Gerald Nicosia – Ferlinghetti

for Neeli Cherkovski

Lawrence never let me treat him like a famous man
I sat down to interview him
a green 27-year-old Midwestern kid
He said, “You need a better microphone than that”
I said, “I don’t know where to get one”
He said, “C’mon, I’ll take you”
And he led me six blocks away
to an electronics store
and showed me which one to buy
When Jan Kerouac was in town
and shy of celebrity herself
Lawrence said, “Bring her to my house
to meet Paula and we’ll have coffee”
I can’t remember what we talked of that day
but I can still see Jan’s smiling and laughing face
in that well-worn house on Francisco
filled with old wood and books
He relaxed Jan as
he relaxes everyone
That’s one of his trade secrets
but it’s also real
and that’s another one of his secrets
I remember having breakfast with him and my mom
in a little café
on the Rue St. Louis in old Quebec
during the Rencontre Internationale Jack Kerouac
and how he delighted my old mother
with jokes about the real maple syrup
and stories he remembered of her
hometown Chicago
She told me afterward
“I liked the way his eyes twinkled when he talked”
And I remember his earnestness when he told
Stella Kerouac in the old Pollard Library in Lowell
that she had to let him publish
Jack’s manuscript Pomes All Sizes
and didn’t falter under her Greek anger
because he knew he was in the right
And I remember him telling me
with a grim face
in the offices of City Lights
during the first Gulf War
that it was time for poets to end their silence
and speak up about things that matter
“I’m still waiting,” he said,
and God bless him,
he’s still waiting now,
a hundred years after his birth,
and it’s high time
we gave him what he asked for.

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Gerald Nicosia
Born in 1949 and schooled in Chicago, Gerald Nicosia is a biographer, historian, playwright, and novelist, whose work has been closely associated with the Beat Movement as well as the 1960’s. He came to prominence with the publication of “Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac” in 1983, a book that earned him the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters while it was still a work-in-progress. It was highly praised by writers as diverse as John Rechy, Irving Stone, William Burroughs, Bruce Cook, and Allen Ginsberg, who called it a “great book.” Nicosia spent several decades in both the Chicago and San Francisco literary scenes, making a name for himself as both a post-Beat poet himself and an organizer of marathon literary events. Besides being the editor of major poetry collections, Nicosia was involved in several video and film projects and spent decades studying, working with, and writing about Vietnam veterans in their long process of healing from that war. Thus he has been praised by notable Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and Oliver Stone and also by veterans of America’s later wars and leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War. He has taught Beat literature, the Sixties, and the Vietnam War literally around the world, including in China, where he adopted his daughter.