Book Notes

Charles Plymell’s early writings revisited in ‘Benzedrine Highway’

“Plymell has as much to say about death as Hemingway did and a lot more to say about it in terms of the present generation stillborn into a world that can offer nothing.” 

— William S. Burroughs

was born in April 1935, during the blackest dust storm ever to hit Holcomb, Kansas.” Charles Plymell’s introduction in Benzedrine Highway, a newly released anthology from Kicks Books, traces the road back to where it began.

Over the last 50 years, Plymell has written many books, including the novel, The Last of the Moccasins, the story of Plymell’s experiences in and around San Francisco in the 1960s, and his first volume of poetry, Apocalypse Rose. During his time, Plymell has pioneered new creative frontiers. He was a part of the 1950s and 1960s subculture in Kansas and California, developing what became a permanent affiliation with the Beat generation. As a publisher, he was a part of the underground comics movement printing the first editions of Zap Comix with R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson in 1968. He founded Cherry Valley Editions with his wife, Pamela Beach Plymell, and together they printed books by writers such as William Burroughs and Herbert Huncke.

In the foreword to Apocalypse Rose, Allen Ginsberg described Plymell and friends inventing the Wichita Vortex, a confluence of creativity forged out of solitude, space and a death vibration, which “… had driven a host of prophetic youths out of heartland Kansas.” The vortex vibration’s epicenter can be found in this book. Its stories possess the fresh immediacy of a gas pedal pushed to the floor.

The Last of the Moccasins and Apocalypse Rose are included in this collection along with what Plymell calls “… a selection of prophetic random poetic outbursts.” Benzedrine Highway is a trip down Route 66, with dreams, madness, poetry, and convertibles. It’s a trip between San Francisco and the Wichita Vortex, and to uncharted regions of vibrant awareness.

Petal From The Rose

Baby, break that mind trap in time stigma
though your outline has gone beyond the
changes of the mercury in your flaming youth!

Weary streets of waiting, walking,
under the marquees of all night movies
on the meat block
where teen age hustlers cruise.

Market street and the moon is full.
We see an old newsreel with the face of Dillinger.
“He smiles on the right side of his face,”
You say, “Like Bogart.”

Voices in the fog
dispelled the blocks
of waves bright lights hung on.
— Charles Plymell

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Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at