cover image Book of Blues

Book of Blues

Jack Kerouac. Penguin Books, $15 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-14-058700-5

The form of these eight long, previously unpublished poems written between 1954 and 1961, is, Kerouac writes, ``limited by the small page of the breastpocket notebook in which they were written.'' Each poem is actually a series of ``blues choruses,'' and they leap with drunkenly self-centered themes and wordplay, laced with some vivid, subjective observations of street scenes, as in Canto Uno of ``MacDougal Street Blues'': ``I mean sincerely/ naive sailors buying prints/ Women with red banjos/ On their handbags... They don't even listen to me when/ I try to tell them they will die.'' Girls, nonsense and the craft of writing are topics that figure prominently. Like all of Kerouac's work, these choruses live or die with the poet's enthusiasm, sometimes sunk in navel-gazing, sometimes stunning in their inspired leaps between images or thoughts. They beg to be read aloud and, like the jazz they are meant to reflect, some sections really swing while others are just keeping time. (Sept.)