An American literary critic said if it was not for the Beat writers, Bob Dylan wouldn’t have existed. He also said if it was not for the Beat writers, there would be no counterculture movement during the 1960s.
For all the criticism the Beat writers faced during their time, song-writing geniuses like Bob Dylan praised them. Dylan was bosom friends with American poet Allen Ginsberg.
Ann Charters with her biography on Jack Kerouac sought to bring to clarity literary qualities of the writer despite all scepticism.
She traces the story of Kerouac’s life right from the time when he was in the army health-wise being unfit. Kerouac then left and worked in various small jobs.
He immersed himself in books of Buddhism and Hinduism later finding that his friend Ginsberg was also into the same. Hence they developed a bond engaging in intellectual debate on the subjects.
Kerouac was no stranger to literature for he read a lot throughout his childhood, and especially during his twenties.
Although it is hard to pinpoint which writer or which book started the genre of Beat literature, the media has always leaned in its view that Kerouac’s On The Road was the pioneer.
But life was not easy for Kerouac. Financially depending on his mother, he was broke and unemployed. Reading the biography book, I related to the events in his life as I was also struggling to get a job.
There were times when Kerouac had no home to seek shelter in and where he knocked the doors of friends’ houses asking them for money. Gregory Corso, one of the Beat poets, both helped and tricked him. Corso left Kerouac in an isolated position where he was helpless.
Kerouac hitch-hiked through many cities in America, eventually settling in Greenwich Village, New York. Greenwich Village had singer-songwriters like Dave Van Ronk, Jackson C Frank and Bob Dylan performing in various coffee houses.
It was the Beat poets like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Corso who introduced the improvisational rhythms and beats of jazz into poetry. They took poetry to another level reciting them to the accompaniment of a saxophonist, pianist and trumpeter playing jazz. These poems were read in coffee houses where the audience voluntarily contributed coins.
Kerouac, throughout his adult life, wrote a lot. This gave me hope. During the years when I was unemployed, my poems and essays got published in six publications. Kerouac never gave up pursuing publishers with his manuscripts.
Though he got rejected many a time, he kept on persevering with reading and writing. Kerouac also at this time was addicted to the drug Benzedrine because of health problems.
Life is about never giving up. Kerouac, though being a junkie, was very creative. In his thirties he had already written many manuscripts.
He first made a name as a poet. The Beat poets were highly controversial for writing without restraint on sensitive topics. They were open about sex and drugs. This somehow led to the birth of the hippie generation who rebelled against the rat race and consumerism in America.
Memere (as Kerouac lovingly called his mother) helped him survive with the small salary she earned from the shoe factory. Infact, Memere never lost hope with her son. Though she couldn’t understand most of what he wrote, she praised him.
With her simplicity and unassumingness she was the quiet listener of Kerouac’s dreams for a future.
Kerouac got some books published by publishers but he was not paid well. To compensate this he regularly contributed to journals and magazines.
It was in New Mexico that he desired to work on his magnum opus. Isolating himself in his hotel room, he sat with his typewriter and typed and typed throughout the night.
He dwelled in memories of hitchhiking through various cities of America struggling as a poet and writer being unemployed. But there was beauty in the character he created for the character was one who inspired courage and hope, the very mark of a hero.
The novel then got published receiving critical acclaim and became a national bestseller. Its name was On The Road.
Kerouac finally had the big break he longed for. With the money, he bought a house for his mother and kept producing more novels.
Reading suggestions for the week:
1. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
2. The Naked Lunch by
William S Burroughs