A Comparison of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac

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A Comparison of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac

 
   Why. Excuse me. Why. Does. Excuse. Why me. I mean. Excuse me. Why. Does. It . Always end up this way. Like this. A performance. It's my best excuse. And. I'm on the wagon. Again. Why. Excuses. Sitting in the state of a daydream. No. Falling. A performance. Why what it comes down to. Poetry. And. My two main men. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Both use their individual voice to perform the buddhistic beat they feel is part of their poetry/ their beatific movement. Even though these two poets influenced each other. And. Their voices are significantly different. Each has a personal style one cannot deny. And. Each boy added his separate beat to the music they created as a generation. A beat generation. Jack's buddhistic jazz/ blues chorus poetry is domesticized/ tainted Christianity-wise. And. Allen's sound becomes zentific without Christianity/ hanging on a cross in the backbeat of his prose poetry. While each may have his own personal style/ both poets use the same technique in sound. And. Rhythm to give their audience something to bugaloo to. Excuse me. What's. That. Poetry. Baby. A performance. So. Please brother. Take a chance. And. Dance. (She says that as she shh shh shivers.)

"It's all gotta be non stop ad libbing within each chorus, or the gig is shot" (Kerouac, 1). And he meant every word of it. Jack's system of jazz/blues choruses work on/carry on harmonically as well as through certain words or phrases put together through sound. And also like jazz, his music, seemed to happen spontaneously, like nothing was planned.  In the '182nd Chorus', the ideas behind the phrase "The Essence of Existence is Buddhahood" is carried on into the '183rd Chorus' with the phrase "This is the real Buddha" (Allen, 171). It is like a bar of music in a jazz or blues riff. The idea and sound of one chord moves into the next, traveling, never knowing where it is going to end up. Just like the idea and sound of one line in one of Jack's choruses moves into the next, traveling, never knowing where it is going to end up. It sounds and looks spontaneous.

 

And because of this it is meant to be preformed out loud so it can be heard like a jazz or blues riff wailing.

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On the page the writing looks sort of flat, lifeless, all written in columns. But for example, when read out loud by Allen on tape, or live, these words, these phrases come to life and build on each other. It's magic. It seems that Jack, through this piece in its entirety, was trying to show waves and waves and waves of beat. He wanted to show a ripple effect of jazz/blues. How it moves in and out, then expands taking over its own sound. Engulfing itself over and over again, just like when a rock hits the water after it has been thrown into the middle of a pond.

 

He uses Buddhism as a function (or motor vehicle) to embody and locate these jazz and blues riffs. He seems to make the connection between the rhythm of Buddhist language or talk and jazz/blues rhythms. The "e's" in "The Essence of Existence is Buddhahood" has a certain rhythm to it that Jack discovered and implemented into his blues chorus (171).

 

But in other choruses this picked up Buddhism is undercut, or tainted with the phrases and or beliefs of that mainly sound Christian. Jack was raised a catholic (and i believe he remained catholic all of his life), but his Catholicism was tainted with his discovery of the Zen poets, such as Li Po, and Buddhism itself. And in reverse, so were his choruses. In '219th chorus', it is plain to see Jack's Christian influences coming through.

 

Saints, I give myself up to thee.

Thou hast me. What mayest thou do?

What hast thou? Hast nothing?

Hast illusion. Hast race, regret . . .

(173)

 

Or when he says in the exact same chorus, he writes "The Devil giggles in his poorclothes" (173). Through these few lines in this chorus we see how Christianity had filtered its way through Jack's Buddhist screen and out into his writing style, domesticizing Buddhism. There is nothing wrong with this. For me, it is just how Jack saw the world, and its music to my ears when i hear these choruses being sung. Unlike Allen, Jack uses his Christian influence to connect with the rhythm of his choruses on a deeper level.

 

There is a good reason for this. Allen Ginsberg was raised Jewish and therefore did not have the same religious influences as Jack. But like Jack his religious back round also tends to taint his buddhistic perspective in his poetry. The influence of Judaism on Allen's poetry is amazing because of the direct separation between east and west arising in his poems. Allen's 'Sunflower Sutra', is an example of a poem more buddhistic in style, while his 'Kaddish' is considered more of reflective piece on his mother's death.

 

Another similarity between Jack and Allen is rhythm and sound. But Allen changes his beat up by writing his poetry in a prosy form. Instead of pounding it out in columns on a page, Allen decided to use the whole width of the page to place his poetry on. Compared to Jack's poems, the use of this style slows up the speed of Allen's poems itself, but there is still a rhythmic quality there that is hard to deny.

 

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole,

companion, we thought the same thoughts of the

soul, bleak

and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the

gnarled steel roots

of trees of machinery. (179)

 

In 'Sunflower Sutra', Allen concentrates more on the ideas being presented than following a blues or jazz riff to move it into another ripple. He locates this poem (as he does in most of his poetry) and tries to make it concrete by using descriptions such as "the oily water on the river mirrored by the red sky, sun sank on top of Frisco peaks . . . " while Jack's poetry is not as concrete but more abstract in its form (179). Allen does not seem to be interested in promoting Buddhism as a religion to follow. He seems to be using it more as a way to present how he feels about his situation as a beatnik (in a counter culture) watching the middle class of America become sick somnambulists (people he considered in the main stream) from the street through their picture windows all staring at televisions.

 

Even though Allen's poetry is more prosy than Jacks, Allen's poetry was also meant to be read out loud. Hearing him read his poem (or any of his poetry for that matter) 'America' on tape allows one to hear the magic and performance that Allen implemented in his poetry with his own voice. It also allows his audience to listen to his political stances against American ideals of that time. The sounds he makes while reading, with his literal voice is sweet, resonates and carries on a melody to the ear that is hard to forget. An "America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel" while Jack's melody is sweet and smooth, not as direct attack (more obscure) on American ideals in his poetry.

 

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven. All good children go to heaven. Why. Excuses. Why me. Why. Does. It. Always end up this way. Like this. A beat. Ad libbing. Magic feeling. A performance. Or the gig is shot. Skinny trees and purple bees. Buzzing. A beat to show they were not deadly dancing to the tune of the satellite radio waves of the t.v. screens blaring. Or the gig woulda been shot. Each separately. Excuse me. Seriously brother listen. Heaven.

 

Works Cited

Kerouac, Jack. Book of Blues. San Francisco: Penguin Books Ltd., 1993. p. 1.

The New American Poetry/1945-1960. Edited by Donald Allen. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999. p. 168-201.


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