In 1962 I officially became a Beatnik at the age of 11. There were no official notices, no immediate black clothing; I just got up one morning and started to write bad poetry and that was that. The primary inspiration was the fact that my father said that Jack Kerouac was a bad influence on young people. That was enough for me and I admired how he angered some people in “On the Road”, telling everyone they were going to die. Kerouac was very popular where I lived in Quebec because his parents were ‘joual’* speaking French Canadians. Of course they eventually moved to Massachusetts but his official name was Jean Louis Kerouac and that was enough for the French Canadian people I knew.
My Beatnik outfit of choice was a green wool crew neck sweater that barely covered my derriere, red tights and a matching beret. There were no smoke filled finger-snapping caves of poetry where I lived so I created my own. Constantly carrying a notebook I wrote silly poems about boys, the moon and love so true. Creatively speaking I had no worldly visions that my words should have been obscenity motivated instead of pink laced trimmed. I simply sat in my room that I had painted deep turquoise with a long black cigarette holder in my mouth as I wrote. Of course there were no cigarettes in it but from the day I opened my store in 1974 until I closed it in 1997 I carried a vast variety of cigarette holders. I always blamed it on my weekend beatnik youth.
In 1964 I watched my Grandfather abandon his Reader Digest Condensed books for Marshall McLuhan. I had no idea what he was talking about after reading a chapter of the well worn paperback. Grampy would slowly try to explain all about McLuhan’s meaning of the light bulb while I talked about The Beatles. He would then playfully hit me on the head with the book and ask me to check the condition of my inner light bulb. Seeing my Grandfather was fairly conservative I wondered how he knew about this man and figured that he must have seen him on the TV show Front Page Challenge*. Grampy’s interests did not venture anywhere else unless Pierre Berton* talked about someone or they were on The Ed Sullivan Show. As I write this, McLuhan still puzzles me but the words of The Beatles are still with me to this very day.
In the 60’s my friends and I took the bus to Montreal on Saturdays and would hand out flowers and words of peace at the Place Ville Marie plaza. People would come up to the “girl with the flowers in her hair” and the long winded words and ask if 'she' was from San Francisco. I would just smile from ear to ear as that was the highest compliment anyone could give me.
Protest songs turned to Leonard Cohen and I constantly analyzed his poetry. Day after day in the latter 60’s I would sit in the CNR station in Montreal and watch people go by. I would read Cohen’s poetry books over and over and wish I was his beloved “Suzanne.” In a dark smoke filled bar on Mountain Street I would sit and listen to hours of bad poetry yet performing my own was out of the question. In my mind I could never beat Cohen nor the other radical literary masters so my words remained silent. Years later I would meet Cohen on a flight to Los Angeles with his then much younger girlfriend Rebecca DeMornay. I took his hand by the baggage turnstile and told him of my love for his work in the 60’s. He smiled, and said softly,
"My dear the years have been kind to you”.
With those words I suddenly felt old but happy and never strayed from appreciating the minds of radical literary geniuses. As Herbert Huncke once said to Allen Ginsberg,
"Sure I'm old, and I'm evil, and I'm ugly, and I'm tired. But that isn't it. I've been this way for ten years, and I'm all down the main line."
And so the beat goes on...
Photos and text: Linda Seccaspina 2011
* Joual- A dialect of Canadian French characterized by nonstandard pronunciations and grammar, and the presence of English loanwords and syntactic patterns.
*Front Page Challenge was a long-running Canadian panel game about current events and history. Created by comedy writer/performer John Aylesworth and produced and aired by CBC Television, the series ran from 1957 to 1995.
*Pierre Berton- (July 12, 1920 – November 30, 2004) was a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, especially Canadiana and Canadian history, and was a well-known television personality and journalist.
An accomplished storyteller, Berton was one of Canada's most prolific and popular authors. He wrote 50 books, including ones on popular culture, Canadian history, critiques of mainstream religion, anthologies, children's books and historical works for youth. He popularized Canadian history.