Thursday, 15 September 2011

Minor Characters: Women and the Beat Poets

Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson

The girl friends of the beat writers (Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs etc) didn't really get a look in at the time - usually off camera and in the small print.  On the book cover, you can just see Joyce deliberately blurred to the left of Kerouac in this iconic image.  But, they were poets and novelists in their own right, pioneers of female liberation, often with tragic consequences.   Unlike the men, the girls weren't having the swinging, brilliant time we might imagine, but instead trying to have relationships with lovers who were commitment phobic, and leading lives maimed by drink, drugs and abortion. Joyce's best friend, the poet Elise Cowen, finally jumped out of a seventh storey window after several failed relationships, including one with Ginsberg, and a botched abortion.

Joyce Johnson, now a successful  award-winning author, but not the household name of her lover, Jack Kerouac, tells the story of those lives with insight and compassion.  Of her own life she says:

'If time was like a passage of music - you could keep going back to it until you got it right.'

But there are no rehearsals - you just have to improvise and learn to live with the wrong notes.

This book is a very good read if you want to know the flip side to the romantic story.

1 comment:

  1. Joyce Johnson it's a great American author. I've heard that she won the National Book Critics Circle Award.