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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