Saturday, January 9, 2010

What We Mean by Beat Writers - A Finite Definition

This is an attempt at definition. Whatever you think of the so-called Beat Writers, or the Beat Generation--their affect on American or world culture, or their literary importance--it is useful to narrow the meaning of the term 'Beat Writer' in the interests of accuracy and pertinence. 
The term Beat Writer has been mangled and misused and expanded to include dozens and dozens of poets and prose writers, most of whom never had any connection with the "movement" itself, and many of whom do not in any clear sense exhibit any of the aspects of Beat. Who may be considered as a true Beat?     
There are several problems in defining Beat. First, the term was invented before there was either a literature, or anything like a social or literary group, to which it could refer. Wikipedia states that the term Beat Generation was invented by Jack Kerouac in 1948, and that this was codified by the novelist John Clellon Holmes, in an article he published in 1952. (Holmes published a novel, Go, in 1952, about the Beat Generation, but he is only peripherally considered himself to be a Beat Writer--perhaps only a documentarian).
The term Beat Generation is reminiscent of the phrase The Lost Generation, coined by Gertrude Stein ["You are all a Lost Generation"] to describe those (mostly American) writers and artists who had been drawn to Europe following WWI, in the 1920's. It is not altogether clear what "Beat" was originally intended to mean, or to describe, but its associations usually include modern jazz (circa the late 1940's and 1950's), the low life associated with a rather shabby bohemianism and/or illegal drug use, lower-class disenfranchisement (dignified or voluntary poverty), and poetic inspiration ("beatific" possession, youthful romantic indulgence of a type associated with French literary figures such as Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud).            
In attempting to define what a Beat Writer may be, one must be careful not to assign to it specifically either a geographical or thematic element. There is no single event or group, in time, which can be used as a baseline for taxonomic inclusion. 
Jack Kerouac, the single most important figure in the group, grew up in Massachusetts, went to Columbia, and then dropped out. His first novel, The Town and the City, published in 1950, is in style and substance an emulation of Thomas Wolfe. His next work, On the Road, written in 1951 (originally begun in Quebecois [French dialect] and revised and expurgated before eventually being published in altered form in 1957), provides the context and tapestry of the Beat identity, and is a roman a clef--in its original form--of the semi-fictional life Kerouac imagined he was living, or would like to have lived, during those years. Kerouac traveled around a good deal during the 1950's, and met and socialized with other figures who would eventually qualify for inclusion in the movement. Several other of Kerouac's novels document his further adventures, and those of friends and acquaintances whom he had known; but On the Road is the key work in the Beat movement phenomenon.                

The second key figure in the Beat movement, is William S. Burroughs, an unusual and unlikely progenitor. The child of well-off Missourians, he attended Harvard (graduating in 1936), and spent most of his adult life wandering from situation to situation, experimenting with sex, crime, drugs, writing and art. He published the novel Junky, in 1953, as a dime-store dos-a-dos paperback original, a verite expose of the life of a drug addict, under the pseudonym William Lee. While living in Tangier, Morocco, 1954-58, he wrote what would, with the help of Allen Ginsberg and Kereouac, become the novel The Naked Lunch [1959]. The Naked Lunch, together with Burroughs's close ties to the key figures Ginsberg and Kerouac, place him squarely in the inner circle of the Beat movement.
The third crucial figure in the movement is Allen Ginsberg. Growing up in New Jersey, Ginsberg attended Columbia, and encountered Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Lucien Carr, among others. In 1954, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ginsberg would meet his life partner, Peter Orlovsky, compose his signature poem Howl (at the Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley), and read it, at the Six Gallery, in 1955. Also reading there that night were Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael McClure. Simply on the basis of their participation at this reading--though for other reasons, as well--all of these other four figures belong in the Beat canon. Snyder and Whalen had attended Reed College in Oregon, together, and had migrated to the Bay Area at the same time--both of them had been influenced by Kerouac, as well as by Eastern culture and Buddhism (as had Kerouac). McClure had come to San Francisco from Kansas, and after first attempting to be a painter, settled on an original poetic style whose beatific themes and content fit in well with the Beat consciousness.     
Lawrence Ferlinghetti arrived in San Francisco in 1953, and shortly thereafter co-founded the City Lights Bookstore and publishing venture (City Lights Books). Many of the early titles which Ferlinghetti published in his "Pocket Poets Series" would tend to be associated with the Beat movement, but only a handful actually qualify (Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Lamantia, Kaufman, Norse, Hirschman, Orlovsky, Kerouac); Duncan, Levertov, Patchen, Rexroth, O'Hara, etc., are not Beat writers, though books of theirs appeared in the Pocket Poets series. Hirschman, Norse, Kaufman, Lew Welch (a close associate of Snyder's), and Lamantia (a late canonical American Surrealist), Selby, Wieners, are Beats. Though peripherally associated with the Bay Area Beat figures, Meltzer, Loewinsohn, Bremser, Micheline, and Kyger are not Beats. Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, The White Rabbit group, are not Beats.
Poets of The New York School (O'Hara, Berrigan, Waldman, Carroll) are not Beats. Charles Bukowski is not a Beat. D.A. Levy is not a Beat. Writers associated with Black Mountain College, The Black Mountain Review, Origin Magazine, Evergreen Magazine, Grove Press books, Olympia Press Books, etc., are not Beat by definition. J.P. Donleavy is not a Beat. Nabokov is not a Beat. Ken Kesey, despite his associations with Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg and his rural Oregon background (which he shares with Snyder), and his interest in drugs and the counter-culture, is not a Beat--he belongs, with Richard Brautigan, to a later generation (perhaps the Psychedelic, or Flower Generation). 
The Beat movement is a phenomenon whose time-line runs from 1948 to approximately 1960. Those Beat writers included in the Allen Anthology--Corso, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Lamantia, McClure, Orlovsky, Snyder, Welch, and Whalen--had all completed work which was clearly Beat in meaning or inspiration by that time. Adam, Broughton, Blaser, Gleason, etc., are not Beats
In limiting the definition of Beat, it's important to restrict the list to those who both produced work central to the meaning of Beat as a literary style, as well those who had clear social or professional connections to each other or to specific events. The San Francisco Renaissance, for instance, intersects or overlaps with Beat, but the two movements aren't synonymous. Claims are often made for overlap with Black Mountain, but there is no clear connection. Though Ginsberg and Burroughs and Kerouac all spent time in New York, attempts to connect them to others there during this period, don't work. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, published in 1962, is a watershed event, signaling a shift both in cultural and literary consciousness. The 1960's were in many respects a realization and flowering of the ideas and tendencies in the avant-garde of the 1940's and 1950's--and the Beats could rightfully claim that many of their inspirations, and criticisms of American life, had brought about important intellectual, political and artistic developments in that, and subsequent decades, but their period of important work was complete by 1960.

It often seems convenient, for various reasons, to imagine that the Beat movement continued through the 1960's, and even into the 1970's. Those wishing to claim an association with the Beat movement, or to co-opt later figures as continuations of Beat spirit or inspiration, usually have a poor sense of actual literary history. For instance, none of the poets included in Paul Carroll's Young American Poets anthology are Beats--because none of its contributors (except perhaps Kenward Elmslie--certainly no Beat!) had written anything before 1960. It's almost as if the concept of Beat is so pervasive, in its descriptive or adjectival sense, that it's applied without any discrimination whatsoever.
I often think that the true canon of Language Poetry is to be found in the early work of John Ashbery, Michael Palmer, Clark Coolidge, Larry Eigner, Jackson Mac Low and Robert Grenier, and that by the mid-1970's, that movement, such as it was, had really ended. What those in the Grand Piano project were doing, or thought they were doing, is probably "Post"-Language School work. Literary criticism and literary history usually identify what is actually happening about 10 to 20 years after the fact--sometimes even longer. What are the "canonical" works of the Language School? If you take away Ashbery's Rivers and Mountains, Tennis Court Oath and Three Poems, Palmer's Blake's Newton and Circular Gates, Coolidge's Ing, Space and The Maintains, Eigner's another time in fragments, Mac Low's Stanzas, and Grenier's Dusk Road Games, Water Farmer and A Day at the Beach, what's left?
It strikes me that the work that Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Snyder, Whalen, Ferlinghetti, Corso, McClure, Lamantia and Welch all did after 1960 is interesting, fun, and different, but it does nothing to refine or modify our sense of Beat. That's because by 1960-62, what we think of as Beat had run out of steam. Each decade lays the seeds of later developments. The Sixties as a creative decade spawned the Conservative reaction of the 1980's and 1990's. What Barrett Watten refers to as "the turn to language" in the early 1970's resembles an introspection, an introversion, largely in reaction to the physicality, the indulgence and erotic sublimation of the Sixties. The reaction to that tendency, in turn, can be seen in the work and history of succeeding decades. We've just turned the corner at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. 
Silliman's Alphabet has just been published. Am I living in the past, or does it seem like an anti-climax? Its first published sections are as far away from us, in time, now, as we were, in 1970, from Robert Duncan's early work (from the 1940's). Sometimes we forget how fast the ground is moving under our feet.   


Ed Baker said...

long about 1977 I got confussed

I thought BEAT meant BEATNIK and that everything was being beginning to be defined by a fantasy character that was given "life" in/as

Dopey Gillis' friend Maynard G. Krebs

then I saw another fantsy An American in Paris


I guess that I was "hep" long before thre was "hip"

so "it is "hepcat" and not "hip-cat"


since I was confussed and it all BEAT the Hell out of me... I

d=r=o=p=e=d o.u.t.

and learned a trade!

Anonymous said...


Hope this keeps some from sloppy use of language--& J, as I know you read this blog, you should never do it again (group everyone mildly rebellious under "beat writers"--please stop)and good post otherwise too (heritage of "Language" good stuff).

Conrad DiDiodato said...


I feel the same way, too, about Silliman's work:surprisingly 'en retard', since he's considered the leading avant-garde (LangPo) theorist. I've always thought it's too bogged down in 60s 'poetics'.

Great overview of 'Beats' period: nicely categorized, prioritized.

J said...

Your beat-taxonomy looks fairly orthodox and accurate for most part, tho' one could quibble. To me, there is a key difference between the prose writers, novelists and...the poeticals (a point I alluded to on S-man's site to little avail..who the F. cares but he does routinely link to writers other than poets (and to other "creatives" as they say ellay way), the usual beats, but also sci-fi, noir, even trad. lit. So it's a bit misleading to call it a site dedicated to poesy). And really one might say it's sort of Kultur thing as well, not just a literary school.

You are correct probably that "On the Road" may be the....oh que es la palabra--"defining beat generation literary work" or something. Yet...what about say Henry Miller? Certainly there were many other bohemians, surrealists, freaks, subversive writers. And I think the beats wanted to be viewed in that tradition--at least bohemian, perhaps surrealist (though not sure Andre Breton ever gave his blessing to Ti Jean and his cronies....). And other prose writers had connections to the beats--like Kesey, Mailer, Terry southern (a recent discovery, and quite....sordid, perhaps---but his "Magic Christian" quite tight writing. Like Voltaire on speed or something..)

So I at times am tempted to reach for the gat (figuratively speaking) when I hear the great literary isms--modernism, surrealism, postmodernism, even beat. That's for professors and academics. Not sure the later Kerouac wanted to belong to a literary school (or even be identified with his one time cronies...).

Bukowski not a beat? I guess, man. He had a criminal record like a few of 'em. Really I would say he's sort of a beat, but not the cuddly new yawk sort. The beats admired his real gritty primitive writing, didn't they? That said, I'm not a beat, though respect Kerouac's vision in On the Road---and courage (though Big Sur a downer).

I saw Burroughs speak in late 80s--scary old queer, but in ways overrated. And Kesey--sort of a buffoon in person but really his writing, as with Cuckoo's Nest, quite well crafted and deeper than many realize, even sort of PC with the Chief Broom character, the criticism of the "clinic", the slight attacks on feminism (ie Nurse Ratched...), the meditation on "what is sanity...".

d be called

J said...

Who said Nabokov was a beat?

No rational person. VN was a chi chi czarist and descendent of lower nobles who had to flee the bolsheviks. Overrated.

I think you overlook shall we say....the cultural roots of some of the "beat" writers (like Kerouac's catholic upbringing..or even Corso's): beat as in "beatitude." Taxonomy has a way of destroying like.... soul.

Kirby Olson said...

What exactly did the Beat writers say? How would you codify their contribution?

I think it's different in each case: Kerouac was a Republican, Ginsberg a Nambla pervert, as was Burroughs, Corso was at least partially a very deep Catholic.

Snyder was Protestant, and interested in nature (he liked to see goodness in nature which is kind of a funny idea). Whalen didn't go hiking very often. He was a fatso, like the Buddha.

I like definitions, though, and you're right to some extent. This was a neat post. Have you ever really read Corso?

He's so ingenious!

Steve Silberman said...

> Ginsberg a Nambla pervert

A statement worthy of Fox News, if not taken directly from it.

Nice post. My only quibble is that Waldman does qualify as a second-generation Beat owing to her long and productive association with Ginsberg at Naropa. Granted, that was many years after the splitting of the Beat atom, but to say emphatically that she is "NOT" a Beat seems de trop.

Steve Silberman said...

And Bukowski, of course, was only a Beat if the Byrds were Beatles.

J said...

Bukowski's listed as a beat on quite a few beat/outlaw lit. pages. Voila! Buk. the Beat. The SF chi chi types don't care for him because he came from El Lay, not NY or SF, he was non-PC (then, so was Kerouac, really), fucked women, drank, didn't care for a lot of the new left, and would have knocked out most phonies and lit-aesthetes in a manner of seconds.

That said, I don't think he was a towering genius, ala Joyce or even LF Celine (oops, not PC, and not a sunday school pedazo de mierda like K-Fox O), or the usual lit-gurus of college town. But Buk. kept it real, described LA street life pretty well, and did not lack a certain noirish edge (which even some beat kitties acknowledged at times, in their usual twisted fashion). And Buk. survived into his 70s, got the gal, partied with snobs, made movies, etc., instead of dying at 48, drunk, dope addict, etc

Kirby Olson said...

Ginsberg beneath mention at Fox News. They would never mention a poet, and especially not him. If you went through the entire tapes of the entire year at Fox News, I doubt there'd be a single mention of a poet or a poem.

Ditto: MSNBC, CNN, etc.

Oh wait, they all covered Obama's early poem in the Occidental College lit-mag, and related it to poet Frank Marshall Davis, the communist agitator. But poem itself as news? No way any major network would ever cover poetry in this day and age.

As for Bukowski, he had zero religious aspect, or mystical aspect, which is an aspect of the Beats that is not discussed in the original post, but which is a major part of all of their lives.

But it was not a part of Bukowski's life, or writings. Bukowski denounced the Beats as frauds, repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

"As for Bukowski, he had zero religious aspect, or mystical aspect, which is an aspect of the Beats that is not discussed in the original post, but which is a major part of all of their lives."

Burroughs was not particularly religious.

Curtis Faville said...

Several people here continue to confuse the issue of definition.

If, for instance, we desire to use the word Beat as an adjective, i.e., there is a kind of "aura" or cliche we call "Beatness" then we might be able to say Charles Bukowski has certain Beat characteristics. But this clouds the meaning of the "Beat movement" by associating a whole host of irrelevant players with something that had a very clear and distinct inception and development. Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs all clearly had major hands in defining and living the Beat identity, through their work, their associations, and their lives. Their lives in turn touched others, who shared certain aspects of the movement.

But on a time-line, Beat ended circa 1960-62. At about that point, other trends and movements began, and society and culture began to assimilate the principles Beat represented. The movement's members continued to live and write and refine the movement's meaning, but the historical and thematic principles were already complete.

We need to stop calling people like Waldman and Bukowski and O'Hara and Celine and Henry Miller "Beats." They never were. We can't change history to fit them in. They don't belong.

Long live Beat. Just don't try to expand the definition into areas, and to figures, where/to whom it doesn't apply.

Curtis Faville said...

Kirkby, the Beats clearly were interested in religion and religious elements in their work. Kerouac and Ginsberg and Snyder and Whalen were each of them seriously interested in Eastern Religion--Zen, Zen Buddhism, and the Indian mystics. They may not have expended much attention on Western religious traditions--perhaps because they were too familiar--but they could by no stretch be considered either a-religious, not uninterested. You know better than to make this claim.

J said...

OK. But many if not most beat/outlaw/indie. lit sites online do tend to include Bukowski, and even Miss Waldman. Or Brautigan. etc. It's not some rigid classificaiton, except to a few academic snobs, who tend to be sort of anal about it.

There are reasons to disagree with literary taxonomy in principle, even "modernism". It's like a marketing angle, mostly Sir Faville. KerouacCo sells ads. I imagine there are hipster cafes in downtown SF which cater to Beat, Inc: get your beat generation bobbleheads, now! Sort of like City Lights itself.

J said...

But on a time-line, Beat ended circa 1960-62.

The usual Faville grand proclamation. Even Kerouac continued to write until what '68 or so. Other beat kitties lasted until 80s or 90s (and still live, reportedly. World's oldest beatnik, now on display at City lights...get yr tickets by phone). Where do you get your mysterious criteria from? Many literary apparatchiks seem to think these great periods and classifications have some objective status, but they are mostly invented. They were writers, loosely identified as "beat", not even a "school" as say surrealism was (and what about say, Terry Southern, or all the freaks (including Miller) who appeared in the Evergreen Review ? A rather longer laundry list than yours, Sir F.)

Kirby Olson said...

Curtis, I think I phrased the original post badly, but I was intending to CONTRAST Bukowski who was not interested in religion, with the Beats, WHO WERE:

Kerouac was quite invested in Buddhism, as well as Catholicism.

Ginsberg was focused on Buddhism, as were Whalen and Snyder.

Corso constantly went back to his Catholic origins in all phases of his poetry.

If you reread my post, you'd see I was trying to make this contrast.

Even Burroughs had nutty religious ideas: Egyptian cats.

Curtis Faville said...

Alright, let's make a truce.

Anyone who wants to call someone a "Beat Writer" should put the term in quotation marks, and perhaps qualify the use of the phrase by saying an "erstwhile Beat Writer" or "later Beat Writer" or latter-day descendent of the Beats.

But to say "Anne Waldman is a Beat Write [or] a Beatnik Writer" is clearly inaccurate and not helpful. It implies that the movement to which we refer continued right through into the 1960's and 1970's and beyond, when it did not. It also implies that Waldman, for instance, shares in some respect in the spoils of association--that she participated in the movement. But she didn't. Just because someone knew Allen Ginsberg, or emulated Kerouac's writing style, or "dug Burroughs" doesn't make her a Beat Writer, any more than my writing poems at the age of 13 makes me a latter-day Rimbaud. Waldman was born in 1945; she began as a second generation New York School poet, married to Lewis Warsh , and her career bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Beat nexus we've been discussing. Her work is not Beat in style. She might be considered an apprentice or admirer or descendent of Ginsberg or Kerouac, but in that sense she's like thousands of writers.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn't make you into an original. It isn't enough just to emulate or imitate--you have to have been there, to have been involved, and to have practiced the style when it was fresh, and new.

Kirby Olson said...

Perhaps between corso and ginsberg one could say that there are significant overlaps in terms of "the style" that you mention.

WCW's notion of "no ideas but in things" is a touchstone, but even there there are all kinds of odd vectors.

For instance, if you peel off Corso and place him next to O'Hara you can find quite a few overlaps esp. in the early work. Corso knew O'Hara early on when he was up in Boston attending Harvard, sitting in on classes.

Corso and O'Hara both wrote plays for the Poet's Theatre, and really dug each other's work. In O'Hara's criticism you can find two very nice treatments of Corso's poetry.

corso didn't review books, but he mentioned O'Hara at Naropa.

You can also find dissimilarities between Corso and Ginsberg.

Corso was never a socialist, and didn't hate America, or think of it in Molochian terms, as Ginsberg did. His poem, "On My Refusal to Herald Cuba," shows that he was quite separate from Ginsberg in that Ginsberg's economic program was a kind of Luddite mess, mixed in with some sort of Buddhist-Swedenborgian goofiness that is very hard to sort out if it even can be sorted out.

Poets often do have economic programs of one kind or another, or some kind of economic scheme up their sleeve.

Bukowski was a merchant with his poems, and was writing schlock. He too could be placed next to Billy Collins as a perennial best seller whose work is bought by frat kids to read to one another over chuckles. Bukowski was writing marketable commodities, and making lots of money, and he kept it simple stupid, along the lines of a McDonald's marketing plan.

He was a schlockmeister, and knocked it out as if he was a factory and his rubber ducks his poems which at one point were coming out in every little rag in america all at once.

That meant a lot of stamps.

He had worked in the postal service, and was retired, and had big strong legs and a strong back, and could go.

He was a totally tireless merchant of poetry, and made a go of it.

Corso's economics consisted of mooching off of women. He was masterful at this. His books sold poorly -- maybe he would get ten thousand a year off his poems.

Is there an economic plan within the poems? He essays economics in some of his longer poems, and he did consider poetry to be a CAREER, and a noble one because he was selling things of the spirit, but this is an underappreciated and rather underdeveloped aspect of his work, I think.

Kirby Olson said...

(seond part) He also did talk about movies and comic books and other economically viable formats of writing.

It's very hard to talk about he and Ginsberg as being essentially alike.

Ginsberg wrote in a longer Whitmanian line and was trying to be prophetic. Ginsberg had some notion that America was a capitalist nightmare machine that had to be stopped. He was against the war in Vietnam because he foolishly thought that communist was a viable economic system that would help the poor. Ginsberg's mother was a Trotskyite.

Corso's mother wasn't around but she had an economically viable Italian restaurant in the Trenton capitol building in NJ (he didn't find this out until quite late). Corso's father was a laborer.

These two men are really quite different. They hung out, but their work can't be said to have merged.

Corso was for the war in Vietnam and he called the North Vietnamese "gooks." He thought we ought to win there. Kerouac also thought we ought to try to win in Vietnam. It's hard to find these texts where they talk about these things. They are in very rare interviews, often suppressed by Ginsberg, as he suppressed Tom Clark's work against the Naropa poetry school.

One could see Beat as an advertising gimmick under which various poets could be commodified for sale, but underneath what Silliman calls the branding efforts, this is a very heterogeneous group of writers with a schtick that it could be said that they went along with, since it helped to disseminate their work.

Even a relatively homogenous group of writers like the so-called LANGUAGE school has lots of individual currents running in it. The differences between Silliman and Bernstein for example are legion.

The differences between O'Hara and Koch in the NY School are immense.

Kenward Elmslie was very different than John Ashbery.

I wonder if we should honor these "brands."

I'd prefer to think of individuals on one side at least.

To think of Corso you have a completely different pedigree. He's working class Italian Catholic immigrant who never completed sixth grade. In an dout of reformative schooling, and prison.

This is quite different than middle-class Ginsberg, or adding machine Burroughs (who's so different from Corso that it's hard to see a common point of reference whatsoever).

Maybe we could say that they were "all rebelling against the nuclear family of the fifties" and yet for Ginsberg and Burroughs that wasn't much of a move since they were both gay.

Corso attempted to be faithful from time to time.

It's so hard to shoehorn these guys.

But they were very different from Bukowski, that's for sure.

Curtis Faville said...

I've often heard it expressed that Corso was the poor man's Ginsberg, or that he was an imitative version. There is definitely an affinity between their two inspirations.

Why is it important to make the distinction I'm attempting here?

Because it helps us to understand history, and meaning, and form. It also honors the inventors, those who innovate. That's why people want to sidle up and share the limelight. Kerouac created a huge aura around his vision of an American life. It had real undeniable power. It appeals to millions of people. It comes from outside the academy, outside of history almost. Up from the common people, without pretension. But this wasn't true of all the Beats.

You could say Ginsberg got many of his ideas and much of his energy from Kerouac. He idolized him. Burroughs was a different sort--sustained on a family stipend--tinkering and loitering and tasting strange dishes.

I can't read Burroughs. I find Kerouac pretty thick, too. But Ginsberg's much more immediate and straightforward.

I've loved Snyder and Whalen and Wieners, and appreciate most of the others. But the important thing is to keep the record straight, so we don't get all fuzzy and indistinct, thinking Anne Waldman and Bukowski are Beats. That's just dumb.

Ed Baker said...

since y'all brought "it" up

all of these guys

(the gals being
an whole 'nother story)

: all of these guys
did a-lot
knew a-lot
wrote a-lot...

what do they all have in common?

Thet Were Smart!

I frequently read out of Allen Ginsberg's KADDISH at funerals

check out the last few letters Gregory Corso wrote... in his

An Accidental Autobigraphy..

let us give a nod also towards

especially The Party

in The Herbert Huncke Reader

a friend took me to one of these parties..

scared the shit out of me..

I told her that I was going to get cigarettes and wld be right back

that was in 1973

I left
and now 2010 I have yet to return...

anyboddhi miss me?

Kirby Olson said...

Corso has really nothing to do with Ginsberg excpt that they knew one another and Ginsberg was more famous (Ginsberg illustrated a popular thesis with his work, and so had an instant demographic, much like Snyder had with his Sierre Club appeal). Corso has no natural demographic. He has to be read for other reasons.

I too cannot read Burroughs, and find Kerouac a little dumb.

Ginsberg used to say that Kerouac had this hearty manly quality.

No one says things like that about Corso. Ginsberg said he was their best poet. Ferlinghetti said the same thing. Kerouac said it, too.

The poet he most resembles is O'Hara, who was by far the best of the NY School.

Those are the two that belong together. What they did is take the WCW sharp imagistic line and merge it with the surrealistic longer line (this idea is from Perloff's book on O'Hara).

It's hard to say who did it better. Corso had longer to work on it, but after about 1975 he rarely wrote anything at the level he was writing before 1960.

Ed's right to say they were all smart, but I think Corso was the smartest (in certain ways).

In Corso's life he made abundant mistakes.

There are some new books coming out on Hunke.

I didn't like the whole scene.

It wasn't a healthy scene.

but the writing is very charming, especially Corso and O'Hara's writing.

As scenes go, I prefer the Lutheran scene, since it's not about people or their personal brilliance.

J said...

Sir Fa-ville, you should tell that to all the hip e-zines, and blogs (like Kerouac Alley, or Asher's beat schtick site, others) that DO lump together Bukowski, Brautigan, Waldman, Terry Southern with the holy beat kitties--same time mo' or less, similar themes, same bat channel. And really, a broad Beat category brings in mo' bang for the buck probably in terms of product-sales

Obviously the Kirby-O knows as little about Bukowski's writing as he does about, like, literature taken as a whole. Buk. didn't attend sunday school! Actually he did as youngster, and later on one of his dames had some connection to some zen fruitcakes (and also note K-O's silly, insulting image of Gautama as a fat man. About as insulting as calling Jee-zuss un pinche jota . The fat "buddha" is Hotei, a japanese figure. Gautama was ascetic, according to most reports).

It's also amusing CF disses Kerouac and the prose writers, but seem to approve of the poetical's Whitmanesque yawps. It's really quite the opposite: Kerouac sort of did something, slightly new. Or it was in 1950 or so. Really, Terry Southern's tight prose (beat, whether you like it or not) still has post-Hiroshima fire, quite beyond a crate of little chapbook j-o's.


Steven Fama said...

Way to range here, CF!

I pipe in re: PL (Philip Lamantia). I agree his Six Gallery participation makes him a Beat writer, although that's almost (not quite) abitrary and/or accidental. As in: if RD (Duncan) had been in town (or Spicer), they'd have been invited, probably, to read at the Six.

PL also has, making him "beat," the religiousness and drug-based poetry explorations of the time (his 1959 books Ekstasis and Narcotica).

As for "after 1960," Lamantia's 1962 Destroyed Works subtracts most of the religiousness and adds an apocalyptic edge to it all.

After that, he pretty much moved back to the original surrealist way (the last section of the 1967) pocket poets book, the early 1970s Blood of the Air, and then onto / into a more complicated poetry the combined surrealism and (hard-to-catergorize) natural/native/hermetic concerns (Becoming Visible (1981) and Meadowlark West (1986). Both those last two mentioned books, and especially the latter, included many allusions.

In sum, your basic principle, that beat writing happened before 1960, is basically true for Lamantia, and his writing after 1960, including especially his work from 1980 on, is not at all "beat."

Kirby Olson said...

I wonder why there can be second-generation New York School poets, and even third-generation New York school poets, but not second and third generation Beat writers. Certainly if there were to be second-generation Beat writers they would include the son of William Burroughs, who wrote several novels (unread by me). I did meet the son, and he sure seemed Beat to me.

If they didn't have a second or third generation, or if they don't have writers still influenced by them, what real impact did they have?

Even EA Robinson had a poet-son of sorts in Robert Frost.

Ginsberg has had influence for instance on the poet Antler.

Surely Antler would be a second-generation Beat poet, as would be the son of William Burroughs.

I think we could probably find others.

Waldman came out of a different stock, perhaps, and is hard to place as solely within the Beat movement. She knew all those guys but is actually actually about twenty years their junior.

Here's a very hard person to place: Kyger.

Around with Kerouac and Snyder from the beginning, but equally with Spicer and co.

At any rate, every major writer rises above schools.

Curtis Faville said...

"disses Kerouac"?

Naw. I just have trouble appreciating him. Probably my background of stylistic prose--I was reading serious lit and poli sci as early as age 10, so Kerouac's sightly mealy-mouthed muzziness never seemed sophisticated enough. But of course sophistication isn't at all what it's about.

Kerouac's enormously important, no doubt about it. No disrespect intended.

Curtis Faville said...

Kirby, the point you raise is a serious one, which I need to address.

Why aren't there "later generation" Beat poets?

I think because the Beat movement was quite specific in its outlines, and core principles. The first New York School was mostly about opportunity and access--O'Hara and Koch and Ashbery and Schuyler were all New Yorker City residents who'd come from other places (as many of the most famous dwellers of NYC often are). That was repeated by Berrigan and Padgett and company, 10-15 years later--out-of-towners who came looking for a "scene" etc. Berkson is kind of a "connector"--having been an intimate of O'Hara and heavily influenced by Koch (his teacher), who was so young that he didn't begin to produce his best work until the 1970's and after. Is there a Third Generation NY School?

I think it's demonstrable that there was no Second Generation of Beat because it was a unique occurrence--determined by specific cultural factors of a fixed time. Some of the same factors that saw the "thaw" among academic writers of the 1950's (Lowell, Shapiro, Simpson, Wright, et al) going into the Sixties. You couldn't have had a "second" Beat movement, because society had changed in the Sixties, accommodating many of the rebellious urges and reactions of the post-War period. There were different issues, different barriers, different challenges. The New York School wasn't about living a different life, or rejecting structural inconsistencies in society: It was about making new kinds of art. It wasn't political. It wasn't polemical. As Ashbery and Koch and Schuyler matured (O'Hara died too young), they became more predictable and traditional. Each of those four writers had "made their case" prior to 1960, just as the Beat had, but they went on to round out their careers.

It's kind of sad, now, to see how later "Beats" tried to sing the same tired old diatribes against society--it looked and sounded outdated, and it was.

Ed Baker said...

Kyger, easy

one of The Girls!

you want a list?!!1

Maddie Gleason; Joan Vollmer: Mary Fabelli:
Diane di Prima; Elsise Cowen; Joyce Johnson; Hwettie Jones; Msw Mclure;
Denise Levertov; Janine;

Lenore Kandel... etc

Anne Waldman...

hey these (and many more) where The Muses" and did a little writing on the sly!

there is also Barbra Moraff, Carol Berge, Rochelle Owens, Diane


I could go on, however,

I am getting aroused just watching my thinking coming and going...

Curtis Faville said...

I'm unclear on the concept, here, Ed.

Are all these ladies to be considered Beats, or just the feminine inspiration for Beat consciousness?

Ed Baker said...

hey Curtis

I didn't have a point




not sure when any of these poets/people began calling themselves "Beats" maybe when Wall Street/Maduison Ave started paying 'em?

as for my list


all of these poets were

I like/appreciate their work more than the boyzes'

and the fuzzy sweaters!

Kirby Olson said...

Curtis, although Ginsberg was self-consciously activist about his issues in the 50s straight into the 90s -- yammering on the gay issues -- for instance -- Corso never did anything like that, or very rarely did anything like that. He's more of a thinker for the sake of thinking in his better poems. Humor for the sake of humor. Poetry for the sake of poetry.

I get the sense that you've never read him.

I think even Ferlinghetti and McClure had issues in their writing. Not that that's bad, but with Corso if you were to abstract an issue out of a poem you wouldn't have the poem at all, you'd just have a kind of nothing. For Corso, the poem is in the poem, not in its message. To that extent he's a lot more like O'Hara, who lived into his forties, and got very good work done...

I think you have to be very careful thinking about whether that group was entirely issues-driven. Are you possibly generalizing from Ginsberg, who does in fact define the group to a degree?

Kerouac is important but he's different. He's a patriot. That's central, and is quite different from Ginsberg. Ginsberg was a pinhead. He didn't understand America's greatness. He was far more provincial in his thinking, and he got these awful things going with Buddhist dictators.

Corso wasn't.

there are people hanging around who smell bad and wear rotten clothes who caricature the movement, I guess, but they're not poets.

Oh, yes, there's a third and fourth generatino of NY School.

I could write about it later.

Curtis Faville said...


I read Gasoline and The Happy Birthday of Death.

He's like watered-down Ginsberg--I mean style-wise.

How important is content to the Beat beat?

Ginsberg wanted to revive the long Whitmanic line, the rumbling, chanting, propulsive force of American energy. Corso probably didn't have that clearly in mind.

J said...

Poet I'm not yet it's pretty obvious that Corso was no orthodox catolico or rightist, and had a certain anarchistic edge (ie, BOMB). He idolized Shelley, even wanted to be buried next to him in the ....prot. graveyard in Roma; his verse has a bit more structure than the Whitman-izers, or haiku types, even metrical at times . Though probably a symboliste influence as well (overlooked by most of the haiku hack school). Lamantia had that as well as far as looking at the few thangs online (not exactly a topseller at Barnes n Noble), with the real surrealist influence as well.

Corso was quite capable of real nasty obscenity, however (he was censored on air at KPFK ah believe..right in middle of broadblast--like delay of 10 seconds, for Corsolike emergencies). Corso may have not been down with Mao, but NO sunday schooler, at all, in form or content, and he did smell bad and wore bad clothes, as did many of them (including Micheline---a beat, really, regardless of what Sir F-ville claims). So K-o's full of merde, as per usual.

Curtis Faville said...


Lamantia was a precocious surrealist, before the Beat phenomenon really got going. But his career is in many ways parallel. He was interested in drugs, and the visionary window(s) that could open for him. He was not interested in any academic traditions, and was free to explore the Unconscious without preconditions or preconceptions (though I would argue his surrealist methodology tended to be somewhat doctrinaire). Temperamentally, he strikes me as having these aspects in common with Burroughs. I believe Lamantia was also Gay, which he of course shared with Ginsberg and Burroughs. In addition, Lamantia was published by Auerhahn, City Lights and Oyez, which lends further legitimacy to his claim for inclusion.

It becomes more difficult to say, along similar grounds, why Spicer might not qualify. But his preoccupations were somewhat different. He was interested in language, and dialectics, in a way that is more like Duncan. Also, he was not a joiner, being too strong a personality in his own right, to submit to anyone else's program. I don't see his work at any point to be related in theme or style to Kerouac, Ginsberg or Burroughs.

Maybe Spicer and Duncan belong together as important figures of the San Francisco Renaissance, together with Rexroth, Snyder, Whalen, Welch, Blaser, Kaufman, Hirschman, Ferlinghetti, Wieners and so forth. Members of that group are also Beats, of course.

Kirby Olson said...

Lamantia was a Catholic who came from Italy, and also married to Nancy Peters. So he's not gay. Nancy Peters is an editor at City Lights books. He was a Beat, and also a surrealist (he met Breton in his teens when Breton was in the US during WWII).

This is from the Wikipedia article:

Nancy Peters, his wife and literary editor, quoted about him, "He found in the narcotic night world a kind of modern counterpart to the gothic castle -- a zone of peril to be symbolically or existentially crossed."

The poet spent time with native peoples in the United States and Mexico in the 1950s, participating in the peyote-eating rituals of the Washo Indians of Nevada. In later life, he embraced Catholicism, the religion of his childhood, and wrote many poems on Catholic themes.

Curtis Faville said...

Might the marriage have been one "of convenience"?

How old was Nancy Peters?

They didn't marry until he was 51. I think Lamantia had an earlier life, which he repudiated later, becoming a Catholic and "gettin' religion" in other senses.

I remain unconvinced, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Kirby Olson said...

I don't know if it was a marriage of convenience, but why would he need a marriage of convenience? Is there ANY evidence in the poems of homosexuality?

Did you just make this up for some reason? I don't live in SF so maybe you have heard something I haven't.

He was not openly homosexual to my knowledge, and in SF that would have been a plus for his social standing, would it not?

But back to another topic: you claim that Corso is a minor Ginsberg, or a watered-down Ginsberg. Could you present one of Corso's poems, and show how it is derivative of Ginsberg in some way?

Just a small request.

You have a quite unique thesis on this point, and it's one I'd like you to back up with evidence of some kind. So curious!

I've never seen any link between the two. To me, Corso is by far the greater poet. I think that even Ginsberg saw that.

Steven Fama said...

Lamantia was married more than once. I think it was three times. That he was, for example, hired as a teenager to be an Associate editor of View by Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford (both gay), and was friends with or corresponded to a degree with both in the years / decades that follow, doesn't make him "gay."

Lamantia's religion also should be carefully considered. He was deeply into Catholicism, in his own way, mind you, in the mid to late 1950s, and then again in the late 1990s / early 2000s. But before and in between, he was virulently anti-Catholic Church (including in print). Philip waxed and waned about certain other things too, such as the whether Kenneth Rexroth was a beneficial or baneful influence.

With regard to the poetry, which is where the focus must be: his 1940s surrealism might be pigeon-holed as doctrinaire (since it involved large measures of automatic writing), but it has the incredible energy and freshness of youth (he was 15-18 years old when he wrote the two or three dozen poems that define his early period) that gives it a staying power unlike anything else written byh an American (at least at that time. It holds its own with what the other French speaking surrealists (including Cesaire) wrote during the 1940s. As Andre Breton said about Lamantia at the time: "a voice that rises once in a 100 years" (or whatever the exact quotation is).

Finally, there's no way anyone could seriously suggest that Lamantia's "late" poetry -- Becoming Visible (1981) and Meadowlark West (1986) are doctrinaire surrealist. The latter book is especially out there in many different ways.

Garrett Caples, an extremely thorough and careful reader of Lamantia (he edited Lamantia's mid-1950s manuscript Tau when it was published in 2008 by City Lights), has suggested that the allusions in Meadowlark West are as dense (and as obscure sometimes) as Pound's Cantos. Surrealism truly is but one element of that book, as Lamantia himself explained (in interviews) more than once.

Curtis Faville said...


Corso was a Beat. That's really the only reason for mentioning him in this post. Maybe we can talk about him someday, but his work really doesn't interest me much. As far back as I can remember, people have always described him as a hanger-on, a "poor man's Ginsberg" and I never saw any reason to challenge that.

Rather than speculating, which is what we're doing, I'd prefer to rely on someone who knew what Lamantia's persuasion really was. I thought that was a well-known fact about him (until I saw the Peters connection), but I'm not infallible. I get the feeling that you want to defend him for becoming religious toward the end of his life, as if that alone were reason enough to privilege his life and work. From my perspective, that's just dumb.

Curtis Faville said...

Okay, Steven, if you know this for a fact, then I'll rely on that.

Also, I never said Lamantia's work was all anything. He began as a doctrinaire surrealist (gosh, who wasn't doctrinaire in that way?!!), and the work I read over the years sounded pretty much like it always had, but I didn't read him closely, checking references etc.

I never had much of a taste for work such as his.

Translating Reverdy kind of put me off the whole pure surrealist thing. Rexroth translated some, and it's pretty dull stuff. Ditto with Breton. Ashbery and Watten are better at surrealism than almost anyone else I know.

Kirby Olson said...

I haven't read Lamantia's work, and have no reason to defend him, Curtis.

But I don't think you should just make things up about him.

I also don't think you should rely on hearsay wrt Corso's having been a poor man's Ginsberg. Corso's work at its best simply leaves everything Ginsberg wrote in the dust.

The poem Marriage with which you are no doubt familiar. Does this strike as IN ANY WAY resembling any of Ginsberg's productions?

There are poems even in the last books that completely outrank Gsinberg's increasingly dismal productions, and his sad singalongs for Nambla in Death & Fame.

You are now using Beat as a framework with which to beat down anyone who isn't Ginsberg.

Enlarge your boundaries!

Steve -- I didn't know anything much about Lamantia. I've read a few of the pieces and thought they were lamentable.

I didn't know how Catholicism rose and fell in his work. I found that in the Wikipedia article I looked up this afternoon.

All I knew is that he was married to Nancy Peters, and of course the famous Breton quote.

I consider the Cantos to be an enormous disaster from beginning to end at least in terms of intellection if that's a word.

Usury is not as bad as it sounds, and it should be defended. People need credit, and credit should be extended to get seed money out there. And anyone who takes the risk of lending seed money should expect a return on the investment.

Pound's clubbing of this one idea over and over defies common market sense.

Capitalism is always good if it remains within the laws and doesn't sell shoddy or illegal goods like drugs.

Hurray for capitalism! Hurray for America! Hurray for poetry!

J said...

Usury is not as bad as it sounds, and it should be defended.

Jus' the usual KO white trash idiocy. Should not be allowed. Thanks to G-sachs, JPMorgan, AIG for foreclosures, property values plummeting, unemployment, etc Even the smarter GOPers now want some controls/regs on investments, speculation, and the massive banks (McCain himself said they should not have repealed the Glass Steagall act).

And KO's belch shows how little he knows about Pound's economic thinking, which was generally fairly moderate (not communist, or finance capitalist), ala the more Democratic founding fathers, who supported controls on Hamilton's financial schemes from the start.

And this from a person who posts a pic of Breton on his site, much closer to the marxists than Pound (ie pals with Trotsky).

Doug said...

Hello Mr. Faville,

Beat - beyond style of writing also gave us an idea of anti-consumerism. Ferlinghetti still talks today about 'auto-geddon' - the destruction of civic spaces and the environment through the auto industry and the glamorization of vehicles.

Also, and I can't recall the source, there was an existential idea of Beat, meaning because of the military-industrial complex and nuclear weapons, previous socialist ideals as held by the likes of say, Rexroth, were no longer going to be expected to succeed; forms of resistance were being flattened by the oppressive conformity of the 50s. We were all 'beat' in other words.

Curtis Faville said...

Dear Doug:

As one interested in literature, the criticism of literature, and the marketplace for the material text, definitions of literary identity, influence and association are important to me.

A great deal has been discussed with respect to the meaning and appropriation of words; "Beat" has been casually and flagrantly tossed around, and applied to dozens of writers and social and cultural phenomena. One could make an argument for extending the term to include writers or artists who had nothing to do with the origination and definition of the term, but my point is that it would be useful to narrow the definition to apply to those who actually established the first, specific meanings, and wrote the works which demonstrated its principles--rather than to anyone who came later. Charles Bukowski had nothing whatever to do with the Beat phenomenon, even though he coincidentally shared some circumstances and attitudes of theirs. He might as well have lived in Brazil or South Africa. Anne Waldman started out in New York, and her first works have nothing to do with Beat Literature as such; her associations with Kerouac and others at Naropa don't make her a Beat Writer--she was simply too young to participate, having been born in 1945, at or near the beginning of the movement.

You can use the adjective "Beat" in many different ways, applying it to anything you choose, but from a strict literary sense, it should be confined to the writers and period (and works) I cited. McClure's Hymns to St. Geryon is a Beat document. Later, McClure participated in the Psychedelic or Flower Generation, but his Beat works were written in the late 1950's and early Sixties. Had McClure not participated in The Six reading, or not published the early poems he did, he'd belong only to movements in the 1960's (and later). It's possible to have belonged, obviously, to the Beat movement, but to have moved on--as all who survived it did.

Beat "ideas" which you mention above, had a life of their own. Its principles entered the mainstream, or were perpetuated in other ways. But that doesn't change my premise. Beat identity s/b confined to the 1948-1962 period, and to those who were genuine contributors and participants--not to others.

Ed Baker said...

"it" all comes outof/from a Jass Beat


Monk, Coleman,
Dizzy, etc etc

then snap your
fingers/mind to
the sinkOhPation

of those Harlem (street) Rhythms...

every thing (Beat-wise) begins/began in jazz-clubs and the sounds in the streets in The City where the "real" "poetry" is..


I could be wrong.

Kirby Olson said...

Kerouac who coined the term linked it to Beatitudes and Beatific, which links it to the Catholic Church. So it's as old as the Catholic Church, and is an attitude that will presumably last until the last Catholic goes home to God.

A huge part of the SF Renaissance was Saint Francis.

SF -- IS Saint Francisco.


Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Corso and many others linked themselves quite explicitly to Saint Francis.

Saint Francis was around when? I forget the dates -- late medieval era. To hazard a guess -- 1260.

Corso's beautiful early poems to Saint Francis are very important.

There is, again, nothing like this in Ginsberg's work.

There was a Christian monk named Brother Everson or a name like that actually in the movement. It was a kind of splinter off the Catholic church much like that of Saint Francis himself was (he was declared at times, along with his group of mendicant friars -- an outlaw).

Some Pope included them again.

You get adumbrations of this in Eco's Name of the Rose.

Without the religious context to which the original name as defined by Kerouac refers -- you can't make any sense of the group.

Aside from Ginsberg they were not primarily socialisticalalitarianesque.

They saw Jesus as the avatar, and saw themselves aligned with Saint Francis, in the city of SAN FRANCISCO.

Bukowski was in Los Angeles -- which had a harder and meaner perspective. I've read a few of his books. Women, I think, was one. He has a long sentence in there about a prostitute popping his zits.

All the Beats were interested in religious topics. Many of them chased after foreign gods -- Ginsberg, Snyder, and Whalen in particular.

I don't know if McClure did that.

It's hard to know where slightly later writers like Brautigan fit into the religious aspect. Brautigan was clearly a Luddite of sorts (esp. in Watermelon Sugar), and that may have come out of a Franciscan weltgeist. Brautigan did grow up reading the bible, and his daughter claims him for Christ in her wonderful memoir You Can't Catch Death, but the case she makes is tangential and relies on the unreliable evidence of Brautigan's mother (her grandmother).

New York School was Jewish to some extent, and to a large extent -- lapsed. None of them had any particular spiritual ambitions.

O'Hara, however, did inhabit to some extent a Catholic universe as a young man, and this still comes through in his poems. (St. Paul and All That, for instance.)

J said...

Sir F-vaille you don't describe a literary movement so much as a little group of cronies, mostly from Columbia: the narrow sense of "Beat" was. What did Paul Bowles say of them? Escapees from mental institutions or something. At the same time in McCarthyville, there were others writing subversive lit., even what we may call "beat lit", though not necessarily of the Kerouac, Ginzo sort. Ferlinghetti seems to suggest as much (and jazz an influence as well).

What about Neal Cassady? No NYer, but Denver rogue, yet sort of a writer. Kesey was writing in early 60s. As was HS Thompson, or Terry Southern. A Thompson or Terry Southern wasn't one of the cronies (but TS did live in Paris with some of 'em for a time), but is called a beat, usually, at least by the academics who specialize in such trivial matters.

Really, the term Beat though probably started by Kerouac later does become a marketing term. Eh Beat lit, yeah man on Aisle 8 ( city Lights would surely not have survived by chapped-book sales). Really, that Chron-hack Caen probably helped too with his "beatnik", inaccurate or not.

Curtis Faville said...

Kirby, for you the mere mention of a name conjures up complex back-channels and tangents of reference, completely out of context and with no discernible validity.

Thanks for mentioning Everson, though. He wasn't a Beat, but a severely conflicted religionist who mistook his early guilt and rebelliousness for sin, and entered a Catholic monastery in 1951, only to exit, with some fanfare, at the end of the decade to marry (a much younger woman) and resume his secular, profane career as a poet, printer and public literary figure. But it isn't his choice of a religious path in middle-age that defines, or excludes him from Beat identity. He had nothing to do with Kerouac, or Ginsberg or Burroughs. He never wrote verse that could be described as Beat.

Everson was, like my real father John Calef, a conscientious objector during WWII; spent years in detention camps in Oregon, where he began to print his own work (and that of others) under the Untide Press imprimatur. An admirer--indeed, almost a disciple and follower--of Robinson Jeffers, about whom he also wrote at length; he wrote a lot of verse, both sacred and profane.

But Everson was no Beat. This is a perfect example of the kind of mis-nomenclature I've been addressing. Everson was of an earlier generation. He was 40 in 1952 and had chosen a monk's path for that whole crucial decade.

The Beats were not followers of organized religion, and it makes no sense to attempt to describe them in terms of religious doctrine.

Sorry, Kirby, nice try.

Kirby Olson said...

Curtis, your notion that this movement erupts out of nowhere, lasts a decade or less, and then disappears, is complete nonsense.

It couldn't possibly make sense even if it did because it doesn't.

One has to think in much longer cycles, and plus you have to actually read the work you're writing about.

And try to look up what other people are saying, too. Read just for instance the Wikipedia article called The Beat Movement.

You are a little too obscure to try to completely redraw the lines around this movement. But it's amazing that you attempt to do so, and attempt to circumscribe the movement and these writers in this way. I don't know what your agenda is, but it's blindingly short-sighted.

St. Francis was in fact a major saint for these writers. Just try to see it, and you will see it. Start by rereading the poem called St. Francis in Long Live Man by Corso,

And don't put words in my mouth in order to turn me into a straw man. I never said they were followers of an organized religion. I just said that they were inspired by St. Francis, and that a big part of this was inspired by the city they happened to be in.


I praise you your love,
Your benediction of animals and men,
When the night-horn blew,
And the world's property was disproportioned,
Where ere the winged children,
The rabbit,
The afterglow --
Good human tree, birds come to rest;
Not only those which chirp
But also those that honk and caw;
I see you with eagle,
Penguin, vulture, seagull,
Nor be it a bird
But an elephant, a herd!
All on your goodly compassionate shoulders.

(poem continues for several pages, pp. 36-40, Long Live Man, by G. Corso.)

Kirby Olson said...

You probably won't print this, but here's another snippet,

"I see Christ a skeleton on the cross.
If the church falls and stone does fall,
If Church-idea is forgotten and ideas are forgotten,
I know within my soul that Christ will always be.
Nothing can erase that wonder of man;
Not bomb nor anti-christ nor thought nor me.
Christ is the victory of man
And so made your life, Francis, and most our history --"

p. 37

You just have to actually read the text instead of depending on the hearsay of your illiterate brethren who think that Ginsberg said it all, and everyone else was a mere echo. Not at all true, and enormously lazy to boot.

Plus, you're missing out on the loveliest verses of the Beat movement, which has its naked feet walking in the waters of the Jordan.

That's why it was so appealing to American youth, and to the hippie movement, which also looked back to Jesus.

Curtis Faville said...


What I'm getting at will probably make more sense to you if you try to go about it by exclusion: Which works are absolutely crucial to the origination of the Beat consciousness--not to a second- or third-hand or a later "version" of form and event, but FIRST.

Ginsberg, for instance, writes and publishes Howl and Kaddish and Empty Mirror by 1961. Burroughs publishes Junky and Naked Lunch by 1958. Kerouac writes and publishes On the Road, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Mexico City Blues, Tristessa, Visions of Cody, Lonesome Traveler, and Big Sur by 1962.

Other works written and published by the Beats during this period (1948-1962) are either inspired by Kerouac's example, or both share his viewpoint and reflect direct social contact with Kerouac, Ginsberg, or Burroughs. Kerouac is the key figure, whose vision of a foot-loose, visionary, inspired, existence is the model which connects them all. No one who arrives on the scene AFTER 1962, or who failed to participate during that key period 48-62 really has any claim to inclusion.

Beat literature, as a style, or an influence, continued to drive the inspiration of many other writers, but this was a second layer, a subsequent event. It was, after all, a province of youth. Kerouac soon gave up the traveling and settled down to drink beer and watch TV. Many of its participants went on to have full careers (Snyder is still living, for instance, and still publishing poems and essays, in pretty much the same vein as at his beginning), but this doesn't mean the movement lived on. They just outlived it.

Beat isn't something you can pick up like a suit of clothes and wear it. It's born, lives and dies, and is followed by later trends and developments. The age of the Beatnik came and went. It lived briefly--and passed into history. In one sense, it was all a myth, created out of Kerouac's imagination and sources. He was "on the road" hitching the rails, boppin' into San Francisco to check out the scene and soak up some energy. Cool, man.

You meet these young kids from time to time--"man, dig that Kerouac, those were the days, eh? So romantic, livin' on the edge, gettin' high, lovin' and jivin' and makin' the scene."

In any event, Kirby, you make up your own version of Beat and put it up on your blog. I'm sure we can all have a fine debate about it there. I think we've worn out this one.