Legendary Beat poet and author Hettie Jones read from her memoir and books of poetry last Wednesday night in Philips Autograph Library, rendering the literary Beat experience as the fifties melted into the sixties.Jones?s memoir, “How I Became Hettie Jones, A Memoir of the ?Beat Scene? of the Fifties and Sixties” is a reflective chronicle of downtown bohemian New York, from being fed by a woman on Bleaker Street,to hosting Beat parties where Allen Ginsberg mingled naked.
Yet, Jones?s target in sharing her writing was for the education of the experience, a token for young people to step inside and ride back in time to the pre-hippie counterculture, to the original protestors, the creative stem to the budding flower-power generation.
Not only is Jones an accomplished poet and author of her recent memoir, she has written children?s stories and “The Tree Stands Shining,” a book of poetry for kids. “I write children?s books to simplify my voice,” explained Jones.
Jones began the night with her poem “Weather,” the one she describes as her “favorite child of the moment; it will pass.”
Immediately following, Jones read from sporadic sections of her memoir, flowing various memories and stories into a seemingly well documented timeline of her life in bohemia, shifting words into mental images, casting her evolution into Beat life as we now know it.
“The Beats” were a group of expressive individuals, ambiguous enough to accept anyone. They were painters, writers, musicians and actors living almost centrally in NYC?s Greenwich Village. Jones reminisces about bringing Jack Kerouac and his audience back to her apartment for a party after one of his readings.
“It was a wide open hot time,” said Jones, “and like everyone else I tried to get my share.” Hettie Jones never had “normal fifties plans;” the desire for an avocado refrigerator in a mass marketed suburb garnered no appeal. “What unforeseen catastrophe could send me decorating a home in Westchester (upscale NY suburb)?”
Jones read from several books of her poetry. “Drive,” her first published, won the Poetry Society of America?s 1999 Norma Faber First Book Award. Her other poetry publications include “All Told,” a poetry collection written about “neighbors and normal things.”
The intro poem has the narrator thanking God for meager household items. Another plays out like a chat between her and Julia Child. She sarcastically asks for her forgiveness “for eating the same dinner two nights in a row.” Jones?s poems read sharply and steadily from her mouth with unique charm and maturity, accentuating her prose approach and Beat style.
Jones apologized for canceling her original appearance last fall, when she was rammed by a skate boarder while she was on her bike. A healthy Hettie Jones, formerly married to legendary black poet LeRoi Jones, delivered her genre spanning styles and forms, reaching to higher and higher rungs of the literary ladder.