Huncke Blog

Allen Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke - SFSU 1967

Once again, mirrored from our (Gallimaufrey !) friends at The Allen Ginsberg Project :

[ Herbert Huncke  and  Allen Ginsberg -  together on East 10th Street, New York City,  three years later, 1970 - Photograph by  Ann Charters ]    

[Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg - together on East 10th Street, New York City,  three years later, 1970 - Photograph by Ann Charters
 

From the invaluable trove at San Francisco State University's Poetry Center Digital Archive -  Allen Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke reading on February 7, 1967

This historic event can be heard in its entirety here

Mark Linenthal (of SFSU) begins by noting upcoming events and a visit to the campus by film-maker Stan Brakhage.
He then turns to the business of the evening, introducing Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg.

ML: "I want to welcome  Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg to the Poetry Center and to the campus of San Francisco State College. Allen is going to read first and then we'll have a break and everybody can stand up and stretch and we can open the doors  (oh, the doors are open!), everyone can stand up and stretch, and then Herbert will read.

As most of you know Mr Herbert Huncke is an old friend of Allen's, it's appropriate then to have Allen introduce him to you. Allen Ginsberg needs no introduction but I would like to call attention to his extreme importance. I want to suggest what I think his role has been in changing the way in which we experience our experience, that is, in actually changing us." 

AG: And now I want to introduce someone who I think is a major American prose writer. His work will be published, probably later this year, by Grove Press [editorial note - sadly, this was not to be], an older fellow, who was my teacher and guru, both in language and perception, Mr Herbert Huncke . . .  

HH: I'm afraid my voice will sound pale next to Allen's, he's always so vibrant, you know. As a sort of introduction, I'll read "Song of Self" - "Herbert E Huncke. My name - although I'm generally known as Huncke and by a few as Herbert and in the past as Herbie…"…"It wasn't long after I began travelling and ceased to call Chicago my home." - 

 

In 'The Thief's Journal', Genet says there are very few people who have earned the right to think.  Huncke had adventures and misadventures that were not available to middle-class, comparatively wealthy college people like Kerouac and me:  "Some write home to the old folks for coin.  That's their ace in the hole."  Huncke had extraordinary experiences that were quite genuine.  He isn't a type you find anymore.
— William S. Burroughs (foreword to 'The Herbert Huncke Reader')
 
 


"7786 - Burroughs, Wm."

Huncke Tea Company has helped fund "7786 - Burroughs, Wm." — Patrick Clement's intimate look at William Burroughs through a series of seven unpublished portraits on Kickstarter.  

You can still contribute, pre-order a book, some postcards or just read more about the project here.  

"7786 - Burroughs, Wm." Facebook page here.


3 Letters from Joan Burroughs to Jack Kerouac

February 28, 1950

Dear Jack,

It's been almost a month since Kells brought us your book—first one I've read in about four years (since Benzedrine).  Sincerest congratulations, especially on Huncke and Cliff and Poultney-cum-Brandenberg.

I deeply resent your making me Bill's sister, but we'll skip that.  Anyway I hope the book sells and sells.

Are you really planning to come to Mexico next month?  I think you'd like it here—at least it would be in remarkable contrast to N.Y.

My love to Allen and everybody,

Joan

 

July 9, 1951

Dear Jack,

Forgive me for reading your letter before forwarding it, but I was so instructed by Bill, who left a week ago on an exploratory trip to Panama and maybe Ecuador—exploratory and also mildly amatory—with an amiable kid from school here.  Mexico was becoming impossible, due to the intolerance and greed of Gobernacion, among other things, so Bill is going to case the situation further south and send for us when he settles somewhere.

As usual no one's plans mesh with any one's else.  I may be here in August, and if so have plenty of room for you—but I'm by no means sure.  Buill said he'd send for us in two or three weeks, which I doubt, but I can't tell you for sure that we'll be here through August.  I'll inform you of any developments, but that's how it stands right now.

Sorry about the troubles with your wife, publishers, etc.  I know a guy who's an astrologer, who says it's a beat year for everyone, if that's any comfort.

Received letters from Allen and I'm forwarding them.  Bill's manuscript is all loused up, unless he took a complete copy with him, but I'll do what I can to straighten it out and send it up.

Maybe we could all try Panama, Ecuador, or even Peru.  Write me when you change your address, so I can keep in touch with you.  Bill is now just c/o American Express, Panama City, Panama but maybe you should write to me and let me forward it, in case he goes elsewhere.

Yours,

Joan

 

July 26, 1951

Dear Jack,

The latest on South America is that it's no good.  Quote from Quito—"Panama was godawful, and I have never been brought down by anyplace like Quito brings me down."  So they're coming back here, but first they're making a trip up-river, into the head shrinking country, to score for some strange Indian drugs.  Bill says this will take a month, so that probably means two or three.

Why don't you come down here anyway, if you have carfare?  We have a 3 room apartment, of which at present we use only one room, and there is one awful extra bed, Mexican size.  You should be able to eat and drink a little here for ten dollars a week.

It's pretty hard to get any kind of job here, for an American—against the law—but you might find some tutoring or something.  Also you might be able to get something with the News here.  Maybe Lucien could suggest some phony reference from his organization for you to show here.  Or there might be some work around the school—I don't know about that.

You didn't say whether Lucien was still planning to come down or not.  I forwarded your letter and his to Bill in Panama, but I don't believe he got them.  Don't know whether Bill plans to stay in Mexico, D.F. when and if he gets back from Ecuador with an unshrunk head, but I guess he wants to stay in this country, from the disenchanted reports he sends from South America.

There are still some fairly nice people around, although quite a few have finished their G.I. bills and gone back to the states, or been drafted.  I don't know any eligible girls at all—what most of the anthropology department did on arrival was to find some hardworking Mexican girl and set up housekeeping with her—some of the old timers have a couple of kids by now—and they seem pretty well satisfied.

Have you heard anything from Edie and her golf pro?

Hope to see both you and Lucien in a couple of weeks then.

Yours,

Joan

Orizaba 210, #8

Mexico, D.F.

 

(via: New York Public Library—Archives & Manuscripts—The Jack Kerouac Papers 1920-1977—Transcribed by Jerome Poynton)

 

 

Bilingual Editions from Les Editions Derrière la Salle de Bains

New Orleans, 1938 —  Herbert Huncke    English/French edition .    Les premières lignes :  « Je me souviens d’une nuit à la Nouvelle-Orléans sur St. Charles Street – à marcher. Il avait plu – les rues scintillaient – la nuit se reflétait dans les flaques d’eau. Les bruits de gouttes de pluie qui tombaient et éclaboussaient les feuilles de magnolias. Les rues étaient désertes – à peine une automobile qui passait. Je traversais une ruelle quand je jetai un coup d’œil et vis un homme s’approcher. Il faisait ma taille. Robuste et trapu, à la limite d’être gros – portait un pantalon noir et une chemise blanche dont les trois premiers boutons étaient ouverts – révélant une épaisse toison de poils noirs. Il avait le teint basané. Ses yeux étaient petits et marron foncé – ses cheveux noirs et gras, peignés en arrière. Ses mains étaient dans ses poches – une cigarette pendait du coin de sa bouche. En se penchant légèrement vers moi, il me demanda une allumette. »

New Orleans, 1938 — Herbert Huncke

English/French edition.  

Les premières lignes :

« Je me souviens d’une nuit à la Nouvelle-Orléans sur St. Charles Street – à marcher. Il avait plu – les rues scintillaient – la nuit se reflétait dans les flaques d’eau. Les bruits de gouttes de pluie qui tombaient et éclaboussaient les feuilles de magnolias. Les rues étaient désertes – à peine une automobile qui passait. Je traversais une ruelle quand je jetai un coup d’œil et vis un homme s’approcher. Il faisait ma taille. Robuste et trapu, à la limite d’être gros – portait un pantalon noir et une chemise blanche dont les trois premiers boutons étaient ouverts – révélant une épaisse toison de poils noirs. Il avait le teint basané. Ses yeux étaient petits et marron foncé – ses cheveux noirs et gras, peignés en arrière. Ses mains étaient dans ses poches – une cigarette pendait du coin de sa bouche. En se penchant légèrement vers moi, il me demanda une allumette. »

In Naked Lunch  — William S. Burroughs   Premières lignes :  In Naked Lunch I wrote: “I am not an entertainer“. I was wrong. That was before I started giving public readings. As soon as anyone gets up in front of an audience to read his works, he becomes a performer and entertainer. I immediately discovered that only a very small percentage of my work is suitable for public readings, perhaps one percent.  Dans Le festin nu j’ai écrit : « Je ne suis pas un amuseur ». J’avais tort. C’était avant que je ne commence les lectures publiques. Du moment où on se lève devant un auditoire pour lire ses écrits, on devient un homme de spectacle, un amuseur. Je me suis tout de suite rendu compte que seul un très faible pourcentage de mon travail est propice aux lectures publiques, peut-être un pour cent.   

In Naked Lunch — William S. Burroughs

Premières lignes :

In Naked Lunch I wrote: “I am not an entertainer“. I was wrong. That was before I started giving public readings. As soon as anyone gets up in front of an audience to read his works, he becomes a performer and entertainer. I immediately discovered that only a very small percentage of my work is suitable for public readings, perhaps one percent.

Dans Le festin nu j’ai écrit : « Je ne suis pas un amuseur ». J’avais tort. C’était avant que je ne commence les lectures publiques. Du moment où on se lève devant un auditoire pour lire ses écrits, on devient un homme de spectacle, un amuseur. Je me suis tout de suite rendu compte que seul un très faible pourcentage de mon travail est propice aux lectures publiques, peut-être un pour cent.

 

The man who set the Beats going

(reblogged from Tony O'Neill's post on Guardian Book Blog  August 2007.) 

Herbert Huncke is little remembered these days, but he set the template for the Beats in both art and life.

Recently, I was lucky enough to see a rough cut of Huncke and Louis, Laki Vazakas' documentary on Beat godfather Herbert Huncke. It's a truly powerful piece of filmmaking, and one that got me thinking about Huncke's neglected place in the Beat canon. The man whom William S Burroughs called "an actual genius", the man who introduced the Naked Lunch author to his greatest muse (opiates), the man who inspired Jack Kerouac to use the term "Beat" in the first place - he is too often the forgotten face of the Beat Generation. Hiss biography is a vivid one: a teenage runaway who landed in New York's Times Square in the late 30s and became a heroin addict, hustler, petty criminal - and writer.

Huncke lived to a ripe old age without ever applying the brakes. He supposedly turned up to his appointment at the methadone clinic the day after his 81st birthday, and tested positive for heroin, marijuana, cocaine, methadone and Valium. "Why did you do it?" his frustrated doctor demanded. "I've been doing it my whole life," Huncke replied. "Why can't you just let me be?"

Unfortunately - but perhaps unsurprisingly - Huncke's work often exists in the shadow of this lifestyle. As Laki Vazakas said to me when we discussed his work, "Many people are dogmatic about drug taking, and this has led to Huncke's unfair pigeonholing as 'Huncke the Junkie' or 'the Junkie Muse' [the second phrase lifted from Huncke's New York Times obituary], two terms which show more about the prejudices of those who said them than the quality of the man's writing."

Later developments in the Beat canon - William Burroughs's cut-ups and sexually charged surrealist sci-fi, Allen Ginsberg's epic poetry, and the automatic writing of Jack Kerouac - often seemed deliberately obtuse. But the earliest examples of Beat literature - the early novels of both Burroughs and Kerouac - were wonderful examples of clarity and focus. Queer was probably Burroughs's most emotionally naked writing, while On The Road can still be easily read and digested in a way that Visions Of Cody cannot. It is with these books that Huncke's writings should sit.

In his lifetime he produced four books, Huncke's Journal, Elsie John and Joey Martinez, The Evening Sun Turned Crimson and Guilty Of Everything. In each of these works he mined the field of autobiographical writing, but - like Burroughs in Junky, or Kerouac in On The Road - elevated the form into high art. He was also capable of truly beautiful prose:

"Lay out the binding gauze - row upon row - mix the jellied fluids. Cleanse the injectors - open sacks of formaldehyde - rubber tubings - red rubber gloves. Hone the scalpels. The first slice is important and should be clean and true. Basins to catch the freshets of red blood - soon to pale and turn pale hue - wads of cotton to stuff the asshole - the nostrils - puff the cheeks - fill out the hollows."

Huncke's real skill lies in the place were art and life meet. His lifestyle WAS his art: the drugs, the prostitution, the homelessness, the years spent in jail - it all bled onto the page and created a new kind of poetry. He was the American Genet: a man with one foot firmly in the criminal underworld and one in literature. When taken as a whole, his writings (collected in The Huncke Reader, 1997) provide a blueprint for the origins of the Beat Generation, the writers that would open up the world of literature to the poetry of the street. They also contain some of the most beautiful, vital and thrilling writing to come out of post-war America.

While academia still argues about the relative worth of the Beat canon, those of us who do not see literature as a butterfly to be pinned, mounted and left to rot in a display case know what we know. While the likes of Ginsberg and Kerouac were tied to an ideology that turned into the 60s movement - the idea that the world COULD be changed, that LSD, meditation, and free love could somehow topple the powers that be, it was Huncke, with his saint-like simplicity, who really hit the nail on the head. Raymond Foye recalls Herbert talking to him during the final weeks of his dizzying, exhilarating life, and musing: "I wish I could say I'd hit upon the answers to the great mysteries of life. But it doesn't make any more sense to me than it did on day one."

 

'Beat. Beat Dope. That Dope is Beat.'

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Some Photos from Hilary Holladay's recent reading/signing of 'American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement' @ The Beat Museum & Alley Cat Bookstore in San Francisco.

This first bio is a great introduction to Huncke, highly recommended for those unfamiliar with his role within & influence on the Beat movement & particularly his relationship with the big three:  Burroughs, Ginsberg & Kerouac.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more buzz about this book - I suspect it might be due more to publisher malaise & distribution shortcomings rather than reflection on the book itself, which is definitely a worthy read.

If an author comes to SF to do a reading you would think that the publisher would at least make sure that City Lights had a copy or two of said author's book !  (They hadn't even heard of it !)  Damn, son !  

 

Has anyone read it yet ?  Interested in your feedback etc.

 

 

American Hipster:

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American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement tells the tale of a New York sex worker and heroin addict whose unrepentant deviance caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Teetering between exhaustion and existential despair, Huncke (rhymes with “junky”) often said, “I’m beat, man.” His line gave Kerouac the label for a down-at-the-heels generation seeking spiritual sustenance as well as “kicks” in post-war America.

Recognizable portraits of Huncke appear in Junky (1953), Burroughs's acerbic account of his own heroin addiction; “Howl” (1956), the long, sexually explicit poem that launched Ginsberg’s career; and On the Road (1957), Kerouac’s best-selling novel that immortalized the Beat Generation. But it wasn’t just Huncke the character that fascinated these writers: they loved his stories. Kerouac called him a “genius” of a storyteller and “a perfect writer.” His famous friends helped Huncke find publishers for his stories.
Biographies of Kerouac and the others pay glancing tribute to Huncke’s role in shaping the Beat Movement, yet no one until now has told his entire life story. American Hipster explores Huncke’s youthful escapades in Chicago; his complicated alliances with the Beat writers and with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; and his adventures on the road, at sea, and in prison. It also covers his tumultuous relationship with his partner Louis Cartwright, whose 1994 murder remains unsolved, and his idiosyncratic career as an author and pop-culture icon.
Written by Hilary Holladay, a professor of American literature, the book offers a new way of looking at the whole Beat Movement. It draws on Holladay’s interviews with Huncke's friends and associates, including representatives of the literary estates of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Huncke; her examination of Huncke’s unpublished correspondence and journals at Columbia University; and her longtime study of the Beat Movement.

Author & Professor of English Literature Hilary Holladay has written us to say that her Huncke bio has finally been released.  If you buy it through our link (or if you buy anything on Amazon through our portal) we get a small kickback which will be used to hasten the re-release of Huncke's writing - both previous released but out-of-print material as well as additional unreleased writings & The Letters.

Excerpt:

 

One summer day in 1927, a rebellious twelve-year-old boy climbed aboard a Chicago trolley car. Although his mother had given him a dime and dispatched him to his father’s apartment, he had no intention of getting off the trolley near there. He wanted to leave both of his troublesome parents behind and see a little bit of the world. After a series of streetcars took him to the outskirts of the city, he continued east. His first destination was his birthplace of Greenfield, Massachusetts; his second was New York City. Decades later, he said of his youthful journey, “I felt so free and light; all my shackles were suddenly dropped. I didn’t want to see anybody I knew ever again.”
Herbert Huncke (pronounced Hunky), who would provide Jack Kerouac with the word “beat” and show up in works by all of the primary Beat authors, was on the road.
With his roving hazel eyes and precocious interest in new acquaintances, the runaway attracted sexual predators. A hundred miles from home, he had oral sex with a stranger. “When that happened, the guy got scared, because he realized that I was very young. He shoved a ten-dollar bill in my hand, stepped on the gas, and took off—leaving me in some little town. Here I was with a whole ten-dollar bill.” The adult Huncke recalled not an assault but a serendipitous intervention. People’s appetites, sexual or otherwise, never surprised him.
* * *
The adolescent boy now knew exactly what it meant to be “beat” in the sense that he later used the word: down and out, exhausted, hopeless. Although he had impetuously defied the social mores that say children don’t travel halfway across the country just because they feel like it, he had also been caught, humiliated, and returned home. Still, the transcendent joy he had experienced when he walked past the onion field was real, and the whole escapade had whetted his appetite for adventure.
Herbert had always dreamed of becoming an artist of one kind or another. “I started out wanting to be a writer as a young boy among other things; at one time I intensely wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to write and travel all over the world.” At twelve, it all seemed possible, and even after his father brought him back to his divided home in Chicago, he knew that he would not stay there. His relationship with his mother was no less fraught with pain and emotional upheaval than that with his father. “My family background was sort of strange, it was middle-class and bourgeois except that my mother and father were divorced,” he said. “One thing about it is that I broke away from the family as often and as quickly as possible; I just didn’t want to be involved. I fought furiously and angrily with my mother all the time, we screamed at each other, I’d really go out of my mind.”
Two decades later, Huncke seemed to have completely bottomed out at the age of thirty-four. A failed hustler and sickly heroin addict, he scraped by on money he borrowed from friends and possessions he stole from friends and strangers alike. Yet the artistic fires still burned within him. One cold February day in 1949, he sat on a toilet in New York’s Penn Station and propped a notepad on his knee. He wrote, “Herbert E. Huncke.” Below that he began a meandering annotation: “My name; although I’m known generally as Huncke and by a few as Herbert and in the past as Herbie. It’s seldom I’m referred to as Mr. Huncke and when formal introduction is required it is usually—Herbert Huncke.” It was an unusual name, but “any name I might have had by its very utterance creates an almost weary and loathsome feeling in me. When I say it myself and frequently I say it to myself—I am immediately aware of a sense of disgust as though the sounds I make were significant of not only me but of a new and strange disease, and I am sure for at least the instant, I am at last slipping into an insanity from which there is no escape.”
The creative but directionless boy had grown up to be an eloquent writer and tormented man. “Sometimes I feel as though I must force—almost drive myself—to come out from behind a closed door when new people have entered an apartment I am in or I will wait until the last minute before leaving a place because I know I must meet people’s glances on the street.” He believed that his “more intimate acquaintances” regarded him with pity: “I am sure they explain me to their friends slightly apologetically on occasion and always with an air of tolerance. Huncke’s idiosyncrasies, his eccentricities, or perhaps—his mother complex. Sometimes I am sure they even attempt to allow for the unhealthy pallor of my skin. He takes Benzedrine—in fact he lives on it.” 
He saw no reason to dispel bad impressions:
Among a large percentage of those who know me casually or only know of me it is commonly understood I am completely saturated with narcotics. It is also believed I am unscrupulous and a completely rotten sort. I believe I am rotten in my entire being. My skin is unhealthy and serves merely as an excellent breeding territory for all the fungus and parasitical creatures in contacts. It itches constantly and I can sit for long periods scratching and picking odd-shaped black and sometimes white and frequently very darkened (like specks of dried blood) specks or flakes from my arms and legs and above my penis. The palms of my hands and also my fingers produce hairs some fully an inch in length. I have become conscious of this condition to so great an extent I am frequently sure it is evident to people I pass on the street.
Huncke’s problems went deeper than his infected flesh. Covered in sores and subject to hallucinations, he believed he was a plague on all right-thinking men and women: “I think I should remain away from everyone because perchance I may infect people, pollute them with my corruption and leave them with a diseased soul as mine is diseased. Leave them—weary—listless—horrified of themselves and longing to escape the world—to die.”
With these notes recorded in his looping, rather childlike script, Huncke left the Penn Station men’s room and forced himself to face the world. At some point—probably fairly soon—he ran into Jack Kerouac, an energetic young writer who had recently finished his first novel, The Town and the City, which Harcourt Brace would publish in 1950. Kerouac had met Huncke through their mutual friend William S. Burroughs, a Harvard graduate of dazzling intellect and completely amoral sensibilities. Although Kerouac, unlike Burroughs, was not looking to immerse himself in Huncke’s world of drugs and crime, he was intrigued by the ghostly specter he often encountered on Times Square. In a letter to the young poet Allen Ginsberg, another mutual friend, Kerouac had written, “Incidentally, Huncke is brooding again, and it seems that Huncke is never so great as when he’s beat down and brooding and bitter.”
After Kerouac had a look at what Huncke had written that day in Penn Station, he took it upon himself to make his own copy. Printing neatly, he filled up three and a quarter pages and inserted quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph to indicate that these were Huncke’s words, not his own. At the top of the first page, in parentheses after Huncke’s name, he wrote “Junkey” in quotation marks; this was the none-too-subtle name he used for the Huncke character in The Town and the City. Below that, he wrote “Huncke’s Famous Penn Station Notes,’” and in the right margin he added, “Written in Pennsylvania Station, ‘Killing Time’ Feb.—1949.”
On the final page, below a line drawn to signal the end of Huncke’s notes, he appended a quote from a letter Ginsberg had written when Ginsberg was sharing his apartment with Huncke: “The most depressing thing is to get up to go to school and wake him, and see him lift up his head, staring blankly, dumb, biting his lips, for half an hour at a time.” Little did Ginsberg, then a Columbia University undergraduate, know that he would soon be arrested, thanks to his not entirely unwilling entanglement with Huncke and his criminal friends.
Yet Herbert was more than a crook and a depressed addict. Somehow he found the energy and resolve to write a good deal, and his Penn Station notes show that he did so with grace and conviction, despite a complete lack of formal tutelage. Kerouac was quick to pick up on this. Not only did he see Huncke as a ready-made character he could insert into The Town and the City; he believed his actual words might come in handy as well. Like many a writer before and after him, Kerouac was in the habit of copying down conversations that might animate his fiction, and he saved his friends’ letters in hopes that those, too, might be useful source material. He knew that Huncke’s lyrical musings could instill authenticity in his writings about the truly beat.
The future author of On the Road (1957) saw things in Huncke’s writing that he wanted to emulate. Much has been made of Huncke as “a Virgilian guide to the lower depths” introducing Burroughs and company to the Angler Bar, the Pokerino arcade, and other Times Square joints that they might not have explored on their own, but his friends also recognized him as a storyteller par excellence. Kerouac called Huncke “the greatest storyteller I know, an actual genius at it, in my mind.” Several years after he had copied down Huncke’s pages, he began using a long dash in his “spontaneous prose” novels. All of Huncke’s handwritten stories and sketches, including the notes Kerouac copied, make frequent use of a long dash (appearing twice the length of a regular dash). The long dash allows for ...