most relevant are those below that identify the adjective "cool" as a jazz term from the 1940s and 50s, but I'd love to know more about its use specifically in relation to the Beats.

d. Applied to jazz music: restrained or relaxed in style; also applied to the performer; opp. HOT a. orig. U.S. 1947 (record by Charlie Parker Quartet, Dial 1015) Cool Blues. 1948 Life 11 Oct. 138 Bebop: New Jazz School is Led by Trumpeter Who is Hot, Cool and Gone. 1950 Christian Sci. Monitor 8 Feb. 15 Bop is ‘cool’ jazz in contrast to the ‘hot’ variety of the swing or Dixieland schools. 1953 Melody Maker 9 May 5 Hot and coolyou've got to hear the lot. 1955 L. FEATHER Encycl. Jazz (1956) 30 Cool jazz to most musicians and students denotes the understated, behind-the-beat style typified by the arrangements and soloists on the Davis records. 1957 H. PANASSIÉ in S. Traill Concerning Jazz 61 The ‘cool’ musicians..stopped using the traditional jazz technique and tone. 1962 J. WAIN Strike Father Dead IV. 204 The new developments which were to become first bebop and then just bop and finally cool jazz.

e. Hence, characteristic of those who favour ‘cool’ music; relaxed; unemotional; also used loosely as a general term of approval; cool cat: see CAT n.1 2c. colloq. (orig. U.S.). 1948 New Yorker 3 July 28 The bebop people have a language of their own... Their expressions of approval include ‘cool’! 1953 Time 14 Sept. 68/3 The latest Tin Pan Alley argot, where ‘cool’ means good, ‘crazy’ means wonderful. 1955 N.Y. Times 22 May VI. 19/2 Maybe it's all these new buildings breeding more of these cool Brooks Brothers cats. 1955 Sci. News Let. 1 Oct. 221/2 This is not cool chatter between some young hep-cats in a smoke-filled jazz joint. 1957 Sunday Mail (Glasgow) 10 Feb. 11 Gonethe best, in the top rung, the coolest. 1958 Observer 23 Nov. 16/3 On one side was the frenetic..bumptiousness of the rock-'n'-rollers, on the other the calculated indifference of the cool cats. 1959 Ibid. 25 Oct. 29/8 They got long, sloppy haircuts and wide knot ties and no-press suits with fat lapels. Very cool.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wikipeida addi(c)tion

Just returned an hour or so ago from a talk by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. I wanted to hear more about the ideas behind Wikipedia (free content) and the model for making it happen (quality control, regulation), but the topic of the discussion was the Digital Divide, and Jimmy stuck pretty closely to that. However, I felt inspired upon my return to start adding to the Beat generation entry based on the research I've been doing this semester. I just finished the entry for Joyce Johnson, and will return in the next few days to Hettie Jones and Carolyn Cassady. There are stubs already in place for these entries...they just need to be populated. I can't believe I've become such a tech nerd!

P.S. There's even a picture of me in the audience.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Kerouac: Ex-Husband, Ingrate

On the subject of Jack Kerouac's wives, I can't help but reprint here this line lifted from the Publishers Weekly review of Nobody's Wife: The Smart Aleck and the King of the Beats (nb. there's a misspelling in the title on Amazon's page).

“Haverty Kerouac...has mellowed since her article "My Ex-Husband, Jack Kerouac, Is an Ingrate" ran in Confidential magazine...”

I must track down that article! Some brief unreliable web searches reveal that the piece was probably published in 1961 and may be ghost-written. A quick search in FirstSearch WorldCat does not yield a likely match for Confidential magazine.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Frankie Edie Kerouac Parker (or something like that)

Frankie "Edie" Parker-Kerouac remains somewhat of a publishing mystery. I had been under the impression that Jack Kerouac's first wife never published anything, until I stumbled across Kerouac and the Beats: A Primary Sourcebook, edited by the tireless Arthur and Kit Knight. That book does the great disservice of including a very impartial citation for what appears to be an excerpt of a longer work. All we get is: "Jack & Neal in Grosse Pointe" from You'll Be Okay. Copyright (c) 1987 by Frankie Edith Kerouac Parker [sic]. That's it. Nothing else. Going back through my pile of books, I find an entirely different passage, but thankfully, a more complete citation in Richard Peabody's A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation:

"The excerpt from Frankie "Edie" Kerouac-Parker's memoir You'll Be Okay is used by permission of publisher M. L. Liebler. Copyright (c) 1987 by the Ridgeway Press of Michigan."

A little different than the Knight's citation, and STILL I can't find any book called You'll Be Okay. I search Worldcat FirstSearch for "Ridgeway Press," but all I find that could possibly be related is the same record I've retrieved over and over again when searching the author's name:

To William S. Burroughs : essays & poems /
F E Kerouac-Parker1987
English Book [1], 10, [1] p. ; 22 cm.
Roseville, Mich. : Ridgeway Press,
To William S. Burroughs :essays & poems /
Remembering Mrs. William Seward Burroughs, Joan Vollmer Adams -- Seventy white candles in the limelight -- To Bill -- Save the frescoes.
"Celebrating the River City Reunion in Lawrence, Kansas, September 1987."
by Frankie "Edie" Kerouac-Parker.

There are only 5 libraries worldwide that own this item, and I'm not entirely sure it's one and the same, but it's the closest I've been able to come.

Damn you Frankie / Edie / Edith / Kerouac-Parker / Kerouac / Kerouac Parker for having so many different names!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Female Characters in Kerouac's Novels

Jack Kerouac wrote all of the women in his life into his books. There are several character keys online, none of which I can currently prove as accurate. I haven't read Kerouac's books in years(though it's on my list to read Ann Charters' introduction to the 1991 edition), but I thought it would be interesting for those who remember Kerouac's narratives to put the real names together with the fictional ones. There are others (Jack's mother, Alene Lee, the Cassady daughters, Neal Cassady's first wife, LuAnne Henderson), but these are the women whom I've referred to previously in the blog. This list is lifted from Empty Mirror Books, a Beat tribute site and seller of books and ephemera:

On the Road - Camille
Visions of Cody - Evelyn

Desolation Angels - Barbara Lipp

Desolation Angels - Alyce Newman

On the Road - Laura

Big Sur - Romana Swartz

The Town and the City - Judie Smith
Visions of Cody - Elly
Vanity of Duluoz - Edna "Johnnie" Palmer

On the Road - Jane
The Subterraneans - Jane
The Town and the City - Mary Dennison
Vanity of Duluoz - June