Ginsberg’s Gay Marriage

We at Beatdom would like to congratulate the people of the United States on an event of monumental importance. Today, the Supreme Court voted to make same-sex marriage a right across all states. It is truly a time for celebration. The Beat Generation was, of course, a movement concerned with love and acceptance, and as such I’m sure our readers will be delighted at this news.

Many of  you will know that Allen Ginsberg, who campaigned hard to bring gay rights to public attention, was “married” to Peter Orlovsky – his lover of about forty years. Of course, back 1955 gay marriage was not only illegal, but almost unimaginable in the public consciousness. Yet in February, 1955, at Forster’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, they took an informal set of marriage vows and considered themselves married until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

The key thing was when we decided on the terms of our marriage—I think it was in Foster’s cafeteria downtown about three in the morning. We were sitting and talking about each other, with each other, trying to figure out what we were going to do, who we were to each other, and what we wanted out of each other, how much I loved him, and how much did he love me. We arrived at what we both really desired. Continue Reading…

The Road Starts in Paterson

“The News from Poems” the Sixth Biennial Conference of the William Carlos Williams Society at William Paterson University ended on a majestic note with a stunning video featuring the music of Frederick Adler, M.D., black-and-white images by the architect and visual artist Jonathan Sinagub, and the words of William Carlos Williams from his epic poem “Paterson,” in a combined work titled “Paterson Project.”


The Road begins in Paterson, as in Sal Paradise’s Paterson, as in WCW’s Paterson, as in Ginsberg’s hometown P-town, New Jersey, as in George Washington’s “coat of Crow-black homespun woven in Paterson,” Alexander Hamilton, yes, that Paterson . . . Paterson of the great Peruvian restaurants and immigrant experience – yes, that Paterson.


Scholars from as far away as Melbourne and Kyoto attended the event.

The Beats and the Beatles: two sides of the same coin

“If two things are two sides of the same coin, they are very closely related although they seem different”
– The Cambridge Dictionary


As one might guess, the name of the world’s most successful (Hotten) band in history – the Beatles – does not completely incidentally sound so similar to that of the influential group of writers that called themselves the Beat Generation. What one might not guess, however, is how manifold and deeply rooted their connections are.
It must be said from the outset that there are multiple stories surrounding the origin of the Beatles’ name. Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called ‘fifth Beatle’, who was a study friend of John Lennon and only a part of the first beginnings of what would later become the Beatles, suggested they call themselves ‘the Beatals’ in January 1960, as a tribute to the then famous rock ‘n’ roll band Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In the months that followed this name changed to ‘the Silver Beetles’ (May), ‘the Silver Beatles’ (July), and eventually ‘the Beatles’ (August) (Lewisohn 18-22). John Lennon himself in 1961, before their enormous success came about, already rejected every notion of a ‘meaning’ behind the name:

Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’’. Thank you, Mister Man, they said, thanking him.
(qtd. in Coupe 131) Continue Reading…

Beatdom Turns 8

It was about eight years ago that I founded Beatdom magazine. I don’t remember the exact date and I didn’t keep a journal back then, but a while ago I was able to trace the date down to about mid-to-late-May of 2007, and so every year at this time we celebrate our birthday.

Back then I was just about to graduate from university and I realized that the job market was pretty dire for people with an MA in Literature and no other real life experience. I started the literary journal as a way of cheating the system… It was, you could say, an odd choice. A more experienced person might have observed that literary journals seldom make the sort of money one could live on. Continue Reading…

At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico

In 2013 I was asked to review a book called The Stray Bullet, about William S. Burroughs’ years in Mexico. I described it as “unreadable,” which made it rather surprising when, a year and a half later, the publishers asked me to review another book by the same author and translator – Jorge Garcia-Robles and Daniel C. Schechter – called At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico. Garcia-Robles styles himself as the “leading authority on the Beats in Mexico” and as with the first book, this concerns a major Beat figure in the author’s homeland.

Naturally, I found myself dreading this book, as reading the Burroughs one had been little more than a chore. When I opened the front cover and saw that they’d credited a photo to one “Allan Ginsberg” (sic), I was sure that I was about to slog through another entirely incomprehensible text. Continue Reading…

Olmsted at City Lights

Marc Olmsted, whose memoir, Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg, was published through Beatdom Books in 2014, will be reading at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco next Sunday.

See the City Lights website for more details.

The Only Jack For Me

 The only Jack for me are the mad Jacks,

the Jacks who are Jack to live,

mad to Jack,

mad to be Jacked,

desirous of everything at the same Jack,

the Jacks who never yawn or say a commonplace thing,

but burn, Jack, burn,

like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding

like Jacks across the stars

E-mail Problems

2015 has been a difficult year for Beatdom. It began with our website being taken offline, and then troubles with an expired domain name. And now, it seems, we have had our primary e-mail address disabled for about a week.

From March 3rd to 10th, the address editor[at]beatdom(dot)com was beset by technical troubles and any mail sent to this address during this was irretrievably lost. It seems that there was an issue with our web hosting can anything sent to us at this time was entirely lost. Unfortunately, this was a period during which we were pushing for submissions to the forthcoming issue, and we estimate that around 100 submissions have simply not been received. Senders may have received an error message, although some may not have been notified. We have fixed the problem and e-mails are once again arriving as intended.

We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused by this problem, and offer our apologies. We hope that our potential contributors would be as kind as to resubmit their work. If you send anything at all to Beatdom during the aforementioned period, please do send it again.

The Dharma Bums: Judging a Book by its Cover

On Dave Moore’s wonderful Beat Generation Facebook group – a partner to the very active Jack Kerouac group – there is at present a thread discussing the following cover for Jack Kerouac’s classic, The Dharma Bums.


(The discussion actually revolves around the front cover and not the whole jacket as featured above.)

The person who originally posted the cover remarked that it was the, “Worst cover ever!” and questioned whether or not the cartoony style made the reader expect a graphic novel rather than a modern literary classic.

While some people defended the cover or at least suggested that it was not all that awful, many commenters showed their disapproval. It was described as “truly ugly,” “unspeakably ugly,” “juvenile,” and a few people took issue with the fact that Kerouac is depicted as a dog.

Putting aside the inside flaps, which contain a bizarre comic strip (based upon dialogue from within the book), I must say that I take an opposing view to most of the people in the thread. I rather like the cover. For a start, the colours are pleasant. The simple orange and black appeal to me, seem to reflect the melancholy under-riding the book, and also are a nod to its publisher, Penguin, of whose Classics series this is a part. Moreover, Kerouac frequently describes the sun, and in particular the sunrise, as well as the fire and rocks of his mountain camp, as orange. He also drinks orange juice, eats oranges, eats on orange crates, and Japhy Ryder keeps his Buddhism books on shelves made of orange crates. Towards the end of the book, discussing what is and isn’t real, Kerouac argues with his family over the validity of an orange. Does it exist as we perceive it?

I’ll admit that the image of Kerouac as a cartoon dog is unusual and did catch me a bit off guard. The edition I own features a tramp-like man and the woman by his side. It adheres more to the hobo-beat vibe that pitched the book at a certain demographic in the footloose, hitch-hiking sixties.dharmabums

So why depict Kerouac as a cartoon dog? Maybe it’s again a matter of sales and demographics – Penguin Classics wants to grab readers of a certain age who are perhaps more interested in comic books or graphic novels. While the old debate about judging a book by its cover tells us that the content is more important, we can never forget that first you have to grab the reader’s attention. And if a cover endears a new generation of readers, what’s the harm? The old guard might complain, but they’re hardly going to give up on Kerouac because of one cover…

But, personally, I think the artist deserves a little more credit than having produced a cutesy cartoon dog for kids. I think the dog was a deliberate choice that went a little deeper. jackkwithcat

When we think of Kerouac, we’re more likely to think of cats. Not just because Kerouac, like so many other writers, including his friend William S. Burroughs, was a cat person, who wrote about and was photographed with his cats, but because in Beat parlance, he was a cat. A cool cat, a hep cat, etc. Indeed, in The Dharma Bums, Kerouac both references actual cats that he owned, and also refers to Gary Snyder’s character, Japhy, as a cat: “Japhy I gotta hand it to you, you’re the happiest little cat in the world.”

It is less frequent in Kerouac’s novels to see references to dogs, either as animals or a description for a person. They are sometimes viewed negatively. In On the Road, for example, dogs are barking at Kerouac and trying to bite him. Yet, in The Dharma Bums, there are more references to dogs than cats, and they are viewed as overwhelmingly positive. Even when these references are seemingly innocuous they are connected to the spiritual and religious ideas Kerouac had at the time. As the book advances, dogs become undeniably important to Kerouac’s personal journey.

About halfway into the book Kerouac describes a conversation between him and Gary Snyder, wherein Snyder asks “What would you say if someone was asked the question, ‘Does a dog have a Buddha nature?’ and said ‘Woof!'”Kerouac claims that this is part of Zen Buddhism, which is “silly” and concerned with verbal games rather than serious religious thought. Although he is dismissive of Zen Buddhism, Kerouac is tying the dog into the discussion and connecting it, as representative of the animal kingdom, to the Buddha. Until this point dogs had existed largely as a backdrop – their barks as the soundtrack to serene nights and meditation.

Later, we are introduced to “Bob, a big bird dog,” in a scene of pure serenity, where Kerouac’s character comes as close to nirvana (the word on his sign on the book’s cover) as he ever would:


After they’d gone to bed I put on my jacket and my earmuff cap and railroad gloves and over all that my nylon poncho and strode out in the cottonfield moonlight like a shroudy monk. The ground was covered with moonlit frost. The old cemetery down the road gleamed in the frost. The roofs of nearby farmhouses were like white panels of snow. I went through the cottonfield rows followed by Bob, a big bird dog, and little Sandy who belonged to the Joyners down the road, and a few other stray dogs (all dogs love me) and came to the edge of the forest. In there, the previous spring, I’d worn out a little path going to meditate under a favorite baby pine. The path was still there. My official entrance to the forest was still there, this being two evenly spaced young pines making kind of gate posts. I always bowed there and clasped my hands and thanked Avalokitesvara for the privilege of the wood. Then I went in, led moonwhite Bob direct to my pine, where my old bed of straw was still at the foot of the tree. I arranged my cape and legs and sat to meditate.
The dogs meditated on their paws. We were all absolutely quiet. The entire moony countryside was frosty silent, not even the little tick of rabbits or coons anywhere. An absolute cold blessed silence. Maybe a dog barking five miles away toward Sandy Cross. Just the faintest, faintest sound of trucks rolling out the night on 301, about twelve miles away, and of course the distant occasional Diesel baugh of the Atlantic Coast Line passenger and freight trains going north and south to New York and  Florida. A blessed night. I immediately fell into a blank thoughtless trance wherein it was again revealed to me “This thinking has stopped” and I sighed because I didn’t have to think any more and felt my whole body sink into a blessedness surely to be believed, completely relaxed and at peace with all the ephemeral world of dream and dreamer and the dreaming itself.

He we see Kerouac at his happiest and most content. He has achieved peace, or “blessedness.” And he is surrounded by dogs. “All dogs love me,” he claims, as they follow him. Then, as he meditates, so do they. “The dogs meditated on their paws,” he claims. As all thought is lost, he is aware only of sounds in the distance – one of which is a dog barking. His entire religious experience, here, is tied to the presence and existence of these animals.

He goes on to give one of the best known quotes from this novel when he says, “One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls,” while petting Bob, and seems to relate this action as the aforementioned act of kindness. He observes that, when considering the concepts of Buddhism, he is no different from the dogs that sit around him as he meditates, saying, “All living and dying things like these dogs and me coming and going without any duration or self substance…” The dogs are clearly inextricably linked to his spiritual discoveries.

The dogs appear in the novel when Kerouac is happy or making some sort of discovery. Bob, a bright white dog, at one stage literally leads Kerouac down a “dark path.” The imagery there is hardly subtle. The dogs are leading or accompanying Kerouac on his personal journey. This means that dogs have acted as both his followers and his guides. Towards the end of the book, when spring comes and he is thinking less about philosophy and learning to enjoy simply existing, is is again surrounded by “happy dogs,” who are “yawning and almost swallowing [his] Dharma.” Along with the usual spring imagery of budding flowers, the dogs are ever present for his own reawakening. As he enjoys the feeling of “ecstasy of the endless truebody” (his enlightenment) he “consorted only with dogs and cats.” He has achieved total happiness at this stage and it is clear he views the dogs as an essential component of its attainment.


Sunday afternoon, then, I’d go to my woods with the dogs and sit and put out my hands palms up and accept handfuls of sun boiling over the palms. “Nirvana is the moving paw,” I’d say, seeing the first thing I saw as I opened my eyes from meditation, that being Bob’s paw moving in the grass as he dreamed.

Kerouac’s ecstasy is short-lived, however, as his family – who are largely disturbed by his happiness – want Bob chained up. His brother-in-law explains that the dog is simply too expensive to have its freedom. It should remain chained up in the back yard, lest he lose money. The symbolism here is obvious: freedom and happiness are all well and good, but the cold reality of life means that we are shackled and denied our natural state of being. At this point in the book, Kerouac’s family are trying to get him to give up his Buddhism and come back to his regular life. Indeed, in reality Kerouac was convinced to return from his Buddhist wanderings and live in the reality unto which he was born – living with his mother until his early death.

Kerouac returns to the woods to muse this situation, and finds shame in having pride in his kindness to animals. He comes to his next great realization – everything is “empty” and does not exist as perceived. “My pain was in getting rid of the conception of people and dogs anyway, and of myself.”

Throughout the book, dogs are symbolic for Kerouac. They have followed him, guided him, and surrounded him during his quest for enlightenment and understand. They are inseparable from his spiritual discoveries, and represent his adventure beyond simply a man with a backpack. So why not have him represented as a dog on the book’s cover? If Kerouac eventually realizes that “the conception of people and dogs” is false, why not swap a human for a dog? It seems to me that in The Dharma Bums Kerouac was going beyond the physical in search of a greater truth. If the orange that his brother-in-law presented did not exist, and nothing existed, then surely a dog is as valid a representation of the story as a man.

B16 Submissions

Some people are so poor, all they have is money – Jack Kerouac

The theme for Beatdom #16 is MONEY. That means we’re looking for essays, short stories, poems, and artwork that deal with money and/or the Beat Generation. As usual, we devote most of the space in the magazine to essays, so those are favoured.

Ideas for essays: The battle for Kerouac’s estate

Burroughs’ alleged millions

Poverty and art

Money in the poetry of Allen Ginsberg

Theft and the Beats


The deadline for submissions is March 31st, 2015. The release of this issue will be May – which will mark our 8th anniversary. If you suspect your submission will be later than March 31st, please contact the editors to request a deadline extension.

General Submission Guidelines.

As usual, the address for submissions and queries is: editor[at] beatdom (dot) com.