2022-23 Beat Poet Laureate (England)

Kerouac & Suffering

This article is based on a talk prepared for a reading in Oxford to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Beat Generation author and poet, Jack Kerouac (March 12 2022). Delivered as a review and introductory essay on the nature of suffering in Jack’s work, selections are made from a variety of texts for review purposes only. The topic of suffering is merely one possible theme in Kerouac’s wider oeuvre which he called Duluoz Legend, alongside his journals and letters. This talk was intended for the lay reader with either little or no knowledge of Kerouac, or his work, but will hopefully also satisfy those familiar with Kerouac’s body of important 20th Century Beat and Buddhist literature and reflection.

OXFORD READING: Kerouac 100 – ‘Nowhere to go but everywhere’

by Karlostheunhappy

this article first appeared in the eco-arts magazine Steel Jackdaw, in a slightly different format.

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity in the illuminated hands of the Buddha
The Scripture of the Golden Eternity

Useless, useless,
  – the heavy rain
Driving into the sea

Scattered Poems, City Lights Books, 1971, pg.74

In my medicine cabinet,
  the winter fly
has died of old age

Scattered Poems, City Lights Books, 1971, pg.74

These two western haiku by Jack Kerouac, published posthumously in Scattered Poems by City Lights in 1971, and then later in 2003’s Book of Haikus (Penguin, 2003) are both examples of the subject of this talk and reading: ‘suffering’.

Suffering was a constant throughout Jack’s life and work, and, indeed, according to the Buddha, all our lives. So, let’s read again those haiku and see if we can spot this suffering.

The first implies a search for meaning and finds only useless meaningless. Perhaps tragedy, but certainly acceptance. There is also perhaps beauty here and, certainly, irony. Perhaps this search for meaning is some of the cause of our suffering existence.

Irony is also apparent in the second haiku, which deals more directly with the most obvious cause of suffering: our mortality. We don’t expect to countenance death when we open the medicine cabinet. And fear of death, of course, is, in itself, a source of anxiety and suffering. Jack’s ironic humour tells us that it doesn’t matter; we’re all gonna die, no matter what. It happens to us all. Even if we believe we might live again.

These two haiku were among the first poems of Jack’s I had ever read. I came to love them. My first haiku. My first brush with something like a zen mind.

I liked how the form appeared straight-forward to me and my ill-educated, working-class mind. But also, at once, how it was beautiful and sad. Then not sad, but real. This is the possibly of insight that a haiku can carry within itself.

I learned quickly that the form was only superficially simple. As a discipline it was tight, with all kinds of rules. 17 syllables in a strict 5-7-5 pattern. ‘Kigo’ or season words. Things like that. But Kerouac, told me to throw all that away; that the rules aren’t the essence of insight and that actually he proposed:

…that the “Western Haiku” simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language.

Scattered Poems, City Lights Books, 1971, pg.69

The first haiku is made up of 14 syllables in a 4-4-6 pattern. The second is 17 syllables long but in 8-4-5 sequence. I imagine the ‘correct’ number of syllables in that instance is just a coincidence.

But Jack wasn’t dismissive of the form; far from it, he admired the master, Matsuo Basho and cites an example in his introduction to the poems. He just doesn’t accept the logic of squeezing a poem into 17 syllables unnecessarily. He argues that the form suits one language and that to squash it into another makes no sense: the naturally syllabic Japanese differs to English in that way. He’s more interested in essence and brevity than form. After all, the Beats are renowned rebels; rebelling railing against the stuffiness of the literati as much as the new materialist, consumer world that gripped post-war USA.

Jack’s stance is liberating and consistent with the Beat philosophy of the rejection of sterile and stale norms in literature. This outlaw-like view remains a cornerstone of Beat poetics to this day.

Let’s dive a little further with Jack’s Book of Haikus and see if we can spot more of that essence over form and our theme of suffering. In the following example, the evidence of suffering is replaced by an openness, having become illuminated to life as suffering.

The bottoms of my shoes
  are clean
From walking in the rain

Book of Haikus, Penguin, 2003, pg.8

This haiku potentially resonates with the outcome of spiritual practice. The watching of thoughts come and go. All things must pass. Everything changes. Out on the road, in the dusty tracks of America, besides the railroads and mountain trails the bottoms of our shoes would get mucky and worn, cleaned simply by the purity of rain. The haiku is a moment in present tense, a fact picture of moment with illumination. Here we get that, and almost spiritual resonance.

We treat rain so negatively in real life (especially in Britain!), but here, as in most poems, it’s a calming, cleansing natural phenomenon. Jack is giving us that unexpected enlightenment so sought after in good haiku. It makes me think of Jack’s novel, The Dharma Bums, when reading this haiku, where Jack is tiring of the bars and Beat life, and is keen to be cleansed, instead, by mountain hikes with the zen-like Gary Snyder, and its streams and snow caps.

Wine at dawn
  – The long
Rainy sleep

Book of Haikus, Penguin, 2003, pg.12

This haiku also echoes those party nights referred to at the start of The Dharma Bums but now also resonates with a later scene in Jack’s life, when he awoke after a night’s drinking in a field, giving it prophetic weight. That’s a scene I refer to that in my own poem of lament for Jack, which I’ll read later. These haiku date from the mid to late 1950’s.

Again, we see a contradictory juxtaposition where something potentially positive and beatific comes out of what could be generally regarded as negative. This is sometimes called the ‘turn’ in a haiku. Perhaps in this example there’s a sense of potential peace to the end of a night’s heavy drinking, like the rest of a long journey. Again, a chance of metaphor with our own interpretations of the ‘long sleep’. This is where we, the reader, can ‘finish’ the haiku in our own mind, with our own resonance and significances.

A good haiku paints a picture moment with precise phrasing and few words. ‘Wine at dawn’ says much in just three. To be still drinking at dawn, or at least the effects of the drink whilst awake and up to catch the dawn; then the long sleep that follows a good session – in this case in the rain, too drunk to be awoken from it, too buzzed to see it as anything but just so. Or, perhaps, sad and have given up, drunk. Kerouac’s life shows us  that either could be true. But – and here comes the main thesis of this talk – there’s an illuminated acceptance in both of these haiku of that suffering the Buddha identified as he sat under the Bodhi tree, as the cause of all mankind’s unhappiness. Jack is open to the rain, the dawns on this long road of life.

Let’s park the haikus for now. We’ll come back to them later. So, I’m Karlostheunhappy and here today to celebrate the 100th year of Jack Kerouac’s birth.

I’m from the dark Forest of Dean, with its whispering pines and wise old oaks and – like most of you, I’m sure – I’m just a reader of Kerouac. Today is all about reading Jack. All I’ve done here is to thread the readings around the topic of ‘suffering’ in Jack’s work. To take them in review around this theme.

There’s also, of course, that change from poetic beatitude that might arise when we accept the Buddhist worldview, as Jack did. We’re looking for that in this writings.

I have written poems inspired by the Beats and my own interpretation of Jack’s work. He, of all the Beats, has left the greatest impression on me. And that’s precisely because it was he who introduced me to this journey of suffering.

Kerouac’s journey was on the road from Catholicism to Buddhism and back to Catholicism – told with his Beat mind and illuminated bebop jazz phrasing.

By way of offering a very quick survey of his life and some of its themes, let me read a new poem I’ve written especially for this day, this celebration of Jack Kerouac…

Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac


Oh, Jack Kerouac, safe in heaven, dead

your journeylife of suffering dukkha

your searching finding and losing

your pain and beatitude, longing, handsome face   piety

you, you writ-down samsara universe as roar of crashing surf at Big Sur,

writ down drunk,        drink drunk the moutaintop snowmelt

or, as boy in depression-era rain along Moody Street,    cathedral looming

stars above the streetlamp night, mournful tones of Bird ballads to come

all set sail this day, March 1922 –

and you, shy, confused, excited and lonely

shared music of words as images of life and self-legend existence journey

sang Londonesque, Wolfean, new Proustian bop-prose

long lonely nights of boyhood/all life w/o yr brother, dead aged 9

sound of father’s print shop, mother at the sink, stars above the pines

motion of the midnight special under the sad moon of America (her majesty be)

meditations on the raw suffering of this world

meditations of the born alone shadows to die

you, Christ-loving sweet desolation angel of our mind,

                                                                                    you set sail the song –

by Karlostheunhappy © copyright 2022 Karlostheunhappy (C. Spiby writing as Karlostheunhappy), to be featured in the forthcoming collection ‘Turning Leaves’ (from the Gloomy for Pleasure imprint, autumn 2022)

In this poem I hope to touch on just some of the influences, sounds, pain and love in Jack’s life, that being the source of his Beat odyssey – the Duluoz Legend. A life filled with beatitude and suffering – the classic spiritual journey. It’s that which touches me most deeply from his writing, not the crazy jazz prose with all that hitch-hiking across America, that Mexican loneliness and sweating Benzedrine. The real kicking music to this odyssey is the beatitude of the non-existent thing we call a soul.

So, Jack, brought up catholic, found Buddhism by accident. Reading Thoreau and wanting to find out more about Hindu philosophy, by mistake took out, instead, Life of Buddha by Asvaghosha.

Then, later, February 1954, California, read in San Jose public library Dwight Godard’s A Buddhist Bible (1938) which he’d go on to quote in his own Wake Up (written 1955, published 2008).

Also, important The Gospel of Buddha by Paul Carus.

Note how both titles have catholic overtones (‘bible’ and ‘gospel’) – perhaps Jack felt more comfortable with those works because of it. Approached Buddhism from a Catholic perspective, with sympathetic eyes.

Anyways, Some of the Dharma (written 1953-56, published 1997), which just started as a notebook really, became a magnificent document of his spiritual enquiry in notes, questions, journaling and poetry. Became like a haibun of Buddhism itself.

The inner sleeve blurb of the Viking Penguin edition offers a good summary of where Jack’s mind and career was at the time…

Kerouac’s first novel, ‘The Town and the City’, was published in 1950. By 1953 he had developed his unique spontaneous prose style, and written five more novels, including ‘On the Road’, but New York publishers turned them down. Discouraged, he gave up on the publishing world, turned to Buddhist practice, and, in chronicling it, developed a new nonfiction form.

Some of the Dharma, inner-jacket sleeve notes, Penguin 1997

From the very first page we see Jack (and any potential reader) setting out at step one of the Buddhist ways, with his interpretation of the classic ‘Four Noble Truths’ of Buddhism…

  1. All Life is Sorrowful
  2. The Cause of Suffering is Ignorant Craving
  3. The Suppression of Suffering can be Achieved
  4. The Way is the Noble Eightfold Path
Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.3

He continues with the noble 8-fold path, again with his own addendums and interpretation. Some of the Dharma is a dialog between pupil and interpretation; a space for contemplation where notetaking evolves into poetry and prose, plump with ideas and quotations.

Jack applies this new outlook to his own life, with honesty.

In this excerpt of a long poem, he attacks himself and his former adventures and hedonism that are at the core of his Beat myth. That mythology is the one bestowed upon him by the media of the era and their response to his later success. They crown him spokesperson for a generation of Beatniks because of those tales of hedonism. But he was an unwilling participant in fame, and I argue it is these more noble explorations of Jack’s sensitive discontent – as shown in his haiku and spiritual explorations – that reveal a much deeper personality than the hedonist he is famed to be.

Greediness – that’s the cause of this utterly-proven-to-be-mistaken desire to go on tasting
existence —- greediness for what
you havent had, as though you hadn’t
had it already —-Whatever you do will
end bad if it’s not the Dharma you
do —-please wishes or unpleasant
results, the root is the same, it’s the
same imaginary idea in a dream and
don’t forget it—
            So why go to Africa?
            Go to India, rather.
            Why see Burroughs or Bowles both?
            See a Guru rather. Or no one nowhere.
            Why go to Frisco?
            Al Sublette, chown mein, port wine —
            Like as of old
            Melaye in Lowell, peanutbutter, milk—
            Combinations in the sadness—
            Greediness to dote on huge Self,
            Leave that ignorance to the grave.
            May Jean-Louis retire quietly
            And write the world’s Old epitaph.

I wanta go to Tangiers, I want girls, I
wanta write the biggest book in the world,
I want spring to come, I want, I want—
Wanting, I get; getting, I lose; losing, I
suffer; suffering, I die—
            NOT WANTING, I DON’T GET

I give up greediness & retire to a
——Mind Farm——

Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1996, pg.266

William S. Burroughs, so key in the early New York days, and after, those Tangier days, is now set aside for the gurus of India (where Ginsberg and, indeed The Beatles, would later go in search of self-same-self enlightenment).

The discontent is in the awakening of his own suffering and Jack is always suffering. Even at the end of the often euphoric On the Road, when he watches Old Dean Moriarty walk away, shoulders hunched in the rain, sad about his friend, his hardships, that phase of his life over and having lost friends before, and his brother, father…ah sadness. Love always moving away from him.

But now that he is on the Buddhist path, he finds that this bright suffering shine has been illuminated to him before. That, perhaps, it is a natural, common-sense reality. Let’s go back in time to hear him cite his own friends looking back to ‘49…


The Diamond Statement
“Dead eyes see” —Ginsberg 1949
“The soul is dead” —Kerouac 1949
“And so and so and so—and blow and blow and blow” —Cassady 1949

Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.54

Here we hear the voice of Jack and Allen (Ginsberg) at a time when both were on par with their poetic illuminations that question the soul of post-war America. For Cassady, hyper-Cassady, though, we get the jazz exaltation, jazz salutation ‘blow!’ – or poetically with the ‘and so’ the ethereal listlessness of the universe just blowing in the wind.

The Beats are best understood as a group even with their disparities. They write for and about each other, argue and love each. They fall out, and love each other, push each other on. And love each other. Cassady, Burroughs and Snyder all gurus of a kind. Jack, himself, guided by Christ guru as much as the Buddha of our age, Siddhartha Gautama.

That above section, I think, acts as a bridge from the friendship of the Beats, their adventures, onto their evolving spirituality. But also, it feels like a section from The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1960) – more on that shortly. As does…

Conceive of Nothing
While you live
And I give you

Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.62

…and one of my personal favourite moments in Some of the Dharma…


Stop seeking pleasures,
Satisfy your natural wants;
Break clean from ambitions,
Escape from the urge to improve,
Be like a kid
And salvation will come of itself.

Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.110

That line ‘Be like a kid’ is so yearning for innocence. And what an example Jack had; as young ‘Ti Jean’ (as his mother called him), as a boy who looked up to his near-saintly older brother Gerard, only for him to die, aged 9. Possibly the first mythology in Kerouac’s life. But that mythology, holy, sweet, innocent and, most of all loving, Christ-like.

Here, in this dual poem Kerouac remarks dourly as merely “involuntary blabberings in a dream —there’s your precious ‘modern prose’” (Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, page 113), showing his cynical side as much as his big sky mind…

I           The stars                                             I           All things
I           Are thought                                        I           Are empty
I           Thinking.                                             I           And in essence
I           *************                                      I           Eternal

Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.113

We’ll come back to Some of the Dharma shortly, as I think it’s his key text for this period in his short life.

Jack wanted to spread the learnings of the Buddha in a plain-speaking manner. But this was in the post-War consumerist America before the spiritual awakening of the countercultural age of the 60’s, itself heavily influenced by the Beats (especially Alan Watts, the Beatles embrace of contemporary Gurus in India, and Ginsberg).

Kerouac, along with Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder were way ahead of the curve. But whilst Hermann Hesse wrote his Siddhartha in 1922 (in German – published in the US in 1950), Jack still felt the need to tell the story of Prince Gautama for himself in Wake Up.

Witness how simply written this workmanlike opening passage is. It’s conversational, free and relaxed as if Jack is talking to us around the campfire under the stars, re-telling the story to all…

Buddha means the awakened one.

Until recently most people thought of Buddha as a big fat rococo sitting figure with his belly out, laughing, as represented in millions of tourist trinkets and dime store statuettes here in the western world. People didn’t know that the actual Buddha was a handsome young prince who suddenly began brooding in his father’s palace, staring through the dancing girls as though they weren’t there, at the age of 29, till finally and emphatically he threw up his hands and rode out to the forest on his war horse and cut off his long golden hair with this sword and sat down with the holy men of the India of his day and died at the age of 80 a lean venerable wanderer of ancient roads and elephant woods. This man was no slob-like figure of mirth, but a serious and tragic prophet, the Jesus Christ of India and almost all Asia.

The followers of the religion he founded, Buddhism, the religion of the Great Awakening from the dream of existence, number in the hundreds of millions today.

Wake Up, Penguin, 2008, pg.7

With the Buddha, Jack found a workable spirituality without all the guilt of Catholicism. But the trappings of this outlook, this new, simpler, illuminated humanity wasn’t new to him. It merely corroborated and widened what he already knew. I’ve already said that Jack came to kindness and piety via Thoreau. We can see it in his journals, collected as Windblown World and, for example, in this snippet, c.1948.

The most exalted Americans were all men of simple tastes and spiritual aims- Thoreau, Twain…The American idea is also the exaltation of social humility & decency.

Windblown World: the journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, Penguin, 2008, pg. 143

Or here, in one of my favourite passages from The Dharma Bums (published 1958). In it we’ve fast forwarded to 1955/56 (so peak Some of the Dharma note-taking period). Jack has embraced the back-packing life, has climbed the Matterhorn with Gary Snyder and is now looking to head back home east to meditate out in the woods at night and all the comforts of home.

I was started on my new life with my new equipment, a regular Don Quixote of tenderness. In the morning I felt exhilarated and meditated first thing and made up a little prayer: “I bless you, all living things, I bless you in the endless past, I bless you in the endless present, I bless you in the endless future, amen.”

This little prayer made me feel good and fool good as I packed up my things and took off to the tumbling water that came down from a rock across the highway, delicious spring water to bathe my face in and wash my teeth in and drink. Then I was ready for the three-thousand-mile hitchhike to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where my mother was waiting, probably washing the dishes in her dear pitiful kitchen.

The Dharma Bums (1958), my edition was the Flamingo Modern Classic, 1994, pg.105

Notice the domesticity in this excerpt. We can also see it in the way Jack responds to Roy Hamilton’s hit song of the era, Everybody’s Got a Home, which he refers to elsewhere in The Dharma Bums, and which also paints a similar homely picture – this longing to be among the comfort of familiar faces, at home with the warmth of everyday family life, where you’re loved and accepted for whoever you’ve become.

Jack’s mother (Gabrielle), Catholicism and home-life (perhaps a return to the childhood certainty?) are more than warming nostalgia for Jack, they’re a constant safety-net to which he can safely fall. The tragic irony being that when his fame and reputation wane, when he finally marries Stella (sister of a childhood friend) and settles at home, returning to Christ, he’s just as restless and seeks, instead, a tragic refuge in drink. The suffering remains.

This paradox of home life and wandering presents as a contradiction, the kind of which we see all the time in real life. It’s this honesty, this adventure of a real person, with doubts and worries, dreams and desires, conflicts, and failings, which provides another reason why Kerouac continues to appeal. It’s the reason why he’s authentic and humane; his work reflects our own messy lives even if we’re conflicted over different things, in different ways. That honesty, that suffering honesty, laid bare throughout the Duluoz Legend, and the journey Jack takes us on through it, is the real thing.

The Kerouac mythology is built from the criss-crossing of America, the jazz-lines and drink. But just as important, to me at least, is that Jack yearns for the homely ways as do we all. We all just want to go home, even if we have to make our own. He writes of it again his early Windblown journals c.1947/48 (referring to Thomas Wolfe of Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again)…

Privately, for me, it should be a calm home life to offset the restless mental life…otherwise I’d burn out quick, like-Wolfe.

Windblown World: the journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, Penguin, 2008, pg.149

These words now read prophetic: Jack was only 47 years old when he died in 1969, burnt-out from drink. He made it only a decade longer than Wolfe in the end (1900-1937).

Now I’d like to share my lament for Jack. This comes from my own collection, Oblivion: 200 seasons of pain and magic (Gloomy for Pleasure, 2020).

In this poem I consider the moment that might have been a point of no return for dear Jack. It is set four years before his death and is based on an incident that took place in Cape Cod where Jack had to be thrown out of club for his rowdy, drunken behaviour. He awoke next morning to find himself in a field. In this poem, which I wrote with my own morning hangover, I suggest that this moment was a possible point of no return…


morning rain on the grass
isn’t rain but dew, the night residue
hot coffee soothes the haunting booze
yawn – the birdsong

think of Kerouac waking in a field
his soul already seeping –
Death, the drinkdeath, pouring stars down his throat
like sand, bitter cloying clay –
‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ – lost
‘Leaves of Grass’ – lost
his own words unable to rise –
a drunk itching heart, messy, confused –
            when did you cease seeing the angels?
you lie in dew
come to –
no holy vision –
only four more slow years to go now
then rest
Christ on the cross climbing down
the small hand of Gerard, at last, slips into yours
but for now the Buddha has prepared a blanket of dew
just for you,
‘Ti Jean’
‘Look Homeward, Angel’.

by Karlostheunhappy (c) copyright 2022, originally published in Oblivion as ‘A Triptych of Lament’ with sections on Lew Welch and Richard Brautigan

(this poem also features in that superb publication, Beatdom, issue #22 – the Kerouac special, also celebrating the centenary)

OBLIVION 200 seasons of pain and magic - available now from Amazon.co.uk or .com
this poem features in OBLIVION: 200 Seasons (of pain and magic) by Karlostheunhappy

Having identified that life is struggle and that, perhaps, Buddhist practice and meditation can help us on the journey through it, questions about the nature of reality will naturally arise. Jack tackles them in his beautiful little book, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (City Lights, 1960).

If we are awake to the nature of life – suffering – then, once aware of it, one can focus on our place in a whole universe of dying which, in turn, enlightens us to savour moment. Moment is reality. Reality can be a ‘golden eternity’ if we are able to ‘see it’ before us. The ‘golden eternity’ – as Jack calls it – went before us and will be there after us.

Focus on moment is key to two disciplines at the core of Jack’s life: poetry and meditation.  In this short passage from Jack’s Scripture…, let’s hear how wonderfully he articulates these ideas and themes…

That sky, if it was anything other than an
illusion of my mortal mind I wouldn’t have said
“that sky”. Thus I made that sky, I am the
golden eternity. I am Mortal Golden Eternity.

I was awakened to show the way, chosen to
die in the degradation of life, because I am
Mortal Golden Eternity.

I am the golden eternity in mortal animate form.

Strictly speaking, there is no me, because all is
emptiness. I am empty, I am non-existent.
All is bliss.

This truth law has no more reality than the world.

You are the golden eternity because there is
no me and no you, only one golden eternity.

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, City Lights Books (Pocket Poets series no.51), 1960, my edition was the 1995 City Lights edition, pg. 24-25

And, if you want the most important lesson Jack took from Buddhism, as a way to confront suffering, then look no further than, once more, The Dharma Bums

‘Compassion is the guide star, said Buddha.

The Dharma Bums (1958), my edition was the 1994 Flamingo Modern Classics, pg. 156

Finally, let’s end where we began, with some haiku.

The fly, just as
  lonesome as I am
In this empty house

The other man, just as
  lonesome as I am
In this empty universe

Book of Haikus, Penguin, 2003, pg.181

Is this the same fly that would go on to die in Jack’s medicine cabinet of old age? Is Jack the other man, a different self – perhaps the real Jack, the Catholic self as compared to the haiku-writing Buddhist Jack? Is it the general ‘everyman’? A ghost of guilt? Or another actual person? Perhaps it’s just one of his friends: Cassady, Ginsberg, Snyder, Lew Welch or Philip Whalen? Any could be true. But also, it is true for me. And perhaps you.

There’s also a balance between both these final two haiku, the last in Book of Haikus. They’re part of a subset of haiku, from notebooks labelled as the Northport Haiku dating early to mid-1960’s, some of which, according to the editor (Regina Weinreich), ‘appear to have been written from the point of view of Kerouac’s cat, while he was drunk.’ (Book of Haikus, Penguin, 2003, pg.160)

I am indebted to Jack Kerouac to turning me on to Buddhism. It took me a long time. At first, I remained a young, hot-headed atheist. But as I’ve grown older, I have found I have got so much more from Jack’s writing by opening my mind to his suffering worldview. And I don’t mind at all if he retreated to Catholicism.

Besides, Buddhism is not easy. Like haiku, it looks easy. Meditation looks easy. But they’re not. And that might be partly why I seek the secular Buddhist pathway. I don’t know. But moreover, I rather think that Jack often found both faiths had more in common in terms of essence and teaching about kindness than difference, or at least, that’s what he took from it. Piety.

At first I thought it was Alan Watts, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass or the music of George Harrison that opened the door to looking again at eastern practices but really, having been a lifelong reader of Kerouac, I found that with this aspect of his life he stepped lightly into my mind without me even noticing. He was sleeping there, under the stars, meditating. Drunk. Rowdy. Quiet and forlorn.

I loved and love his books, his writing. The jazz bop prose, the odes to friendship and his deep vitality for life and haunting despair. But it was his desire to find his own true nature and to traverse his own suffering, shared through his writing, which had settled in me most.

100 years after his birth, this great, tragic, confused, fallible, homely, exciting, loving, irrational, stubborn, drunken fool of a man still lives all about us, in a great, simple and brilliant Golden Eternity. And always will. He’s in us. All of us because…

There isn’t, there never was, a Jack Kerouac


Some of the Dharma, Penguin, 1997, pg.182-183

Thanks for listening (reading!)

the author of this article / talk & review – Karlostheunhappy (2022-23 National Beat Poet Laureate (England))

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: thanks to James Orton for organising the event, and to all the readers who took part and all Kerouac readers the world over who help keep the Kerouac’s name and work alive.

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