Mexico City Blues (242 Choruses) – Jack Kerouac (1959)

Mexico City Blues is a poem published by Jack Kerouac in 1959 composed of 242 ‘choruses’ or stanzas. Written between 1954 and 1957, the poem is the product of Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, his Buddhism, and his disappointment at his failure to publish a novel between 1950’s The Town and the City and 1957’s On the Road. Kerouac began writing the choruses that became Mexico City Blues while living with Bill Garver, a heroin addict and friend of William S. Burroughs, in Mexico City in 1955. Written under the influence of marijuana and morphine, choruses were defined only by the size of Kerouac’s notebook page. Three of the choruses (52, 53 and 54) are transcriptions of Garver’s speech, while others sought to transcribe sounds, and others Kerouac’s own thoughts. The choruses include references to real figures including Burroughs and Gregory Corso, as well as religious figures and themes. After finishing Mexico City Blues, while still in Mexico City, Kerouac wrote Tristessa. In October 1957, after Kerouac achieved fame with On the Road, he sent Mexico City Blues to City Lights Books in the hopes of publication in their Pocket Poets series. In 1958, after the publication of The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsberg tried to sell the book to Grove Press and New Directions Press. It was eventually published by Grove in November 1959. … In his monograph on the poem, literary critic James T. Jones describes Rexroth’s piece as ‘a model of unethical behavior in print’ which ‘consigned one of Kerouac’s richest works to temporary obscurity’, and argued it may have been written in retaliation for perceived poor manners on Kerouac’s part, or as an indirect attack on the poet Robert Creeley, a friend of Kerouac’s who had an affair with Rexroth’s wife. Creeley himself published a more positive review in Poetry, which described the poem as ‘a series of improvisations, notes, a shorthand of perceptions and memories, having in large part the same word-play and rhythmic invention to be found in [Kerouac’s] prose.’ The poet Anthony Hecht also reviewed Mexico City Blues in The Hudson Review and declared ‘the proper way to read this book … is straight through at one sitting.’ Hecht argued that Kerouac’s professed aspiration to be a ‘jazz poet’, amplified by his publishers, was an imposture, and that the book was in fact much more ‘literary’, resembling or drawing on the work of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, E. E. Cummings and James Joyce. …”
Mexico City Blues [113th Chorus], 4th Chorus
Open Culture – Johnny Depp Recites ‘Chorus 113’ from Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues (Video)
NY Times: Discordant and Cool By KENNETH REXROTH (Nov. 29, 1959)
[PDF] Mexico City Blues
YouTube: Choruses 1-10 (Allen Ginsberg), 230th Chorus & 19th Chorus (Gregory Corso)

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This entry was posted in Allen Ginsberg, Books, Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Jazz, Marijuana, Mexico, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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