from the editor's desk

Jack Kerouac


“I still ask the Lord ‘Why?’ and haven’t heard a decent answer yet.”

Kerouac is dead he died yesterday and I am too
sad today. I’ve lost a hero a mentor the only person
I ever sent fanmail. He loved the earth trees everything
that grew and children, he spoke with their
innocence in his delight of nature, climbing mountains
or seeing the setting sun through a jello jar.
Whole wonderful pages of his love of the earth and
nature and natural people, and so people copied him,
making a mistake he hated, that they became themselves
no more. The irony of it all—a man loved for
his writing by millions isolated by a public misconstruing,
lead on by a press hungering for heroes,
ever after sensationalism, saying Kerouac is a Wild
Guy Big Junky Goofball Fool—

“Am actually not ‘beat’ but strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic . . .”

—so much so that teenage pseudo-beats used to go
out to Long Island and pelt stones on his mother’s
roof, shouting “Come on out Jack and drink Tokay
—come on Jack come and get drunk with us”. All
night it would keep up until the morning would see
Jack and his mother bleary red-eyed and persecuted,
eating thick toast (home-made bread from his
French-Canadian mum) spread with his favourite
jam, maybe jello, he mentioned it often enough.

“Mother still living, I live with her a kind of monastic life that has enabled me
to write as much as I did.”

Kerouac was a man who loved nature, a pantheist,
I can see him walking in the earliest part of the
morning when the dew was thickest and wet and
makes your feet know they’re bare—he would love
the sun and the rain with the same passion, except
maybe when the rain soaked him the first time he
went out hitchhiking, jumping trains “madman bum
and angel”, delighting in both a pair of new boots
and freedom.

“Had good early education from Jesuit brothers at St Joseph’s Parochial School
in Lowell making me jump sixth grade later on in public school.”

I was at school a good little Jesuit student, sneaking
a cigarette in the dyke, reading all the time and
with my eyes wide open, and read a book called
“Maggie Cassidy” and delighted in it immediately,
read it in one sitting so excited by the writing, what
it said—how applicable it was to me with my young
girl all innocent breasts and hand-fumblings and suspender
belts. All my enormous catholic guilt—and
her’s too—the same hang-up Kerouac described.

I hadn’t heard of Kerouac or beats or anything to
do with the whole (sadnow) scene. Later, when I
got to love his writing, I read a list of ‘other works
by the same author’ and there was “Maggie”, so it
proves I liked him instinctively not because of any
great Advertising McLuhanesque Subconscious-Association.

(That girl’s name, a very unusual name, was the
same as Jack’s wife was called later—amazing coincidence,
no doubt means more to me than anybody

“Then discovered ‘spontaneous’ prose . . .”

Even when I’ve been at my brokest, if I saw (and
still do) a Kerouac book I’d buy it immediately with
a joy in my heart that is impossible to describe.

Once, when I was at Leederville Tech, my friend
and poet Viv Kitson sold his surfboard to get enough
money for us to go boozing again—a daily routine:
skip school, jump in my Morris Ten (Mehitabel) and
pissoff to the nearest bar, Scarborough, Leederville,
O.B.H., somewhere with a good level Skit-la table.
This day we stopped for a look in the newsagency
near Scarborough, and Wow! right in front of the
paperback rack—”Tristessa” by Kerouac! One we’d
never even heard of! I bought it and we both started
reading it on the beach, what a knockout book! And
to find it amongst the crappy bestsellers in a shop
where the guy behind the counter, when I asked if
he had anymore Kerouac books, said ‘Who?’, then
said “They just send me how many of the latest
paperbacks I order”.

“. . . and wrote, say, ‘The Subterraneans’ in 3 nights . . .”

One Saturday, hungover from the night before,
I was looking through a second-hand store, went to
the books all battered and sixpence—the Lovely
Lewd Larry Kent Ladies and Zane Grey Cowboys—
and the green torn and much-used cover of “The
Subterraneans”, Kerouac’s great free and complete
love story—for sixpence! How could anyone sell it! I
asked the old lady who took my money “How
could anyone sell Kerouac to you!?! He’s too much!”

She just smiled and said “O, we get all sorts in
here, love”.

“. . . —wrote ‘On the Road’ in 3 weeks— . . .”

I was listening to the radio, modern jazz, about
4 in the morning, Jimmy Giuffre was everything the
hippest could want—I listened to his lyrical clarinet
while I read “On the Road” by the light of my bedlamp.
Then got up and walked a mile or so to the
railway in my shaggy-jeans solitude—kick the coke
with my bare foot, let my feet drip with the dew, I
loved all the green things growing on the railway’s
banks, the world was delightful, individual tree was
individual and no longer a-tree-so-what. Kerouac
through his wordswordswords had made me different,
in love with the earth—I went from one thing
to the other, hating to leave a tree but wanting to go
to the other patch or rise of weeds-to-you. So happy,
I was mother nature’s son.

“Its scope and purpose is simply poetry, or, natural description.”


Kerouac is dead he died yesterday
I am too sad today “but the bushes
and rocks werent real
and the beauty of things must be
that they

This piece first appeared in Westerly 14:3, in October 1969.

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