Friday, October 8, 2010

Poet History #5 - Jack Kerouac

By Larry Patterson

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac, born March 12, 1922, an American novelist and poet, he was a pioneer of the beat generation alongside other members such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Considered a literary iconoclast, Kerouac’s writings were most recognized for the spontaneous method covering a wide variety of topics such as his travels, Jazz, Drugs, and Buddhism only to name a few. His more notorious works include titles such as Visions of Cody, On the Road, Mexico City Blues, The Dharma Bums, a much more.

Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, to French-Canadian parents, and spoke the French-Canadian dialect Joual until he learned English at age six. As a child, Kerouac was heavily devoted to his mother who played an important role instilling religious beliefs, which can be seen throughout his works. At the age of four, he was heavily affected by the death of his brother (age nine) from Rheumatic Fever. His skills as a running back for his high school football team landed him a few scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Boston College, and Columbia University, though out of the three, he chose Columbia University. While attending the university, Kerouac broke his Tibia in his freshman season, forcing him to sit on the bench. It was also said that he would have several arguments with his coach. For the University’s newspaper, Kerouac wrote several sports articles. He later dropped out of the university when his experience began to turn south.

Kerouac’s first novel, titled The Town and The City, was written in Queens, New York, and soon after began writing On the Road soon after. His first book, published under the name John Kerouac, sold poorly while gaining a few respectable reviews. He finished his novel On the Road in 1951 and it was published in 1957 by Viking Press. The novel is largely autobiographical, and details spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends, across America. The success of the novel brought Kerouac into immediate fame. Among his novel bibliography Kerouac has much poetry to his name. He performed his works as Spoken word and created a new definition to the American haiku, which is not difficult, but were simple and as “quick breaths” or just witty, honest, abstract or even glum. An example of Kerouac’s Haiku may be found below.

The Taste

The taste
of rain
—Why kneel?

Kerouac died on October 21, 1969 at age 47. The cause was internal hemorrhaging caused by Cirrhosis; the result being from a lifetime of drinking. He is buried in his hometown of Lowell. In 1974, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, opened up the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa University. Among his legacy, being seen as the King of the Beat Movement, Kerouac was awarded a post-humorous Honorary Degree from University of Massachusetts. In 2009, a movie by the name of “One Fast Move or I’m Gone—Kerouac’s Big Sur,” was released, and it chronicles the times in Kerouac’s life which led up to his novel Big Sur. Since his death, Kerouac’s literary prestige has grown, and all of his books are in print to this day.
Below are some samples of Kerouac’s work through spoken word videos and Pacifica Radio Podcasts.

From The Vault: The Beat Generation featuring Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac: Fragments

Jack Kerouac Reads

Jack Kerouac/The Beat Generation


This piece on Jack Kerouac was written by Larry Patterson, a regular contributor to Poets United. If you would like to learn more about  Larry you can do so by checking out his “The Life of a Poet” interview (found here on Poets United) or by visiting his poetry blog Systematic Weasel.  Larry will have monthly article in the Poet History series and a few other features found here at Poets United so come back often if you enjoy reading Larry's work.


  1. Great post! I love Kerouac and really enjoyed the videoS. Nice work Larry. :-)

  2. This is so weird. I have just posted a poem inspired by a Jack Kerouac quotation and I popped over to see what was up on Poets United to find...Jack's face front and centre. Thanks for this Poet's life Larry. Kerouac is a continued source of inspiration.

  3. I'm glad you all like it! =) If anyone is interested, I found a trailer of the film mentioned in the post. =D


  4. thanks Larry for a great write up on Jack K...sad he to died so young....bkm

  5. A great history, Larry - very interesting background of a Beat legend. Thanks for posting it.


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