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

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Jews and Counter Culture

Has anyone ever written about the fact that many of the Beat women were Jewish? ruth weiss, Elise Cowen, Hettie (Cohen) Jones, Joyce (Glassman) Johnson. There were others, too: Liza Williams, who changed her name from Liz Lehrman and was a lover of Lucien Carr, and Ann Charters, Beat biographer.

I’m not referring here to issues of religion and spirituality. The Beats, both male and female, were affiliated most closely with Buddhism. However, it does strike me as notable that, during an era now known for its strictures around gender relations, marriage, sexuality, femininity, and domesticity, many of the women breaking the mold were Jews. This may be a reflection of class as much as of ethnicity. The Beats were, after all, mostly middle class men rebelling against a post-war materialist culture. They all flirted with working-class identities, but Neal Cassady was the only one who lived it, and it was partly for this that he was idealized by the others.

Many of the women were the same. Their families were respectable middle-class families. What strikes me as interesting is that the Jewish families, having only recently obtained their middle-class status and still living in a distinctly anti-Semitic country, had a lot more to lose with their daughters’ rebellions. And this makes their rebellions all the more profound. According to Joyce Johnson, who writes in Minor Characters of her friendship with Elise Cowen, Cowen’s parents had (at least created the semblance of) the perfect home and perfect marriage, and they felt that their daughter was the only thing sullying it. They were so appalled at the revelations of bisexuality in her poetry that they burned the majority of her manuscripts after her suicide. Hettie Cohen’s family completely disowned her when she took up with the black LeRoi Jones.

Johnson briefly touches on anti-Semitism in Minor Characters. Cowen’s work is mostly lost to us and/or unpublished, so it’s hard to say what she dealt with in her writing. Her friend, Leo Skir, is in possession of all that’s left. He lent several unpublished poems to Women of the Beat Generation, including one entitled “Teacher—Your Body My Kabbalah.” However, this poem may reflect more her obsession with Ginsberg than her own tackling of spirituality. ruth weiss stands apart from the others, being a generation older and a refugee from Germany: her family escaped Berlin in 1936 on one of the last trains to Vienna. weiss definitely writes about this experience in her poems, such as in Single Out, excerpted in Women of the Beat Generation. Hettie Jones is the only one who substantively tackles her Jewish identity, both in her memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, and in her poetry. Take a look at this poem:

having an argument with him, her boyfriend, he said
when you grow up you’ll go to live in Mamaroneck
with Marjorie Morningstar
and she couldn’t envision it. When he insisted
she grew afraid—what did he know?
(Drive 13)

Ronna C. Johnson discusses this poem in Breaking the Rule of Cool: “In this recognition of the threat of white middle-class women’s suffocating fate, defined in the allusion to Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar, bohemia seems to be a sole and redemptive alternative.” (p. 31)

Jews have a long history of advocating for socialism, labor rights, anarchism. The Beats were certainly no political group, but the rebellion involved in getting there--in dropping out of college (Joyce Johnson failed her graduation from Barnard by one gym class), taking drugs, going on the road, exploring your sexuality, pursuing a literary life--meant giving up family and security and all of those things that new immigrants work so hard to obtain. Perhaps it’s simplistic to project this history onto these women, but I haven’t been able to find anything written on the subject, so I thought I’d throw it out there as a potential paper topic.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Below are samples of some of the Library of Congress subject headings that popped up in my searches. You can get a sense by glancing at the headings which authors/figures have a richer bibliographic life:

Beat generation.
Beat generation--Bibliography.
Beat generation--Biography.
Beat generation -- California -- San Francisco.
Beat generation -- Congresses.
Beat generation--Dictionaries.
Beat generation--Fiction.
Beat generation--Interviews.
Beat generation--Literary collections.
Beat generation--Pictorial works.
Beat generation--Poetry.
Beat generation in literature -- Congresses.

Bremser, Bonnie, 1939-

Cassady, Carolyn.

Charters, Ann

Di Prima, Diane Childhood and youth.
Di Prima, Diane Family.
Di Prima, Diane Homes and haunts New York (State) New York.
Di Prima, Diane Manuscripts Facsimiles.

Johnson, Joyce, 1935-

Jones, Hettie.
Baraka, Imamu Amiri, 1934- --Marriage.
Authors' spouses--United States--Biography.

Kandel, Lenore

Kaufman, Eileen Kohl -- Interviews.

Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 --Bibliography.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 -- Congresses.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 --Relations with women.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 Marriage.
Kerouac, Joan, d. 1990 Marriage.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 Friends and associates Portraits.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 Family.

Kerouac, Jan, 1952- (date of death not noted)

Kyger, Joanne Diaries.
Kyger, Joanne Travel India.
Kyger, Joanne Travel Japan.

McClure, Joanna.

Pommy-Vega, Janine.
Pommy-Vega, Janine Travel.

Waldman, Anne, 1945-

Weiss, Ruth, 1928- -- Interviews.

American poetry--20th century.American literature--20th century.
American literature--20th century--Bio-bibliography--Dictionaries.
Authors, American--20th century--Biography--Dictionaries.
American literature--20th century--Dictionaries.
American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism -- Congresses.
American literature--20th century--History and criticism--Pictorial works.
American literature--20th century--History and criticism--Theory, etc.
American literature--Women authors.
American literature--Women authors--History and criticism.
Authors, American -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Authors, American--20th century--Biography.
Authors, American--20th century--Interviews.
Authors, American--20th century--Portraits.

Bohemianism--United States--Dictionaries.
Bohemianism--United States--Pictorial works.

Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)--Fiction.

Young women--Fiction.

Women and literature--United States.
Women and literature--United States--History--20th century.
Women artists--Fiction.Women artists--United States--Biography.
Women artists -- United States -- Correspondence.
Women authors, American--Biography.
Women authors, American--Interviews.
Women authors -- Interviews.
Women in literature -- Congresses.
Women poets -- Interviews.
Women publishers -- United States -- Correspondence.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Death of the Beat Generation?

I can’t keep writing without mentioning the recent deaths of Philip Lamantia and Robert Creeley. They don’t fit into my exploration of Beat women, per se, though they help to illustrate a key point.

Different versions of Robert Creeley’s obituary call him a “poet identified with the Beats” (Scripps Howard News Service), a “Black Mountain poet” (London Times), and “postmodern” (Washington Post and CBC). You would never have squarely called Robert Creeley a Beat poet because there is no current social movement called Beat. That post-war phenomenon came and went. Robert Creeley passed through the poetic movement called Beat, through the Black Mountain Poets, and came out the other side unscathed. He was a working poet.

Beat women, however, are stuck in a has-been time, forever to be identified and labeled Beat. Now, I would never compare any of these women’s work to Robert Creeley’s. He was a first-rate poet; probably one of our greatest living poets. But even the more obscure Philip Lamantia, who was part of the famous 6 Poets at 6 Gallery reading in 1955 that catapulted the Beats into the public view, is not pinned down in his obituary to that movement. He is referred to as “one of the founding Beat generation poets,” (Miami Herald) and a poet who “associated himself with the West Coast Beat community” (New York Times).

It seems to me that the writers among these women carry a double burden: to correct the historical misconception that Beat encompassed only white men, and to continue writing original work, putting themselves on the literary map. Then again, perhaps it benefits them to have that marketing tag slapped on them. To read more about how "Beat" women perceive themselves today, see Nancy Grace’s interviews in Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers and Ann Charters’ interviews in Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation?.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Widening the Net

Most of the sourcebooks and criticism on Beat women focus on the group of women whose bibliographies I’ve been mining, those ones that Ronna C. Johnson identified in Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Beat Women Writers as the “second generation.”

Richard Peabody, however, in A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation opens up the definition of Beat women to include a whole slew of additional figures:

Mimi Albert
Sandra Hochman
Kay Johnson
Eileen Kaufman
Frankie “Edie” Kerouac-Parker (Jack Kerouac’s first wife)
Jan Kerouac (Jack Kerouac’s daughter)
Joan Haverty Kerouac (Jack Kerouac’s second wife)
Fran Landesman
Barbara Moraff
Brigid Murnaghan
Margaret Randall
Laura Ulewicz

This list goes above and beyond “the writers, artists, and muses” featured in Brenda Knight’s Women of the Beat Generation. I’ve spoken briefly before about Frankie “Edie” Kerouac Parker, Joan Haverty Kerouac (author of the memoir Nobody’s Wife: The Smart Aleck and the King of the Beats, published posthumously by her daughter), and Jan Kerouac (author of two fictionalized memoirs: Baby Driver and Trainsong). Eileen Kaufman, like Hettie Jones, was a white woman who married a black man, though in this case her husband Bob Kaufman was already half-black/half-Jewish. The others are mostly new to me. Barbara Moraff was one of four women featured in 1963 in Four Young Lady Poets, edited by LeRoi Jones and Eli Wilentz. And in bookmarking the measly pages in Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich Village devoted to pictures of women, I did stumble across a few of Brigid Murnaghan. Particularly amusing (and, I'm sure, scandalous at the time) is this one of Murnaghan carrying her baby daughter into a bar in broad daylight, 1959. (The bar was the infamous Kettle of Fish, and I believe 1959 was the same year that Bob Dylan started playing there).

Peabody acknowledges that “many Beat purists wouldn’t make the same choices or selections” (p.2), and offers several sources for his rationale. One is Jim Burns’s article on “Beat Women” published in the magazine Beat Scene #16. The magazine comes out of London, and I recently ordered my copy online….it should be here any day now.