Jim Carroll has to be the
biggest thing arriving in heroic culture right now. "How does it feel to be a famous
poet?" "It feels . . ." No, no more. It's beginning to feel famous? &
half the population is under 25. The poems for the singing voice that pour from radios and
record players, are turning kids on, and turning them on to poems for the talking voice,
too. There are so many fresh and exciting and amazingly talented poets under 25 now, and
what a pleasure they are! Thanks, beatniks! Thanks, Beatles!, and thanks, Bobby Dylan! Or
at least I think thanks.
Jim Carroll is beautiful. He says [in Organic Trains], "I was forwarned
about the clocks falling on me, so all I felt was 8 colors as my wrist watch flew into the
sky's cheek. Watches are very symbolic of security? they remind me of Frank O'Hara. Frank
O'Hara reminds me of many wonderful things, as does the vanilla light . . ."
He's 20 years old, stands 6'3", and has a body like Nureyev (or would have were
Nureyev Clint Eastwood). Across a party, or a poetry-reading one sees above a black swath
of leather, Jim Carroll's brilliant-red Prince Valiant cut quietly nodding.
He is saying, "My family lives in Inwood. My father owned an Irish bar, and I went
to lots of Catholic schools, until this queer basketball scout Mike Tittleberger got me a
combined scholastic/academic scholarship to Trinity." (Among other famous alumni of
Trinity may be listed Humphrey [Bogart], Truman Capote, Billy Berkson, and Aram Saroyan.)
"I'm also impressed by the various pets everyone is conceiling under their
clothing." [Excerpt from Organic Trains]
Jim Carroll first appeared in my life as a huge white paw hung purposefully from the
near end of a long brown corduroy arm. It was late one Wednesday evening, in front of
Gem's Spa, the corner at 2nd Avenue & St. Mark's Place, in the Spring of 1967. A
slight grey rectangle blocked my further view. I stopped short, although none of this is
the least bit unusual at Gem's Spa. But the giant who materialized behind the hand
certainly was unusual. It seemed to be saying, Pay attention, and I did so. "I'm Jim
Carroll," the giant said and became a very interesting person. "I've just had
this book of poems published, and I'D like to give you a copy to read." "I'd
love to read it," I said. (That's what I always say.) So, I took the small pamphlet
of Jim Carroll's poems home to read.
The Outside cover read: ORGANIC TRAINS, below that, Poems by Jim Carroll. Inside, on
the back of the outside cover, there was a brief note, handwritten. It said: "Please
reply, I'd like to show you more." And then: "Fuck the spelling in this book--it
was printed in New Jersey."
ORGANIC TRAINS is a tremendous experiences. Most of the poems were written when Jim was
14, 15 and 16. I've never seen anything like it. I can say Rimbaud, but that doesn't bring
in how American Jim Carroll is, and a critic might, and probably would, say, O'Hara; but
Frank O'Hara never wrote anywhere near this well into well into his 20's. The poems in the
book are new, and they are now (still). If there is to be another "New American
Poetry", and there is, as the fine dust settles over the "New American Poetry
1945-60", Jim Carroll is the first truly new American poet. His imagination is as
natural to him as the evidence of his senses, and, in fact, its light transforms that
always slightly belated information directly back into now; no greater pleasure!
Anne Waldman, who should know, says, "Jim is a born star. He's so tall and
beautiful, and he probably knows a lot. I love the way he talks.
"I could listen to him for days."
[Note: the following are excerpts from Carroll's early poems]
"You're in a house. It's a good house. Babies breathe in this h"Go [sic] to the
mirror. Comb my hair down straight. Put on The Velvet Underground. . . . Put on my silver
ring . . . everything fine . . . Check to see how much is left . . . Giant beds with
everyone I know. No sex."
"One is not searching for blind significance, only for a shelter from thousands of
inverted footprints, which are thos of many erotics in deep gorges of wonderfully green
humidity . . ."
"There is an 'enjoyable fabric' which slips beneath me every time I pass by
"but everything has worked out fine, not like the weather, which is dark as a
laundry closet in a very 'cheap' hotel."
On a day like this, I feel like I'm indoors," says Ron, walking to the subway.
"Jim's poems really move me--it's as if Jim were right there, taking your
hand--"We'll explore this place together."
"What can you say," Anne Waldman said. "To be in two places at once
gives you a real buzz. 'A little buzz' as Jim would say."
("Right now I'll settle for you, with your bra unhooked (under a tree) on the
Staten Island ferry." [from Living at the Movies])
Once, when we were walking in Julian's Billiard Parlor Jim said to me, "When I was
about nine years old man, I realized that the real thing was not only to do what you were
doing totally great, but to look totally great while you were doing it!"
Basketball, he meant. Jim Carroll has been an all-star athlete since he was seven years
old. He pitched a no-hitter in Biddy League baseball, and was All-American in Biddy League
Basketball. At Trinity (High School), Jim was three times All-City as a high scoring guard
on the basketball team. "How did you get into poetry?" I asked. "Well, by
the time I got to Trinity the straight Jock trip had begun to wear a little thin,"
Jim said. "I still had as much charge, but I simply began getting off into new
directions, like pills, sex, drugs, booze and The New American Poetry. I had been keeping
my basketball diaries since I was 12, and so when I got turned on to poetry at Trinity,
writing it just came naturally. I read Howl first, I guess. Then Frank
"I still love to play ball," Jim says. And evidently Jim Carroll still can
play ball. The Rhinelander Newspaper, for March 13th, 1970, reports: "The Rhinelander
Seniors played their best game of the season yesterday against the bearded wierdo's
jackets-off team of poets and painters. It was strictly no competition. The only player
the Rhinelander's couldn't handle was the guy in the bleached dungarees and a blue beret.
His name is Jim Carroll, and he was High School All City a few years back. His favorite
shot was a left-handed double-pump jump shot. It surprised everyone at the end of the game
when he took his beret off, and long sweaty flaming red hair fell to his shoulders."
I guess what I like about Jim Carroll's writing, all of it, the poems, and the Diaries,
is just about the same as what I get to like off of Jim. It's that, given alternatives,
Jim Carroll does what he feels like. And he isn't necessarily packing alternatives. The
rest of what I like is easily seen. It's in the poems in The Workd [sic], The Paris
Review, The World Anthology, and ORGC [sic] TRAINS. You'll get to see it in LIVING AT THE
MOVIES, a book of poems due out in the Fall from Cape-Goliard; and in the big selection
from his remarkable work, THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, to appear in the next issue of The Paris
Review (no. 49).
Plus, "Class." Jim Carroll has "class." It seems to radiate from
within, just naturally, and Bill Berkson recently wrote that Jim Carroll, with his
naturally casual tough classical grace, seems to be making sweetness once again a
possibility in poetry. It's true. His presence makes something new clear: that poetry is
now, here, and everywhere, not just "there."
© 1969 Ted Berrigan / Culture Hero
Note: the rest of the article presents excerpts from The Basketball Diaries.