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On Another Road 

Clark Coolidge

Wednesday, Mar 8 2000
Clark Coolidge got turned on to the potential of extemporaneous speech when a college classmate gave him a copy of On the Road soon after it was published. Immediately, the book "started to open a vast door I couldn't then even imagine the edges of," he writes in Now It's Jazz, Writings on Kerouac and the Sounds (Living Batch Press, 1999). Countless writers have imitated Kerouac's style, but few have taken his influence in such inventive directions as Coolidge.

A drummer in a bop jazz band during the beat era, Coolidge has made music central to his work. The link between music and poetry is revealed in his concept of "time." Time is something that is held and heard in his poetry, which eschews conventional poetic metrics for "the unceasing teem of that top cymbal in the back of my room." One of Coolidge's more interesting books is The Rova Improvisations, in which he "improvises" off the entire catalog of the Bay Area's acclaimed Rova Saxophone Quartet, whose music is itself largely improvised. Another is At Egypt (The Figures, 1988), a long rumination on that ancient country which begins with an almost deadpan potboiler monologue: "I came here. I don't know you here./ I say this. I have lost such./ Plant at the gate./ Slant on missing heights./ Where if I see you you glow. Where no one./ Here a sun. That the moon./ Black black, and be sure of it. There is little sure./ It was a coming which was done."

As Coolidge writes in Now It's Jazz, "Reading his lines I can easily if temporarily ... convince myself that I am inking down the words, that I am this Jack Kerouac." His own work is most interesting when, taking the tenets of Kerouac's work, it least resembles it.

Coolidge, joined by poet Joel Kuszai, reads at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the New College Theater, 777 Valencia (at 19th Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 437-3454.

About The Author

David Cook


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