‘The Personal is Political’[1]

The moves of Beat women to reclaim bodily freedom and space through performative poetry

‘The woman’s body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected.’ (Rich, Of 55)

 

In 1950s post-war America, women’s opportunities were largely confined to the domestic realm. Western society was ‘a culture of containment, with women and black people its objects’ (Breines 10). Omnipotent sexism ensured that ‘all women – shall remain under male control’ (Rich, Of 13), and ‘in the most fundamental and bewildering of contradictions’ society has ultimately alienated women from their bodies by ‘incarcerating us in them’ (13). Women’s bodies are misunderstood and repressed in patriarchal society, but the Beat women fought against these misconceptions through choosing to live outside of society’s ideals and exploring pre-patriarchal femininity in their poetry. In exploring the ‘authentic’ self, they could re-establish new modes of being female outside of cultural rules. They negotiated the body and the spirit in Diane di Prima’s sense of materialising the spirit so that it ‘fills everything’ (Calonne 44). In this way, the personal becomes political as their self is embodied and extended to public space through their performance of poetry. Although not all Beat women were able to publicise their poetry as the more well known Beats Anne Waldman and di Prima were, it is important to examine how they re-imagined their bodily potential and their given space through a creation of a female-identified poetic voice. For, ‘the only war that matters is the war against the imagination / All other wars are subsumed in it’ (di Prima, ‘Revolutionary…’, 34-35). Continue Reading…

The Buddhist Beat Poetics of Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel

Beatdom Books’ latest publication, Max Orsini’s The Buddhist Beat Poetics of Lenore Kandel, was released on August 1st. Continue Reading…

After Me, The Deluge: Considering Kerouac’s Final Statement

An artistic and introverted spirit, Jack Kerouac never set out to become the leader of one of the greatest literary movements of the 20th century. He only wished to achieve his own sense of enlightenment and share his journey with his friends, hoping to help them achieve their own form of enlightenment by expressing their truths through fiction and poetry. However, as news of his radical novel, On the Road, spread like wildfire through the nation, Kerouac was thrust into the spotlight as the poster boy for the Beat Generation and the counterculture movement it spawned. As he grew older, Kerouac became jaded and reclusive, rejecting many would-be counterculture artists and writers who cited him as an inspiration for their own works. His final essay, “After Me, the Deluge”, was a sarcastic, biting piece that best expressed his feelings of resentment and disgust towards the “hippie-yippie” lifestyle that was becoming popular among the youth. Although the long-winded sentences and provocative vernacular were consistent with Kerouac’s earlier writings, the acerbic tone and disdainful jeers, as well as the clear lack of interest in the Beat movement that he had once so zealously championed, weakened the message of “After Me, the Deluge” and made it a poor close to his literary career. Continue Reading…

Allen Ginsberg in Asia

Asia had long been a source of inspiration and fascination for Allen Ginsberg by the time he finally set foot on the continent. As a precocious child, he had been curious about the great ancient kingdoms of India and China, and equally delighted in reading about the contemporary political climate of the region as he moved into his teenage years. Walt Whitman, one of his major literary inspirations, had impressed him deeply with a poem called “Passage to India.” His friendship with William S. Burroughs, begun at Columbia in 1944, pushed him to believe in Oswald Spengler’s theory of western decline, with Asia rising in the east to supplant the falling empires of the west, and later Jack Kerouac introduced Allen to Buddhism, which friends like Gary Snyder and Phillip Whalen subsequently nurtured t as it grew in the late fifties. In 1953, he developed an obsession with Asian art that grew into a belief that the ancient East possessed an unrivalled sophistication. Continue Reading…

Review: Hip Sublime

It always amazes me that after so many decades of scholarship, there is always a new way of looking at the Beat Generation. In Hip Sublime: Beat Writers and the Classical Tradition, Sheila Murnaghan and Ralph M. Rosen have collected a dozen essays examining the relationship between the Beats and Greco-Roman classicism. These look at Beat writers like Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso, as well as the post-Beat Charles Olson and Diane di Prima, and the loosely affiliated Charles Bukowski, among others. Notable contributors include Christopher Gair, Jennie Skerl, Nancy M. Grace, and Tony Trigilio. Continue Reading…

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…