Wallace Fowlie hadn't heard of Jim Morrison the rocker when he received a letter from him in 1968. It read, in part: "Thanks for doing the Rimbaud translation. I read French but not too easily and I needed your translation.
"I am a rock singer and your book travels with me wherever I go."
Years after receiving that letter, Fowlie chanced to pick up a copy of the Morrison biography "No One Here Gets Out Alive."
"And I realized," he says, "that I'd gotten a letter from this fellow."
He went on to explore Morrison's writings--and his views--and found parallels with Arthur Rimbaud. His lecture, "Jim Morrison and Rimbaud: The Rebel as Artist," has proven popular with audiences.
"It's wonderful to come away with the realization that they will read the poetry," says Fowlie. "Jim turned, as Rimbaud did, against family, teachers, church, the bourgeois society and the style of poetry at the time. He wanted to write something else."
Fowlie, who wrote the preface for the forthcoming book "The Doors' Complete Book of Lyrics," admires Morrison's lyrics and poems. But he declined to discuss the poetry in specifics, explaining, "I may want to write a book on it."
Meanwhile, Morrison's lyrics and poetry have been the subject of a paper presented by Frank Lisciandro at the winter, 1989, convention of the Modern Language Assn., a group of college and university teachers that seeks to advance literary and linguistic studies.
At UCLA, students in Prof. Frederick Burwick's class on the 18th-Century English poet William Blake sometimes write papers comparing Morrison to Blake. Burwick, who had Morrison as a student in 1965, says: "Blake was a kind of cult figure in the mid-1960s, and now Morrison is a cult figure." He still recalls Morrison's own 20-plus page paper on Blake as perhaps the best he's ever received. He has read Morrison's poetry, which he considers "very good."
Martha Carpentier, 35, an associate professor of English who has discussed Morrison's poetry in her classes at Seton Hall University, N. J., and at Hofstra University, N.Y., considers him "a very meaningful American poet." But she wonders whether his image as a rock star is a barrier to his acceptance as a poet among academics.
"We (who study and admire his poetry) do seem to be a very small group," admits Carpentier, who has written a scholarly (as yet unpublished) paper examining the Shakespearean influences in Morrison's poetry.