Saturday, April 4, 2009

To the Beat of the Beats

Last night I attended the fiction authors' readings put on by gritLIT, Hamilton's literary festival under way this evening. Two of the novelists, with whose work I am acquainted, didn't surprise. The third author Ray Robertson, whom I hadn't read before, did.

Part of the subject matter of his novel What Happened Later is a trip by Jack Kerouac to Quebec in 1967 to explore his own background. Sick and alcoholic, he persuades a friend to drive him to Canada, to go "on the road" one last time. This journey is offset with a boy's first discovery and search for Kerouac. The two contrast each other throughout the book. (Young Ray. a decade or more later, knows the author is no longer alive; it is not a quest for the person.)

The subject in itself could have held my interest. I am a long time admirer of the so-called Beats, especially the poetry of Ginsberg, Snyder, Corso, Ferlinghetti, McClure, and of course Kerouac himself, since I first read and heard them in the early sixties. Aside from language and subject matter, I was struck by their use of the rhythms and improvisations thereof that I was discovering in jazz at the same time. They wrote and read in beats and breaths, cadences I could follow and fix and hear when they were long gone. Whenever I opened a work to read for myself those cadences resounded through my mind.

Imagine my surprise when Robertson began to read from his book. No, that wasn't Kerouac's voice. I know it. I have in my collection nearly all of his recorded work. But the tone and the cadences were almost, to my ears, indistinguishable from the best and most satisfying of Kerouac's writing. Here was someone who had absorbed his subject and in some way assimilated and now expressed him.
That kinetic, pent-up energy was there, coiled as if barely controlled. The music of a bebop jazz group hummed around my ears. The stacatto bursts of words whipped around the room. And I sat there with my metaphorical mouth wide open in amazement.

I sat through the rest of the program, waiting to purchase the book to take home to discover if that magic was really there. Believe me, it is.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Good Morning Jefferson,

I also was at the same reading last night and found all three authors very enjoyable. It was great to see the room so well filled as well.

Your comments about the work of Ray Robertson would make that author very happy if he were to read your blog.