The silky pages and ribbon marker in the newly published “Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems” (Library of America) give it the look and feel of a hymnal. The handsome volume contains moments of uplift — and much more. The Beat Generation author of “On the Road” wrote poems that are funny, profane, dark, light. He wrote about religion, drinking, drugs, and a painful intensity of feeling.
Edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell, a Cambridge poet, painter, and short story writer, the book includes six previously unpublished poems and reams of poems sectioned into numbered choruses. In addition to free form poetry, Kerouac, who died in 1969, wrote Japanese haikus (and an American variant he sometimes called “Pops”), sonnets, and odes. At the opening of “Mexico City Blues (242 Choruses),” he states: “I want to be considered a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday. In “San Francisco Blues,” he declares, “I’d better be a poet/Or lay down dead.”