October 3, 2012
“The immense triangular arc from New York to Mexico City to San Francisco”: Jack Kerouac writes in The Dharma Bums.
After two publishers turned down On the Road in quick succession, Kerouac went to Mexico in a huff to stay with William Burroughs. It was a dispiriting time for him, but also an experimental time, with poetry suddenly emerging as a complement, or maybe a counterpoint, to prose.
Mexico City Blues opens with this note: “I want to be considered a jazz poet/ blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam/ session on Sunday I take 242 choruses;/ my ideas vary and sometimes roll from/ chorus to chorus or from halfway through/ a chorus to halfway into the next.”
I’m not sure if I like the poetry better than the prose, but the line breaks are interesting, the jazz rhythms are interesting, especially the idea of constraint. In an 1968 interview with Ted Berrigan for The Paris Review, Kerouac says: “As for my regular English verse, I knocked it out fast like the prose, using, get this, the size of the notebook page for the form and length of the poem, just as a musician has to get out, a jazz musician, his statement within a certain number of bars, within one chorus which spills over into the next, but he has to stop where the chorus page stops.”
Mexico City isn’t much of a physical city in these poems, but it is the place where jazz becomes poetry.