I like the beatniks. It started, like for a lot of people, with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and from there I dived into William S. Burroughs Junky. Had to digest that one for a while. And then found my way to some more Kerouac and of course, Allen Ginsberg.
Wait till I’m Dead
Last year I set out to read more poetry and I started with the ever-wonderful Allen Ginsberg and his ‘uncollected poems’ Wait till I’m Dead, published in 2016. I have read a bunch of Allen’s City Lights Pocket Poets series books, but this was a nice overview of his work throughout his career. Turns out that all my favorite poems are from the 70s and 80s. Guess I like the older Ginsberg 🙂
So of course I was very happy to find Sam Kashner’s book When I was Cool (published in 2004) about his time as the first student in the Jack Kerouac school of disembodied poetics in the 70s. Sam gave me a little more context on Allen’s life at the time.
When I was Cool by Sam Kashner
Having read quite a few of the books by the beatniks, it is super interesting for me to get another layer of information and another perspective on their work and the people themselves.
This is why one of my favourite books is Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady, the wife of Neal. In her memoir, she reveals what the people close to the beats were doing while Neal, Jack, Allen and others were on their big adventures. And what the adventurers did in between the book-worthy times.
Sam’s memories are from later times, more specifically 1975 to 77. A time when Allen and Bill Burroughs have been famous for two decades. The adventures and drugs that inspired their work are now more of a burden to them and their close ones. Sam, like Carolyn, paints a much more tragic picture of the men that have inspired generations. Though it is in some ways heartbreaking, it doesn’t take away from the original works of Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouak. Their younger selves – the heroes of their own works – stand apart from the real, struggling human beings. Except for Bill Burroughs maybe. It seems like he was a grumpy old man his whole life.
But Allen and Neal will always be “dancing down the streets like dingledodies” and Jack will always be following them with his notepad.