Founded by Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974, Colorado’s Naropa University is the first fully accredited Buddhist-inspired university in the United States. The school is world famous not only for its promotion of nontraditional activities like meditation to supplement traditional learning approaches but also for its English department, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman.
On Sunday, Naropa will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a reading at City Lights that will include Naropa Assistant Professor of English Andrea Rexilius, plus Robert Glück, Juliana Spahr, Cedar Sigo, Eric Baus, Michelle Naka Pierce and Chris Pusateri.
“JKS was there from the start,” Rexilius says via e-mail, “but so was an interest in how psychology and the contemplative intersected, and performance art and contemplative, and so on.”
The relationship between the Kerouac School and City Lights runs deep. “One of the main goals of JKS is to keep poetry alive in the current century/situation of the now,” Rexilius says. “We count within our Outrider lineage, not just the Beats, but the Black Mountain school, San Francisco Renaissance, New York School, Umbra, the Black Arts Movement.
“Today’s alignment is with EcoPoetics, the Gurlesque, Documentary Poetics, Conceptualism, Somatic Writing, New Narrative, etc. Often these affinities are contradictory, but that is part of what we like. It’s about inclusion, diversity, conversation.”
Such a diverse and all-encompassing ethos is by nature revolutionary and has helped shape the program’s appeal.
“Because our program is based in Contemplative Pedagogy, there is a focus on collaborative community rather than a focus on competition and careerism,” Rexilius says.
That building of radical community is of course endemic to the character of Bay Area literature, of which City Lights has long been a nexus. Like City Lights, the Kerouac School has always been focused not only on creative writing but also on how that writing addresses the wider world.
“One of the main concerns of JKS is to keep our program open to the larger community,” Rexilius says. “It is not just for those who are getting an MFA. We also want our MFA students to interact with a variety of writers (novices, professionals, teacher/writers, writers with careers outside of academia and so on). This convergence of minds, backgrounds and motivations comes together to explode the traditional university setting and to keep the MFA students rooted in communion with the world.”
Education for the sake of enlightenment and transformation has arguably never been more important, or rare. In its 40th year, Naropa continues to play a crucial role in the effort to put poetry at the forefront of generational thinking.
“There is also a focus on activism in relation to the contemplative (thinking about how each discipline impacts our personal growth as individuals and how that individual growth impacts our society),” Rexilius says. “The slogan, ‘Keeping the world safe for poetry’ (A. Waldman) is important.”
IF YOU GO
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics 40th Anniversary Party: 5 p.m. Sunday. Free. City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193.
Other book events
Illustrator Mimi Pond celebrates her 15-years-in-the-making graphic novel “Over Easy.” The book is set in the author’s post-art-school waitressing career in 1970s Oakland. Pond, who has written five other books, wrote the first full-length episode of “The Simpsons” and an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” (7 p.m. Free. Mama’s Royal Café, 4012 Broadway, Oakland.
Photo by Eric Bause