Time to report on some interesting new books. First up are two venerable poets, both publishing new works in unusual formats. Robert Creeley has collected the results of an email correspondence with a group of SUNY Buffalo poetry students into a fresh and sophisticated short volume, Day Book of a Virtual Poet. Good emails often make fascinating texts, and this is an excellent experiment in this new form.
More affectionate and less academic is a new, freewheeling book-length ode to a classic Beat: ‘The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg: A Narrative Poem‘ by Ed Sanders. There is something sweet and wonderful in the fact that Sanders felt inspired to honor his friend and compatriot in such a heroic manner. As for the poem itself, it is very much in the Ed Sanders vein — modest, exploratory, quirky and highly human.
Novelist, poet and multimedia artist Charles Plymell is represented by a comprehensive new anthology covering his entire career. ‘Hand on the Doorknob‘ is full of personal notes on the true-life characters Plymell has worked with during his decades in the artistic underground, from Robert Crumb to Neal Cassady. It also serves to showcase his own strong, musical voice as a writer and poet.
Jack Kerouac remains an eternally interesting subject, and two books contribute a few new perspectives: Selected Letters, 1957-1969, is the second, concluding volume in the carefully researched series by Ann Charters. One-time Kerouac girlfriend Joyce Johnson, who had previously published her memoir of the relationship, has now published a volume of their letters to each other, ‘Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters‘.
‘Word Virus‘, the extensive and authoritative William S. Burroughs collection, is now out in paperback.
The two most interesting new books both describe groups of Beat writers working together in particular places. ‘The Beat Hotel‘ by Barry Miles captures a spontaneous burst of strange creativity that occured while Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso were all slumming (and escaping the madness of their growing American fame) in a Paris hotel during the late fifties and early sixties. This was a fruitful and fascinating minor moment in Beat history, well deserving of the detailed attention this book provides.
In terms of locale, the Beats were wonderfully bipolar, constantly shooting back and forth between urban squalor and mountainous desolation. The “nature consciousness” side of the Beat legacy is well treated in Rod Phillips new study, ‘Forest Beatniks and Urban Thoreaus.’ The book focuses specifically on Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Lew Welch, and Michael McClure. (My only complaint is the $45.95 price — what the hell is up with that? Great way to ensure that the book completely misses it’s potential audience.)
Now, will somebody complete the trilogy and write a book about the Beats in suburbia? I’m imagining chapters on Neal Cassady in San Jose, Kerouac in Northport, Long Island, and Ginsberg out there with Carl Solomon in Rockland …