Review – The Jack Kerouac Upper Peninsula Diary by t. kilgore splake

The Jack Kerouac Upper Peninsula Diary / t. kilgore splake / Angst Publications / PO Box 508, Calumet, MI 49913-0508 / 1998

“Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream”
– Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler

jack kerouac upper peninsula diary

Ever heard of The Jack Kerouac Upper Peninsula Diary?

We all dream of stuff like this. Like finding Woody Guthrie’s guitar in an Eastern Washington thrift shop (it really happened). Or unearthing a Picasso at a garage sale.

Or, in this case – T. Kilgore Splake’s tale of discovering a battered old diary in a hole-in-the-wall bookshop in small-town Michigan, only to open it and find it labeled “my upper peninsula diary” and signed by Jack Kerouac.

That’s gotta be every Kerouac reader’s ultimate bookstore fantasy. Just imagine. Oh yeah.

From the introduction:

“i picked up a worn hard-covered business-bookkeeping type ledger that looked interesting, and read the handwritten scribbles on the inside cover that began with the title, ‘my upper peninsula diary,’ by jack kerouac….

this diary’s letters, cards, poems, notations, and entries were clearly made after the viking publication of on the road, in 1957. in addition, the time of the diary reflections seems most likely to have occurred during the early autumn on jack’s hitch-hiking travels to and through michigan’s upper peninsula.”

So that’s the setup.

What we’ve got here are 42 pages of decidely Kerouac-esque writings, mostly in the form of letters written to, and received from, a varied array of correspondents.

One is even written to Jack from the “Skagit Valley, North Cascade Highway,” which happens to be a few miles from where I sit tonight tapping out this review on a long June night. Pretty cool. (Nevermind that it also says “outside Brewster” which is on the other side of the state.)

But I digress.

The Jack Kerouac Upper Peninsula Diary is full of to and/or from allen, japhy, carolyn, neal, bull lee, yuri, mémére, “my darlin’ bretonne fille,”…

Some correspondents will be familiar to Kerouac readers, others will not – and there is even a meeting with a version of Splake himself. The letters capture the author’s (Kerouac’s / splake’s?) spirit, joy, fear, and wanderlust – and an abiding love for the outdoors. The rhythm is good too.

The writing is full of life:

“quick postscript for last night’s campfire scribblings and missive meandering while lazing in high noon sun along sandy shorelines where the seven-mile creek empties into superior, feeling warm drowsy buzz from splake’s bottle of cheap whisky, ‘gut-rotting swill,’ he says, ‘but, it’s the alky the soaked brain cells crave, and alky this is,” moved out of ross lake camp early, motoring over the kingston plains in dewy autumn morning not yet burned off, plains have these huge old pine stumps, leftovers from the big logging era around the 1890’s, turn of the century times, like a wilderness cemetery of gnarled pine headstones, or remaining forest sentinels quietly standing watch.”


“…waiting for a lift under closed mobilgas service station sign, light drizzle falling, dreaming of beautiful reain maidens floating in the wet watery shadows, now and then a fat old buddha-face moon peeking at me through breaks in the cloudbanks scudding through the black heans, feeling like it’s almost whispering a beat-boho moan…”

Here are Jack’s imagined adventures on the road, his blues, mountains and highways, the news, jukebox music, his lovers, Michigan epiphanies. Dreams of what Jack might have thought and written during a point in time on a trip to the Upper Peninsula. Real, but not real. A real fantasy.

Buut what is important here is that Splake gets to Jack’s essence, the man “mad to live.”

Or, maybe Jack gets to Splake’s essence.

Either way, the JKUPD is a beautiful testament.

Again, from the introduction:

“the authenticity of the ‘upper peninsula diary’ by jack kerouac, found one afternoon in a sleepy ‘off season’ upper peninsula tourist town’s used bookstore, poses a mystery for modern-day ‘boho-beats’ to wonder over and dream about.”

And it is the stuff of dreams – the intersection of what is in the world to be discovered (Kerouac’s realm) and the memory of what might have been. Brilliant.


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