He was Never Cool

One would think that Sam Kashner’s memoir as the first student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (then Naropa Institute) would be an entertaining and inspiring view of the Beat writers and their teachings. One would also expect Kashner to be a master of the written word-to write poetic prose as he was taught by writers like Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso. Well, one would be wrong.

Kashner has little command of the language in his retelling of experiences in Boulder, CO, in the early 1970s. Everything he writes is drawn out. One could attribute this to his focus in poetry during his time at the school. But he is a nonfiction writer. And his copies of poetry written during his studies are nothing to speak of.

In his acknowledgements he writes, “How good of Diane Reverand to let me grow up and write this bookâÂ?¦and of Jeff Kellogg to adopt it after Diane’s departureâÂ?¦.Jeff gave shape to this book and saved it from drowning, more than once.” I say, Jeff should have let it drown. Or the least he could’ve done was cut about 100 pages to save a tree. Kashner is beyond wordy. Most readers of this book would have some knowledge of the Beats and their work, but Kashner insists on explaining every detail, leaving nothing for the reader to do when finished. Most writers would tell you that you should write as if your words cost money; if that’s the case, then this book was expensive. On the bright side, it is quick to read-but it’s still painful.

His shining moments in literary achievements only come when he is directly quoting the men and women he admired so much in his youth. Most of the brilliance of the work comes straight from the mouth of Gregory Corso. Occasionally, there are insights into the mind and work of Allen Ginsburg, but you’d expect a bit more coming from his assistant.

Obviously, Kashner missed the target on his title. From the sound of him, he was never cool in Colorado. He was more like a whiner who only wanted to bask in the decaying glow of his mentors as they neared the end of their lives.

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