"Beat writing was to a certain extent influenced by Black music and speech patterns in the manner of its composition which could be compared to oral improvisation, a kind of lively street corner jive."
Pat Nolan: Nualláin Roadhouse Blues
Pat Nolan, born in Montreal, Canada in 1943, has lived most of his adult life along the Russian River in Northern California. He is a poet, translator, editor, and publisher. His poetry and prose have been published in numerous magazines, among them Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, Big Bridge, The American Book Review, Poetry Flash, and Exquisite Corpse as well as in literary magazines in Europe and Asia. His work has also appeared in various anthologies including UP LATE, Thus Spake The Corpse, Out Of This World, More Poetry Comics, and Saints of Hysteria.
The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry and Poems for The Millennium, Vol. I, include his translations from the French of Surrealist poet Philippe Soupault. Pygmy Forest Press published a selection of his translations of Soupault’s early work entitled Where The Four Winds Blow in 1993.
Nolan was the editor and publisher of The End, a 70’s literary mimeo magazine, founder of The Black Bart Poetry Society, and co-editor and publisher of its newsletter, Life Of Crime in the 80’s. He has always played an active role in publishing his own work. In the 70’s - 90’s, as the publisher of Doris Green Editions, and since the turn of the century, he has published numerous limited edition chapbooks under various and whimsical imprints. Nolan started Nualláin House, Publishers in 2011 to serve as an umbrella under which he can continue to publish and make his work available to a wider audience.
Pat Nolan is the author of over a dozen books of poetry. Along with Keith Abbott, Maureen Owen, and Michael Sowl, Pat is a founder member of The Miner School of Haikai Poets. Their haikai no renga “All Ears”, “Random Rocks” and “Poetry For Sale” were issued as limited edition chapbooks. Nolan’s first published novel, On The Road To Las Cruces, was issued under the Nualláin House imprint in 2011. The Last Resort, his most recent effort from Nualláin House, was published in 2012. Photo by Maureen Hurley
What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently?
I think the answer to that would be boredom. Extreme boredom can induce a kind of quasi-hypnagogic dream state. Boredom is also the mother of necessity, and of course necessity is the mother of invention. When I first had the thought to write, to be a poet, more than fifty years ago, it was due to a spontaneous abandonment of my physical presence for an ethereal state where fragments of language fit together like hydrogen and oxygen. Picture me if you will, a callow eighteen year old, in a Navy training classroom being taught an already obsolete electronics technology. My eyes glazed over -- who could blame me -- and my brain slipped into neutral. It was like being immersed in the pure stream of an underground cavern. I was totally in the dark yet not in the least disoriented. I was in fact quite at ease with my environment, a fluid weave of ideas, meaning and references beyond the dictates of logic. Since that time I’ve endeavored to return to that state of mind, through artificially induced means as well as just plain vanilla boredom. Consequently I’m motivated, if that’s the word, to do nothing while continually being distracted by the mundane which is where I find inspiration for expression. My language ideas are directed by an awareness of my domestication and, because of where I live, my rustication. Ideas come when I can catch myself in the act of being. I also occasionally indulge in a kind of meditation I like to call “green mind” which entails sitting on my deck in Monte Rio and gazing at the hillside of firs, redwoods, madrones, and oaks. Often that leads me to a place I’d dub as snoo-zen – it’s done with your eyes closed. I don’t know if it’s helpful in the creative process but I find it relaxing.
What have you learned about yourself from your writing of your poems?
I don’t actually see my poems, the writing of them, as a mirror that would reveal something about me that I don’t already know. For instance, that I’m a sucker for puns and wordplay. There is so much more to me as a conscious artist than what is found in the poems. I view the poems as framed sentience so obviously certain things are cropped, edited or left out -- similar to Philip Whalen’s idea of a poem being a picture or a graph of the mind moving.
I am also an avid reader, not just literature but the biological and physical sciences, comparative mythology, art, history, current affairs and whatever else interests me at the moment. That heuristic consistency translates over into how I address the process of writing. Any writing, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, beyond the basic mechanics, provides a feedback mechanism that can reinforce or illuminate certain mental states. Often it is nothing more than an expression of an idea or an insight that comes from understanding something I’ve read or heard or observed and corresponds to the exact feeling of a personal experience, something I can put into my own words as a notation that I have comprehended an ineffable quelque chose. Otherwise, I am actually largely dependent on what I learn from other poets and writers, past and present. All that I can claim as my own are a restless imagination and an exaggerated sense of my own self-importance -- that last alone would normally be enough to qualify me as a poet.
Anyway, these other poets and writers serve as guides and sign posts that allow me to locate myself in the landscape of literature – kind of like GPS but maybe more of an LPS, Literary Positioning System. My points of reference are diverse, from pre-modern Chinese and Japanese poets to early 20th Century French poets, the Cubists, Dadaist, and Surrealists. In the American tradition, I trace a lineage beginning with Walt Whitman to William Carlos Williams and on up to Philip Whalen to whom I owe a special appreciation for his omnivorous intellect and uniquely native ear and eye that distances his work from the overbearing shadow of British biased English literature --even Edgar Allen Poe in the early 19th Century warned of the British trying to maintain hegemony through their control of the language. I also get my bearings from my contemporaries, poets with whom I feel a certain affinity, many of them gathered under the rubric of the so-called New York School, particularly those who are referred to as the ‘second generation,’ poets roughly my age. I’m thinking of people like Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett, Alice Notley, Tom Clark, and Maureen Owen who are not affiliated with an institution as academics but rather as free agents. A number of years ago, Andrei Codrescu made claim of a “California School” in which I was included along with Keith Abbott, Victoria Rathbun, Gloria Frym, Steven Lavoie, Steve Carey, and Jeffrey Miller, to name just a few. Every one of these poets is, in one way or another, responsible for my poetry education as examples, as reinforcement, and as authentication of what I’m attempting in my art.
I have published in numerous literary magazines, among them The Paris Review and Exquisite Corpse, and in popular media and newspapers -- Rolling Stone, The Baltimore Sun. My poems and translations have been included in half a dozen anthologies: Codrescu’s Up Late, Poems For The Millennium, and more recently Saints Of Hysteria. As a writer I have published over a dozen books of poems, two novels, and yet those achievements, such as they are, are just an afterthought when compared to the work of writing, the actual framing of that moment of sentience.
I read somewhere that the uselessness of genuine literature is what makes it morally useful – if that’s the case then I’m probably way ahead of the game. Apparently a real writer, whatever that means, is a watcher at the intersection of discourse and does not write about something, but rather just writes. In the practice of writing it is necessary to be, among other things, extreme yet playful, intricate and subtle, sensuous, and, to a large degree, self-indulgent. Words as a projection of ourselves onto the world describe the psychology of objects, and writing is the progenitor of the technology of self-consciousness. In the process of writing I’ve also learned to heed the advice Persephone gave Orpheus: don’t look back.
How would you characterize the philosophy of Pat Nolan’s poetry?
I’ve been asked this question before and it always gives me a pause. I think it was Basho who said, “as long as you make claim to this oh too human form of existence, you must preserve the poetic in your life, and all your convoluted thinking and plotting must never disturb for you its magic, but rather enhance and beautify it.” It’s not that I‘m not curious about philosophies of poetry put forth by various literary schools and contingents, but I prefer to keep my options open-ended and spontaneous. I have a poem entitled What’s My Esthetic whose last lines are “the first thing I pick up/ after I’ve cast off the last/ that’s my esthetic.”
Then, of course, there’s always the matter of “why am I writing like this, who will be reading it, and who will care one way or the other?” Maybe having a philosophy of poetry means having to consider an audience which, incidentally, is something I find myself doing less and less these days. But whether poetry has an audience or not is a moot point. To paraphrase something George Steiner said, the number of serious poems that have signified much to anyone beyond a very restricted minority is small. The proposition that poetry is in some ways the highest human accomplishment, the one most imitative of the original enigma of creation, is almost universally accepted. That universality, though, is conventional – it’s an abstract password of culture rather than something that most human beings have felt in their bones. "Can anyone hear me?" is a question for the most part that will go unanswered. If poetry is acknowledged at all, it is as a conventional referential experience, not as something that is sought after privately in time of need and comfort. That said, poetry's appeal to an emotional core through language is very real, whether it is greeting card verse or skillfully expressed sentiment.
I think that the audience for poetry, the poem, is the same as it has always been: its practitioners and their literate followers who are primarily professors and their students and former students. The appreciation of poetry, then, becomes a badge of aesthetic achievement. For some, it is superficial and social. For others, it’s purely academic. And for the fortunate, it is genuine and ecstatic. Some cultures pay high homage to their wordsmiths while others merely regard them as anachronisms. Michael McClure once said “all poets want to be rock stars,” implying that they want the kind of adulation bestowed on products of mass media. But poetry is not popular media and probably never will be. It is as ancient as the first metaphysical inklings and at the core of all creativity. The only way it can become mass media is if it is allied with popular art in some fashion, predominately music today -- think jazz and poetry, Lori Anderson, Tom Waits, poetry slams, performance art, to name just a few examples. These are attempts to amplify poetry’s essentially low tech, low visibility, low resolution signature in the popular media spectrum.
But why should I care who reads my poetry? I think I can assume that readers who are not poets come to poetry for something, words, sentiments, they don’t know how to summon from themselves. Readers who are poets or who are friends and relatives of poets read poetry because of their vested interest. Despite the efforts of even the best poets to popularize their art, the appreciation of poetry, particularly poetry on the page, will continue to be an occasional and very personal experience, an intimate exchange between the reader and the poem, available only to those who take the time to read poetry. At today’s hectic pace, time is precious and there are many other priorities that trump this ancient mode of sentience no matter how often it is relabeled “modern,” “post-modern,” “avant garde” or “new wave.”
The question then is “why write or, for that matter, read poetry in the first place?” Mircea Eliade, I think, provides a plausible answer: “Poetic creation still remains an act of perfect spiritual freedom. Poetry remakes and prolongs language; every poetic language begins by being a secret language, that is, the creating of a personal universe, of a completely closed world. The purest poetic act seems to recreate language from an inner experience that, like the ecstasy or the religious inspiration of ‘primitives’ reveals the essence of things.” Now that’s something I can get next to.
How started the thought of The Black Bart Poetry Society?
Black Bart was an outlaw who robbed stages in Northern California in the late 19th Century. He robbed a stage in the Russian River area near where I live. The unique thing about him was that he left a poem, the same poem actually, at the scene of each robbery. In the early 80’s, almost a hundred years later, I conceived of the idea of a poetry society named after him whose members would be literary renegades in the mold of the Dada and Surrealist poets. One of the things the Society proposed to do was hold literary events, poetry readings, in unusual venues rather than the tired old setting of coffee houses or bookstores. Over the eight or nine years of its existence, the Society managed to stage a jazz poetry reading in a cocktail lounge, a ten hour poetry marathon in a San Francisco night club, the On Broadway, and judge a doggerel writing contest at the dedication of a plaque commemorating the site of Black Bart’s stage robbery in Duncan Mills. Life Of Crime, the newsletter of The Black Bart Poetry Society, was actually the succés de scandale.
The idea for a newsletter came from my friend and co-conspirator, Steven Lavoie. He came up with the name for the newsletter from a likely apocryphal story about the conversation between Black Bart and the warden of San Quentin upon the outlaw’s release. The warden asked Bart if he were going to rob any more stages, to which he replied, “I’m through with my life of crime.” The warden then asked if he were going to write any more poems to which the outlaw replied, “I reiterate, sir, I am through with my life of crime!”
Steve had a mimeograph machine, duplication technology that is laughable in this age of desktop publishing, internet and blogs, which we used as the means to assault the literary world, our little corner of it at any rate, with spitballs and rude noises. It was fun at first, lampooning the friends we thought could take a joke, but then things turned sour, ugly even, when people lost their sense of humor and came looking for blood with an axe to grind. We produced a total of 14 issues that managed to alienate just about everyone we knew and get us blackballed from most poetry magazines. The last issue was published in 1989. A little over 20 years later, Alastair Johnston of Poltroon Press published the collected newsletters under the title Life Of Crime, Documents in the Guerrilla War Against Language Poetry which in itself is a fatuous exaggeration, but nonetheless in keeping with the satiric comedy of the Society’s intent. The purpose of all the guff dished out in the newsletter was to prick the pretentious bubble of the supercilious super serious college boys bent on some kind of self-righteous elitist literary hegemony. They called it a revolution, but we all knew that it was bullshit.
What has been the relationship between music and poetry in your life and writing?
I grew up on the cusp of the radio and television age. The Province of Quebec in the late forties early fifties had yet to experience TV the way it was being broadcast in the States – the infrastructure just wasn’t in place. Radio, on the other hand, was a source of entertainment for the whole family from soap operas to variety shows. Music was also a big part of the programming, both on the French and the English stations. I had an uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, only twelve years older than me, who knew all the lyrics to all the songs on the Hit Parade even though his conversational English was quite limited. His name was François though he liked to be called “Frankie” after Frank Sinatra. My aunts adored Edith Piaf the way fans today feel about Madonna or Lady Gaga. Once my family moved to the States and to a suburb of Detroit when I was about 10, I had access to a much wider choice of radio stations and music, mostly pop. And as my tastes in music became a little more sophisticated, I, along with some of my friends, began listening to the forbidden black stations, WJLB from Inkster, Michigan in particular, that played Rhythm and Blues and pre-Motown Soul. From there it was an easy transition to Jazz. While R&B made me want to dance and sing along, Jazz made me listen and think about what the musicians were doing. I was tuning in to the creative process, the idea of improvisation and the kind of soulfulness that could be had, particularly from the saxophone. I’ve never lost my interest in Jazz, and about eight years ago I had the opportunity to host a weekly two hour Jazz show on a local FM station. It was called Dangerous Jazz and I did that for about two years. I originally concentrated on the three M’s of Modern Jazz: Miles, Monk, and Mingus, and the giants of the saxophone, Coltrane, Young, Rollins, Kirk among them. Doing that show reignited my passion for Jazz and re-educated me in the progress Jazz had made since my initial infatuation. I discovered new musicians and renewed my appreciation for the older ones, from Bud Powell to Cecil Taylor. I played music by David Murray, Sun Ra, Henry Threadgill, and Anthony Braxton, cats who could truly be considered to be playing dangerous Jazz. Even under the bombardment of multiple choice multi-media, music, listening to music, still holds an important place in my daily life.
How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?
Music whether from the radio or stereo is often part of the ambience when I’m writing, especially if I’m copying something into a file from my notebooks or composing at the keyboard. Music puts me in a positive head space and I can key off of that energy and apply it to what I’m doing on the page. Certain kinds of music, like Classical or Jazz, can actually influence the rhythms of what I’m writing. Kerouac’s idea of spontaneous bop prosody is a synthesis of the improvisatory licks of musicians like Charlie Parker. Allen Ginsberg was hearing Lester Young’s Lester Leaps In while composing Howl. I think Frank O’Hara was also aware of the effect of music as well, listening to Rachmaninoff while composing a poem on the typewriter. I feel the same way listening to Thelonious Monk. Actually, the way I type because I’m not a touch typist might be compared to the way Monk played piano, with pauses, rests, and a little off key. Unlike the piano though, I can use the backspace.
I find listening to Blues or R&B when I write a little distracting. I either want to get up and dance or get my guitar out and play along. I like to play music though I don’t do much of it anymore. Forty plus years ago, I played harmonica and sang with a blues group called the Dissolved Solution Blues Band. This was right at the height of the Chicago blues revival with groups like Butterfield, Canned Heat, and The Blues Project who were popularizing that brand of electric blues. I also managed a couple of rock bands and got to be involved in the making of live music, playing gigs and in jam sessions. I learned the rudiments of most of the rock instruments. I had played drums in a polka band with a friend in high school as well as in a Boy Scout drum and bugle corps so I was familiar with the sticks. I taught myself the basics of guitar and bass as a matter of necessity to fill in if one of the musicians didn’t show up for rehearsal or a gig. I, like many of my generation, was under the thrall of rock and roll throughout most of the sixties and seventies. Eventually I found my way back to Jazz mainly because the creative virtuosity of the musicians is intellectually stimulating. That said, I am also drawn to the uplifting and soulful music of Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield, and the verve of blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
What do you think was the relationship of Blues and Jazz to the poetry and life of Beats?
I’m not an expert on the Beats or Jazz. I’ve read that the popularity of Jazz worldwide was attractive to any number of writers in the early years of the 20th Century. The Beats to some extent adopted the Jazz lifestyle and participated in the esthetics of Jazz of the forties and fifties which included experimentation with form as well as controlled substances. Like many of the Jazz musicians, the majority of whom were Americans of African descent, the Beats belonged to their own insular society, used drugs, and spoke in a hip slang derived from the private language of hipsters and musicians. Beat writing was to a certain extent influenced by Black music and speech patterns in the manner of its composition which could be compared to oral improvisation, a kind of lively street corner jive. The Beats, I think, recognized the importance and vitality of African American culture. Certainly they must have been aware that Jazz and the culture it represented had graciously given a tremendous gift to the world which was the incredible melding of old world and new world music, astoundingly enough birthed in the crucible of oppression. And that Jazz was the music of the spirit triumphant in the face of what was essentially apartheid in much of this country. Jazz can be thought of as the blues in an urban environment played by musicians of schooled sophisticated virtuosity. It is a music of change and innovation that exults in its freedom. It is also, in a very real sense, what both Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus called Black Classical Music for those very reasons, no matter what some racist pipsqueak from The Frankfurt School had to say.
Pat with Bob Kaufman at 1st Annual Black Bart Poetry Society Benefit 1983. Photo by Maureen Hurley
What's the legacy of Jack Kerouac in music? If he was speaking to us todays, what do you think he would tell us?
Kerouac at his most inventive was a Jazz writer. He relied on his ear to give him a sense of how to proceed with the improvisatory aspect of his writing. I think it’s helpful to understand that Kerouac’s was the first generation of active radio listeners. The ubiquity of music programming as well as radio drama essentially saturated the airwaves and may have contributed to the trend toward orality and the emphasis on the rhythms of speech that is characteristic of Kerouac’s work as well as others of that generation. Ginsburg maintains that Kerouac was tuned into the Jazz of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk from listening to the music on the radio and from hearing it at live venues in Manhattan. Kerouac popularized Jazz by writing about his favorite musicians. In On The Road he describes Lester Young as a “gloomy saintly goof” who “blows cool and easy getout phrases.” In Visions Of Cody Kerouac sketches a wonderful portrait of the saxophonist Lee Konitz. Jazz is the motivating force behind Kerouac’s idea of spontaneous bop prosody which is essentially an attempt to adapt aspects of Bop to a stream of consciousness improvisatory style of writing. Visions Of Cody, also known as the “alternate On The Road”, a collection of what could be considered etudes in spontaneous bop prosody, offers many fine examples of this kind of creative extrapolation.
As far as I’m concerned, Kerouac is still speaking to us today through his writing, some of which is so radical that it has yet to be truly appreciated. I recently read a very interesting and, to a certain extent, eye-opening book by Tom Bierowski entitled Kerouac And Ecstasy which is an exploration of the shamanic aspects of Kerouac’s process and his writing. Beirowski uses some of the lesser known and more difficult Kerouac texts to explicate his thesis, among them Mexico City Blues, Doctor Sax, Book of Dreams, and Visions Of Cody. Not many literary scholars are willing to address Kerouac’s ecstatic spirituality even thought it permeates all of his writing.
Why do you think that the Beat Culture and Jazz music continues to generate such a devoted following?
Jazz is universal, it cuts across boundaries. It was and is a vital and relevant music in that it allows musicians to think outside the box, emphasizing complex polyrhythms, “talking drums” so to speak, rather than the more rigid martial time keeping found in European music, and also permitting, even motivating, individual musicians to improvise from the theme and showcase their particular skills within the loose aggregation of the group, whether it be a quartet, quintet, sextet or full orchestra. In that respect, Jazz continues to be a cutting edge music, one, for its solid tradition and incredible repertoire, and two, because that tradition offers a place from which younger musicians can take off without having to be tied to outdated norms. Literature could learn a lot from these cats.
I think Beat culture, such as it is, still retains an anti-establishment mystique. I don’t know if that is what contributes to its devoted following but there seems to be a love affair with the outlaw, the marginalized, the underdog. I don’t think that the original Beats saw themselves that way, but once they gained popular visibility with the publication of Howl and On The Road, they became mainstream media targets. They were viewed as deviants, criminals, drug addicts, and pariahs and eventually became romanticized archetypes in the style of Rimbaud and Billy The Kid. The original Beats were a conglomeration of probably less than a dozen writers and intellectuals living in New York City so I don’t know if that technically qualifies them as a generation as such. However as more and more media attention was directed toward them, writers not necessarily subscribers to the Beat ethos but who were associated with Kerouac, Ginsburg or Burroughs, or who were part of the scene, socially or geographically – The Village in New York, North Beach in Frisco for instance -- were indiscriminately painted with the same brush. West Coast writers like Kenneth Patchen, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, and Lew Welch were identified as being part of the so-called Beat Movement much to their chagrin. Anthologies purporting to be collections of Beat writing sprang up like weeds all ready to cash in on the negative publicity since, as any ad man will tell you, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Writers, poets not even remotely connected to the Beats were suddenly, overnight, wearing the Beat moniker because of their inclusion in an anthology or magazine linked to something ostensibly Beat. Sixty years later there are Beat Study Groups in universities, movies are being made from Beat novels or aspects of the authors’ lives, and academics are rooting out undiscovered or reconstituted writers from that era just to make their reputation. Suddenly anything Beat is big business. Are you feeling that big irony smacking you on top of the head? And that mournful sound you’re hearing, that’s Kerouac turning in his grave.
What do you miss most nowadays from the 1950s bohemian Beat era and the Blues Jazz music of past?
I don’t have an active or overriding nostalgia for that era, except maybe for the Jazz which has proven to be timeless. I’ll admit to a bias for the Bebop of the late forties early fifties, Cool or West Coast Jazz, and Hard Bop which came a little later. The bohemianism of that era is part of a cultural heritage that is available to anyone who wants to claim it. In my case, I was too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippie. At least that’s my excuse. There are still vestiges of it hanging around in the hipsters of today, kids, in my view, sporting goatees and stingy brims. I think of them as bourgeois beatniks or bourg-niks if you will. But then I should talk. I’m an old wannabe hipster from way back. I fit the mold: I’m apolitical, what you might call a Marxist–Lennonist -- Marx said “never belong to a group that would have someone like yourself as a member” and Lennon said “love is all you need.” I vacillate between being asocial and anti-social. I avoid confrontation, physical or intellectual. I view institutions, schools, universities, banks, prisons, government as instruments bent on compromising the human spirit. I also favor the Buddhist idea of “right mind, right action” though I appreciate the difficulty of putting it in practice. As a poet and novelist, I’m eccentric, keeping my distance from the vortex at the center. And I choose to live in voluntary exile, an exile in paradise.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of world?
There’s a hilarious and very satiric cult movie called Idiocracy. In it the future is populated by idiots so obviously not much has changed. And a man of average intelligence from today’s world is considered a genius. I think that the passing generation will always be concerned that they are being succeeded by idiots and bumpkins. I can’t remember who said it, that humanity will achieve greatness but madness will continue to rule in high places. Anxiety over the future is the agony of mortality. If we were immortal we’d be around to make sure things were done right.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?
If I admit that I laugh I would be disappointing all those who view me as a humorless prick. Mostly laughter is situational and comes from the juxtaposition of the probable and the improbable – I think Alfred Jarry said that – and it’s the mechanism that disarms the clash of realities. For someone without a sense of humor a situation like that can be quite alarming. I look for the humor in everything, the cosmic ha-ha, so that a good part of the time I am laughing, be it at kittens frolicking, my own or someone else’s faux pas, or some slapstick improbability that manifests itself before my eyes, like on TV or in the movies.
For the second part of your question I should explain that I was very sick recently. It was quite a painful experience and no laughing matter, but my partner of many years was there to help me get a grip and gain some perspective on what was happening to me. Emotionally I was reminded of the power of love and how it is possible to surrender to its fathomless depth, a release of selfishness in the face of unquestioning compassion.
What from your memorabilia (books, records, photos etc.) would you put in a "time capsule"?
I think that these days “time capsule” is the same as “storage locker.” So everything I want to keep but don’t have room for goes in there. After forty years in the same place, you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff that I’ve accumulated, just in paper alone! File cabinets bursting with manuscripts, archive boxes full of literary magazines, shelves crammed with books! Not to mention closets full of clothes I’ll never wear again for various reasons. And you want me to make a choice? Impossible! The solution would be to seal up my house with me and everything in it and let that be the time capsule. Actually my children and grandchildren, whether they know it or not, are my time capsules. My children understand the importance I place on my art and will preserve it, or some of it, and pass on to their children the reason for hanging on to some of that stuff as part of their familial heritage. Or not. Photo: Pat with his daughter Irene, 2010
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
A time machine of the H.G. Wells variety is really an instrument of linear nostalgic fantasy. The idea that we can physically travel to a time that has yet to happen or one that has already happened is undermined and limited by the fact that time is but one dimension and that the other three dimensions can’t make the trip. There is only the remembered present as Gerald Edelman so succinctly put it, the 52 microsecond cycle of consciousness that we inhabit at the edge of a vast random unknowable singularity that some have called, poetically, the void or the abyss. In other words, the much vaunted and terribly misunderstood now. I am perfectly comfortable in the now as it encompasses everything I want to do at the moment. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
How you would spend a day with Neal Cassady?
A day spent with Neal Cassady, or someone like him, would undoubtedly be a kinetic experience. Although Cassady is often remembered only as Kerouac’s able and adept wheel man, he was also his partner as a seeker of knowledge, an autodidact with a hunger for ideas and the excitement of discourse. The intellect on fire with new discoveries is a special kind of ecstatic experience, one that you partake of when you are young because that’s when everything is bright and shiny and you have a voracious appetite that allows you to participate in all night talk fests that leave you spinning with the awareness of your own genius and unity with the cosmos. I miss those times.
What would you say to Charlie Parker?
I can’t imagine saying anything meaningful to Charlie Parker. He is someone who deserves the utmost respect as a musician, as an intellect, as a human being. There is an aura about him that precludes small talk or fawning approbation. The only word I could speak would be “Amen.”
"Music puts me in a positive head space and I can key off of that energy and apply it to what I’m doing on the page."
What would you like to ask Jimmy Smith?
It’s funny that you should mention Jimmy Smith because I had not thought of Jimmy Smith and his Hammond organ groove Jazz for a very long time until recently when I wrote an essay entitled The Quantum Of Kerouac that was published in Poetry Flash last July. Jimmy Smith and other instrumentalist like him, pre-Willie and The Hand Jive Johnny Otis with his terrific version of Harlem Nocturne for one, were my introduction to what I would call serious music, Jazz. What can you ask or say to someone of that importance in the development of your music appreciation? “Thanks” hardly seems enough.
Which Jack Kerouac’s adventure makes you smile?
There is early on in On The Road a recounting of being caught in the rain while hitchhiking. Been there, done that. Kerouac says something about heading off into the unknown with expectations. Expectation is probably the worst hitchhiking companion there is! As it turns out Sal Paradise had packed too much expectation and not enough road sense in his rucksack and so the first leg of getting on the road is a false start, and Kerouac presents it with wry self-deprecating humor worthy of an ironic and knowing smile. You and me both, brother.
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