Kerouac: A Thought or Two

2 April 2018:

He would become a writer concerned above all

with the poetry of what he remembered and perceived.

—Joyce Johnson

Last year I read a Kerouac bio by Joyce Johnson called The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.

I remember not wanting the book to end. Not wanting to be done with it. Never wanting to ever be done with old Jack.

I suspect in so many ways I never will be done with Lowell’s lonely child.

Even in Joyce’s bio, staring directly in the face of his flaws, I realized I can’t ignore his place in my life of literature. His place in the life of America. The life of the world.

I can’t ignore how his books came along and bowled me over at such a crucial time. Think Visions of Cody. Think Desolation Angels. Think, of course, On the Road.

Think of someone reading Kerouac like a madman in their early 20’s, trying to be a writer—can you imagine the impact?

Some would say all Kerouac did was type, not write, and that he wasn’t much of a novelist at all.

But that’s not why I devoured him the way I did. I could write and ramble—maybe even in Kerouacian fashion—and list all the ways Kerouac both widened and lengthened my road. But here and now, with this wintry April entry, what exactly do I want to say? To say I respect the hell out of Jack? To say I feel no writer has dug as deep as he did or had such an earnest struggle with himself?

Jack: You got some piece of the puzzle. I will say that.

Now, reading you with such distance (such time, such places) from the time your work found my world to where I am today, now I say I understand a little more. I understand the pangs, both good and bad, of the writing life.

Let me say this, Jack: Thanks, ultimately, for your struggle. How so much a part of my struggle it is.

And let me close by asking a few questions, and waiting for the answers.

How do we go from the road to the mountain to home?

How does anything ever get done?

And how do we build a voice to match our vision?

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