in the falling...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Jack Kerouac

- from American Haiku

            Snap your finger
               stop the world -
            rain falls harder.

            No telegram today
               only more leaves

            All day long
               wearing a hat
            that wasn't on my head.

- from Book of Haiku

            The taste
               of rain
            —Why kneel?

            In my medicine cabinet,
               the winter fly
            has died of old age.

- from The Northport Haiku

            O for Vermont again -
               The barn on an Autumn night

            Whatever it is, I quit
               - now I'll let my
            breath out -


Learning to master the small is the way to enlarge the whole. That’s the gift –

Kerouac, in 1958, recorded a number of haiku – with a backing track provided by the great saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Their blendings create a perfect atmosphere for the lines. Words and music in a swirl – & the occasional snapping of Kerouac’s fingers – that is especially moving. With the dead fly, the music isn’t somber exactly, but does give me an emotional pause for the loss of all such seemingly insignificant creatures in the universe. That is Kerouac in his most essential mode – bringing life to the tiny bits around him.

The recordings aside, I find so much pleasure in his language. “Whatever it is, I quit” is like soul communicating with soul. Personal, direct, inflaming. Kerouac’s language forces me to examine myself – creating my world as I go: “wearing a hat / that [isn’t] on my head”. The presence of rain or water in these words always cleanses, always purifies.

Yet, I do read his works with an infinite sadness. The same words that gave him life – thudding against all literature that followed – did him in.


The voice ...

Recommended recordings: The Jack Kerouac Collection (Rhino, 1990) and Kerouac — Kicks Joy Darkness (Rykodisc, 1997) … the latter includes contributions by such diverse voices as Hunter S. Thompson, Warren Zevon, Lydia Lunch, William S. Burroughs, Morphine, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Maggie Estep


Pamela said...

My students consistently vote for Kerouac's "fly" haiku as their favorite one--it's definitely one to teach. I have new ideas on more Kerouac now. Thanks again for your posts--they inspire me and (hopefully) my students.

These will pair up nicely with Snyder's "Hitch Haiku."


Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read Pamela.