Monday, September 26, 2011

Vanity of Duluoz Review

When Vanity of Duluoz was written in 1967, an overweight and severely alcoholic Jack Kerouac had only two years to live. Chronicling the years just before his adventures with Neal Cassady, his last complete volume takes Jack from the football fields of high school, to the dangerous seas of World War II, and finally to a New York City brimming with the Beat movement. Although the substance is youthful and energetic, and the witty tone addressed to his last wife is entertaining, a clear and strong resentment of the human condition pervades the book. "Nothing came of it. All is vanity" is the acidic conclusion.

As we read, it becomes clear that the days of satori and mythic revelation in On the Road are long over. There is something uncompromising about this book, and though it looks back to an earlier time, it is full of death: Kerouac's doomed shipmates on the Dorchester, the murdered David Kammerer, and the author's broken father. His friend Sabby Savakis dies during the war, and when Kerouac sees "flowers of death" in his eyes at the Boston dock as they say farewell, we sense perhaps the author is seeing them in the mirror twenty five years later.

A version of similar events appeared in Kerouac's more clearly fictional first novel, The Town and the City. So, why bother rehashing these years? For the author, it became a question of truth. He states, "Everybody'd begun to lie and because they lie they assume that I lie, too....but I do believe lying is a sin." The project of Vanity of Duluoz is to set records straight, to complete the great "Duluoz legend" in its memorial entirety. We can hope that someday a future scholar will put all these books together in one great Proustian novel, as was Kerouac's dream.

Appraising this final piece of autobiography, the reader almost believes Kerouac sensed his own impending doom, and valiantly attempted to complete this ambitious narration. He mentions a woman's letter written to him recently that stated: "You are not Jack Kerouac. There is no Jack Kerouac. His books were not even written." It is against this great nihilistic denial that the author fights, swinging his great fists of prose. And against his own feeling of bitter defeat he places another, greater feeling: I am.

You can find the original article, and others, at Empty Mirror Books.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Donald Hall Birthday Celebration

I was honored to speak about the history of Hamden when former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall returned to his hometown for his 83rd birthday. I wrote about his life here in my book, Hamden: Tales from the Sleeping Giant. Sharing the event with the mayor Scott Jackson and Connecticut Poet Laureate Dick Allen was the icing on the cake.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Poetry Reading at the Dickerman House

This photo of my wife, poet Amy Nawrocki, reading at the historic Jonathan Dickerman House in Hamden, looks a little bit like a sorceress incanting a spell. That could not be more appropriate. Poetry is magic, only, those who do not fall under its spell are cursed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Best Video in Hamden

I'll be at Best Video in Hamden this Thursday night at 7:30. I'll be discussing the importance of storytelling when it comes to writing history.

Hope to see many of you there!