Archives For March 2014

On Bitch Magazine’s Response to Joan’s Death

One of our readers, Devin Fahey, recently posted a link to the Beatdom FB page. The link was to a provocatively titled article in Bitch magazine, “A Great Artist Kills His Wife—Now She’s Just a Quirky Footnote in His History.”

The article itself is partly a response to reviews of Barry Miles’ excellent biography, Call Me Burroughs – a much-needed update on the life and times of one of America’s most controversial writers. The author, Leela Ginelle, argues that these reviews cite Burroughs 1951 killing of Joan Vollmer Adams as the most important event in the author’s life, while also pointing out that Miles calls the incident “clearly an accident” and that Burroughs and his fans have made it part of the author’s personal mythology.

In other words, killing his wife is part of his appeal as an author.Mexican newspaper cover, WSB Joan death

Or, at the very least, something insignificant in the light of his literary contributions.

Now there is something to this. Ginelle is correct in pointing out that we overlook domestic violence in our male heroes. Indeed, we overlook flaws in many historical heroes. And were we to attack Burroughs alone, his late-60s misogyny is probably – in my opinion – the greater target.


Ginelle says that we need to “reevaluate” the incident. Well, the importance of Miles’ book – and my own, from last year – is that Burroughs legacy is being constantly reevaluated. The killing of Joan Vollmer Adams, however, is something that has been studied over and over. She goes on to suggest that Burroughs’ killing of his wife was a part of his apparently on-going domestic violence, and that we overlook this because he is “cool.”

I disagree.

Burroughs never shied away from his culpability in the killing of Joan, although legally he was let-off. He may have helped turn it into part of his mythology, but that’s more due to his lack of promoting the incident. For years it was too painful to discuss, and even later on it troubled him immensely. Besides, to suggest that it was cold-blooded murder is irresponsible.

There are many aspects to the case. For one thing, no one really knows what happened. Joan appears to have possessed a death-wish. She seems to have goaded Bill into playing William Tell. Does that let him off? No. It was still a stupid thing to do, an unnecessary risk. If she didn’t, then she agreed to it. It was a game, a party-trick, and thus an accident. He lived the rest of his life with the agony of having accidentally killed the woman he loved.

To suggest that his books don’t deserve their fame due to this event is absurd. Literature is literature, regardless. If Burroughs had killed her on purpose, out of spite, in a genuine act of domestic violence, it would still not detract from the artistic merit of his work, although it would certainly make him a less likable character – and he already had his flaws.

It’s an old argument. Should we value the work of a monster the same as the work of a saint? What people like Ginelle fail to observe is that there are no monsters or saints. There are a humans and there are – sorry, Bill, I know you always said the opposite – accidents. Look back through history. Our greats were full of flaws. That applies equally to men and women. To suggest that their flaws render their gifts meaningless is ignorant at best.

Now, as for Joan…

Is she a sidenote? Yes, sadly. By all accounts, Joan was a phenomenal intellect, a pivotal character in the formation of one of the 20th century’s most important literary movements, and a fascinating person deserving of more attention. But was she consigned to sidenote status because she was a woman? Did it happen because she was killed by her husband in an event that led him to literary glory?


Joan Vollmer Adams, brilliant though she was, did write great books. Like Burroughs, she got into drugs and went too far too many times. She was a free spirit, an embodiment of Beat. There are many male figures who remain sidenotes in Beat history, but we don’t ask why – it’s because they didn’t have the same output as Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. It’s not sexism, it’s just that to be a great writer, you have to, y’know, write stuff… and great stuff at that.

But unlike Burroughs, she did not become a great writer or artist. Had she written novels that changed the culture and law of the Western World, perhaps she might have had dozens of books written about her life. But she didn’t, and I don’t think that her untimely death made that so.

Perhaps it was sexism. Perhaps the male-dominated culture of the day made her feel she couldn’t write a book… But I doubt it. Joan was headstrong. She was a tough, independent, ferociously intelligent woman that did whatever the fuck she wanted, and unfortunately she went too far. If she wanted to write a book and publish it, she would’ve done, and the hell with anyone that got in her way. Her life is what Burroughs’ life could easily have been. He was unpopular, gay, an addict. He had his problems – more of them than most people will ever fortunately know – but for whatever confluence of reasons, his problems developed into literature, and Joan’s into self-destruction (and I’m talking about her physical and mental state prior to the shooting).

By all accounts she “deteriorated.” I note a trace of sexism in the biographies when they talk about her beauty fading. But in all aspects she was falling apart. Before her death she was a shadow of herself. She had fallen apart. She wanted to die. Perhaps had history gone differently – had the bullet taken a different flight – she may have lived to create, but we’ll never know. If she had shown no inclination until that point, it seems unlikely. Life was tougher on the female Beats. The movement was about freedom, and while the men had to fight for theirs, the women had a much greater struggle. But some people are artists, and others muses. It has nothing to do with gender, but in this case it was Bill who was to be the artist, and Joan the muse.

Ginelle is correct in observing societal forgiveness of “great men,” particularly in their treatment of women. For one rarely noted example, I would cite Hunter S. Thompson. His fanbase is similar in some regard to Burroughs’, and as such their is little condemnation of their sexist attitudes. But I think that in this case, Ginelle is arguing a silly point. Joan’s death was an accident, and it contributed to the rise of William S. Burroughs, the writer, but it was not an intentional act of domestic violence which consigned her to obscurity, and which is forgotten and forgiven by all.

So let’s cut it with the sensationalist headlines (clickbait, I believe is the new word) and meaningless criticism. If you have a feminist website and want to go after Bill, there’s plenty of material there to criticize. No need for this sort of trash.

Lobster Tail in Downtown Red Bank

Lobster tail in downtown Red Bank
A big lovely lobster tail sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar
Takes up the white cardboard bakery box tied with red-and-white- bake shop string
Nestled in pristine white bakery paper
Layers and layers of light flaky leaves shaped as shell
Crisp to the tooth
One crunchy bite
Fresh sweetened rich French cream oozes out
Another bite will set you right
Next bite lightens up this sad old world
Lobster tail of great price
Will knock you on your jass
One is enough
But two is outta bounds
Count Basie, outta bounds and fly me to the moon
And before you know it
You’re swinging at the bake shop in downtown Red Bank

Possible Essay Topics for Beatdom #15

Every time we put out a new issue of Beatdom, we issue a general “call for submissions.” You can find the latest one here. Typically we receive a number of very similar essays, and have to choose between them. This is unfortunate, as often we’ll get two very good essays on similar topics, and ideally we’d like to print both, but they would be rather tedious for our readers.

While I don’t doubt that will happen again, I have compiled a list of suggested topics and ideas. Hopefully this will help potential contributors develop different ideas, rather than going for the same ones. We don’t mind having, say, two essays on Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, but when half of our submissions are essentially on the same subject, it seems like a waste of talent.

If someone submits an essay on one of the following topics, and I feel it is likely to be accepted, I will remove it from the list below. Until then, please use these as inspiration. These are not required topics, nor do they have to be followed exactly… They are just inspiration.

  • The Beats as having emerged from WWII
  • WWII as background to Beat movement
  • War in the works of William S. Burroughs
  • Jack Kerouac in the Navy
  • Peter Orlovsky in the Korean War
  • Allen Ginsberg’s contribution to the anti-war movement
  • The Beats and Peace
  • What was Gregory Corso saying in his poem, “Bomb”?
  • The Beats as part of a class/cultural/generational war
  • Influence of war literature or war culture on Beat (or non-Beat) literature
  • Did Kerouac support US intervention in Vietnam, or was he just kidding?
  • Burroughs’ “War Universe”
  • Relationship between Beats and Hippies (apolitical and political)
  • The war on drugs
  • Related “non-Beats/proto-Beats/neo-Beats” like HST, Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, etc, and their thoughts on or relationship with various wars or war in general

Call for Submissions: Beatdom #15

The Beat Generation, it seems, dominated American culture between two major wars. The history books will tell you that they rose out of the Second World War, or as a the group emerged as a reaction to the post-WWII affluence of America. In fact, the Beats began as a circle of friends around Columbia University during WWII, and developing in the post-war era. Although not often dealt with in Beat literature, the war was of importance in the creation of the group, as one might expect.

By the time of the Vietnam War and the swathes of protesters across America, the Beats were largely considered a thing of the past, yet key members of the Beat Generation were rather vocal about the situation – having cast off the apolitical nature of their formal Beat ethos. It was Ginsberg, after all, who bridged the gap between generations and ushered in the Hippie movement.

War is something that shaped the Beats and yet it is a relatively unexplored element of their legacy. It is also the topic of the next issue of Beatdom.

As usual, we are looking for essays, fiction, poetry, and artwork pertaining to the Beats and/or war. Preference will be given to “and.” We like to be surprised, so preference will so be given to the more interesting elements. What was Burroughs talking about when he said this was a “war universe”? What made Corso write his classic poem, “Bomb”? What did Kerouac mean about American jeeps on the Firing Line? And as for Ginsberg… Well, his anti-war credentials leave a massive scope for study.

So go ahead. Surprise us. Impress us.

Or, if not, ask us for ideas. We have plenty.

Send your submissions or queries to the usual address: editor at beatdom dot com. The deadline is 1st May, 2014.

More submissions guidelines here.

See some essay ideas here.

Iced Coffee and Donuts

“. . . the splendors of coffee cakes and Danish crullers . . .The coffee counter . . .”i

I’m a late bloomer, folks, a late bloomer
Never ate donuts and coffee until now 2014
And can’t get enough of that bitter cold iced-coffee stuff
In big plastic cup with bright colored straw and lid
And the crunch of sugary donut
Filled with luscious fruity jam
Covered in cinnamon powder
Sticky and sweet
Soft yeasty treat
Not to be funny
Funny it’s not
But feel like Bill Burroughs junkie Huncke
(ER, ICU, rehab, brokenness, death)
Looking for first fix
Of that heavenly American mix
Coffee and donuts
I’m a patriot now
That I’ve seen the light
And fight the morning fight
In the land of the free and the brave
Coffee and donuts for me
You and everyone
i Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). p. 10.

CUT UP! An Anthology Inspired by the Cut-Up Method of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin

Joe Ambrose Cut upIn Paris in the late Fifties the Beat Generation writer William Burroughs developed the Cut-Up Method. It involved taking a piece of finished text and cutting it into pieces – then rearranging those pieces to create a new text or work of art. Burroughs wrote that: “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” His creative partner and pal Brion Gysin prophetically declared that: “All words are taped.”

This anthology comes out on the occasion of Burroughs’ 100th birthday.

The cut-up had a profound effect on all media. Devotees of cut-up include David Bowie, Radiohead, and Kathy Acker. Says CUT UP! co-editor Joe Ambrose: “I guess it’s Bowie that really popularized the cut-up, leading to thousands of 70s and 80s youths taking the scissors to their Dad’s Sunday paper. I tried to reach out to Bowie to contribute to the book, via his guitarist Gerry Leonard who is a friend. Gerry put me right in touch with Bowie’s PA but warned me, correctly, that Bowie rarely responded to such requests these days.”Burroughs cut up head

In addition to bringing together new work by new people who’ve emerged from the social media jungle, CUT UP! salutes some better known 20th Century voices who kept the spirit of Burroughs alive. Contributors include Kenji Siratori, Nina Antonia the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders biographer, Claude Pelieu, Billy Chainsaw, Cabell McLean who was Burroughs’ partner and collaborator, and Nathan Penlington, star of the contemporary London live poetry scene, and Allen Ginsberg.

Says A.D. Hitchin: “We went looking for mostly new and emergent voices. Kenji Siratori, whom I greatly admire, is probably the leading artist working with cut-up right now. Bowie and Denis Cooper both admire him a great deal… And the book reaches right back to the creation of cut-up in the Paris Beat Hotel via the inclusion of Sinclair Beiles – who was in the first cut-up manifesto – Minutes to Go – along with Burroughs, Gysin, and Gregory Corso.”

A.D. Hitchin is an Editor at Oneiros Books and the author of several books including Messages to Central Control. He is a leading contemporary purveyor of the cut-up.

Joe Ambrose has worked with Anita Pallenberg, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and Lydia Lunch. He is the author of 14 books including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and Moshpit Culture.
CUT UP! is available from Oneiros Books at:

Publication Date: 12 April 2014. Further information, images, Kindle review copies etc. contact:

The Sea Is My Sister

The sea is my sister
Perth saint is my brother
Brothers are uncles
Uncles and nuncles
Philip, James, Frank, and Joe
Joseph sailor did go
The sisters Kulchicovsky
One, two, three, me
The house is my home
Car and trees are the key
To life in the suburbs
Bored malls alien me
Sea far away green-and-gray sea foaming sea
All sorrows get drowned in my dry cup of tea
Aunts, yes, three Marys and crosses a’plenty
(Believe that there will be some justification for all the horror of life i)
Childhood gone, swept away by the waves
Bended knees and mourning, I’ll return to the sea
Gray-green north Atlantic refreshes the soul
Breezes and salt brines the chill cerulean air
Newport, Cuttyhunk, Stonington blue,
Nanny Goat Tucket
We sailed there too
Regatta and buckets of riches it takes
The best part of the race
Not the sails and such (says Captain Sandy)
But the party and rum and the sparkling sapphire
Churning foam from the sea
And the brew in cold bottles
Watch the waves roll
And up picnic boat throttle
No matter how large your boat, ship, or craft
(No matter the size of your yacht, there’s always one bigger)
The sea is vaster than any of that
Up high on the deck
The wind whistles and howls
Cover my face with soft blini as towel
Bring forth spade, shovel, and trowel
No traveler returns
Each in turn returns to ashes and dust
Like the waves of the sea
Long before and long after
Little old me . . . And you, too, my friend
To each it will end

Kerouac, Jack. Good Blondes & Others. “Lamb, No Lion.” (San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1993). p. 52.

William S. Burroughs, C. J. Bradbury Robinson, and Williams Mix

Love or hate him, venerate or revile him, the life and work of William Seward Burroughs continues to inspire and intrigue. In addition to “The Work,” since his death in 1997 we have seen further biographies, celebrations, collections of letters, and critical studies, as well as restored and even previously unpublished texts. There has been reassessment and re-examination of various aspects of the life and work, starting with Burroughs and Homosexuality in Jamie Russell’s Queer Burroughs, Burroughs and Literature in Michael Stevens’ The Road to Interpose (an encyclopaedic study of reading Burroughs’ reading” that is surely essential to fan and scholar alike); and more recently, Mayfair Burroughs in the introduction to Graham Masterton’s Rules of Duel.

New discoveries, examinations and re-evaluations continue as we approach the centenary of his birth next year in 2014. Recently we have had “Graphic Novel” Burroughs in Malcolm Mc Neill’s candid memoir Observed While Falling and now Burroughs Occult & Cult in my own humble effort, The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs and David S. Wills’ masterful Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the “Weird Cult.” You could be forgiven for thinking that no turn had been left un-stoned, so to speak. That almost everybody who had ever known or even met William S. Burroughs had been interviewed, or else written about it. That there wasn’t much left to say about Uncle Bill that we didn’t know already.

Well, think again…

Keen-eyed Burroughs enthusiasts may well be aware of the proliferation of blurbs and endorsements from the Great Man for the work of others – usually friends whom he was expressing a genuine appreciation for. One of the most intriguing examples of this is the Introduction that Burroughs wrote in 1971 for the novel Williams Mix by C. J. Bradbury Robinson; a novel that Burroughs himself helped to place with Maurice Girodias and The Olympia Press, who had of course, brought Naked Lunch to print. A publisher’s proof of the book was prepared, and it was included in a press-release of forthcoming titles:


In an age of permissiveness few sexual acts retain the power to shock equal to assaults on children. And yet, in the hands of a writer as skilled as C. J. Bradbury Robinson, this subject takes on an entirely new perspective. With delicacy and sympathetic understanding, Robinson takes us into the minds of both assailant and victim. This is a novel that will stand as a significant social document that will take readers beyond their prejudices and force them to face up to a question that deserves serious consideration…


Even though it proceeds in glowing terms, placing Bradbury Robinson and his writing in the same exalted company as Beckett, Burroughs, Genet, Miller and Nabokov, and promises a “Hardbound. 1972 release” it was not to be: The Olympia Press was struggling under financial pressure and lawsuits brought by the Church of Scientology, and there was no money for new titles. A subsequent attempt to publish the book by Cecil Woolf also failed when a printer refused to produce the edition on moral grounds, and so Williams Mix was lost to literary limbo.

For a contemporary audience, perhaps the most troubling consideration is that the central concern of Williams Mix is an unabashed examination of paederasty. Named after the 1958 composition for pre-recorded magnetic tapes by John Cage (but also with a sly nod to Burroughs, of course) Williams Mix is superbly written, strange, poetic and philosophical by turn, obsessed with the music of language, mournful, lyrical, haunted, surprisingly funny in places, and I would even go as far as to say beautiful – but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a book whose literary engine is fuelled by the pleasures and pains of sexual desire for 10 to 12 year old boys, in much the same way that Burroughs’ own work is driven by an obsession with addiction and Control.

So who was C. J. Bradbury Robinson, and how had Burroughs’ support for this celebration of paederasty come about? The fact that he had helped to place the book with his own former publisher, the length of the text he wrote for the Introduction (in the region of 1,100 words, by far the longest such “endorsement”) – even that he later mentions his “English friend” Bradbury Robinson in The Retreat Diaries – show that this was personal; but for all Robinson’s experimentation with form and use of stream-of-consciousness, this was no Beat peer or fellow-champion of the Cut-Up Method.

In 1967 Christopher Bradbury Robinson was a young Cambridge graduate working as Head of the English Department at a Home Counties prep school. From there he submitted the first draft of his novel, Minor Incidents, to Calder & Boyars, on account of their reputation as champions of the avant-garde. The book so impressed C&B’s editor, Dulan Barber, that over the next eighteen months, in addition to occasional meetings, he sent Robinson several considered, perceptive letters entirely devoted to literary criticism, offering detailed advice as the author twice rewrote the novel, the third and final version being so convincing that Barber advised John Calder to “publish and be damned”. In due course, however, Calder & Boyars regretfully declined, as they felt publication of the book would take them straight back to court – an experience they were in no hurry to repeat after the recent cost to them of defending Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. Robinson doubts any publisher today would read beyond the first sentence of the original Minor Incidents, and stresses that Dulan Barber, far from querying the novel’s theme, addressed himself solely to matters literary. This was just what Robinson wanted, as it counterpointed his many discussions with William S. Burroughs, which were also mostly concerned with the art of writing.

Feeling the book should be published, even if not by them, Calder & Boyars, with the author’s permission, sent it to Greenleaf Classics, purveyors of gay pulp in California. Robinson, meanwhile, as a way of staying in touch, offered to become a publisher’s reader for Calder & Boyars. Two quite unexpected outcomes emerged from these arrangements: Greenleaf accepted Minor Incidents, amusingly admitting that, the novel being a work of literature, it was unlike anything else on their list! They recognised too that their American readers wouldn’t see the pun artfully hidden in Minor Incidents and therefore recommended instead the title by which the novel has ever since been known: A Crocodile of Choirboys. This, they thought, had more of a ‘bite’ and would give the novel a better chance of selling. In addition, Greenleaf designed for the book its own unique cover, quite different to their customary format. Events proved them right as the title sold thousands of copies, taking everyone by surprise. This was perhaps just as well, for Robinson as a publisher’s reader, was paid by Calder & Boyars solely in books; he could take his pick of their new publications. Once a fortnight he would travel up to London from the school where he was teaching in order to deliver his reader’s reports and collect fresh typescripts. Eighteen months earlier however, as an aspiring author, Robinson had been invited to one of Calder’s parties.

Writing now, Bradbury Robinson says that he wouldn’t have gone at all if it wasn’t for the possibility that Burroughs might show up, which eventually he did:


Not a sign of him when I arrived – I talked for a while to Ann Quin and others – then a stir and there was WSB! I had a feeling he wouldn’t spend much time at this party and, sure enough, after twenty minutes he left. I followed him down the stairs; in the hall stopped him and asked him whether I could ask a question. Burroughs looked me up and down, asked if I’d had supper yet – I said No – he said Come and have dinner with me then – next I knew we were in a taxi and then sitting opposite one another over a dinner table in St James’s.



At the end of the meal, Robinson asked Burroughs for his phone number, and if they could meet again next time he came up to London – and so began a series of visits that lasted until Robinson moved to North Africa in 1971. Sometimes Burroughs would ring him at the school where he was teaching: “Occasionally the Headmaster would enter my classroom and say: There’s a call for you, Christopher. It’s William Burroughs… Or: William Burroughs on the line for you, Christopher… The boys would immediately sit up straight in their desks and, in awed voices tinged with irony, chorus: WIL-LIAM BUR-ROUGHS!”

Once or twice a month he would take the run up to town, call on Burroughs, and they would talk and drink and talk together, usually just the two of them, and often long into the night. Right from the very beginning, Robinson was struck by the combination of Burroughs’ courageous examination of everything, relentless questioning, and completely open-minded, non-judgemental consideration of whatever he turned his attention to. Though Burroughs had already read versions of Minor Incidents in typescript, indeed recommending the novel to Maurice Girodias at Olympia Press and Richard Seaver at Grove Press, nonetheless it was with some trepidation Robinson handed his friend the 1970 Phenix Publishers PR283,

Greenleaf Classics, A Crocodile of Choirboys. He remembers: “On my next visit I asked him what he thought of it. Unhesitatingly he replied You’re a writer! When I looked less than pleased, Burroughs said, Don’t be disappointed – those are the exact words Beckett said to me – You’re a writer!”

The two writers bonded over their shared love of literature, but they also enjoyed frank and far-ranging discussions about the many-and-various forms of sexuality expressing the full range of the human condition. Robinson recalls Burroughs looking at Piccolo and other “boy porn” magazines, openly on sale in London at that time (1969) – indeed, from shops in Brewer Street, the location of the offices of Calder & Boyars! Burroughs would comment on them as if he were reviewing an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, discussing the photographs in terms of lighting, camera angles, the attractiveness of the models, all discussed purely aesthetically. This anecdote makes it clear Burroughs found nothing reprehensible about the photographs, and therefore nothing reprehensible about paederasty – quite the opposite, in fact. Robinson writes: “It’s obvious Burroughs was extremely interested in these magazines, as one would be if one were a student of human sexuality – which Burroughs was… Let’s not forget Burroughs respected Freud for his detached examination of sexuality, and agreed with Freud no wall divides the mad from the sane or the so-called normal from the so-called perverse…”

The vast majority of their conversations, however, were on the subject of writing, their favourite writers, and the avant-garde and writing techniques. They would return again and again to the alchemy of writing – its music, even: “Burroughs would pull from his typewriter the page he was currently working on (Dutch Schultz or Port of Saints), hand it to me and say, Musical enough for you, Brad? And we would examine the writing as a musical score.”

On the subject of how to turn “the base metal of prose into the gold of poetry” and comparing and contrasting favourite writers who had perhaps achieved something of this, Burroughs would bring up his beloved Denton Welch and Jean Genet, and Robinson would counter with Ronald Firbank, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Samuel Beckett. Although Robinson notes Burroughs’ obvious admiration for Beckett – an enthusiasm they both shared – he also comments on his doubt that Burroughs had actually read that much by him, and almost certainly had not seen a production of Waiting For Godot. He also observes: “Come to think of it, his flat was marked by an astonishing absence of books.” On the subject of Genet, Robinson adds:


WSB once said to me that ‘Genet does things with words you would not think could be done with words’… WSB at his best achieves the same astonishing aesthetic: there are lines – whole paragraphs even – which are so moving, so beautiful, one thinks an angel must have written them – not this dope fiend in suit and tie smiling at one across the table!


Speaking of the dope-fiend-in-suit-and-tie, Robinson is quite clear that because he personally had no interest in either drugs or The Beats, he believes Burroughs found his approach very refreshing, and that what appealed most to Burroughs was that Robinson was interested in him only as a writer. He is also clear about the fact that his friendship with Burroughs occurred at a time when the “glamorous myth” of the “icon of cool” had not yet completely taken over — a development which he agrees Burroughs colluded with, to the later detriment of his standing as a serious writer. Looking back now he marvels at the candid access he was fortunate enough to enjoy:


As we conversed about writing – about what one could do with words, about what words did to one – I gradually became aware how nervous Burroughs was about his own talent and about his literary reputation; in fact, how humble he was about his writing – which is perhaps why this Master (as I viewed him then) was so willing to help a Novice (as I viewed myself).


During their many hundreds of hours in conversation together, Bradbury Robinson found himself able to observe from close up the pursuit of that “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork” and witness first hand as Burroughs brought that same unflinching honesty and scrutiny to bear on his own life and work:


Late one Saturday evening, after we’d drunk most of a bottle and as I was preparing to leave, Burroughs coiled his fingers tightly around my wrist, pulled me towards him and asked me this memorable question: I’m not a one-book writer, am I? I will be remembered for more than Naked Lunch, won’t I? I wouldn’t say he was near to tears, but he was certainly very upset. I told him what I thought then and still think now is the truth: You’ll be remembered for the trilogy: Naked Lunch / The Soft Machine / The Ticket That Exploded… And as you know I think The Soft Machine is the best of the three – and then I quoted a few lines to him from memory: ‘sad train whistles cross a distant sky blue magic of all movies’… Slowly his fingers around my wrist relaxed and he escorted me to the door, one arm around my shoulders.


Robinson also got to see a more human side to El Hombre Invisible:


He lived, if not an austere, at least a simple life – apart, that is, from his St James’s apartment (when I knew him) and his Savile Row suits and handmade shoes from Lobb in Jermyn Street. I always referred to him as the best-dressed man in London. Flawlessly courteous too – and kind. I remember walking down Piccadilly with him and being astonished when he dropped a five pound note into the hat of an unemployed man playing the violin. Burroughs must have guessed what I was thinking, for he commented: ‘No matter how poor one is, Brad, there are always others poorer…’


Most of Bradbury Robinson’s visits to Burroughs were undisturbed by even so much as a telephone call, but he never felt that the older writer was lacking for company:“He once said to me: I’m never alone, Brad – I have my characters… And one could sense they were there in the room…”

He did have occasion to meet some of his other friends and visitors, however. Apart from a rather fraught visit from Billy Jr. (clearly desperate for money), visits from Allen Ginsberg, and “toward the end, once or twice some ghastly rent boy from Piccadilly,” the other main encounter he remembers is with Brion Gysin. Initially Robinson knew only of Gysin as the artist responsible for the paintings hanging on the walls of Burroughs’ flat, and the painter himself was wary until Burroughs broke the ice with “Brad thinks your paintings are a meeting of East and West, specifically Japanese calligraphy and Paul Klee.” After this Gysin was friendly and civilized, and Robinson discussed his interest in visiting Switzerland to live with Benedictine Monks (mentioned in The Retreat Diaries – included in The Burroughs File anthology from City Lights. At the urging of Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs goes on one of the Retreats of Chögyam Trungpa. Considering Tibetan Buddhism and the tonal and nagual of Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan, he writes “I was thinking about Bradbury Robinson, an English friend who was then going in for Mystical Christianity” – and it is implied that he is one of the test-subjects that Burroughs will try to contact via astral projection, or at least visit in a dream.)Bare knees boy knees

As an undergraduate at Cambridge, Robinson had been invited to visit the community at the Benedictine Abbey of Ampleforth in North Yorkshire, where he met Father Aelred Graham (England’s leading authority on Zen Buddhism, and author of Zen Catholicism) and the then Abbot, Basil Hume, later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. Thinking Robinson might have a vocation, the Abbot suggested he might like to spend a while living with the monks of a Benedictine Abbey in the Swiss Alps, as he knew they were short of someone to teach English in their school. As Gysin had himself been taught by Benedictine Monks at Downside School in Somerset, he could understand Robinson’s interest.

Bradbury Robinson relates an amusing anecdote from this time which demonstrates both how aware Burroughs was of his younger friend’s spiritual interests, and yet at the same time at ease with the notion of paederasty:


Not long after meeting Gysin, when we were again on our own, Burroughs, knowing of my interest in the possible overlap between Christian Mysticism and Zen Buddhism, suggested I investigate Tibetan Buddhism, even visit a Tibetan monastery. Isn’t it rather cold in Tibet? I observed. Burroughs knew I didn’t much care for the cold. His lips twitched with delight, as if I had fallen into a hole he had carefully dug. Oh, you needn’t worry about the cold, Brad! Being a visitor from the West you’ll be taken good care of. At night the monastery will pack little boy novices all around and on top of you to keep you warm. A duvet of boys. You’ll be snug as a bug in a rug! Burroughs sipped his whisky and then we laughed simultaneously.


In spring 1971, Robinson wrote an essay on Samuel Beckett, which was published by The Cambridge Quarterly. He then wrote a follow-up, A Way With Words: The Theme of Silence in William S. Burroughs, in which he considered the work of his friend, with a particular emphasis on The Soft Machine, an examination of Silence in the work of both Burroughs and Beckett, and of course sexuality. The Cambridge Quarterly however refused to publish it, on the grounds that, “We don’t think William Burroughs matters very much” – but Robinson himself was under no illusions about the matter: “What they meant was they didn’t want any ‘porn’ fouling their pristine pages!” Regrettably, the essay has never yet been published – despite the fact that Burroughs himself gave it high praise, saying he preferred it over Eric Mottram’s The Algebra of Need (which he dismissed as “work typical of an academic”) and signing a copy of The Soft Machine with the dedication “For Bradbury Robinson, With all best wishes and appreciation for one of the very few intelligent critical essays on my writing, William S. Burroughs.”

A Way With Words… is indeed a fine piece of work and something of a lost gem where Burroughs Literary Criticism is concerned. Oliver Harris has written that it is: “…really interesting and insightful, a pleasure to read. Had it been published in, say, 1970, it would have had no rival other than Tony Tanner’s very good piece (in his book City of Words).”

Bradbury Robinson examines the trilogy of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, and The Ticket That Exploded, wherein the problem of communication is central, and makes an intriguing comparison between William S. Burroughs and Samuel Beckett: “Mr Beckett’s purpose is to say again and again that there is nothing to say; Mr Burroughs’ purpose to speak words again and again until words lose their meaning, human beings their desire to talk.”

Referencing George Steiner’s 1967 essay Silence and the Poet, Robinson describes the possible limits of Poetry – as expressed in Rimbaud and Hölderlin – but refutes the notion that “the inhumanity of this century, the bestiality of Man, has undermined language to the point where the only decent response is silence” and goes on to consider Direct Action, Ionesco and the Zen Masters, before stating: “What is so striking about Mr. Beckett and Mr Burroughs, so new, is that the song they sing is of the silence. That is their difference and this the paradox.”

There follows a detailed consideration of Burroughs’ tape-recorder experiments, a comparison with Steve Reich’s “Come Out,” our understanding of Space & Time, Eliot’s Four Quartets and Paul Tillich on the Crucifixion; then a consideration of sex that ranges from Freud’s polymorphous perversity via Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris, to the paederasty of Andre Gide, Michel Tournier, and Tony Duvert, with Robinson asserting:“Despite appearances to the contrary, sexuality is as taboo today as it ever was – hence the fascination.”

There follows a pretty shrewd criticism of the trilogy, comparing the avant-garde techniques to composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, pulling Burroughs up on a lot of what Robinson sees as self-indulgence and sloppiness, enthusing that his work would not be considered so “difficult” if:


…we recall certain writers whom he has always reminded me of – the verbal brilliance but ‘off the wall’ themes of Ezra Pound, for example, the Virginia Woolf of The Waves, the grotesqueries one meets in Dickens, the passion of Emily Brontë, the ‘madness’ of Christopher Smart, Jonathan Swift’s venom, even present in his gently humorous Directions to Servants, not forgetting, of course, Laurence Sterne…


And finally an appreciation of the “extraordinary fertility” of Burroughs’ imagination – how he “delights us with his wit” but also “distresses us with his stark despair” – but how, in the end, for Bradbury Robinson it is The Soft Machine that is most valuable:


…because it is, more or less, a continuous stream of poetry, which at times communicates moments of sadness (the emotion Mr Burroughs is best at evoking) so intense they make one ache with pain, grief-stricken, like the author, at remembered loss, and these moments are so intense, so sincere, so well-conveyed, they would alone convince me of the stature of Mr Burroughs.


Not surprisingly, Burroughs clearly appreciated the essay. When Robinson asked him to write an Introduction to his new novel, Williams Mix, even though he found the work difficult – even troubling in places – he was happy to oblige.

Williams Mix is a strange book – not least of all for its paederastic obsessions. Although shot through with some beautiful, quite poetic, descriptive passages – “The moon rose white, a circle of paper in the night sky, and hung there, riding the tendrils of the chaste and chasing clouds” – it mainly consists of repeating, overlapping, and intersecting narratives that the author describes as a “dish of voices” – disagreeing with Burroughs’ comparison of writing to film, insisting rather that it is more accurately like a radio play – with all the voices only really existing within the imagination of the narrator. A schoolboy, William, spins a yarn about a possible assault by an elderly tramp. The tramp too has a story to tell about his younger self as a patient of another William, Dr. Bearpark. That younger self too tells a story, principally about his relationship with his mother, and the different voices that the characters have internalised – from parents, teachers, and authority figures representing conformity and “normality” – all have their turn upon the stage, the various stories weaving in and out in a strange dance across Time and Memory, confirming and contradicting and sometimes even cancelling each other.

The narrator wants to Get Back to the prelapsarian state of the male child before the onset of puberty, a state depicted as both Silent and Timeless, before the damage that was done to him – the trauma of his Fall, which may-or-may-not have been sexual abuse by a paederast:


He had no desires, or none that he was aware of, and therefore nothing to assuage, appease, allay, alleviate, which is precisely what made him so desirable…

He had no desires, or none that he knew of, only the wish to be left alone, and, left alone, he would sit quietly, as he is now, doing nothing, and if only all people could be as enlightened as he is, sitting quietly, doing nothing, what a peaceful world it would be, paradise regained.


The terrible and cruel irony is that he can conceive of doing so only through sexual union with a boy of 10 or 11, an avatar of his own child Self, until he realises in the midst of an LSD-therapy session with the demonic and demented Dr. Bearpark (doing for psychiatry what Burroughs’ Dr. Benway did for the medical profession) that what he wants to do actually is go back in Time and possess his child Self so as, quite literally, to become him, again:


Time join me as a man to the schoolboy I loved time connect me as a boy to the man I wanted to love me then time splice in the voices of choristers photograph fulfilment fix it forever…

I tell you it does make sense: photographic past splice in with reality present gently slowly the years recede disappear vanish in an orgasm flash bulb of eternity now.


In his Introduction, Burroughs immediately singles out this notion of sex as a form of psychic time travel as key, a preoccupation that he was no stranger to himself:


If there is one thing you can say with computerized certainty about any sexual feeling it is this: it is a repetition of a previously experienced sexual feeling. Pleasure is the repetition of past pleasure. So someone who is attracted to small boys is simply attempting to travel back in time and re-experience his own past pleasure.


Although Burroughs’ own obsession was with an imaginary return to a heavily homoeroticised fantasy of adolescence, rather than the pre-pubescent boy, it is clear from his Introduction that the poetry of Robinson’s prose, with its mournful longing for lost youth, spoke to him:


Mr. Bradbury Robinson describes this as a book of voices. However the descriptive passages, that is, the pictorial passages give these voices life… ‘he looked at the grey clouds and thought of Summer when it was hot and the boys sat in cotton shorts and open necked shirts the heat seemed to make a sound like unseen wings and it was hard to stay awake… thoughts leapfrog through my mind searching the past…’ Searching for the boy left back there ‘playing marbles, flying aeroplanes, playing football, chasing each other…’


It isn’t hard to see how he would have also been fascinated with Robinson’s descriptions of the voices-in-our-heads – so close to his own preoccupations with Control, Language-as-Virus, and Possession – and his Introduction poses the question of just who exactly is talking to whom? “Mr Bradbury Robinson who is seemingly so rarefied and esoteric is actually saying something basic about the human condition… This book then is something for everybody to read not just those who may share Mr. Bradbury Robinson’s sexual interest in small boys. This book is the human impasse.”

After praising the descriptive powers of the writer, and what he sees as “the courage of desperation” in his work, Burroughs closes with an extraordinary consideration of what might actually happen if Bradbury Robinson’s Narrator could travel back in Time and meet his idealised 10-year-old Self: “What happens when they stand face to face? It looks like an old Western shoot down. The boy kills Bradbury Robinson so he can grow up. Or Bradbury Robinson kills the boy so he will never have to grow up.”

Burroughs himself clearly had a pronounced Romantic yearning for the idylls (real or imaginary) of his own lost adolescence, and undoubtedly this is behind much of the homo-eroticised “Boy’s Own” emphasis in his work (what Malcolm Mc Neill has described as “the tree-house” – a kind of liminal space of All Boys Together, where women are Not Welcome or even necessary.) Clearly a case can be made that his sexuality was to some extent stuck at the level of this pubescent boy, discovering his own body and the bodies of other boys, and thus the objects of his erotic engagement were youths: adolescents and young adults. This is more-or-less confirmed in a conversation Burroughs had with Andy Warhol and Andre Leon-Talley that was among those recorded by Victor Bockris for With William Burroughs: A Report From The Bunker:


Warhol: What kind of people do you like?

Burroughs: Young boys.

Leon-Talley: How young do you like them?

Burroughs: Oh, say from fourteen to twenty-five…


For the record, Bradbury Robinson insists that while Burroughs was most definitely not a paederast (Graham Caveney take note), he “delighted in challenging what we now call Political Correctness, especially with regard to sexual matters.”

In 1971 Robinson would go to live in North Africa, then after a year take up a teaching position in Saudi Arabia. Eventually he would make his way to Switzerland for two memorable years living the Benedictine life without actually becoming a monk. Burroughs himself returned definitively to the States in 1974, and although he later invited his friend “Brad” to go and stay with him at The Bunker, it was not to be. C. J. Bradbury Robinson would go on to become a practising Kleinian psychoanalyst, and Williams Mix would languish, while ironically his other novels would become sought-after collector’s items in the twilight world of literary erotica. In 2004 he began to revise the texts of his earlier works, eventually publishing at his own expense in a handsome edition substantial excerpts from A Crocodile of Choirboys (restored to Minor Incidents), the follow-up Young Thomas (about the love between a young Prep School English Teacher and the eponymous 11-year-old boy who is his favourite pupil) and Williams Mix, complete with its Introduction by William S. Burroughs. More than 40 years after they were originally written, they have at last seen “the dark of print” together, and are currently available from Out Now Press of London and Den Haag, or via

In closing, I would like to say Thank You to Christopher Bradbury Robinson for his time, friendship, and the extensive correspondence in which he has challenged, inspired, provoked, and been so very generous with his memories regarding the man he calls his “friend and mentor” William S. Burroughs. I think the last word belongs to him:


My abiding impression of Burroughs is of an impeccably dressed wonderfully polite gentleman, a sort of Southern gentleman of the old school. He was also immensely generous with his time and very kind. His conversation was, by turns, witty, scathing, insightful, above all, funny. He was an original, a one-off, just as his prose is original. I have known quite a few eminent men, but no one quite like William Burroughs!


Author’s note: All quotations attributed to C. J. Bradbury Robinson in this article are taken either from correspondence or face-to-face interviews with the author, and are used with his express permission.

The Architect Who Shaped Paterson, New Jersey, and Its People

For readers especially interested in the Paterson life of Allen Ginsberg and his family, take note of The
Life & Times of Fred Wesley Wentworth: The Architect Who Shaped Paterson, NJ, and Its People by
Richard E. Polton. There is no mention of the Ginsbergs in this architectural history book, but this was
their home, a “red” city that with its waves of immigrants—by 1900 a tremendous influx of Italians and
Eastern European Jews—brought along socialist and anarchist support to the Silk City, built on the
energy of the Great Falls of the Passaic River, its industry and brick mills. Immigrants left behind
persecution and limited economic opportunity. (Allen’s mother Naomi was a Russian-born Jewish
immigrant and Marxist; his father Louis was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and a socialist. i)
Earlier skilled European silk-mill workers were attracted to Paterson—the third largest city in New Jersey
within close proximity and access to New York City— its jobs and American opportunity. The book
highlights contributions the Jewish community made to Paterson. (Allen graduated from Paterson’s East
Side High School and attended Columbia University on a scholarship given to him by the Young Men’s
Hebrew Association of Paterson.)The Ginsberg family would have been familiar with Wentworth
buildings. The book published by Rutgers University Press contains black-and-white historical photos.

Online Archive of California. Guide to the Allen Ginsberg Papers.

Celebrate Jack Kerouac’s Birthday with The Haunted Life

Today is 12th March, and that means it’s Jack Kerouac’s birthday. Every year, people celebrate by embarking upon road trips, holding readings, or just sitting down with a dog-eared copy of On the Road or Big Sur.

In recent years, interest in Kerouac and his work (as well as that of his contemporaries) is strong as ever. We’ve had movies and books continuing his legacy, and in time for his birthday we also have the release of a long-though lost novella, The Haunted Life.

Set in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, The Haunted Life was written in 1944, following the murder of David Kammerer. As such, this piece of writing comes from an important period in Kerouac’s life. It is also a fascinating insight into the author’s development, as the book is very different to his later works, but not entirely dissimilar to his first novel, The Town and the City.

To read an except, please visit The Guardian’s website. To purchase the book, which also contains notes, letters, and sketches from during its composition, please click the link below…