Jack Kerouac Reads American Haikus, Backed by Jazz Saxophonists Al Cohn & Zoot Sims (1958)

In the spring of 1958 Jack Kerouac went into the studio with tenor saxmen Al Cohn and Zoot Sims to record his second album, a mixture of jazz and poetry called Blues and Haikus. The haiku is a traditional Japanese poetry form with three unrhyming lines in five, seven, and five syllables. But Kerouac took a freer approach. In 1959, the year Blues and Haikus was released, he explained:

The American haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again . . . bursting to pop.

Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.

The opening number on Blues and Haikus is a 10-minute piece called “American Haikus.” It features Kerouac’s expressive recitation of a series of poems punctuated by the improvisational saxophone playing of Cohn and Sims. The video above is animated by the artist Peter Gullerud. For more of Kerouac’s haikus — some 700 of them — see his Book of Haikus.

via The Allen Ginsberg Project

Related Content:

Jack Kerouac’s Naval Reserve Enlistment Mugshot, 1943

Jack Kerouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Kerouac’s 30 Beliefs and Techniques For Writing Modern Prose


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