Lee’s travels reach fresh destination: “Time Travels” by A. Robert Lee – Review by Simon Warner

A leading Beat scholar, editor of Neal Cassady’s famed and voluminous tract and an established poet in his own right, emerges in a new City Lights-inspired imprint forged in the UK.

A NEW POETRY collection by the prominent Beat critic and historian A. Robert Lee has just emerged through a British publishing imprint inspired by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his City Lights series.

And the link-up between Lee and the young Cast Iron poetry catalogue owes something to a connection fortuitously forged through the pages of Rock and the Beat Generation at the end of 2021.

Time Travels, the latest collection of verse from well-established poet Lee, appears through Cast Iron some few months after I put him in touch with Nic Outterside, who ambitiously launched his own literary imprint in 2020.

In fact, so speedily has Outterside managed to turn the dream of his independent publishing operation into reality that Time Travels represents the 18th collection to join the list emerging from this cottage industry brand.

Outterside, whose work as author and journalist is prolific, has always been a follower of the Beat writers and an admirer of their independence and sufficiency, reflected in their frequent forays into self-publishing.

But it was Ferlinghetti’s brilliant pocket series, truly established when Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg became a global sensation in the wake of a failed obscenity prosecution in 1957, that was the true spark which prompted him to take a risk on a small business of his own just two years ago.

Lee, meanwhile, who found himself between poetry publishers as the pandemic struck, contacted Outterside from his Spanish home and Cast Iron was immediately interested in adding him to its roster.

There is no doubt that Bob Lee, as he is known informally, is a prestigious recruit to Outterside’s operation. Not only does he have an impressive body of creative work to his name – both prose and poetry – but his academic publications on Anglo-American alternative literature are multiple and revered on campuses far and wide.

In 2020, Lee took on the not inconsiderable task of editing a legendary work of Beat literature that had elements of both Turin Shroud and Rosetta Stone in its quixotic DNA: the once-lost ‘Joan Anderson Letter’, penned by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac at the end of 1950, finally became a book between hard covers itself through Black Spring Press.

For Time Travels, Lee pursues the compelling ephemerality of time itself. In a series of five explorations he wisely and wittily, articulately and adventurously, grasps the slippy material of the fourth dimension, spanning the worlds of art and sport and that perpetual human spiral of youth, maturity and ageing in a sharp, incisive and entertaining manner, blending wordplay and erudition in equal measure. The new selection is available through Amazon.

Notes: A. Robert Lee was the subject of Rock and the Beat Generation’s ‘Beat Soundtrack #2’ on September 1st, 2021, and Nick Outterside was profiled in ‘New UK imprint’s stamp of Ferlinghetti’ on December 30th, 2021

By Simon Warner, May 2022