October 15, 2014

Dedicated by -- or to -- the Beats

There's nothing quite like a good book dedication, that brush with mystique which you encounter, if you're lucky, opening a new book. And yet, for all the times you come across book lovers exalting the smell of books, the feel of books (I did recently spot one new and genial appreciation of the pleasure of books -- "They don't catch on my braces!"), you rarely encounter celebrations of the well-written dedication. Which, I might point out, is even more valuable for being an attribute any book may boast, no matter its form: print, electronic, or even read aloud.

I've made it a tradition to post, every year, the standouts among the dedications I've discovered at the library over the previous twelve months. They've included one to a typewriter (noir, of course, both the novel being dedicated and the typewriter it was dedicated to) and one to absinthe drinkers, and the authors who composed them have ranged from Edward Gorey to JD Salinger, not forgetting Hunter S Thompson.

There's a Beat theme to this year's finds -- wholly unplanned, I hasten to say, as befits the Beats.

Here they are:

1.  From  Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouacsyndetics-lc

   Dedicated to America, whatever that is

Reading On the Road when I was a teenager rates as one of the most exciting reading experiences of my life, but I'd never tried Visions of Cody, Kerouac's later, posthumously published hymn to Neal Cassady and to those days on the road when the highs were still coming easy, until this year, following a slow, appreciative read of Big Sur. I skipped large swathes which I found too intemperate (who changed more? Jack? me? probably me), but the last 50 pages held, and did they hold.

The Penguin edition I found at the library also includes wonderful, sad, notes provided by Allen Ginsberg, where he calls the book "a dirge for America... for the American Hope that Jack (& his hero Neal) carried so valiantly through the land after Whitman..."

Kerouac himself suggests in his foreword, "This feeling may soon be obsolete as America enters its High Civilization period and no one will get sentimental or poetic any more about trains and dew on fences at dawn in Missouri."

Not yet, though, Jack, not yet!

My sentimental snap of Beat wheels by the Mississippi River
Hannibal, Missouri, 2012

syndetics-lc2.  From These are my rivers by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The owner of the fabled City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the publisher who gave us Howl, the poet who sang of the pennycandy store beyond the El, 95 years old this year, prefaced a collection of almost 40 years of his poetry with these lines:

various brothers & lovers
eternally present

The book's title, These are my rivers, is taken from a bittersweet and nostalgic poem by the Italian modernist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, Questi sono i miei fiumi, in which he evokes the phases of his life by naming the rivers which flowed through them, the Serchio of his ancestral home in Lucca, the Nile of his childhood, the Seine of his youth, and the Isonzo, the river which runs through the devastated Carso where Italian troops, Ungaretti among them, had fought a series of terrible battles against the Austrians during World War One.

Ferlinghetti quotes the poem in his book's epigraph:

Ho ripassato
le epoche
della mia vita

Questi sono
i miei fiumi...

[I have revisited
the ages
of my life

These are
my rivers...]

(You can read the whole of Ungaretti's poem here.)

3. From Odysseus in Woolloomooloo by Bob Orr

   to the mysteries

Just three words on the otherwise all white third page of this fine new poetry collection, just out this year. 

Bob Orr is the most beat of New Zealand poets, and if you don't believe me, check out this picture.

Bob Orr's Odysseus in Woolloomooloo in the window of  the City Lights Bookstore

The year I moved to New Zealand, I came across Bob Orr's own "The Names of Rivers" in The NZ Listener. I ripped it out (no, it wasn't a library copy) and still have it, over ten years later. Read it and you'll see why.

The Names of Rivers

The names of rivers
suggest them:
The Nile weaving its scaly blue coolness
serpent like from Africa's hot heart.
The Mississippi each syllable a broadening
of its passage to the ocean.
The Amazon hallucinogenic as the zircon flight
of butterflies above its jewelled rain forest.
Those are the big rivers
the ones we all were taught about
but I would like to take you
to a small creek
whose taste I still recall --
a slight rustiness on the tongue
like old steel or blood. The Mangawara.
I would like to be able to say
that this creek runs through my life
runs through my poems. In fact until
the age of twelve it did.
not a river so much as water.
Not water so much as something as simple as time
perhaps even timelessness. Where I live now
the water is salty and it's blue and huge beyond belief
and you would drink of it only to stop
something from within yourself from bleeding.

Bob Orr has a wonderful poem about panel beating Neal Cassady's car, which ends,

Tomorrow with the tiny hammers of a typewriter
I'll make this poem cool again
As if it were a car once stolen in America by Neal Cassady

-- I think it's that one I found in a parking lot along the Mississippi River, panel beaten roof and all.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:23


  1. I recently read a terrific coming-of-age novel called Looking for Jack Kerouac, by Barbara Shoup. I highly recommend it.

    1. A literary breakout adventure should be a part of everyone's growing up! I was reading about how Patricia Highsmith, growing up in New York, dreamed of stowing away on a ship after reading Joseph Conrad. I've requested Looking for JK -- thanks! I love recommendations.


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