‘The Trickster In Ginsberg’ by Katherine C. Mead-Brewer

I am not sure how I first stumbled upon ‚The Trickster In Ginsberg’ by Baltimore based writer Katherine C Mead-Brewer, but the title immediately caught my attention as Allen Ginsberg’s life and work are intrinsically tied to that of Jack Kerouac and some of his poems are amongst the most beautiful I know. But its title also intrigued and bewildered me somewhat. Why ‚the trickster’? was the question I asked my self repeatedly.

At the time of writing this, I haven’t read it yet (it’s still on my to-buy-list), so I decided to ask her a few questions about the book with a view of posting the answers on here. Luckily she answered them very comprehensively (thanks Katherine!) which helped me to shed some light on the work itself and the thought process in the decision to write the book which I am happy to share with you.

Katherine is also running a very interesting blog featuring more information on the book as well as her life and interests as a writer and editor, the blog is called Writing Reconsidered and can be found at: howlinghowl.wordpress.com/

Q:  Please tell us a bit about your background 

Well, there isn’t much background to talk about quite yet to be honest. I’ve been writing constantly ever since I learned how and this has led to a variety of oddities, such as my first publication, a science fiction short story called “Delicious Connotations” about the first people to colonize Mars and the ensuing plague that develops. As you might guess from this, as a kid I was typically more interested in horror stories and science fiction than in anything else. And, though my father has always been a huge Beat fan – poetry, music, history, activism, the whole shebang – I didn’t really discover the Beats for myself until college. (I grew up in Texas, so the Beats weren’t exactly a part of the high school curriculum.)

I earned two bachelor’s degrees (one in English/Literature and one in American Studies) from a small school called Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas before moving up to the Washington, DC area where I earned my master’s in American Studies. So, basically as soon as I got into higher education I began to learn more about modern American literature and about the treasures and horror stories the Beats had to offer (even to someone as comparably Wonder Bread as me).

Q: Why ‘The Trickster in Ginsberg’? I have thought a bit about the title but I can’t really fathom what you mean by that.

To tell the truth, I didn’t get to pick the title of my book – I suggested a few possible titles to my publisher but, in the end, they picked the one they felt best represented the research. But I do like their choice of “The Trickster in Ginsberg” because it not only suggests that Ginsberg is now a big enough name to not require that we specify “Allen” but also because it is so broad in scope.

The book itself is focused on examining Ginsberg’s poetry (primarily “Howl”) through the lens of the trickster archetype (hence The Trickster in…), with a special focus on the Native American trickster/entity/figure of Coyote.

Q: Why did you choose this theme for your book? Was it hard to find a publisher for your book?

When I finally decided, “Yep, this is a book,” I knew I wanted it to center upon Ginsberg’s poetry rather than upon Ginsberg’s biography. Many books about the Beats only very passingly mention the writing the Beats produced because the intrigue of their biographies tend to eclipse everything else. In other words, it is really tough to write about a poem like “Howl” without simply going stanza by stanza and line by line marveling and sharing not-so-secret secrets about Ginsberg’s life and exploits. However, from the moment I first really gave Howl and Other Poems a read, I knew that I wanted to know everything possible about how it was done and why. Since my high school days I’ve found that I tend to be more interested in books to understand how they were written and constructed versus simply for plot and content – an interest that got me hooked into “Howl” immediately given its incredible and unique composition.

As for the Trickster component, this was something that occurred to me as I was beginning to study various elements of different Native American religions in college. This was easily the hardest part of the book as I suddenly found myself enmeshed within cultures, stories, and scholarship that I had never before encountered (which is also why I call out for Native American scholars and scholars in Native American Studies to add to this research on the Beats).

As it turns out, Ginsberg was surrounded by different Native American stories, myths, narratives, and ideas for years before and after his writing of “Howl” through various of his friends, chief among these being Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac. Of course, what’s important to understand here is that this book focuses on Ginsberg’s interpretation and incorporation Coyote elements rather than about the Native American Coyote(s) specifically and traditionally. I also wanted to use this book as an opportunity to highlight just how many rich influences there were for Ginsberg in his poetry and that it wasn’t simply Buddhism, personal narrative, and Bohemian ideals and angers.

As for finding a publisher, what drew me to McFarland & Company was their incredible breadth of interests and the fact that they are an indie publisher specializing in nonfiction. This made them a unique fit for my academic and interdisciplinary work. I have a great deal of respect for McFarland and the respect they showed me as a young author with a wild notion.

Q: What did make you choose Ginsberg as a theme for your book? Is he your favorite poet? If not, who is/which other poets do you admire?

Allen Ginsberg is definitely one of my favorite poets. I’ve always loved poetry  and admired those who pursued it as I believe it demands a special brand of boldness. I’m also a major fan of Wendell Berry, Gerald Vizenor, Walt Whitman, and Ursula K. Le Guin (to name a few).

As for why I chose Ginsberg for this study as opposed to an arguably more obvious choice like Kerouac or Snyder, I chose him because I saw in his works and writings a wealth of trickster connections and possibilities. I have also always been so impressed by the humor within his work – a very important component of Coyote.

Q: Seeing most people on my blog are primarily interested in Kerouac, where do you stand on his work?

What a large question! I would say I am absolutely, 300% pro-Kerouac and his work. I will admit, I’m a bigger fan of Ginsberg than I am Kerouac, but there’s no denying the indelible impact that Kerouac had upon Ginsberg and Ginsberg’s writing. The way they created together, there’s almost no way to separate Kerouac from Ginsberg’s poetry. As is evidenced by Ginsberg’s annotated facsimile edition of “Howl,” Kerouac was a large part of the editing process of “Howl” as well as a creative influence. And, given how hard Ginsberg worked to help Kerouac with his writing in return, there’s no way any self-respecting Ginsberg fan could be anything but impressed by and appreciative of the works of Kerouac, works that so captivated Ginsberg.

Q:  Are you planning on writing any more books about The Beats / The Beat Generation?

As of right now, no, I don’t have any immediate plans to write another Beat-related book. It’s not that I’ve grown apart from the Beats at all, but simply that I’m focused on other topics at the moment (some going back to my science fiction roots). Currently, though, I’m co-authoring a book focused on the transition of gay hookup culture from bars to Internet and smartphone resources. This, no doubt, will have some Beat references made throughout given the importance of bar/salon culture to much of their work, but, for now at least, I’m just going to be enjoying Beat literature rather than seeking to contribute to it.

3 Responses to “‘The Trickster In Ginsberg’ by Katherine C. Mead-Brewer”
  1. Katherine C. Mead-Brewer says:

    Reblogged this on Writing Reconsidered and commented:
    Check out my latest interview regarding my book, The Trickster in Ginsberg. Thanks, J Haeske, for your interest and for sharing your own terrific writing!

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