Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Aram came of age in the 60's and his early writings were heavily influenced by the Beat Generation. He met the beat triumvirate of Kerouac, Ginsberg & Burroughs and Aram's book Genesis Angels chronicles the life of beat poet Lew Welch. Saroyan's philosophy of writing owes much to Allen Ginsberg's exhortations of "First Thought Best Thought" and "Candor Ends Paranoia."
In 1967, Aram and his friend the poet Ted Berrigan traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts to interview Jack Kerouac at his home. It was a few months before the summer of love and people were always showing up at the house to see the author of On The Road. Kerouac's wife Stella was the gatekeeper and she tried to shoo Saroyan & Berrigan away. After they insisted they'd come to interview Kerouac for The Paris Review, she finally let the men into the house.
By this time, Kerouac was a "bull-like ruin." Sitting in the darkened living room, Berrigan gave Kerouac a handful of Orbitrols (Kerouac called them "forked clarinets"). The two poets watched as Kerouac reminisced about his days with Neal Cassady riding around the country "free as a bee...We had more fun than five thousand Socony Gasoline Station Attendants."
Kerouac expressed his admiration for Aram's father, William Saroyan. "I loved him as a teenager, he really got me out of the nineteenth-century rut I was trying to study, not only with his funny tone but with his Armenian poetic."
Kerouac played piano for the poets then composed a spontaneous haiku:
with big leaf on its back
Kerouac riffed on the origins of Buddhism and the impact of Zen on his writing. "When a man spit at the Buddha, the Buddha replied, 'Since I can't have your abuse you may have it back.'" Aram asked Jack the difference between Buddha and Jesus. Kerouac said, "That's a very good question. There is none."
As their meeting came to a close, Kerouac recited his poem Mexico City Blues. He asked Aram to repeat the words after him, line by line:
Delicate conceptions of kneecaps.
Like kissing my kitten in the belly.
The quivering meat of the elephants of kindness.
When the poem was complete, Kerouac rewarded Aram by saying, "You'll do, Saroyan." To Aram, this was the equivalent of a literary knighting.
Currently, Aram teaches creative writing at USC. Aram's 2007 collection Complete Minimal Poems received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His latest book is Door to the River: Essays and Reviews from the 1960s into the Digital Age. (5" x 7", black ink print)