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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kerouac Sketching Out America



from Book of Sketches
Jack Kerouac

  Ah Neal--the shaggy
whiteface cows are
arranged in stooped
  dejected feed, necks
  bent, upon the earth
  that has a several
mood under several
  skies & openings--Ah
  the sad dry Land ground
  that's open between
grasses whip't bald
by the endless Winds--
  the clouds are bunched
up on the Divide of
the horizon, are shining
  upon they city--the
little fences are lonely--

The commentary made in a journal entry on an earlier passage works as well for this:

There is about this a poetic
naivete that is endearing because
it is undemanding. The lines break
where the lines break without much
thought of rule or order or consequence
or meaning or rhythm or any of the other
guiding lights of well-considered
poetry--and yet because it lacks
these almost by design, it has an
kind of swinging, free and open
rhythm--a movement all its own and
not replicable without trying
and trying would lose the naivete
of the whole.  I don’t know if
the whole book will flow that way
if the whole book will say things
in ways that make perfect sense
and do not ask you to strain
beyond the break of lines to
understand what the poet has in mind.
I would not say they are without depth
but I would say that they are depthless
and inspiring--words that capture
the quotidian and real--neither
insulting it by raising it falsely to
the level of poetry nor denigrating it
as unpoetic in itself.  The details
of a day unwrap their own poetry.

I do not know if Kerouac is a "great" writer.  I've come to think that the phrase has little or no meaning.  A great writer for any person is the writer who speaks to that person and summons them up to a higher level of experience and performance--be that St. John the Divine or Rod McKuen.  We have writers we prefer and we tend to think of them as great, largely because we prefer them.  But greatness is a kind of moot and unnecessary point.  What matter is how I allow the reading to change my life or if I allow it to do so.  Do I allow it to broaden me as a person so that I come to know and understand things differently--or do I allow it to pass by, with me as passive observer.  With most of my "candy" reading it is the latter.  There is nothing wrong with candy, but a steady diet of it palls.  And sometimes even so-called "greats" are little more than candy.



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