There's nothing quite like a good book dedication, that brush with mystique which you encounter, if you're lucky, opening a new book. And yet, for all the times you come across book lovers exalting the smell of books, the feel of books (I did recently spot one new and genial appreciation of the pleasure of books -- "They don't catch on my braces!"), you rarely encounter celebrations of the well-written dedication. Which, I might point out, is even more valuable for being an attribute any book may boast, no matter its form: print, electronic, or even read aloud.
I've made it a tradition to post, every year, the standouts among the dedications I've discovered at the library over the previous twelve months. They've included one to a typewriter (noir, of course, both the novel being dedicated and the typewriter it was dedicated to) and one to absinthe drinkers, and the authors who composed them have ranged from Edward Gorey to JD Salinger, not forgetting Hunter S Thompson.
There's a Beat theme to this year's finds -- wholly unplanned, I hasten to say, as befits the Beats.
Here they are:
1. From Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac
Dedicated to America, whatever that is
Reading On the Road when I was a teenager rates as one of the most exciting reading experiences of my life, but I'd never tried Visions of Cody, Kerouac's later, posthumously published hymn to Neal Cassady and to those days on the road when the highs were still coming easy, until this year, following a slow, appreciative read of Big Sur. I skipped large swathes which I found too intemperate (who changed more? Jack? me? probably me), but the last 50 pages held, and did they hold.
The Penguin edition I found at the library also includes wonderful, sad, notes provided by Allen Ginsberg, where he calls the book "a dirge for America... for the American Hope that Jack (& his hero Neal) carried so valiantly through the land after Whitman..."
Kerouac himself suggests in his foreword, "This feeling may soon be obsolete as America enters its High Civilization period and no one will get sentimental or poetic any more about trains and dew on fences at dawn in Missouri."
Not yet, though, Jack, not yet!
|My sentimental snap of Beat wheels by the Mississippi River|
Hannibal, Missouri, 2012
2. From These are my rivers by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The owner of the fabled City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the publisher who gave us Howl, the poet who sang of the pennycandy store beyond the El, 95 years old this year, prefaced a collection of almost 40 years of his poetry with these lines:
The book's title, These are my rivers, is taken from a bittersweet and nostalgic poem by the Italian modernist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, Questi sono i miei fiumi, in which he evokes the phases of his life by naming the rivers which flowed through them, the Serchio of his ancestral home in Lucca, the Nile of his childhood, the Seine of his youth, and the Isonzo, the river which runs through the devastated Carso where Italian troops, Ungaretti among them, had fought a series of terrible battles against the Austrians during World War One.
Ferlinghetti quotes the poem in his book's epigraph:
della mia vita
i miei fiumi...
[I have revisited
of my life
(You can read the whole of Ungaretti's poem here.)
3. From Odysseus in Woolloomooloo by Bob Orr
|Bob Orr's Odysseus in Woolloomooloo in the window of the City Lights Bookstore|
The Names of Rivers
The names of rivers
The Nile weaving its scaly blue coolness
serpent like from Africa's hot heart.
The Mississippi each syllable a broadening
of its passage to the ocean.
The Amazon hallucinogenic as the zircon flight
of butterflies above its jewelled rain forest.
Those are the big rivers
the ones we all were taught about
but I would like to take you
to a small creek
whose taste I still recall --
a slight rustiness on the tongue
like old steel or blood. The Mangawara.
I would like to be able to say
that this creek runs through my life
runs through my poems. In fact until
the age of twelve it did.
not a river so much as water.
Not water so much as something as simple as time
perhaps even timelessness. Where I live now
the water is salty and it's blue and huge beyond belief
and you would drink of it only to stop
Tomorrow with the tiny hammers of a typewriter
I'll make this poem cool again
As if it were a car once stolen in America by Neal Cassady
-- I think it's that one I found in a parking lot along the Mississippi River, panel beaten roof and all.