Image via Christiaan Tonnis
Schools like Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne surely have qualities to recommend them, but to my mind, nothing would feel quite as cool as saying your degree comes from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. If you aspire to say it yourself, you'll have to apply to Naropa University, which Tibetan Buddhist teacher (and, incidentally, Oxford scholar) Chögyam Trungpa established in Boulder, Colorado in 1974. This rare, accredited, "Buddhist-inspired" American school has many unusual qualities, as you'd expect, but, as many of us remember from our teenage years, your choice of university has as much to do with who has passed through its halls before as what you think you'll find when you pass through them. Naropa, besides naming a school after the late Kerouac has hosted the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Philip Whalen, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
But you don't actually have to attend Naropa to partake of its Beat legacy. At the Naropa Poetics Audio Archives, freely browsable at the Internet Archive, you can hear over 5000 hours of readings, lectures, performances, seminars, panels, and workshops recorded at the school and featuring the aforementioned luminaries and many others. "The Beat writers had intervened on the culture," says Waldman in an interview about her book Beats at Naropa. "It wasn’t just a matter of simply offering the usual kind of writing workshops, but reading and thinking lectures, panels, presentations as well. The Beat writers have been exceptional as political and cultural activists, investigative workers, translators, Buddhists, environmental activists, feminists, seers. There’s so much legendary history here." Emphasis — I repeat, 5000 hours — on so much.
To help you dive into this legendary history, we've rounded up today some previously featured highlights from Naropa. Begin here, and if you keep going, you'll discover varieties of Beat experience even we've never had — and maybe you'll even consider putting in a Kerouac School application, and doing some cultural intervention of your own.
- Hear Allen Ginsberg Teach “Literary History of the Beats”: Audio Lectures from His 1977 & 1981 Naropa Courses
- William S. Burroughs Teaches a Free Course on Creative Reading and Writing (1979)
- Allen Ginsberg’s “Celestial Homework”: A Reading List for His Class “Literary History of the Beats”
- “Expansive Poetics” by Allen Ginsberg: A Free Course from 1981
- William S. Burroughs’ Short Class on Creative Reading
- Allen Ginsberg’s Short Free Course on Shakespeare’s Play, The Tempest (1980)
- 13 Lectures from Allen Ginsberg’s “History of Poetry” Course (1975)
- Sonic Youth Guitarist Thurston Moore Teaches a Poetry Workshop at Naropa University: See His Class Notes (2011)
Enter the Naropa Audio Archive here.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.