The following is a diary entry from March 18, 1986, the day after a remarkable cultural event in Lowell, Mass. In 2019, Lowell is again Marching for Kerouac with a marathon reading of On the Road at the Pollard Memorial Library (3/9), a Jack Kerouac Birthday Celebration produced by Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Inc. (3/9), and a new play adapted from Kerouac’s 1944 novella The Haunted Life, which begins its run at Merrimack Repertory Theater on 3/20. Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso had probably not been in Lowell since the funeral of their friend Jack in October 1969. Allen returned several times and Gregory once or twice more to support the community’s long-running effort to keep Kerouac’s legacy vibrant.—PM
March 18, 1986—An amazing event at Liberty Hall last night. The benefit reading for the new Jack Kerouac organization in Lowell was a wild success. About 300 people filled the sold-out theater. The audience included writers from the area, local arts activists, national park staff, longtime Kerouac advocates, members of the media, fans from New York City and Boston, Franco-American leaders in the city, community cultural enthusiasts, and curious others. Allen Ginsberg opened with a spontaneous song for the evening, accompanying himself on the harmonium. He wore a suit and a skinny shiny silver necktie. Allen was quoted in the Lowell Sun yesterday saying that Kerouac is a kind of saint. He pointed out that Kerouac is popular in China, where selections from On the Road are used in an English-language anthology used in some reading classes.
Next, Tara Taupier read selections from two of Kerouac’s Lowell novels, Doctor Sax and Maggie Cassidy, followed by Dan Connelly, a University of Lowell student who read a poem by faculty member Charles Jarvis (Ziavras), a Kerouac biographer. Music teacher and operatic singer Gerard Brunelle stunned the audience with an epic poem about polyglot Lowell and its Little Canada neighborhood, a huge, tough poem jammed with the stuff of French Lowell. Brian Foye, founder of the new Kerouac nonprofit group, then introduced writer George Chigas, who read three striking poems about Cambodian refugees, including his wife, Thida, who have settled in Lowell—their experiences in America and back home in Southeast Asia. George finished with his opus, “Flashes of Kerouac,” a sprawling poem in praise of the author. After all that, I read poems from my book Strong Place—“Bush Pilots,” “Green Windows,” “Merrimack Street,” “Dylan Sings to Kerouac,” and “Crazy Horse.” That was the end of the first half of the program. Cheers and applause for all the readers.
Fifteen minutes later, the second part of the program began with a tape of Kerouac reading from Doctor Sax. Ginsberg brought the recording, and it was the first time the tape had been played in public. The hall went quiet. Kerouac was a wonderful reader of his own work. He’s not frantic at all, as some might expect from his spontaneous prose style. Listening to his favorite radio shows as a kid must have given him a sense of how to modulate his voice for performance.
Next, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso took the stage, sitting in two chairs, sharing a microphone. Corso started, reading a few short poems, reciting others from memory. He stopped and interrupted himself and offered asides. During the first half of the program Corso sat with the other readers to the side of the stage and kept up a running commentary. Gregory turned the mic to Allen, who read from his Collected Poems, choosing pieces with a Kerouac connection. The highlight was a powerful rendition of “Sunflower Sutra.”
Gregory then read his long poem “Elegiac Feelings American,” composed as an outpouring of his heart following Kerouac’s death. He read the entire poem, stopping at times to comment, explain, and criticize his work. The reading now was getting to be three hours long. Allen closed with his poem about Kerouac’s death and one of William Blake’s songs, again singing while playing his music box.
Earlier, when I had stepped down from the stage after my reading, Allen looked at my book and asked, “Who published this?” “I did.” “Good idea,” he said. It was a whirling, heady evening, everyone caught up in the excitement.
Following the event, a crowd of people attended a reception at the Taupier family home on Clark Road in the Belvidere neighborhood. See the photo caption above for more details about the party.
What a night.