Monday, 14 September 2009
I've been trying to get a couple of reviews posted today and nothing more, but my mind is wandering elsewhere after hearing about the death of Jim Carroll. I didn't expect his death to affect me as much as it did and have tried to work out why.
I guess it's because Jim was my first real lesson in poetry. As a child you're given your first taste of poetry through the use of rhyme. The Cat Sat on the Mat. How clever. You're a poet. You go to school and learn about Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Woodsworth. But they never teach you about anything hard-hitting. Anything that requires you to really think about the grim realities of the world and human emotion. You learn about the classical poets.
I came across Jim in my 'I love Leo' years at the age of 11 after seeing the big screen adaptation of The Basketball Diaries. The film taught me about a few things.
Perhaps one of the most important - Drugs. I didn't grow up in the nicest and safest town in the world - in fact, I've lost count of how many times the reaction to where I'm from has been an eye-popping, "Oh, eek!" (There are two drug dens in the houses opposite mine and, during my childhood, this town was #2 most polluted town in Britain and in the top 10 worst for criminal activity.) Somehow I was sheltered from it until I discovered this film, this book, this poet. I never partook in any of it but Jim actually opened my eyes to the real world. People I know and love have gone down these paths and, at one stage in school (aged 12-13), I was hanging around with future addicts and criminals, and could very well have done the same. I always wonder whether my early discoveries about the affects of drugs and crime - thanks to Jim's writing - ingrained themselves so deeply that they shaped who I am now, rather than who I could have been.
I already knew about the different ways to take heroin, and which pills in your parents' medicine cabinet would bring you up or knock you down, while my friends were daring to steal a quick sip of shandy from their older siblings. The knowledge made me curious, but it also steered me away from it.
From The Basketball Diaries (particularly the book) I got my first real lesson in poetry. I never knew that you could write about anything in the world that affected you. Jim Carroll's words were my first lessons that life isn't always about love and nature and prancing around the countryside with animals and flowers. Growing up in New York, he wrote about what he knew and lived a thousand lives before he turned 15. At last this was a man who I could connect with more than Marlowe's dream of "valleys, groves, hills, and fields."
Now that I'm an adult and have studied at university, I've found a much wider range of writers, similar to Jim, who I can connect to just as equally. But Jim Carroll will always be the first writer to help me 'think outside the box.' Outlaws like him have helped shape who I am today and told me that it's okay to ask questions. They've made me comfortable as a person and comfortable as a writer.
The few articles that have cropped up about Jim's death today have described him as a 'Punk rock poet.' That barely does him justice. He was a true libertine and an inspiration to many.
Rest in Peace Jim. We'll miss you.
(The Jim Carroll Band with ''People who Died'' - a song written about the countless number of people Jim outlived during his youth, and my first taste of punk music at the age of 11.)