Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dead Poets Remembrance Day - Part I (Jack Kerouac)

I didn’t expect that last year’s Dead Poets Remembrance Day -- a stroll in Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery with stops and recitations (and a few songs) at the graves of a number of poets along the way -- each stop a dollop of spiritual richness and vast  pleasure -- in a beautiful setting, and  with Mother Nature blessing us congregants with that true blue sky  mentioned by e e cummings, and with a warm sun, and with a perfect October crispness -- so, no, I didn’t expect -- for that would be asking for too much -- I didn’t expect, two years in a row, an equal measure of richness.

It was achieved nevertheless. This year’s Day of Remembrance took place day before yesterday, a Friday, and, as it turned out, was another perfect day.

Not a stroll this year, but an ambitious drive, starting at nine in the morning at John Whittier’s grave in Amesbury, followed by a visit to his homestead; then on to the North Andover Burying Ground to see the Anne Bradstreet Memorial; this followed with a stop at Edson Cemetery in Lowell to celebrate the haiku of Jack Kerouac, that city’s great son; then some fifty miles down I-190 to Worcester’s Hope Cemetery to visit the grave of Elizabeth Bishop as well as the graves of Stanley Kunitz’s father, mother, and stepfather, followed by a visit to the boyhood home of Kunitz. Finally, Dead Poets Day was to end at sunset on Author’s Ridge in Concord at the grave of Louisa May Alcott. 

Dedgar the Poemobile

Living about 130 miles from the first stops I didn’t want to rise god-awful early so I slept in a bit and met up with Walter Skold (the founder of Dead Poets Society) when he pulled Dedgar, his white van (the Poemobile) along the grass in Lowell’s Edson Cemetery near ‘Ti Jean’ Kerouac’s grave; we were among a crowd of close to fifty.

Raffael de Gruttola, of the Boston Haiku Society, addressed the crowd, speaking about haiku in general, citing especially admiringly the haiku of Nick Virgilio, a Camden, New Jersey poet fairly considered one of our country’s most accomplished composers of haiku.(When one of your haiku is admired by an Emporor of Japan -- as one of Virgilio’s was -- then you may automatically be considered one of this country’s most accomplished haiku artists.) 

Raffael de Gruttola
de Gruttola’s opinion is that Kerouac, with his love of words in general, and his spiritual penchant for mixing his Catholic mysticism with Oriental religions, was, when it came to haiku, a natural, and he admires Kerouac’s haiku tremendously. He recited several, saying each one twice, as if the first recitation was for our ears while the reiteration was for our hearts.

de Gruttola, perhaps out of an admirable modesty in the circumstances,  did not recite any of his own haiku, but I’ve dug one up which is marvelous: 

             bumper to bumper
    the monarch changes lanes

After de Gruttola’s presentation Walter Skold fetched from Dedgar a cold six pack of some variety of Sierra Nevada beer and two 24-packs of plastic shot glasses. I helped pass out the Mini Party
Cups (each would hold about an ounce) and felt bohemian-beatnik-hippie rebellious when handing a few of them to youngsters who were probably no more than fifteen or sixteen.  “Salut!” exclaimed a man who’d once taught French at the Lowell High School, and we raised and downed a San Franciscan beer in a toast to Jean-Louis “Jack” Lebris de Kerouac. (So, doing the math, there were 72 ounces of beer, and containers enough to hold only 48 ounces; I was one of the lucky ones who ended up not with a plastic container but with a bottle containing perhaps four ounces of an excellent cool beer.) 

And then, a schedule to be kept, we Dead Poet Society followers separated ourselves from the many who happened to be at the gravesite as part of Lowell's annual autumn celebration of its beloved son. Ours was a tiny caravan of three vehicles, heading for Worcester, some fifty miles down Interstate 190.

Up tomorrow: "Dead Poets Remembrance Day - Part II".


  1. Hey George,

    Is this a previous picture of your of Kerouac's grave?

    1. No, I took this pix on a 2007 trip to Lowell; the ones I took on latest trip did not turn out well. Thanks for reading. - Geo

  2. Hi W. Stauffer - Sorry I couldn't get to your blog to respond. No, I took this pix on a 2007 trip to Lowell; the ones I took on latest trip did not turn out well. Thanks for reading. - Geo