Tracking the Serpent: Journeys to Four Continents

by Janine Pommy Vega
(1997)
   Janine Pommy Vega’s work has received scant critical attention, despite the fact that she has published roughly a dozen books since her first work, poems to fernando, appeared in 1968. What makes this omission even more surprising is that Vega was not a latter-day Beat follower but was intimately connected with the Beat circle in New York City during the late 1950s. In 1958, after graduating as the valedictorian of her class, Vega moved to New York, where she met gregory corso, allen ginsberg, herbert huncke, Elise Cowen, and Cowen’s lover Peter Orlovsky. Vega would later meet the Peruvian painter Fernando Vega, traveling with him until his sudden death from a heroin overdose in November 1965. While Vega’s attempt to develop her own brand of spirituality in the face of social and cultural constraints mirrors the work of fellow Beats, the ways in which she develops such Beat themes as individuality, spontaneity, sexuality, and particularly mobility deserve more critical investigation. As its subtitle suggests, Tracking the Serpent is a book about travel. Vega journeys to British castles, the cathedral at Chartres, the Irish countryside, the Amazon jungle, and the mountains of Peru and Nepal to discover what she terms the “Goddess.” The goal, according to Vega, is to “let my personal history be overtaken by a present that was conscious of itself and infinitely alive. That consciousness I call the Mother or serpent power or Goddess.” Vega’s novel chronicles this search and, in the process, reveals not only what this interaction with the Goddess looks like but, perhaps more importantly, how it is achieved. The key for Vega is to remain open to the possibilities of the moment in both body and soul. Ultimately, Vega experiences this spiritual connection, though not always where and when she plans for it to happen. The Goddess reveals herself when you least expect it during those moments that you cede control over the world and offer yourself up for change and revelation. By invoking the term Mother or Goddess, Vega also raises the important question of gender that is beginning to receive the attention it deserves in Beat scholarship. In Tracking the Serpent, Vega is repeatedly disappointed to discover that many of the sites in which she hopes to find the Goddess are actually governed by a patriarchal mindset that closes off the possibility for communion with the divine. Male space is often enclosed, hierarchical, and exclusionary, as many poems in her collection Mad Dogs of Trieste likewise demonstrate. The space of the Goddess, by contrast, is characterized by an openness and egalitarianism that is the hallmark of Vega’s work. The lesson for Vega is to always remain open, whether trekking up the side of a mountain, making love, or simply meeting someone for the first time.
   Tracking the Serpent is an important Beat work. Although it was written after the Beat heyday of the 1950s and 1960s by a woman who has yet to receive the sort of accolades accorded to male writers like Ginsberg, jack kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, Vega’s book seriously engages the desire for personal transformation through interaction with the divine that animates much Beat writing. Vega gives us a means of understanding not only how such a connection is forged, but the pitfalls of relying on a purely masculine model of transcendence, and in the process sheds light on what it means to be “Beat.”
   Erik Mortenson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Yage Letters, The — by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (1963)    This epistolary “novel” provides early examples of William S. Burroughs’s writing that will later find themselves in naked luncH, and it is also a fascinating document about Burroughs’s search… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Janine Pommy Vega — Nom de naissance Telkowski Pommy Activités Poète Naissance 5 février 1942 Jersey City Décès 23 décembre 2010 Willow Langue d écriture anglais Mouv …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Vega, Janine Pommy — (1942– )    Janine Pommy Vega continues to be a major figure in contemporary American poetry, as is evident in her remarkable recent collection, The Green Piano (Black Sparrow 2005). While jack kerouac’s road took him all across America, Vega’s… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

  • Janine Pommy Vega — (born February 5, 1942) is an American poet associated with the Beats.Vega grew up in Union City, New Jersey. At the age of fifteen, inspired by Jack Kerouac s On the Road , she travelled to Manhattan to become involved in the Beat scene there.In …   Wikipedia

  • Poems to Fernando — by Janine Pommy Vega (1968)    This first book by janine pommy vega contains poems that were written between 1963 and 1967. The book documents Vega’s marriage to Peruvian painter, Fernando Vega, who died suddenly of a heroin overdose in November… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.