Reading Pomes All Sizes feels like watching Birdman or Whiplash. It’s drunk, jubilant, sweaty. The collection is manic, exhilarating, confusing, fun, heartbeating, a little sad.
You’ll find friend poems, wine poems, God and Buddha poems, and a few poems about girls. The subject matter isn’t that different from a hundred other poets, but the delivery is something else. Kerouac’s voice and playfulness and mindfulness read unlike so much of what came before. For me, it just rings clear like a bell through shelves of mumbling, boring, scared, self-conscious poets.
For me, this collection was best read aloud. Kerouac’s rhythms read like how I hope I sound when I am drinking. Sometimes the fun of what he is doing with the percussion or music in the lines is lost unless you can hear it.
My biggest criticism isn’t in the content so much as the collection itself. Since it was released posthumously, I’m not positive the writer wouldn’t have left pieces out – the collection covers a large portion of the 1950s-1960s and perhaps Kerouac would’ve put it together differently. But what do I know? If I said that I understood all of the context and history in which the collection was created, I’d be lying. Kerouac’s Beat friends are mostly a mystery to me, as is much (but not all!) of the implications of Eastern thought referenced in or running through several of the pieces. Allen Ginsberg wrote an introduction that includes information on the collection itself and the Beats in general. That was helpful; I’d recommend at least skimming it if, like me, this is an unfamiliar neighborhood of poetry for you.
I would definitely recommend this collection to even casual readers, just because it’s so fun and inspiring. If you can’t find it, though, try to at least find “Mexican Loneliness”, “Caritas”, “Skid Row Wine”, “Pax”, “Angel Mine”, “Hymn”, “Running Through – Chinese Poem Song”, and “Cognac Blues”. Here’s an excerpt from “Skid Row Wine”, which reads like a more traditional pop song or poem but is also easier to excerpt because you don’t need the whole piece to understand:
I coulda done a lot worse than sit
in Skid Row drinkin wine
To know that nothing matters after all
To know there’s no real difference
between the rich and the poor
To know that eternity is neither drunk
nor sober, to know it young
and be a poet