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The Yage Letters: an early epistolary novel by William S. Burroughs, whose 1952 account of himself as Junkie, published under the pseudonym William Lee, ended "Yage may be the final fix." In letters to Allen Ginsberg, an unknown young poet in New York, his journey to the Amazon jungle is recorded, detailing picaresque incidents of search for telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug Yage (Ayahuasca, or Banisteriopsis Caapé) used by Amazon Indian doctors for finding lost objects, mostly bodies and souls. ...
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The Yage Letters: an early epistolary novel by William S. Burroughs, whose 1952 account of himself as Junkie, published under the pseudonym William Lee, ended "Yage may be the final fix." In letters to Allen Ginsberg, an unknown young poet in New York, his journey to the Amazon jungle is recorded, detailing picaresque incidents of search for telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug Yage (Ayahuasca, or Banisteriopsis Caapé) used by Amazon Indian doctors for finding lost objects, mostly bodies and souls. Author and recipient of these letters met again in New York, Xmas 1953, pruned and edited the writings to form a single book. Correspondence contains first seeds of later Burroughsian fantasy in Naked Lunch. Seven years later Ginsberg in Peru writes his old guru an account of his own visions and terrors with the same drug, appealing for further counsel. Burroughs' mysterious reply is sent. The volume concludes with two epilogues: a short note from Ginsberg on his return from the Orient years later reassuring Self that he is still here on earth, and a final poetic cut-up by Burroughs, "I Am Dying Meester?"
Posted December 4, 2002
WS Burroughs wrote various letters to Ginsberg `bout his (who wouldn¿t have guessed it after reading the last line of Junkie) search for the organic drug Yage (pronounced Yah-Hey) or Ayahuasca. Ginsberg also wrote letters to WSB about his finding and intense experience on the same drug. Later, WSB sent Allen a sketch of the cutup writing process and a brief prose-poem entitled `I am Dying Meester.¿ The cut-up concept was later developed in several artistic mediums: literature, painting, film, audio recording, etc. All these correspondences and climactic outline/poem were recently compiled for `The Yage Letters¿ a City Lights Publication. ---Of course many of these letters were released in several different books/reviews/chronicles (Big Table, Kulcher, Floating Bear, Black Mountain), so what we¿re reading is essentially `collected letters.¿--- Free-floating lines of homoerotic routines and suspicious drug-fuelled underground characters are clearly what make up Burroughs¿s letters. Recording one¿s gay sexual encounters in letter form must have been risky for the early 60s, although most the Beats never withheld anything they wrote: they included them in their manuscripts. Burroughs goes in-depth concerning his travel in Central/South America, using colorful language, anthropological subjects, and funny adjectives to the T; but the writing is not dull at all. This is clearly the Naked Lunch phase for Burroughs, but soon (as we will see) his writing gets more experimental ---culminating in the `Meester¿ cut-up bit which I mentioned above, that ends this book. Ginsberg begins where WSB left off, and subsequently experiences the conditions under Yage. ---Hey, check out the crude sketches Allen drew with the letters/ medicine men, severe pain, blood, death, snakes, demons, all in the sketches and text ---- Apparently, Allen didn¿t have a holiday down in South America, although his writing is evidently tight (not rushed by the thought of the experience). But as tight and beautiful as it is, there is not much of Ginsberg¿s writing to read. The descriptive drug using/tripping/euphoria/ medicine man bit only makes up one chapter, what follows is a closing letter and prose poetry piece excerpted notation that Allen jotted down in Lima. Altogether this is a beautifully compiled book (with a cool cover) written in a whimsical and eclectic style. I enjoyed reading both writers¿ letters, but felt that Allen could have included another letter; but considering the situation maybe there wasn¿t one. The Yage Letters as a whole is concise (only 66 pages) which means that it is also accessible for any reader. But I believe that (obviously) a reader who has read Naked Lunch, The Cut-up Trilogy, Howl and/or other books by both writers may (like myself) enjoy it from a scholarly point of view. All in all, The Yage Letters is not classic as NL or Howl but still a fun read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2008
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