Tuesday, October 28, 2014, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
reading poetry from his new collection
Night Train to Shanghai
from Grizzly Peak Press
Born and educated in Chicago (University of Illinois, Highest Distinction in English, 1971 and 1973), Gerald Nicosia has for decades been best known as the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac and a critic and historian of the Beats, the Sixties, and the Vietnam War. But even before his undergraduate years ended, he was publishing poetry as well, mentored by Chicago poets he loved such as Carl Sandburg and some he knew personally such as Paul Carroll, founder of Big Table Books and Magazine. And while his poetry quickly absorbed the influence of the Beat writers in its insistence on clarity, narrative coherence, and incorporation of common speech, it also drew heavily upon the down and dirty blues voice and sometimes black humor of Chicago writers like Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Richard Wright.
The poems in Night Train to Shanghai grew out of Nicosia's several trips to modern China, beginning with his trip to Hefei in 1995 to adopt his six-month-old daughter Wu Ji (now Amy). He later traveled to Chengdu to guest-teach Beat poetry and other subjects to graduate students at Sichuan University, and took his daughter Amy to many cities in China, including her birth-place of Wuhu, when she was ten and had already learned to speak Mandarin. In the "Author’s Preface," Nicosia explains the origins of these poems in “the richness that has come to me by digging a hole in myself that inadvertently let in the other side of the world.”
In his introduction, Beat poet Jerry Kamstra describes Night Train to Shanghai as “clearheaded and respectful, bighearted but critical, knowledgeable but not pedantic, modern China seen through the middle eye of a poet who is much more than the best biographer of Jack Kerouac (Memory Babe) or the scholarly author of Home to War, his seven-hundred-page opus on the Vietnam War and the plight of returning veterans.” Kamstra further claims that “Gerald Nicosia is a poet of the first rank, following in the tradition of Irving Layton and Theodore Roethke.”
Maxine Hong Kingston, arguably America’s greatest living Chinese-American writer, declares in her foreword that “Gerald Nicosia has written a truthful, beautiful collection of poems.”