Archives For April 2013

Jack Kerouac Shipped Out from Perth Amboy

perth amboy

In Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 by Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson, Kerouac writes to Joyce, “It was a good thing you didn’t come back on the ship with me because it only went to big gas tank barges off Perth Amboy.” Kerouac was headed on the Yugoslavian freighter to North Africa on a Sunday, February 15, 1957, and would meet William Burroughs in Tangier.
Joyce Johnson writes in Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir, “I was going to stay on board all night and leave in the morning before the Slovenia went on to Perth Amboy to take in fuel.”
Perth Amboy, New Jersey: tankers, tugs, barges, oil refineries, storage tanks and towers, a massive smelting and refinery company, cooper works, cable works, dry docks. What type of date would Joyce and Jack have had in the late 1950s? Being that he was mostly always broke, she could have bought him hot dogs downtown at the Coney Island restaurant or from a pushcart. They could have walked along the waterfront on the boat basin wooden piers and climbed the stairs of Bayview Park, ambled along streets lined with big old houses and mature trees or strolled on the beach, checked out the colonial cemetery at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (1685), or taken a look at numerous synagogues, Catholic churches, Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, Byzantine rite churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran churches.
They could have stopped at taverns and saloons and bars, plenty of those. In fact, Harbor Light tavern was right on the waterfront with a backyard and boat slip looking out at Raritan Bay across from Staten Island. Jack probably would have felt quite at home and the drinks were cheap, cheaper than New York. With its immigrant mix: Irish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Slavic, Scandinavian, Jewish, Italian, established African Americans, newly arrived Puerto Ricans, and even a few French
-Canadians, in some ways with its red-brick factories, Perth Amboy had similarities to Lowell, both Northeastern industrial cities (Lowell twice as large in area and population) with all-important rivers that provided both an identity and a livelihood for its residents.
Joyce could have gone shopping in the downtown area where there were several furriers, hat shops, dress shops, lingerie shops, jewelers, fabric stores, a department store, furniture stores, hardware stores, five-and-tens, bakeries—a Jewish bakery that sold famed rye bread and kosher butchers—but being that Joyce was bohemian and secular, Jack and Joyce could have spent time digging the locals at the train station with trains headed to New York City or south to the shore, and they may have seen bums or even a hobo—they certainly would have seen rough characters—or they could have walked over the Outerbridge or taken the ferry to Staten Island and bought farm-fresh eggs or gone horseback riding. Or they could have hopped on a bus and gone back to New York (about twenty-five miles north).
They could have browsed in the record store or stopped at a coffee shop or a soda fountain or maybe the farmer’s market to buy a chicken or vegetables. Whatever they did, there would have been things to do and something to write about. Or being that Jack and Joyce were bookish, they could have gone to the Perth Amboy Library and read the newspapers. And if Jack was looking (who, Jack?), he probably would have seen a few dark fellaheen beauties.
On Jack’s ocean-bound ship from New York, perhaps the route taken was through the Kill Van Kull—a tidal strait between Staten Island and Bayonne that connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay—past the Arthur Kill ship graveyard, and through the Arthur Kill—a major navigational channel of the Port of New York and New Jersey, with its numerous fuel and chemical storage facilities. After the ship fueled up, it headed for the high seas from Raritan Bay to the open Atlantic.

“The barge…was beaten…beat…”
Antony and Cleopatra
Act II, Scene II

(GK Stritch was raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and her family has lived there for four generations.)
(“Headed for the High Seas” groovy jazz by seaman Victor Deribeprey)

Life & Death

Twin horns beat against the backdrop
Twin horns dancing
To their own song
Twin horns color an otherwise
Black night
Pale street lights hug trash in the middle of the road
A winos lips grab that last gulp
Never enough despite being told its too much by so many
The twin horns remain
Always in sync
Despite the separation
Of time, space, and understanding

Lewisham Visitation

A football oval somewhere –––– long verdurous grass growing thick from good soil.
By the footpath concrete, sitting, watching the ancestor of an illegal dutch immigrant,
Who last week just lost it and sat on his desk upside down in a rage,
And the kindergarten teacher with her dog,
A small little animal with short curled fur and a grinning mouth,
And slow-like, the thin strips of velvet silver smoke ascend into the blue air
Twirling infinite-fold in curlicue pirouettes rising rising into broader strokes across the air
That encompasses even the entire oval and the smoke dematerializes
A few inches above my fingers,
Widen yr aperture let me see the sunset in yr eye all red and beautiful as the world goes to sleep in yr

Wither goes the dutchman? Thither goes the sex-monkey
Driven wild by the sight of a schoolboy,
And slow now, there passes a
Brown-haired girl,
With prosodic grace
And bhikkhuni simplicity. . .
While somnolent and watchful the bell tower pokes its head curiously above the clouds,
And ululates its paean of creation and worldly grandeur
To vibrate across a purple sky
Purple sky all round the world at that moment while
Over in France,
They hum the melody–
Ma, visitation of the sun not forgotten,
Forever in my browning skin,
Ni, sundry planets suspend themselves,
and look up from their darkness
Everybody looking up in the universe
No one looking down
At the lights that glitter so good
From this cushioned

Cat in Bop Hat

Take all blank nights at country blue grass blues
To spend one digging cat in be hat
At Five Spot
You haven’t heard Monk
Till ye seen him
Thump! Bump! Bump! Thump!
Hip jazz angel
Hop essential
Harp the bass
Hype the place
Tip the daisy
Pull the cup
Fly the kite
Thing One
Thing Two
Blew blue
Boo Boo
Birthday cup and a cake
Sally forth
To you
(In celebration of national jazz appreciation and poetry month [April, USA], here is the poem “Cat in Bop Hat” using references from Thelonious Monk compositions, the Ginsberg, Kerouac, Cassady poem “Pull My Daisy,” and the Dr. Seuss children’s book “The Cat in the Hat.”)

Big Sur Trailer

With the success of On the Road, all eyes are now on the next adaptation of a Kerouac novel: Big Sur.


Bill Morgan’s Walking Tour “Allen Ginsberg in the East Village”

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Many thanks to Bill Morgan, author and Allen Ginsberg bibliographer and archivist, and Grey Art Gallery, New York University, for the Saturday, April 6, 2013, 2:00 pm walking tour “Allen Ginsberg in the East Village.”
Gracious Bill Morgan led the tour and focused on the best known photographs of Allen Ginsberg, and the locations where the photos were taken. The group met at the northeast corner of Washington Square Park on a sunny, 50 degree spring day and headed east to always crowded and busy (especially on Saturday afternoons) St. Mark’s Place, where Carl Solomon lived and Gem Spa, the corner store where Allen purchased his daily The New York Times—the paper he loved to hate, and apparently, The Times reciprocated those feelings for many years.
Mr. Morgan provided ample anecdotes of Allen’s history of photography and his relationship with the photographer Robert Frank, who advised Allen that the best photos always show the subject’s hands. Allen was keenly interested in people and highly valued friendships, so his subjects were mainly of his friends. He liked photographing them in their natural urban settings, city streets, apartment interiors, and local all-night East Village eateries, such as the un-fancy Kiev.
Morgan brought with him copies of the famed photos that he passed along to the group: Jack Kerouac on the fire escape at 206 East 7th Street, howling Jack in front of the statue of Samuel S. Cox in Tompkins Square Park, Jack walking by St. Stanislaus Church, Vazak’s Bar,
and East Village apartments that Allen called home for most of his adult life. Allen lived at 437 East 12th Street for twenty years from 1975 until 1996, but was forced to move because of failing health. He could no longer climb stairs, and was taken to task for “selling out,” by buying an apartment—with funds obtained from archives sold to Stanford University—in an elevator building, his final residence at 405 13th Street. It was there that he took his last photo of Peter Orlovsky and Robert Frank, and that was about the end of the Beats in New York City.
Allen the bard enjoyed providing captions to the photos, and never used the same caption twice, even if there were thousands of photos of the same subject, such as the view from his window of the back courtyard on East 12th Street. It was a place where Allen had many visitors, world renowned poets and his cherished friend, Bob Dylan. There was no doorbell in the building, so visitors announced themselves by yelling up, and Allen responded by throwing a sock down that contained the key.
Before East Village gentrification, the neighborhoods were rough with high crime and a brisk drug trade. Allen was mugged and assaulted on East 10th Street. He was relieved of his money and watch, but his assailants left him with $10,000 worth of manuscripts intact. He was also able to sell the poem “Mugging” to The New York Times for $400 and was pleased with profits gained.
Bill Morgan was visibly moved when he spoke of the last days of Allen Ginsberg and his illness. Besides for all of Allen’s literary and artistic and worldly accomplishments, he is remembered for his generosity and kindness, an East Village saint, holy the neighbor.
View photos from the tour:
(All photographs courtesy of Robert Graham. Please visit Robert Graham [USA] to hear “Fragments of a Search” a song for Allen Ginsberg.)

Soap Suds Cacophony

Bickford’s washing up storm
soap suds cacophony submarine night
hey, Huck, pitch in
Bird blew same in Harlem club
all over town the pearl diving jam
scrap pile plunge solos improvs
sudsy scalding water wet mess
best minds, best fingers, scrubbing away
from sink bottom look up
what dreary deed goes unpunished?
washing and a noshing in the Lion’s Den
simple labor, laborious task produce time to think, compose, write one’s mind
dishwashing monks watch loud kitchen drama unfold
produces stories told?
crash boom bang
watch out flying dishes avalanche
hey, you, !@#$%^&* dishwasher, whaddayadoin?
mutha’s got his head in the clouds
clouds of soapy steaming hot water
bright white purified heavy sparkling china plate

(Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, David Kammerer, and Charlie Parker all worked as dishwashers in New York City—Ginsberg at Bickford’s Cafeteria, Kerouac and Kammerer at the Columbia University pub the Lion’s Den, and Parker at a Harlem nightclub.)