Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Kerouac, Jack (1922–1969)
Author:
Britton, Wesley A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Prolific writer of verse and rhapsodic, spontaneous "bop" musical prose in the 1950s and 1960s, Kerouac, like fellow Beat generation writer Allen Ginsberg, repeatedly claimed that his work was in Whitman's direct lineage. Kerouac couched his aesthetic in a jazzy and distinctively Whitmanian idiom, arguing that "the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind—tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow!—now!—your way is your only way" ("Essentials" 73).

Gaining perspective from Whitman in high school and at Columbia University, Kerouac frequently spoke directly to the older poet as his muse, as in his popular On the Road (1955). He alluded to Whitman in such poems as "Berkeley Song in F Minor" and "Long Island Chinese Poem Rain." In the "168th Chorus" of Mexico City Blues he declared that "Whitman examinated grass / and concluded / It to be the genesis / & juice, of pretty girls" (168).

In his correspondence, Kerouac often praised his forebear, as in an October 1954 letter to Alfred Kazin that observes that Whitman's poetry "is the biggest in the world because there could never have been a Whitman in Europe and the Whitman of Africa is yet to come" (Selected Letters 451).

Bibliography

Kerouac, Jack. "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose." Evergreen Review 2.5 (1958): 72–73.

———. Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940–1956. Ed. Ann Charters. New York: Viking, 1995.

———. Mexico City Blues. New York: Grove, 1959.


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