Tag Archives: The Beats


"Further"The grateful dead's bus

This bus is going Further!

Here are some verses I wrote looking back on my time in San Francisco, when I was doing some poetry readings with Gerry Nicosia. It was an extraordinary experience, a blending of past and present, Old and New World, with poetry and poets flying between. As we walked through North Beach together we were increasingly conscious of the spiritual reverberations of the poetry we loved, the sense of hidden angels everywhere, of glory on the margins, and starlight glimpsed from the gutter. I felt myself suspended between a communion of the saints and a kind of communion of the poets, especially when we went to St. Peter and St. Paul’s where Kerouac and Cassady once prayed together in a moment of grace against the odds.

'where Jack and Neal once prayed'

That Church has a wonderful inscription from Dante’s Paradiso, written right above its entrance, a line in which Dante Praises the light that shines throughout the Universe. Of course Dante knew that light was Christ, as did Gerry and I. But maybe the true source and name of the light remained hidden at the time from Jack and Neal, though they kneeled on this spot to pray. I prayed that they might find or be found by that light, ‘let light perpetual shine upon them’. And I pondered again my own vocation as poet and priest, a vocation to respond to the smallest glimmer of the Christ light in myself and in others wherever and whenever I see it and to try and help all people, including myself, to recognise and turn to it. The whisps of fog that blew in and out of the city seemed to me an apt emblem for that partial light in which we see all things until we know fully even as we have been fully known. The ‘magic bus’ that Neal drove for the Grateful Dead just carried the word “Further” as the tag for its destination. but maybe it didnt go far enough, maybe if some of those wild explorers could have gone a little further upstream, along the line of such lights as they were given, they would have come to the Source Himself. But maybe in the end they did, I hope and pray so. I also hope this poem gets a little of the flavour of my experience and thoughts in that magical city. You might like to know that Van Morrison’s song Foggy Mountain Top has always been a favourite with my band Mystery Train, After years of singing it I finally came to San Francisco and found out what it is about. “Cloud-Hidden, whereabouts unknown” is a phrase from a chinese poet, the title of a book by Allan Watts, a former Anglican Priest who lived in San Francisco, and also the repeated chorus line in Van Morrison’s song Alan Watts Blues.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or the title.


For Gerry Nicosia

I flew to San Francisco
And took the rainbow bus
Further into otherness
And further into us

Further into ecstasy
And further into pain
Further than those acid tests
And all this acid rain

I climbed the stairs in City Lights
And tried the poet’s chair
My verses formed a golden gate
That shimmered in mid air

My verses hung a bridge between
Those Dharma days and mine
Suspended between heav’n and earth,
Tense in every line.

Snyder breathes the mountain air
Where mountains walk alone,
Ferlinghetti’s breathing still,
Tho’ Ginsberg is long gone,

His chants are still vibrating
Beyond his final bow,
He howls a hipster’s Sanctus
With hidden angels now.

And Cassady is everywhere,
Garcia’s in my head
I’m grateful just to be alive
To hear the Grateful Dead.

I read with Nicosia, read
The faces and the streets
I beat these pavements with the man
Who chronicled the Beats.

We touch St. Peter and St. Paul
Where Jack and Neal both prayed
And Dante’s writing on the Wall
Says all that can be said.

Tonight we read in Berkley,
Tomorrow in North Beach
We’ll harmonise with mermaids,
Still singing each to each.

The skyline writes an epitaph
With every vapour trail,
As Gerry reads his elegies
For every Vet in Jail.

And after in Vesuvio’s
We drink a few for Jack
While Tom says to ‘fare forward’
And Van sings ‘take me back’.

I try to read the glimmer,
The strange pearlescent light,
That graces SanFrancisco skies
And presages the night,

And find myself cloud-hidden,
Where rhythms never stop,
Cloud-hidden with the poets
On the foggy mountain top.


Filed under imagination

And the Beat goes On

I am fascinated by the threads of connection that run between all the kinds of poetry, song, and story-telling in which I delight and am always pleased when they are living connections in the form of real people you can meet, friends you can make. For example as my father-in-law and I got to know each other we found we had the same tastes in literature, loved the same poets and even the dame pasgaes in some of those poets, and we both seemed to have learned to appreciate the same qualities. I remember saying to him that it was CS Lewis, as a literary critic who had guided me into the fields of literature and given me some keys to understanding it all, and he replied, “well he did the same for me, only in person as he was my tutor at Oxford!” Suddenly we both knew who the connecting thread was and I felt a particular pleasure that my father-in-law was a living link for me back to an author whom I knew intimately but had never met in the flesh.

The same goes  for my passion for American song and poetry, especially the work of Bob Dylan. From the day I bought Highway 61 Revisited Dylan has been the voice and channel for me for a whole stream of American poetry which I soon came to realise stretched back behind him, not only nto blues and folk, but very specifically into the Beats,  especially the great figures of Ginsberg, and Kerouac, who were in their own radical way carrying on a tradition of flamboyant, inspired anarchic, energetic writing that goes back to Walt Whitman. In Dylan’s film Renaldo and Clara there is a moving episode where he and Ginsberg visit Kerouac’s grave and play music and recite poetry together, honouring someone who served the same muse.

I have been involved for a while in a jazz poetry project, the Riprap Collective, which takes its inspiration from the Beat Generation and tries to do in a new way and in new jazz and poetic genres, what the beats did in their day, but until now we had no living link

with the beats who insired us. but all that changes this week! This Friday, 22nd October I will be playing host to Gerald Nicosia, the  internationally acclaimed author of Memoy Babe, the great Kerouac biography, and a recognised authority on the whole beat generation. but he is himself also a performance poet and has performed alongside Ginsberg at blues and poetry festivals and indeed Ginsberg has commended his woek on Kerouac. Gerald is coming to Cambridge to give a public lecture on the Friday in the English Faculty, 9 West Rd, to which all readers of this blog who are in, or can make it to Cambridge are welcome. But then on Saturday he is going to join with me, Riprap and  another Cambridge poet Keith Dursley and we are going to do our own version of the kind of Jazz-poetry happenings at which Kerouac and Ginsberg used to read. This should be an amazing, and in its own way historic event, and again all my readers here are very welcome. I am giving all details below and hope to see some of you there.

Two Jack Kerouac Events

The Writer Kerouac, the Mythological Kerouac, 
the Popular Kerouac, and the Real Kerouac 

A Lecture by Gerald Nicosia
5pm Friday 22nd October, GR-05, 
Faculty of English,
 9 West Road Cambridge.

All welcome, free admission.

Poetry and Performance

A poetry reading and performance by Gerald Nicosia with members of
The Riprap Quartet.

With support from KM Dersley and Malcolm Guite. 

8pm, Saturday 23rd October, 
Memorial Church (Unitarian), 
Emmanuel Road
CB1 1JW. 

Tickets £5 on the door.
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Filed under imagination, literature, Music, Poems, Songs