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Word on The Street

Literary news around New England for the week of September 30

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by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell, a Cambridge poet, painter, and short story writer, the book includes six previously unpublished poems and reams of poems sectioned into numbered choruses.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.”

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Phipps-Kettlewell, in an e-mail, wrote about the defining elements of Kerouac’s poetry: “his forever-raw compassionate heart,” “his playfulness, a most important and generous aspect of the Kerouac spirit,” and his intense commitment “to define what makes us so unbearably human, wishing to dig us out of the base earth he deplored, and help us unfold the delicate wings of our larger, poetic, spiritual selves.”

She hopes that the poems in this new book will be read out loud: “They live best within their own exuberance and music — made-up sounds and words mixed with real words — acting as vivid frames for the philosophical insights sensitively contained there.”

Phipps-Kettlewell will be signing books at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell. A staged reading of Jack Kerouac’s play “Beat Generation” starts at 2 p.m. The world premiere is the centerpiece of the 2012 Jack Kerouac Literary Festival. Details at www.lowellcelebrateskerouac.org.

Rich tribute

The Blacksmith House Poetry Series kicks off its 40th year at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 with a star-studded tribute to Adrienne Rich, the influential feminist poet who died in March at the age of 82. There will be readings and reminisces with Rich’s family, friends, and fellow poets, including her son, Paul Conrad; Gail Mazur, founding director of the series, and Robert Pinsky, poetry editor for Slate magazine.

More than once, Rich declined to accept a literary award, using the occasion to make a political statement about the state of the nation. Her poems about women’s lives encompassed domestic drudgery as well as lesbianism. “Diving Into the Wreck” is considered her masterpiece.

The Rich tribute will take place not at the Blacksmith House but down the block at the headquarters for the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, 42 Brattle St. Tickets ($3) will be available at 7:15 p.m.

Coming out

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story”edited by Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein (Picador)

The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen”by Stephen Bown (Da Capo)

Mick Jagger”by Philip Norman (Ecco)

Pick of the week

Alise Hamilton of Andover Bookstore in Andover recommends “The Paternity Test” by Michael Lowenthal (University of Wisconsin): “Readers won’t be able to help rooting for Pat and Stu as they struggle to conceive a child through surrogacy and fight their family’s — and their own — preconceived notions of what it means to be gay, all while trying to salvage their rocky relationship. Lowenthal’s novel ultimately addresses the universal question: What makes a family a family?”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.
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