Month: April 2014

doomsday library – “second five books”

continued from doomsday library, first five books

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance
robert pirsig

pirsig’s book describes a 17-day motorcycle journey from minnesota to northern california by the author and his young son.  the narrator of the story is phaedrus, a teacher of creative and technical writing at a small midwestern college.

while turning the highway miles there is a heavy-duty discussion of the topics of epistemology, ethical emotivism, and the philosophy of science.  however, the most important issue ot phaedrus is establishing a definition of quality.  phaedrus says, “you know what it is, yet you do’t know what it is. . . obviously some things are better than others. . . so round and round you go.”

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was also a serious attempt of a failed father to successfully bond with his son on their road trip.  this brought back memories of my uneasy relationship as a single-parent taking my son camping in the michigan upper peninsula for the first time.  for a brief moment i was seen as a distant personality to ted, until we fished for trout, climbed in the porcupine mountains, and cooked our dinners on the lake superior shore.

with pirsig–or phaedrus–and his history of mental illness there was also a tension over would he stay well until they reached their california destination.  reflecting on this dilemma, i remembered driving late at night through the canadian gaspee peninsula, my brain numbed with thorazine and wondering if i would make it to maine and climb mount katahdin.

the shipping news
annie proulx

in the shipping news, author annie proulx weaves a tale of a sad newspaper pressman worker quoyle who surprisingly turns his dismal life around.  quoyle takes the advice of his aunt and moves with his two daughters back to his ancestral home in kellick-claw, newfoundland.  in kellick-claw, quoyle gets a job with the local newspaper, the gammy bird, and writes stories about the arrival and departure of ships from the local harbor.

quoyle is successful with his job, makes close friends in his new community, and develops a warm relationship with a young kellick-claw woman.  it was good to read about a loser who seized the opportunity to find happiness.  this was just like my present graybeard days having obtained the freedom to think and write.

the mysterious island
jules verne

i have no idea how many times i have read the mysterious island, the exciting adventure tale by jules verne.  the first time was as a young adolescent in the smith family living room.  other times i would pick up the book when i felt the need to revisit the daring of men facing a serious challenge.

verne’s novel is about five men escaping a richmond, virginia prison during the american civil war by hijacking a balloon.  verne’s characters are cyrus harding, an engineer, and his black servant neb, a sailor pencroff and his adopted son herbert, a journalist gedeon spillet, and cyrus harding’s dog, top.

a violent storm carries their balloon to a small unkown volcanic island in the pacific ocean where they are marooned.  the survivors name their new location “lincoln island” after president abraham lincoln, and establish a cliff-side dwelling that they called “granite house.”

the small group using their wits and intelligence are able to sustain themselves on the “mysterious island.”  they were able to create fire, make pots and bricks, and harvest enough food to live.

at the end of verne’s book, the “mysterious island” is destroyed when the volcano erupts, however, the island colonists were rescued.  another mystery of the island was the presence of captain nemo and his nautilus submarine.  nemo sent a message to the skipper of the ship duncan to come and save the island’s settlers.

each time i have reread verne’s the mysterious island, i dream that i was also a settler on lincoln island and working with the others to face the needs of survival.

songs of a sourdough
robert service

i have always carried on a serious and distant love affair with the territory of alaska.  once i even tried to obtain employment in the state teaching for the bureau of indian affairs.  so, i find the poems of robert service indeed interesting to read and relate to.  if i was a hermit by some accident or design it is likely that i would memorize my favorite sourdough poems.

in his poem “the call of the wild” service speaks to the wilderness.

“there’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a
star agleam to guide us,
and the wild is calling, calling, . . . .”

the service poem “the three voices” reminds me of the many nights i camped alone in the pictured rocks michigan upper peninsula outback.

“there by the campfire’s flicker,
deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom
when the scroll of the lord is unfurled,
and the wind and the wave are silent,
and the world is singing to world.”

my favorite song of a sourdough poem is service’s “the men who don’t fit in.”

“there’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
a race that can’t stand still;
so they break the hearts of kith and kin,
and roam the world at will.
and each forgets that his youth has fled,
forgets his prime is past,
till he stands one day with a hope that’s dead
in the glare of truth at last.
he’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
he’s a man who won’t fit in.”

rainbow diary
t. kilgore splake

i believe in my writing and feel that the story in rainbow diary represents my most honest and creative literary work.  rainbow diary describes the lives of the poet and his soul mate vida who live in their stone house on the cliffs of eagle island.  they have escaped the anarchy of “mala nala” a community connecting five separate islands in the pointe archipelago.

the separate chapbook chapters reflect living beneath the different colored rainbows arching over the separate islands.  these rainbows are “red strawberry, black licorice, golden honey, emerald mint, chocolate brown, and creme vanilla.”  the chapbook concludes with a double-rainbow morning on the cliffs.

my rainbow diary writings raise the question: is the poet the existential loner of camus’ meursault in the stranger, and the cliffs jules verne’s the mysterious island of my youth? are the poet and vida reminiscent of zhivago and his wife living in a romantic retreat on the distant russian steppes outside varykino?  definitely the lives and loves of the poet and vida closely resemble those of brautigan and pauline in their “watermelon sugar.”

the lowdown, 2014

the new issue of the lowdown, edited by robert zoschke, is now available at street corner press in ellison bay, wisconsin.  the edition has a cover painting “martha washington crossing the delaware” by the san francisco poet and artist lawrence ferlinghetti.

the lowdown, 2014 issue is dedicated to the late norbert blei.  blei was born in chicago and worked for many years with the city news bureau.  he was close friends with the writers nelson algren, mike royko, and studs terkel.  blei left chicago in 1969, and moved to door county wisconsin.  he was seeking more solitude to write serious fiction and deepen his painting visions.  the new edition of the lowdown has several of blei’s writings and color pictures.

i am extremely pleased to have splake poems and a picture of my cliffs “poet tree” in the lowdown.  i am also pleased that i share ink and space with other nationally known authors such as antler, alan catlin, and ed markowski.  in addition, michigan author paul bach jr. has a fine review of the recent film “big sur.”  bach compares “big sur” with the earlier movie of jack kerouac book “on the road.”

in short, zoschke (the zen man) has produced a magnificent collection of art – writings and paintings – that should be on everyone’s personal library shelf.

to learn more about acquiring a copy of the lowdown, contact zoschke at:


"martha washington crossing the delaware" painting by lawrence ferlinghetti on the cover of the lowdown

“martha washington crossing the delaware” painting by lawrence ferlinghetti on the cover of the lowdown 2014 edition

One Thousand Words for Jack’s Big Sur by Paul Bach Jr.

Having taught film history for a number of years, I have seen countless numbers of movie adaptations of books that have completely missed the point.  The original intent of the author and his sotry have been changed, rearranged, or ignore, leaving film goers to wonder what happened.  Why not just make the film of your own story then?  Save the cost of the rights to the book.  The film of On the Road is one such example.  It misses the point entirely.  Gone is the spiritual heart of the book; the questioning, yearning, aching for that which is missing in current society.

Everything the On the Road movie got wrong, Big Sur got right: the casting, the score (which is different from the use of period music), the cinematography.  Oh, those great panoramic shots of the beach, the forest (called a “cathedral of redwoods”) and that bridge!  The lighting, in places, was similar to what noted film director Terence Malick uses with such powerful effect.  The way light plays at dusk, what Malick calls “magic hour.”  The way the music becomes such an integral part of the last 15 minutes, acting as counterpoint, almost a duet.  The scenes of the sky, wheeling at night, on the beach. . . All this and in barely 80 minutes the credits are rolling.

It is obvious the filmmakers learned a lesson from On the Road.  If you’ve paid for the book as source material, then get out of its way.  Let Jack’s words have the lead.  Even as his end was calling, Jack’s enthusiasm for life comes through.  On the Road as the cry of the yearning for change in status quo, youth chasing a different version of the American Dream than their parents did.  A version that has not failed.  An American Dream not draped in shadow by the effect of the atomic bomb.  A generation’s spiritual searching all balanced precariously on the shoulders of one young man who only ever wanted to be a writer, not a spokesman for an entire generation.

Big Sur examines and reveals that crushing burden and Jack’s inability to deal with the burdens of fame.  Jack’s coping mechanism is found at the bottom of the bottle, many bottles.  There are scenes in the film that immediately echo the book.  Jack’s first hitchhiking attempt in years provides all the evidence needed that the times have changed.  With the look he receives from the family in the station wagon, nothing more needs to be said.

Death haunts each and every one of us and is constantly lurking throughout the entire film.  The otter, the mice, death coming for Jack, no matter how he tries to get it together.  “Your Mom wrote.  She said your cat died.”  The cat, Tyke, as Jack’s brother Gerard, dead while still a child.

Anthony Edwards as Ferlinghetti is an inspired choice.  Edwards resembles Ferlinghetti and his portrayal, although only a small part, helps to ground the character.  After all, it is Ferlinghetti’s offer of his cabin for Jack to hide away in that brings him to Big Sur.  Voicing concern, he says “You should only drink white wine, Jack.”

Jean-Marc Barr is an excellent choice; he looks like Jack, even gone to seed.  Which brings to mind Jack’s joke at his own expense seen in footage of him on the William Buckley show: “I was arrested two weeks ago and the arresting policeman said ‘I’m arresting you for decay.'”  Barr even has traces of an accent in some of Jack’s phrasing evidence of his French Canadian background and the fact that he spoke no English until age five.

Another stand out scene is Jack proclaiming “A man needs truth like a machine needs oil.”  And there is the horror on Jack’s face in the scene where he eats the fish “with all the dead otters and mouses in it.”  Then Jack’s dissolution begins when he declares “I don’t want to get married.  I want to go home and die with my cat.”  Though Jack can still recall, talking around the fire with Billie: “I realize I’ve been playing like a happy child all my life with words, words, words.”

I’ve always felt Big Sur was Jack’s last great book, a neglected masterwork, fueled as it is by his last blown chance to turn his life around.  Perhaps this film will change that.

What is it that breeds such familiarity with a man dead before I was born, feeling close enough to refer to him as Jack, as if I had met him and knew him?  Other iconic authors are referred to by last name.  Does anyone refer to Hemingway as Ernest or Fitzgerald as Scott?  It can only be the absolute baring of his soul, in relation to universal longing and compassion in all souls, that content of the heart.  What it means to feel ultimate Truth with a capital T.

The sigh of a great film is that it makes you want to see it again and the sign of a great adaptation is that it makes you want to revisit the source material.  And where the On the Road film fails on both counts, the film of Big Sur counts this as its greatest success.  The only thing I find lacking is that the filmmakers did not put Jean-Marc Barr on the beach, writing “Sea” and reciting it in voice-over as the end credits rolled.  The poem appends the book, separate yet still a part of the whole.

The last thing on screen, at the end of the credits:  “The photoplay is based on the book Big Sur which is a flow-of-consciousness description of Jack Kerouac’s life as he perceived it during the writing of the book.”  Amen.

Long after watching and re-watching, I am left remembering Jack’s final words in the book and film:  “Something good will come out of all things yet–And it will be golden and eternal just like that–There’s no need to say another word.”


(essay featured in the 2014 edition of the lowdown from street corner press)

Soft Indian

by Norbert Blei


Hunted for a poem

           about the Indian in you

last night,

           when the full moon staked the woods

in yellow

           and later floated white upon the landscape

like a watercolor, bending line in such

           magic, not to mention form.

You couldn’t hear a stick break.

           This morning there was that sun

sneaking up again. . .

           You could dance it around on a string

for a day and never quite

           catch that full moon ahead, fading fast

in a blue drum sky,

           taking with it all that’s left of those

stars last night

           that brought on the circle in this poem,

this painting,

           and that soft Indian centering

the quiet celebration

           of just being








(featured in the lowdown, 2014, street corner press)