NEW YORK -- Inwood Hill Park, way up near the top of Manhattan, on a cloudy Sunday morning. Four neighborhood types, 18 to 21, loll on a bench drinking Bud out of paper bags, oblivious to the Sabbath. One guy, who sits up on the back above the rest, spots Jim Carroll with an explosion of New Yawkese.

"Hey! Jim Carroll! How's it goin', man?"

"Awright, awright. How's it goin'?"

His accent is almost identical. It's a glorious, ugly accent, an accent that prohibits snobbery and encourages cool. In his new book "Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973," he boasts that it was the one thing California couldn't strip from him.

"Yeah, man," the guy goes on, "I read your book. When's the new one comin' out?"

Past them now and still walking, Carroll has to pivot to hear the guy. He's polite, smiling, but half-turned and a little awkward.

"It's out!"

"Awright! Take it easy!"

"Awright, you too ..."

A few minutes later Carroll is on a bench himself, looking off toward the basketball courts. One chunky guy is shooting 10-footers.

"That kind of thing happens more around here, in the neighborhood. I was with Mick Jagger a few times in public, and he just knows how to disappear. That's harder for me to do."

The gray morning light gives his pale skin a translucence not unlike that of a junkie, but the eyes, also gray, are lively and purposeful. For almost the entire interview they seem to be gazing out at the courts. This could be a trick of optics, or attitude, or a simple matter of slightly skewed irises. (The Boston Globe on a Jim Carroll Band show: "He had an Arctic stage presence -- never looking at the crowd but always over it ...") He looks a bit like Bowie, but not enough to really matter. Like a lot of reformed dopers and poets, he has the tangible air of the hustler about him. He is 36 years old.

"I was thinking of getting a basketball and going over to those courts and playing, y'know, 'cause I get up really early, like around 5 in the morning. So I could sneak over here and play at like dawn, like this guy, by myself. I don't want to have to start gettin' into games. It's too frustrating trying to do stuff you used to be able to do, or play against some guy who's a total lame who you know you could have creamed ... and all of a sudden be struck by your limitations."

In a pained, wavering voice he keeps going and going, examining the possibilities of actually stepping onto the asphalt again. He talks of instincts, and hand speed, and jump shots, and slow first steps, and then with no transition at all he's into another monotonic swirl of language, another topic, and then back to basketball again. This is the way Jim Carroll talks, in spirals of prose/poetry, and also the way he writes.

Back in the early '60s, when he was 13, he started a book called "The Basketball Diaries." It was picked up by underground magazines and one small press -- a process that helped perpetuate Carroll's street-savant mystique -- and finally landed a paperback publisher in 1980. The punks loved it (he wrote about bad acid trips), the literati loved it (The Paris Review excerpted it in 1970), The New York Times' sports section loved it ("Through it all Jim Carroll chases transcendence. To read the book is to chase with him").

To say that it chronicled three years in the life of a Manhattan teen-ager is like saying that "Tropic of Cancer" was about Henry Miller's vacation in Paris, but on the surface, at least, that's what "Diaries" did. Subcutaneously, it was about losing "virgin veins" in a shooting gallery at 14 and thinking then that marijuana was the addictive stuff, not "scag," and finding out the truth the hard way, and about the Knicks winning every single home game he went to, and about being a self-proclaimed basketball star who at his peak could whip guys who went on to the NBA, guys he used to "seriously abuse on the court." (Looking at him, it is hard to picture a ballplayer -- and how did he hide his tracks in a basketball uniform?) Above all else, "Diaries" was about being a Catholic boy, searching for purity through excess and pain and "nods."

It was a rite-of-passage saga with a disoriented, messed-up voice and no resolution. Where Miller OD'd on experience, on sensation, on sex, Carroll found his drug of choice ("Heroin ... I knew right away that that was it") and regularly OD'd for real. He was a substance-saturated kid who for some reason had a nagging impulse to write it all down.

It begins: "Today was my first Biddy League game and my first day in any organized basketball league. I'm enthused about life due to this exciting event." It ends: "I got to go in and puke. I just want to be pure ..."

In between there are takes like this, about jumping from a high cliff into the Hudson River as the Circle Line tour boat cruises by:

I didn't really think, I didn't even take my sneakers off, I just jumped into this jerky dream that lasted all the way down until I hit bottom. The feeling isn't movement anyway, but rather being suspended in front of the sheer cliff, mid-air, with the waters rising up sharp and fast at you. I hit water hard, but I didn't go too deep, coming up to see all the sightseers applauding. Then I swam to shore to meet the others and we turned, pulled down our shorts, and flashed our moons to the old sightseeing buggers as the boat pulled away and headed down the Hudson.

"The people at The Paris Review thought it was very camp," he says. "They also thought it was interesting because it was a book that wasn't looking back on childhood but was written at the time, so they saw the advances I was making -- as a writer -- within the book ... they thought it was terrific to be able to gauge this progress ...

"At the same time, though, I get kids waiting for me back by the stage door after a show, they come up to me to sign the book or something and then they whip out a bottle of Carbona {cleaning fluid} and ask me if I wanna go up on the roof and sniff it. That's the other side of the audience, kids, and it's the first book they've read since they had to do a book report on 'The Count of Monte Cristo' in sixth grade ... They think my life went into some kind of suspended animation after the last sentence of the book ... Unfortunately, it didn't."

A grin. "He said facetiously."

The Hudson rises up again, this time with a generous, cooling breeze that makes the air feel like early October. Four tiny Puerto Rican kids all stacked onto one tiny tricycle pedal methodically and directly into the bench, an inch away from Carroll. He does a quick take, vaguely paternal, a nonchalance that says fine, as long as you guys don't pulverize my kneecap with that thing ... Excess breeds tolerance. As they pedal away unharmed he's looking back toward the courts and talking about the new book.

Penguin has released it in paperback along with a reissue of "Diaries" (and its obligatory, tired Jack Kerouac back-cover blurb: "At thirteen years of age, Jim Carroll writes better prose than 89 percent of the novelists working today"). "Forced Entries" picks up on the New York scene five years later. Here Carroll is stretched like Silly Putty across the wasteland of lower Manhattan, running errands for Warhol (he stays employed at the Factory as long as he wears long-sleeved shirts), shooting up junk and dysoxin/methedrine by the syringeful, finally hightailing it to a haven for displaced poets in Bolinas, Calif.

"I was a total freak for being pulled in every different direction, wanting to take in every scene," he says, "... like I'm standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and my arms are literally being pulled in both directions ... the East Village parties, or the West Village parties, or this or that opening ... and I had to get rid of that ludicrous, vacuous obsession, I had to break away from that as much as being around drugs, because that's a drug too ..."

But don't look for an explicit account of the agonies of withdrawal -- Carroll says that ground has been better covered by others, like his literary hero William Burroughs. He does say that he was fed up with waiting for his dealer, and with the way drugs were messing with his writing. "This stuff is no solution" is about as vehement as he gets, in the book and in person.

"The reason I went to this little town in California -- the town I speak about in 'Forced Entries' -- I went there because I knew some poets who had moved out there from the Lower East Side. It had been like a beatnik town ... a lot of the early beatniks, Jack Spicer and Ferlinghetti, had houses out there. Brautigan had a place out there -- that's where he died. And a lot of poet friends of mine from the St. Mark's Church scene had moved there when they got married, to get away from the city, 'cause it was rip-off-a-rama in Alphabet City {the drug supermarket around Avenues A, B, C, D}. They were sick of losing their stereos, which were the only thing they'd have. And their typewriters. I remember Allen Ginsberg had an emergency slush fund for poets whose typewriters got ripped off ..."

"Entries" is more introspective than "Diaries," the upfront ingenuousness of the early years replaced by insight and irony -- and a larger vocabulary. Gone is the street rap. Some of the stories, such as "A Peculiar-Looking Girl" (a bizarre run-in with a hunchback in a downtown loft), were adapted from material originally used in poetry readings. This is writing as craft, not as confession.

It's a long way from Carbona. Or is it? From an entry called "Bird of Prey":

Yesterday, watching a cockroach make the fatal error of hopping from the kitchen table onto the griddle heating at full flame on, I could swear I heard this high-pitched whine of anguish. And today as I was defrosting the refrigerator (while I'm still wallowing in the joys of the commonplace), I found myself realizing that the sound of the ice cracking apart on the roof of the freezer bore an uncanny similarity to that of the wings of a trained bird of prey. I imagined a falcon flapping in place, talons still planted on the owner's leather-bound wrist. The sound grew louder as it melted over time. I shut my eyes and watched dozens of yellow-and-black-winged birds, some with arrowhead markings on their straining chests, with dangerous eyes like cyanide capsules, flying continuously from my refrigerator and circling the room, disappearing (or returning back into the machine?), where the final layer had melted into a puddle the size of the kitchen, so deep the linoleum was beginning to curl at its edges. Sensual splendor can leave one horrible mess, but God, that was lovely.

The breeze has picked up, and the autumn feeling is eerier. Families begin to appear, strolling down a long path into the woods and toward the river. Carroll talks about the first section of "Entries," when he was just getting on one of the notoriously ineffective New York methadone programs.

"The New York programs are bull. They put you on the highest dose possible just so you don't steal television sets. You could think in more conspiratorial terms, like you can't be a black revolutionary if you're on methadone. But in California, they actually encouraged you to get off ... and it's 10 times harder to get off than heroin. That was a hard period, and hard writing. Maybe those were the most forced entries -- I have some where I say that the words are moving around on the page ... But most importantly, out in California, I learned how to be by myself, and I lost completely that need to make the scene."

After his "recluse period" in Bolinas, he returned to New York. He lived around Gramercy Park for a while, and recently moved uptown, close to the Dyckman Projects, where he spent the better -- or worst -- part of his childhood. Outside of this familiar neighborhood and perhaps the Lower East Side, Carroll doesn't have to worry much about being recognized. If he is, it is as a rocker and not as a poet.

Here, in 1980, was Carroll's convergence, the moment when the book and the music took him out of the underground and into mainstream media. The Jim Carroll Band was signed onto Rolling Stone Records -- by an enthusiastic Mick Jagger -- after just two shows. It scored some radio play with "People Who Died," a linear, churning catalogue of corpses-he-had-known, every verse a different kid who bit the dust. "Judy jumped in front of a subway train, and Eddy got slit in the jugular vein ..." Reds and wine, vengeful bikers, leukemia ... "He looked like 65 when he died ..." Carroll's 15 minutes had begun, initiated by a song with a chorus that went exactly like this:

Those were people who DIED, DIED.

Those were people who DIED, DIED.

Those were people who DIED, DIED.

Those were people who DIED, DIED.

They were friends of mine -- they died ...

It was a blatant celebration of edge-living, not a teary memorial, and there was Carroll defending it on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show. But the albums -- "Catholic Boy," "I Write Your Name," "Dry Dreams" -- have been spotty. Lyrics, sure, but a good band, not simply a podium from which the poet can project, has eluded Carroll. A favorite rock critic put-down is to label him a "second-rate Lou Reed."

"I was fortunate," he says, "because the guys on the rock scene -- who would never say they liked my music, except for a few -- could always say, 'I really dug your book a lot ... your music's diddly, but your books are great!' Then writers could say, 'You know, your real niche is this music thing' ... I'm glad I got into rock 'n' roll relatively late, because I wasn't so interested in the psychological paraphernalia like drugs and groupies ..."

Lately he's been writing with Richard Lloyd, ex-guitarist of Television, another downtown band of the New York punk era. And he says at least three of the songs on Boz Scaggs' upcoming record have Carroll lyrics.

But ask him why he cleaned up, even why he's still alive, and the answer would have little to do with rock 'n' roll and a lot to do with poetry. If one can believe the "Diaries," this was a kid who, when he needed a fake signature to buy some codeine cough syrup, used the name "Al Swinburne." (All you 14-year-old Algernon Swinburne fans, raise your hands ...)

Carroll used his clean time in Bolinas to structure his writing hours and concentrate on the poetry, which has since come out in two volumes, "Living at the Movies" in 1981 and "The Book of Nods" last year. His time may have been clean, but his topic of choice remained the same -- heroin, and all of its Technicolor trimmings. As with the music, he was still trafficking in specters.

From "New York Variations," a long poem in "The Book of Nods":

Noiselessly, the world has begun to defect

New lamp posts curve over the avenue

in darkness, like chrome tears.

In sunlight, drops of android sperm

frozen above traffic, loud and green. I live

on an island where I was raised, flanked

by rivers. To the east, great bridges.

To the west, tunnels. Palisades. Sunsets changed ...

"People think there's some kind of 'school of poetry' in Bolinas, a community," he says. "We really had very little interaction. Bobby Hawkins was always trying to raise these 'literary teas' and stuff ... I went there one time, we'd talk about our new work and stuff, but it was strictly from bozoville."

While some may disagree, "Entries" doesn't read like a how-drugs-messed-up-my-life book. Even when he's making a run for it to California, the feeling isn't one of do-or-die desperation, but of a guy looking for "cleaner angles ..." How does one finally gain control over unrepentant addiction? He doesn't say. Instead, he fast forwards to the purge. The subject of the final entry, "Opening Night," is an abscess on his arm that he at long last explodes:

My fingers are in place, a little farther apart than usual. A strange feeling creeps over me, like when I was a ballplayer and I somehow knew I couldn't miss. I pinch the two fingers together, slow and steady, that strange sensation guiding me to apply just the right pressure, as it did with my fingertips years ago when I aimlessly released a basketball at the hoop ...

The transitions in the book seem finessed, too easy. They may have something to do with this line: "When I feel lost, I feel comfortable."

"That's something which, unfortunately, you lose over time probably more than you'd like to," Carroll says. "But I still have a curiosity -- in an emotional and certainly in an intellectual sense -- in a state of being lost, unless it's of course some kind of anxiety or Angst-ridden sense of being cosmically lost ... to me, that can be a very comfortable feeling, y'know? But as far as making changes, and having control with it ... that was something that I gained from solitude, and really realizing that there was sense of actual rather than efficacious grace."

Another two guys walk toward the bench. One stops, recognizes.

"What's up, buddy? When's the next book comin' out?"

"It's out!"

"Is it? How's it doin', all right?"

"It's doing very well ... Take it easy."

The guy is off down the path. "I'll try ... I'd ask you for your autograph, but I could use a dollar even more."

Carroll doesn't hear the dollar line.

The guy, a good 20 feet away now, tries a parting shot -- strange how verbal exchanges in New York can so quickly disintegrate into ugliness: "Hey, I'll write my own book."

Carroll: "Good, do that ..."

Then he's told about the dollar line. He laughs, hard and genuine.

"Those are two typical neighborhood guys.