Wednesday, November 29, 2006



Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac
Introduction by George Condo
(Penguin Poets Edition, 2006)

Book of Sketches says Jack, as opposed to Sketch Book which he was not doing i.e. drawing or making pictures. And hand written by Jack on the first notebook is this: “Book of Sketches Jack Kerouac (Proving that sketches aint Verse But Only What Is):

Well ya can’t do better than that. He got it right and is exact to what he is doing here. I love that way of talking to the reader. He even makes reference to the size of the original note book (…Written On the Little Pages in the Notebooks I Carried in My Breast Pocket 1952 Summer to 1954 December…..), fits in a shirt pocket, over his heart for Christ’s sake. What gets me is thinking that the original little spiral notebook was almost exactly the size of one of today’s little Razor bat phones people carry around. Think of flipping open one of the little notebooks….there it is. And isn’t Jack doing here what kids are doing across America, the world, today….sending images, text, virus to one another. So was Jack.

If ever a person wanted to experience life in middle America 1952 – in Carolina, in a sister-in-laws kitchen, on a summer morning in the piney woods….fuck……… have Jack with you and he has nailed it. Just that simple. As strong an image could come across your little phone right now. Here he is describing that woman’s morning:

“Change now to
Dungaree shorts, gaudy
Green sandals, blue vest
With white borders & a
Little festive lovegirl ribbon
In her hair Carolyn prepares
The supper- ….

She prepares the aluminum
Silex for coffee – never
Puts an extra scoop for
The pot – makes weak
American housewife coffee
--but who’s to
Notice, the Pres. Of the
Waldorf Astoria? – She
Slams a frying pan on a
Burner – singing “I hadn’t
Anyone till you….”

Tell me you cannot see, hear, smell, feel all that. Nice that Jack doesn’t even try to disguise his presence…of course he is sitting and watching and ‘sketching’ that is the point and there is no punch line, no big finish like so many dreary poems of today. Nope. Jack simply stops writing.

This is all classic Kerouac writing, nothing new or truly overly amazing. It is Jack and he is moving around the country and he is writing. It is description, it is telling, it is color, it is form sure and all that But Why Isn’t It As Inane As Norman Rockwell or Edward Hopper???? Well that is worth thinking about because it may be just as strong and impressive in its way just like either of those guys but there is something that does come across with Kerouac which super connects the reader to his experiences. Doesn’t it?

Funny the introduction is by George Condo whom I knew through a mutual friend here in Lawrence, Kansas. George is a great guy, a beat scholar and hell of a painter. The intro is a good one. I do disagree with George when refers to these texts as poems. I don’t know. Maybe they are or not…. If they are poems they are good and I really respect all of Kerouac’s work as poetry as much as any of his peers…Ginsburg included. Well, doesn’t really matter because just thinking about it now, I can’t name 5 other poets working in 1954-59. But if it is poetry, okay, then what is in this volume stands up with best of Berrigan or Dorn or Olson and Ginsburg. And not even go into the - I do this I do that- of Frank O’Hara. Geez, if anyone invented THAT genera it was Kerouac. Well we love them both in there ways. To read the Lunch Poems or here in Book of Sketches the texts about Manhattan or Brooklyn or the docks or the boats or just getting drunk on the subway…well they both did it, Frank and Jack, and here it is.

As relevant as all of the above may or may not be, what is true about this book is that you can carry it around and open it anywhere to find where exactly Jack is and what it is surrounding him. Who else do you know could spend so many lines describing a balcony on a NYC tenement building or a small town in bumfuck Kansas or a relatives kitchen in Carolina or the market in Tangier. Or just sitting. Anywhere:

gray sky above has
a hurting luminosity to the
eye & also rains with
tiny nameless annoying
flips & orgones -
life dusts of Time -
beyond is the vast
aecidium green Erie
pier, a piece of it,
with you sense the
scummy river beyond-"

So there is NYC...go find it still.

Or if you be in Colorado:

"...the one skinny
revolving windmill in
the Vast, - lavender
bodies of the distance
where earth sighs to
round - the clouds
of Colorado hang blank
& beautiful upon the
land divide-..."

And then, for Jack, a family home:

"...a pink-tinged pastel,
the No Carolina afternoon
aureates through the
white Venetian blinds
& through the red-pink
plastic curtains & falls
upon the plaster, with
soft delicate shades - here,..."

Ah, it would be easy to fill so many pages with little quotes of this text. I guess the recommendation here is for you to read it all...and why not? Nothing to lose. I can’t say this has great importance in the beginning of the 21st century. Maybe it has none. Really. Maybe it is just something to read, to ponder, to be entertained by...why not?

I can find no real smart brainaic reason to buy or read this book. Nothing here to turn you or me into a better poet or person for that matter. Not that it should. But, if you want to spend some time..........


Jim McCrary lives with his wife, painter, Sue Ashline in Lawrence, Kansas. His latest chapbook from Really Old Gringo Press is titled: Oh Miss Mary and speaks to the real life of Miss Mary Magdeline -- who IMHO is a true Holy Ghost.


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