Interview with Pierre Delattre author of Korrigan's Shadow

TT: Can you say how the story of Korrigan's Shadow emerged from your consciousness?

PD: I had been living alone for a year in a cottage built by my late grandfather on a lake in the north woods of Wisconsin. I drove to Minneapolis to hear Robert Bly give a reading. Bly introduced me to his friend Tom, who was starting a new publishing house in Denver. Though he could only offer a thousand dollar advance, Tom hoped I'd let him publish something of mine. My publisher, Houghton Mifflin, had just rejected what I thought was my best book, about the 1960's beat colony in Mexico, adventures with Neal Cassidy et al, so I told Tom he could have that book if he liked it and if he was willing to come get it later at my cottage in Wisconsin. When Tom showed up, he agreed to take my only copy to a town six miles away, make copies, and come right back. He was gone for two weeks before a psychiatrist finally talked him into returning and facing me with the horrible news: he had stopped at a wayside rest along a riverside, eager to read a bit of my book; the book slipped out of his hands into water, got washed away, and all he could retrieve was one muddy chapter that got caught on some twigs. He gave me the chapter, forgiveness was hard, but I gave him a hug, kept faith in the mystery of it all, and drove him to Eagle River to catch the bus. On the way back, I picked up two hitchhiking girls and their dog, invited them so spend the night at my cottage. At midnight we rowed out to the middle of the lake in the moonlight. Seeing the deep forest on the far side, one of them for some reason told me about Korrigan, a legendary Druid who seduced lost knights under a tree, put them into a deep sleep, and was gone when they awoke. The next morning, to reward my hospitality, the other girl did my astrological chart, and knowing about how my book had gone under the water assured me it would surface some time later because I was a Cancer, a water sign, my writing needed to enter subconscious regions before resurfacing. Not to worry. Instead of the one thousand advance I'd get twenty five times that much. I thought she was crazy, of course, but ten years later I submitted that one muddy chapter for the Bush Foundation Fellowship and received the 25,000 that took me and wife Nancy permanently to New Mexico where I began to paint while also writing about a tree spirit named Korrigan, modeled after a silent white-faced woman I used to see at the Bagel Shop back in the late 50's.

Only after Sacred World Explorations published Korrigan's Shadow, and you sent me the research you'd done on K's origins, did I find out that Korrigans are Druidic water and forest spirits, just like my Irish band singer daughter Michele, and like the central female figure in my book, a character who had taken possession of me ever since those girls showed up at my cottage.

One of my uncles, Comte Daniel de Lattre, who researched our family history, told me long ago that if I wanted to I could legitimately claim the title of a Breton knight, Baron Pierre de Lattre, Prince of Brittany. I laughed this off, but here I find and now firmly believe that within out mental or spiritual chemistry is an archetypical story that wants to emerge; and while I even had Korrigan, living across the lake among a mythic forest folk, fleeing from the cottage where I lived to the safety of Beat Poetry Land where I also fled, and writing a poem about herself in my book called 'the Spirit of the Water' ... Tor, while I was writing this, it was like taking down dictation from some deep legendary well of my body's DNA memories or imaginings. Add to that how my mother would frequently break down and tell me how I would have had a sister if my father had let her keep her, and how I realized that my book was a way of giving that unborn sister life and keeping her alive, hopefully in the imaginations of my readers. The mythic source of our imaginings passed on to others. What a privilege for the storywriter.

TT: Korrigan is the central female figure in your novel Korrigan’s Shadow. She’s a wild child, one of the last survivors of a people who claim to have their Viking roots in native America. A people mystically committed to life in harmony with nature. The narrator is Herman Kanto, a young fishing guide in the north woods of Wisconsin. He lives across the lake from Korrigan. Crazy Korrigan, some people call her because she likes to laugh with the loons. He’s in love with her. After she’s attacked and runs away, Herman follows her from the north woods of Wisconsin to San Francisco’s North Beach where she becomes Luna Lovely. This is circa l958, right? During the beat era. What kind of people were attracted to the so-called ‘beats’ back then, and why?

PD: I think it was Heidegger, or maybe Sartre, both big influences in Korrigan’s time, who said that our first childhood awakening is to a world we didn’t choose, a culture we find ourselves thrown into, against our will. We feel like outsiders, forced to act like somebody we aren’t. We can either submit or feel perpetually trapped in a world we didn’t make or we can go where there’s a chance of remaking ourselves into the person we know we truly are. A place where we can feel at home in our own skin, doing what we most love to do. A place where the gifts we always sensed were in us can be brought out, expressed, and even sometimes celebrated. Herman’s mentor and best friend, his Grandpa, calls this a kind of place where you can finally get away with life.

TT: I was drawn to such places.

PD: I know you were.

TT: "When I was 13 years old I read, 'On the Road', in one night. The next morning, with a little army duffle bag and a pocket full of change, I hitchhiked to Mexico. That book and that journey turned my existing world upside down. Through my teen years I read all the available Beat literature and thumbed and rode the rails out to the west coast a number of times.

In 1982 I spent the summer in North Beach in a flop house and met Gregory Corso and joined the poetry scene at the Spaghetti Factory, hung out a Vesuvius and City Lights; I basically immersed myself in that world. I wanted to be a part of the Beat literature movement!!! I also did a stint in New York City at this time and discovered other young kids just as enthusiastic as I was about the literature and the characters behind the scene. In 1983 I heard that "The Beatnik Priest" was teaching at my university. That's when you befriended me Pierre and sent me out into the world to find “The Living Goddess Kumari in Kathmandu!" Which naturally I did ha! ha! Later, I would be introduced to the Yamabushi climbing monks of Japan by Gary Snyder and make my way to Tangier to meet Paul Bowles. The Beat goes on with the publishing of your amazing book,'Korrigan's Shadow.' With great joy I might add.

PD: I always felt at home in the bohemian world, and wanted to write a book about it, and how it related to my boyhood life in the woods, on the lake, crazy for the wildest, most adventurous people I knew. For me it was Paris, then New York’s Greenwich Village, then North Beach and Esalen at Big Sur, later various bohemian haunts in Mexico. I wish I’d done all the scenes you did, Tor. Wow! I was telling a friend how you and Siffy have been making the grand tour of the spiritual world, and you’re soon off to a trek around the world. I hope you stay as joyful as you are now. My friend Brautigan had that vision, but he ended up miserable in Japan, Scandinavia. He did not handle his celebrity well. Had a kind of celebrity paranoia where he at once wished to be yet feared to be looked at. Finally just literally blew it all away. You with your sacred explorations have done more bohemian scenes than anybody I know, and you’ve managed to be happier and happier, or so it seems to me. Am I romanticizing you? That’s why I wanted to publish Korrigan’s Shadow with you. Sacred World Explorations Press. Right on. K’s Shadow is a sacred exploration, even if undertaken out of necessity for the loon to find her flock.

TT: How’s that?

PD: Every so often, out of sheer frustration with the prevailing culture, people from all over the world will converge on a geographical place, and often on a press or bookstore, as with Shakespeare and Company, Transition Magazine in Paris where Beckett and Joyce were first published, City Lights Bookstore and Press with Howl. New Directions with Ferlinghetti, etc. Or on a bar or bistro like The Place or The Coffee Gallery on upper Grant Avenue above Chinatown.

There, fed by the oriental influence always close by (consider Watts, Snyder, Gia Fu, roshi Suzuki et al) they will create a counter-culture, a movement against the mainstream. I hope that happens again soon. We need a new bohemia. Such people, as if by instinct, will find themselves converging on a geographical spot to attempt a radical reshaping of culture. Paris, Greenwich Village, Black Mountain, London Sojo, Mexico City. Or in this case, San Francisco’s North Beach. They need their own kinds of publishers. True editors. True collaborators. As Ferlinghetti, who moved there from Paris, so famously was. Is. May his life be everlasting?

They will attempt to create a world true to their authentic selves. Poets, painters, musicians are the avant-garde. Innovators later discarded or forgotten or perhaps corrupted by replacing the beauty of a community without center, without stars or superstars, replacing it with themselves as the center of importance. Bohemia’s almost always seem to go from everybody having a guitar and singing, playing dancing, drinking, doing poetry, to all but a few sitting on the floor all gaga about the gurus and celebrities who sap their power to make more of themselves and less of their clan. Instead of being part of an undefined community where nobody’s special, they blow away their powers on their own self-styled myth. If not burned out by the pressure of it all, they are soon coopted by commercial interests, by the media, by their own vanity.

TT: But for a time--

PD: But for a time there is a kind of purity, a rare beauty to be experienced. As Wordsworth says, ‘We have given away our powers... little we have in nature that is ours. A sordid boon.’ My little book wants to remind readers that when we enter the wilds of nature we want to emerge with a beautiful vision, emerge transformed. A book can be a transformative experience as well. For my friend Ra the Cave digger it’s not a book you enter, but a space within the earth, within the womb of she whom he calls The Great Mamma. You come out seeing nature with eyes washed clean. You’re in the clear. Some did it by entering The Place and getting their brains scrambled by the blabbermouths, or by entering The Coffee Gallery like Korrigan and Herman and exiting transformed by the likes of Ornett Coleman. In any case, the beat scene was the most phenomenal example that in all my wanderings, I was privileged to experience.

TT: And for you, Pierre, what was the beat scene?

PD: A spiritual destination. I’ll put it this way, Tor, and I was drawn to North Beach out of spiritual curiosity, as were Korrigan and Herman in KORRIGAN’S SHADOW. It’s as if from a homing instinct, poets, like pigeons, heart warmers, musicians, writers, dancers, painters, anti-war, anti-bourgeois, genuinely pro-life, meaning life writ large, find themselves a sheltering space, a neighborhood.

They experiment with life styles, new politics, with mind altering rituals, yes with drink or drugs sometimes, but with other experiments in consciousness too... they find their way to where the action is. During the late l950’s in North Beach the girl Korrigan in my book finds her way there, guided by Kerouac’s On the Road. While rock and roll is still in its infancy, poets are chanting their work accompanied by some of the great jazz musicians. Herman finds a job at The Bagel Shop as a piano player backing up the poets, and Korey ends up breaking free, finding her voice. But I better ‘shutta my face’, as my incredibly tolerant North Beach neighbors used to say. Shutta your face, you old beatnik priest, and don’t go answering any more questions.