Sunday, June 19, 2005

Poem: The Beat Life

This is a poem
To describe
A journey I have taken inside
And in the real world too
It goes back to my roots
In a seaside town
Where it always seemed to be summer
And we had guitars and girls
And our youth
And hair down to our feet so strange
And the first stirrings
In our hearts
Of the golden life to come

I am standing on a park bench
In the pedestrian precinct
Wearing my favourite pink
Jimi Hendrix vest and battered Levis
Reading from the Penguin Modern Poets
An ode entitled Underwear
by Mr Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Of the City Lights Bookstore in the good old USA
One of the lighthouses of this new prosody
That was capturing hearts and minds from
Alberqueque to Zanadu
With its potent brew
Of speedy prose about Living in the Now
And about Being at One with The Moment
And about Being
And all kinds of other stuff
That seemed to spill out of their pens and minds
Onto Remingtons that must have burnt up with the heat of it all

Trainee Librarian at Brighton Discovers Burroughs
One Lunchtime
That first paperback publication of The Naked Lunch
The white Corgi paperback with the red lettering
And the grey ghostly face
It felt dangerous reading it on the bus home
Soon to be followed by Last Exit to Brooklyn
Subject of an osbecnity case
And Satre, E.E. Cummings and Solzhenitsyn
And of course those masters of swing
Kerouac (with Dean at the wheel)
And bearded demon of the Howl Machine
Monsignor Allen Ginsberg
Before too long I was hooked

In real life then
I met a bunch of older men (in their 20s)
A genuine crew of guys with bikes,
Leathers and levis
And their old ladies
They all adopted me
And we used to meet and talk about books
And listen to a lot
Of new music that was coming out at that time
In front of the brick fireplace at Martin’s basement flat
With buffalo horns and rifles above the bricks
And sometimes some psychedelics for kicks
And we flew away and came back laughing
And I learnt a lot more about the beat plot
Especially from Joss
Who was the scariest of the lot
Who was the toughest spirit of us all
And always wanted to push things to the wall
And had a passion and a poetry about him
That put us all to shame

I treasure the memory
Of watching Hud on a small black and white tv
Of going to the beach and howling at the waves
Of feeling free
Of singing in folk clubs
And reading poetry
And seeing the Californian Byrds at the
Assembly Hall
The original lineup
My first electric band

You can see clear enough
That this heady brew of stirring stew
Was permamently rewiring
Bits of my organic apparatus
And creating a feeling for the real
That has stuck with me ever since
I am convinced now
That the only way to be
Is To Be

Many years later
I’m a journalist in town
Rushing around
Hunting celebrities down
Trying to pay the rent
By writing pieces that are really meant
And so my path crossed
Those of two Beat legends

First came Allen Ginsberg himself
In town to promote
The volume of Collected Poems he wrote
From 1961-1985
We met at the London Flat
Owned by Miles, later Ginsberg’s biographer
And formerly founder of the Indica bookshop in the 1960s
It was an inspiring encounter
And he did a drawing in the front of my review copy
Which I treasure to this day

I remember rushing from the interview
To the offices of The Face
The style bible of the time
But they failed to understand the importance of this encounter
Not for the first time
I might add
Later the same week I was sent
A review copy of a new biography of Walt Whitman
And understood for the first time that Ginsberg
Was in fact the living reincarnation of this Ur poet
Who had had tea with Oscar Wilde
And respected tender feelings between men
And reinvented poetry with his freeform voice
And was the only one who could encompass the vastness of America
In a paragraph

Then later, tea with William Burroughs, at the Chelsea Arts Club
On a little balcony above the snooker room and bar
He was promoting The Place of Dead Roads
And I was freelancing for the Sunday Times
He was a perfect gentleman
And drawled at me in his urbane but lizard-like voice
And signed my copy of Junky
And I lost the tape in a fire sometime later

Two sons were growing during these years
Both would read On The Road
And the eldest sped 3,000 miles,
Criss-crossing America’s heartland
And posting back nightline e-mails
Documenting his adventures on the road
Some of which made your head shiver
And so life revolves

And later, or around the same time
I buy a chunk of Beat books
From the library of Zeffie,
Who died too early and had great taste
And now these precious Beat bibles
Continue to provide sustenance
In the dark hours

May the Beat spirit
Continue to motivate my actions and inspire my dreams
Now that Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs
Are DeadBeats
We must try and keep the spirit alive
By creating new work of and for this moment
For our times,
For the New Age of the Millennium
It all its tragic, garish, multivarious splendour
Because the road must go on
And the wine must be drunk
And the words must pour out
Like pure energy
From the well
Of Beat
To encourage us to live our lives
In shining moments of pure passion

Kerouac was asked what he was searching for and said:
I want to stare into the face of God.
The beat goes on

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