By: Rachel Brody
My dad loaned me the book AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. This was just before Sare and I started working on our novels, so late October, and at the time what was interesting to me was that the same way she and I were going to swap off books, Burroughs and Kerouac swapped off writing chapters. In HIPPOS, I mean. The whole book is a fictionalization of a true-life crime their social circle experienced. I enjoyed IN COLD BLOOD. Why not give this one a try?
I had never read ON THE ROAD or other Beat literature, though over the years Dad’s given me a bio on Allen Ginsberg and one on Kerouac, both of which are currently sitting unread on my bookshelf (Sorry, Dad).
As I read through HIPPOS, I enjoyed it. The writing had a clear, frank style that was appealing. I also realized this was a really masculine eye on the time period. Hyper-masculine, in some ways, even given the twists and turns of the plots, in that the women in the story exist only for moments as they intersect with the book’s narrators.
“Notable Beat Generation women who have been published include Edie Parker; Joyce Johnson; Carolyn Cassady; Hettie Jones; Joanne Kyger; Harriet Sohmers Zwerling; Diane DiPrima; and Ruth Weiss, who also made films. PoetElise Cowen took her life in 1963. Anne Waldman was less influenced by the Beats than by Allen Ginsberg’s later turn to Buddhism. Later, women emerged who claimed to be strongly influenced by the Beats, including Janine Pommy Vega in the 1960s, Patti Smith in the 1970s, and Hedwig Gorski in the 1980s.“
Seeing that this line led exactly where I expected it to – Patti Smith and the punk scene – I’m really, really excited about taking a dive into this subject at some point in the future.
Anyways, back to HIPPOS. The book was interesting to me because of how the voices of the characters overlapped, in part, and because of the subject matter’s factual beginnings. It reminded me of a blog I read the other day, an excerpt from a nonfiction book. I’d been interacting with its author for a few weeks on Twitter, and had expected her book of essays and other writings to be more…essayish, I guess. Just – a reminder of how important it is to play with the form one works in. Which, in turn, reminds me of the book another friend bought me once, THE PENELOPIAD. (Was that by Margaret Atwood?)
The same as reading experimental literature from the past helps remind you that words and literary forms are plastic and subjectable to manipulation, reading experimental literature from the present helps remind you that while brand-yourself and death-of-the-title culture are at a forefront in today’s writing, writers need to remember that pushing form is just as important as practicing craft, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s important to make sure you can write those words, craft those plots and flesh out those characters… but once you can do those things, applying them to experimental forms is also critical to the growth of writing and literature as a whole.
And by you, obviously, I mean me.
End story? Dad was right, and HIPPOS was well worth reading.
This entry also appears on Rachel’s blog, RLBrody.com. Rachel is an award-winning writer, playwright and editor living in NYC. Follow her on twitter at @girl_onthego and check out her writing on Amazon.