Archives For Beatdom #18

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 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…