Poets On The Peaks

I’m reading this great book about Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, and with mentions of Allen Ginsberg, about their time spent on fire lookouts in the North Cascades of the USA.  It’s quite neat to read the real-life stories of these folks that are given new names in Jack Kerouac’s book The Dharma Bums – which is a most excellent read as well.

The 1950’s beat Buddhism generation were ahead of their time – beating the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s to the punch.  These folks fell in love with the Diamond Sutra (aka Diamond Cutter) and carried those old copies of Goddard and Suzuki around with them at all times.

Probably the most important thing about these people, at least to me, revealed through this aforementioned work, is how in order to write poetry and books, they used real life events applied to their craft.  They ate peyote, took Benzadrine and drank copious amounts of alcohol before sitting down in their chairs to write.  At one point, while Jack was up there on Desolation fire lookout, he came face to face with something other than what he was expecting; Jack was hoping to come face to face with God, Buddha or some Source while isolated and alone up there on the mountain – instead he came face to face with himself.

While I don’t engage in any consumption of drugs or alcohol, I am still able to gain insight into these people’s lives.  This work shows these revered poets and authors in true light: as human beings on a personal path of struggle and how some of the made it out the other end, and some of them died trying.  After all, I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle such harsh criticism from Alan Watts on my book and would have drank myself into the depths of hell just as Jack did (and wrote about in Big Sur).

But in my heart of hearts, these men will remain for what they were: extraordinary because there were so ordinary.  May their works live on forever.

CTK

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2 Responses to “Poets On The Peaks”

  1. What is that “harsh criticism from Alan Watts” that everyone talks about it? Wikipedia mentions it, too. But I can’t find what Alan actually said, and where. Do you know?

    • ctkwingchun Says:

      I don’t remember the exact words (they can be found in the book Poet on the Peaks) – but, basically Alan called him a hack. Said his beatnik Zen wasn’t the real Zen. I think this really affected Kerouac deeply. I think it was shortly after that Ginsberg came out with something and it got nothing but praise from Alan. This, again, affected Jack. Great book for a behind-the-scenes look at the ones who were the pivotal characters of the beat generation.

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