Learning to Write: Jack Kerouac Style
In a Jack Kerouac interview on the Steve Allen show in 1959, host Steve asked Jack “a couple of square questions”, while plonking around on the piano, in a very jazz lounge style.
Jack had been at the heart of the beat generation born in the early 1950s, and his book, “On the Road”, an embodiment of the new generation, had been a best seller. It took Jack just 3 weeks to write up this book, after being on the road for 7 years. He wrote so fast he used to like using a big, long, roll of paper, instead of normal typing paper. He’d just keep going and going in a long narrative novel style, and when he wanted to change his narrative thought he would just keep going, as if transforming his own text organically while writing, stream of consciousness style in an outpouring of mind and thoughts. He didn’t go back and edit and re-write, he never went back and changed pages at the end.
As well as being shocking for his era (and banned!), he was refreshing and playful, entertaining and in touch with everyday reality. Reading ‘American Haikus’ he proclaimed, “Well here I am, 2pm – what day is it?”… and “In the morning frost, the cats step slowly”.
In “On the Road” he explains he wrote the book ‘because we’re all going to die…’, and goes on to relate how many in his life are dead already. Everybody being dead resonates with me. He just says it how it is. And makes a pregnant pause to remind us enigmatically to ‘think of Dean Moriarty’.
In “The Beat Generation” he talks about ‘One mad brunette at the bar, drunk with her boys’, and elaborates the essence of the beat, ‘It’s the beat of the heart’. He flows on with a street scene, “Dark, holy, just out of jail, martyred, tortured by sidewalks, starved for sex and companionship, open to anything, ready to introduce a new world with a shrug”… conjuring the internal reflections of his minded experience on the road.
Jack presents a down to earth experience in ‘Bowery Blues’, at the ‘Cooper Union Cafeteria, late, cold, March afternoon’, where ‘Some guy on the corner is waving his hand down, knowing somebody emphatically’, and tells us about ‘A yakking blonde with awful wide smile’ as well as ‘Unutterably sad, the broken winter-shattered face of a man passing in the bleak ripple followed by a Russian boxer with an expression of Baltic lostness’; people watching in a detached yet sympathetic with the human condition kind of way.
In ‘The United States of Poetry’ JK writes he ‘Got up and got dressed up and went out and got laid and then died and got buried in a coffin in the grave’.
In ‘The Mad Road’ he says he ‘could see a bug playing in the hot sun, swoooooosh…’, his thoughts bouncing and pouring out from the internal musings of a man’s mind, connecting himself with his surroundings.
I like how Mike Myers plays with Jack’s style of poetry in ‘So I married an Axe Murderer. Tongue in cheek, a wry smile type of thing.
So what do we have that we can be inspired by and learn from? In ‘The Jack Kerouac Writing Lesson: Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, his ‘edge between craziness and craft’ comes to us in step by step instructions…
1) Scribble secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy
2) Submissive to everything, open and listening
3) Try never get drunk outside your own house
4) Be in love with your life
5) Something that you feel will find its own form
6) Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7) Blow as deep as you want to blow
8) Write what you want, bottomless from bottom of the mind
9) The unspeakable visions of the individual
10) No time for poetry but exactly what is
11) Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12) In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13) Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14) Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15) Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
16) The jewel centre of interest is the eye within the eye
17) Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18) Work from the pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19) Accept loss forever
20) Believe in the holy contour of life
21) Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in the mid
22) Don’t think of words when you stop, but to see, picture better
23) Keep track of every day, the date emblazoned in your morning
24) No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge
25) Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it
26) … the list does go on…
As if you need more of a starting point… just to refer to the film, ‘Dead Poets Society’ and the classroom ‘Yawp’ scene… Student Todd is quietly wanting the ground to swallow him up as he confesses to teacher Robin Williams, “I didn’t do it, I didn’t write a poem”, embarrassed to the hilt. Williams drags Todd to the front, telling him playfully he has ‘Got to get in yawping stance’. Todd eventually yawps out a yawp. Williams says, ‘See! There it is! There’s a barbarian in you after all!’ He then quickly spins him round, demanding more poetry, straight from the heart. “Don’t think – answer! Say the first thing that pops into your head, even if it’s a load of gibberish”. So he does, excellently. His fellow students laugh. Williams demands Todd ‘Forget them!” Todd finishes his heart felt response. All students applaud….
So there you go… work from the pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea… have fun 🙂