Review: First Thought

First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg, edited by Michael Schumacher, is not the first collection of interviews with Allen Ginsberg, but it is in some respect the best. It is a slim edition, carefully selected from the inconceivably vast archive of interviews, to show Allen at his very best. As Schumacher points out in his introduction (and as a great many others have observed) Allen viewed the interview as an art form, just like his poems. He was generous with his interviewers, yet firm. He pushed them to give their best, and he always gave his. (Throughout the book, there are weak interviewers but Ginsberg is never off-form.) Mistakes rankled him, and he made efforts to ensure every interview he gave went to print without misrepresenting his ideas.   Continue Reading…

Review: I Am The Revolutionary

Paul Maher Jr has written an intimate, interesting look at the life of Jack Kerouac – not the whole life, but rather the youth, leading up to the publication of his most famous work, On the Road. I Am the Revolutionary begins in the 1700s with some family history, carries us through his childhood, education, and travels, and ends with Jack picking up the newspaper that changed his life – the one containing Gilbert Millstein’s review of On the Road. In short, it is the story of how Jack Kerouac became Jack Kerouac, the author still known today as King of the Beats, whose novels sent millions of kids on the road, and whose voice has inspired poets, novelists, and musicians for more than a half century. Continue Reading…

Mechanics And Poetics: William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg

William Carlos Williams played an important part in making “Howl” a well-known poem, especially in terms of communication. Indeed, William Carlos Williams wrote an introduction for the poem, in which he admitted that Allen Ginsberg “disturbed”[1] him. Allen Ginsberg wrote many times to his relatives and friends how glad he was to have a poet he admired writing him an introduction. But while Ginsberg was thrilled, writing to his brother, Eugene, in 1956 that “W.C.Williams has written another introduction”[2] or to his father that “W.C.Williams read “Howl” and liked it”,[3] Williams himself was more cautious. First of all, this introduction is “strange” because, according to Barry Miles, “it read almost as if he were confusing Allen Ginsberg with someone else”.[4] Moreover, though we learn in a 1952 letter to Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady that Williams contacted Random House about Ginsberg’s poetry,[5] he wrote about his poems that “the first look is favorable”,[6] which is less expressive than Ginsberg’s point of view. Worse, Williams also appeared to be criticizing “Howl” and Ginsberg’s writing style in an interview of 1960: Continue Reading…

The Mystery of Allen’s Ginsberg’s “Reading Bai Juyi”

On December 5th, 1984, while laid up sick in Shanghai, Allen Ginsberg wrote one of his lesser-known masterpieces, “Reading Bai Juyi.” The poem begins by talking about Allen’s first month in China, where he had been teaching and travelling after a short visit with a delegation of American writers, and ends with a short biographical piece that copies a poem by Tang Dynasty poet, Bai Juyi.  Continue Reading…

The Intersection of Buddhism and the Beat Generation

The 1950s in America was not a period known for its religious diversity. The spiritual consumerism that we know today had yet to be established and the post-War era was defined by adherence to familial and traditional values, including a religious conformity of traditional Catholic-Protestant beliefs (Ellwood 172). The Beat writers were among the minority of spiritual seekers in America at that time who pursued alternative forms of spirituality to supplement the existential longing that they were encountering in their own lives (Edington 3). Buddhism, though far removed from the American mainstream, offered each writer a method for reconnecting to the lost sense of spiritual nourishment their traditions and culture failed to provide. Each writer pursued his own path within Buddhist philosophy, and arrived at a distinctly different place as a result of his exploration. The Beat writers contributed to the development of American Buddhism through methods of appropriation and study, resulting in a body of literary and poetic work that reflects the ways in which the writers integrated Buddhist philosophy both in their personal lives as a spiritual practice and as a stylistic element used to enhance and inform their writing.  Continue Reading…

“A Fleeting Moment in a Floating World”: The Women of the Beat Generation Through Allen Ginsberg’s Eyes

“The whole Beat scene had very little to do with the participation of women as artists themselves.

The real communication was going on between the men,

and the women were there as onlookers…

You kept you mouth shut,

and if you were intelligent and interested in

things you might pick up what you could.

It was a very masculine aesthetic.”[1]

-Joyce Johnson

 

 

Inception: Recognizing Absence

“The poignancy of the photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world.”[2] Upon Allen Ginsberg’s reflection on nearly a lifetime of capturing photographs, his remark seems most fitting when considering those less visible, but equally significant writers of the Beat Generation. Gazing through Ginsberg’s lens of cultural history exposes complex narratives, both fleeting and lasting, of nonconformity, rebellion, and artistic spirit. Though it also reveals a powerful void; an absence of silence and omission. At a time when women’s independence was either limited or non-existent, such spaces enveloped female artists striving for personal freedom amid male dominated society. The women of the Beat Generation were active counterparts within this subculture, yet their lack of visual representation exposes a fissure in Ginsberg’s photography. Continue Reading…

Last Call for Submissions

There’s one week left until the deadline for Beatdom #19 – the ASIA issue. We are still looking for essays, interviews, fiction, poetry, art, etc etc. relating to the Beats and the topic of Asia. For example, we’d consider essays talking about Kerouac’s interest in Buddhism, Snyder’s time in Japan, Kyger’s travels in India, and Ginsberg’s visit to Cambodia. These are just some of the many, many possibilities.

If you have an idea in mind but think it might take you more time, let me know in an e-mail to editor@beatdom.com. As long as we hear from you before March 1st, we can consider work that is submitted a little late.

Here is some more information, and these are the submission guidelines.

Some Advice for Students

The Beat Generation was an important literary and cultural movement and, as such, it is often taught and studied in educational institutions around the world. Students from middle school to university are writing reports and essays on books like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail from a curious student asking my opinion on the direction of their studies or looking for information about an obscure character in a Kerouac novel. While I’m happy to answer any questions about the Beats, I thought I’d put together a short guide for students just beginning their Beat studies. Continue Reading…

Review: Summer of Crud

Summer of Crud is a coming-of-age story that takes place on a road trip across America. It makes reference on a few occasions to the Beats and in fact appears to be an attempt to update Kerouac’s On the Road for the 21st century. However, while not a terrible novel, it certainly is no modern classic. Continue Reading…

Renegade Dreamers

Karen Kramer lives a stone’s throw from the intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal streets in Greenwich Village and has always been drawn to the Beat history that came out of that small crossroads. Her new documentary, Renegade Dreamers, celebrates the Beat and folk history that was born in the coffee houses of that legendary neighborhood and how it influenced a nation. Continue Reading…