Mark Luebbers and Ben Goluboff

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Introductory Note:  There are at least two accounts in print of how Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac met; while we believe Joyce Johnson’s account to be true, we made poems out of two versions of the meeting.


Robert Frank Meets Jack Kerouac, Avenue A, New York City, Autumn 1957

The party had spilled out 
on to the sidewalk
when this little owlish guy 
filled his cup from the jug of Dago Red
Jack was passing around, and
Jack was aware the guy 
had his eyes on him. 

A breeze came down the block, 
all "Autumn-in-New-York," and
Jack turns up his collar, and
says to the guy: 
"It's not a fit night out
for man nor beast." And

the little owlish guy (and
in this the little owlish guy
is revealed to Jack
as a prestidigitator 
impresario angel
sent to him from above)
he pantomimes the door
blowing open, and
snowflakes flying
into Jack's face, and
everybody falls out laughing.

So they talk about Fields, and
they talk about Chaplin, and
Jack is totally in love with the guy, 
wants to make him his
faithful Indian companion. 

When he learns that the guy 
is a photographer
on a Guggenheim year
making a portfolio of American scenes,
Jack explains to the guy
about photography,
about how it intervenes, dad.
The writer's always chasing lost time, 
but the photographer intervenes
-- between tick and 
tock, diddy and 
bop -- the photographer 
precedes and prevents us. 

They talked about 
the little towns on Route 66, and 
Jack improvised for a while on
how it was lone and lorn 
out there, and 
he tried unsuccessfully to remember
the second half of Allen's line
about visionary Indian angels. 

Frank sent him the prints
a couple days later, and 
Jack wrote the Introduction 
in two hours, including the time 
he spent crushing on 
the Miami elevator girl, 
and staring, sad and lost, 
at the photo of the St. Francis statue 
greeting the dawn in L.A.

Robert Frank Meets Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson at the Viking offices,
Manhattan, 1957

At the Viking offices, the walls
were wood and stainless,
held in by the tall glass looking
out over the avenues. Fall,
and Joyce remembers seeing
from her desk the man step
from the elevator, wearing sandals,
holding close under his arms
a big square black portfolio,
and saying he needed to see Jack.
Joyce remembers telling him
Jack was in a meeting,
and wondering who this guy was
and what the editors would think,
they in all their buttoned-up
patrician squareness,
they who mostly saw Jack
as their own trained bear,
dressed and acting as he did
as if he had just stumbled in wild
from the north woods.
What would they think when they
saw this new strange guy
with his face wearied
and eyes which clearly
had seen too much, so long
away from the sheen of the city,
instead lost on the roads
between the empty fields
and in the wet streets
of the bruised mill towns?
Anyway Joyce remembers Jack
walked out in front of the crew cuts
and saw Frank’s pictures
spread from the folio
and right away he knew
the eyes behind the camera
had seen the same flags and factories
and cars and storefronts and faces
and cares that he had seen:
the vast homely country
waiting to be loved, and lamented,
and unforgotten,
knew that the pictures
he had been trying to make with his words
had here been made into pictures,
knew that here was another crazy immigrant
who could see the necessity of a new idea,
and that the suits behind him needed them
both more than they could know,
and so he said so.


Mark Luebbers teaches English at the Stoneleigh Burnham School, Benjamin Goluboff at Lake Forest College. Sometimes they write poetry together. Mark and Ben's collaborative biographical poems have appeared in Unbroken, Eastern Iowa Review, Blue Mountain Review, and in They Said: A Multigenre Anthology of Collaborative Creative Writing from Black Lawrence Press.