10.01.08

Kerouac

Posted in Events, Kerouac, On writing, Writers at 6:29 am by Marion

White Line Miles
Originally posted on 19 February 2008

The words appeared like a highway

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The head security guard was called that Thursday morning as Greg and I prepared to enter the New York Public Library exhibit of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” scroll. I was working on a public radio piece; she didn’t like the mike. At last she waived me through; we were in.

I stepped into the exhibit hall and, well, swooned. The 60-feet of scroll was unrolled in a long, narrow case that led to a giant picture on the back wall of a highway. It appeared the scroll was itself a road, part of this asphalt one, and each connected by sheer length. The scroll, hundreds of words, and the pavement, hundreds of white lines.

Rather than starting in order … and risk losing my clear thinkingness on notepads and jottings … I began with the scroll itself.

I stared for I don’t know how long at the first paragraph. I read the first line over and again (find it here), looked at the typewritten letters one at the time, watched for penciled edits. I simply drank in the paper, as if I were sitting with Kerouac himself and he was telling me, “Now here’s where I started, you see I was drinking lots of coffee and had been working on this thing for years in my mind, and one afternoon I knew it was time to get started, and my girlfriend had this long architect’s paper in her closet, left over from an old boyfriend, and I taped those long sheets together to make a roll so I wouldn’t have to stop thinking and writing to reload the typewriter.”

After about an hour with the scroll, I must have come to my senses and noticed Greg, who was a dedicated reader and examiner of each item in the exhibit. I felt a little superficial in comparison.

I went into the large hallway outside the exhibit room and recorded some thoughts for my public radio audio diary, then went back in.

Still not starting at the beginning, I went next to his notes for “Some of the Dharma,” the long book he wrote about Buddhist thinking for Allen Ginsberg. Never printed in his lifetime, the pages were printed about 10 years ago, just as he designed them, with his drawings and typographical designs — poems in pyramids, haiku in neat boxes.

At this point, I’ve seen only about 5 or six of the 300 items on view. I go out for air, and noticed that we’ve been at the exhibit already for two hours.

IMAGE: Jack Kerouac. Private manuscript copy of “Gone on the Road,” the first page of the typescript of an early version of “On the Road,” written in August–September 16, 1950. From the New York Public Library Berg Collection and reproduced courtesy of John G. Sampas, legal representative of the estates of Jack and Stella Kerouac.

Kerouac in Rocky Mount
Originally posted 29 May 2008

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In the photo above, you can see the back of the house on West Mount Drive in Rocky Mount, N.C. where Jack Kerouac spent several months in early 1956.

He lived there with his sister, Caroline, or Nin, and her husband, Paul Blake.

It’s only through the dedication of John J Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., that we know about this house. In the early 1980s, after moving to the state with his wife, he became obsessed with knowing more about Kerouac’s time in Rocky Mount.

Understand, nowhere did any biographer mention the possible location of the house. That’s why when I made a similar search about the same time, I came up empty handed.

I was working at my first newspaper job in 1986 and heard from another writer that Kerouac had spent time in “Big Easonburg Woods.” I knew Little Easonburg but had no idea about this other place and figured it was just a rumor, anyway.

One day I trekked to Braswell Memorial Library, looked through the North Carolina collection. Nothing. I drove around in Little Easonburg, which is just west of town on Sunset Avenue. Nothing.

Then in the late 1990s, curious again, I went to Braswell Library.

By this time, Mr. Dorfner had published his slim, but dense, volume, Kerouac: Visions of Rocky Mount.

There were photos inside and I drove along West Mount Drive until I found the house. It is pictured above.

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