Writer’s Desk: Let It Rip

In his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” Jack Kerouac had some ideas for how to get things down on paper. Jack being Jack, most of those ideas pivoted around identifying the smoldering ember of creativity and using that to set the kindling of your prose ablaze. Some fragments of dharma:

  • “Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.”
  • “Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion.”
  • “If possible write “without consciousness” in semi-trance.”

In short, as Dean Moriarty would say, “Blow, man! Blow!”

Writer’s Desk: Get It Right

They say writers should keep it basic. Don’t do too much. Stay in your lane. That’s good advice, until it’s not.

Jack Kerouac once wrote:

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.

This from one of America’s most industrious creators of run-on sentences. But still, Kerouac knew to keep looking, to seek simplicity in his work. Just because he never quite got there doesn’t mean the trip wasn’t worth it.

Writer’s Corner: Kerouac’s 30

Jack Kerouac, c. 1956 (Tom Palumbo)
Jack Kerouac, c. 1956 (Tom Palumbo)

Jack Kerouac was a writer’s writer. Not that he was always a master of scintillating prose or effortlessly produced one masterpiece after the other. His writing was too wild-eyed and full-speed-ahead for that. But whatever one’s opinion of his work, particularly On the Road and The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s double-barreled approach to the life of writing as an ecstatic gleap (yes, that’s a word) of wonder and pain and fireworks makes him in some ways the best damn American writer who ever lived.

Kerouac wasn’t one for debating the mechanics of the craft. But he did have some principles to live and write by. In fact, he slapped down a list of “Belief[s] and Technique[s] for Modern Prose.” 30 of ’em. Here’s a few:

  • Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  • Submissive to everything, open, listening
  • Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  • Be in love with yr life
  • Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  • Accept loss forever
  • You’re a Genius all the time

The transferability and efficacy of some of these are debatable. Clearly. But it’s probably worth taking them out for a spin and seeing what happens.

The Beat Report: New Kerouac Novella

hauntedlife1Not long after Jack Kerouac and his friends were wrapped up in the David Kammerer murder, he started work on a World War II novel called The Haunted Life. He only made it a little ways into the story (which was to have been a multi-volume work) before losing it, supposedly in a cab. The pages were rediscovered a few years back and have just been published; here’s a few lines:

“You’’ve been reading John Dewey.”

Dick moved off down the hall: “It’s fact. What the hell good is life if you don’t live it to the bone? Jack London was a great liver, Halliburton, even Herodotus . . . there was a man! To hell with college! Did I ever advise you to go to college?”

Peter grinned.

“No,” said Dick. “you let circumstances drag you along. Be like Hamlet . . . baffle circumstances.”

It’s hard to imagine Kerouac writing a war story, and what has survived looks more conventional and clunky than his later speedy improvisations — somewhat like how Williams S. Burroughs moved from the Hemingway-like prose of Junky to the surrealisms of Nova Mob.

There’s an excerpt here.

Now Playing: ‘Kill Your Darlings’

killyourdarlings1
Daniel Radcliffe (left) as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr in ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Kill-Your-Darlings-PosterIn 1944, Arthur Rimbaud-worshiping Columbia University student Lucien Carr was charged with stabbing to death David Kammerer, an older man Carr had known back in St. Louis who had been allegedly stalking him all across the country for years. The resulting murder scandal roped in Carr’s friends Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Kammerer’s St. Louis cohort William S. Burroughs.

The spry new film Kill Your Darlings — featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a bright-eyed young Ginsberg still unsure about his outlaw sexuality — tells an evocative, tortured romantic version of this story.

My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

The Allen Ginsberg played by Daniel Radcliffe in the audacious but underachieving Kill Your Darlings is far from the brazen, bearded libertine who bridged the Beats to the hippies in one exulting Whitman-esque guffaw. This Ginsberg is an owl-ish college freshman overflowing with desires both literary and romantic. His eyes fairly gleam with all that he is not doing or writing or saying. The war is still on, and such a regimented society has little interest in such yearning young artistes. At least until the murder…

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘On the Road’

on-the-road-posterYears in the making, with seemingly every young actor and hot director having once been attached to its adaptation, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is now a film, and a damn good one at that:

Walter Salles has conjured a movie that’s raging and serene, always looking over the horizon while grooving on the beauty of the here and now. This is no small feat. Salles made The Motorcycle Diaries, the only other great road film of recent memory, but still, there are many ways for a Kerouac film to go bust (see The Subterraneans), and this one avoids nearly all of them. Maybe it leaves too much of the book’s kinetic language on the floor; this is a story about words almost as much as it is about movement, the road. But as these burning, dreaming, and frustrated wanderers blast back and forth across postwar America in search of what they don’t know, the smoky poetry of its wide vistas and clangorous urban buzz provide a kick, a true kick…

On the Road is playing now in very limited release, and should expand wider in January; look for it.

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Trailer Park: ‘On the Road’

There are just under a million ways that a film of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road could go wrong. And not just wrong but bad in an eye-rollingly painful manner. That being said, there are few people one would trust more on such a windy and spacious piece of work than Walter Salles, who showed with The Motorcycle Diaries how to turn the personal and rambling into something epic and transformative.

So: on the plus side: Salles directing, Coppola producing, and Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs, who the ever-tricky and extra-literate Viggo seems born to play). On the con side: the appearance of the ever one-note Kristen Stewart, and a previously quite morose Sam Riley playing the ebullient force-of-life Sal Paradise.

In any case, the film opens late in December and we’ll see then. Good luck, folks.

You can see the trailer here: