Beatdom #21 is the CHANGE issue, in which we look at the Beat writers (and a few Beat-adjacent ones) in relation to the topic of CHANGE. This is a fitting topic for a turbulent era – a time when the world seems perennially on the precipice of the apocalypse. Change is happening at a faster and faster pace, leaving people confused, divided, and often angry.
In this issue, we are going to look at a wide array of literary figures and explore how they changed, perceived change, inspired change, or even predicted it. There will also be a few off-topic pieces, like interviews and reviews.
Here is a brief overview of this issue:
First up, Ryan Mathews looks at the many lives of a man known as LeRoi Jones and Amiri Baraka. A controversial figure, Baraka is often overlooked by Beat readers nowadays, perhaps due to his race. Baraka (as he was known later in life) was a poet, essayist, playwriter, and much more. He fought against racism but also was outspokenly racist himself. A mess of contradictions, the man’s life was as fascinating as any of his Beat peers. Mathews writes:
How could we talk about change without looking at Allen Ginsberg’s 1963 poem, “The Change”? It is a lesser-known work that chronicled the monumental personal, poetic, and philosophical changes he underwent during a two-year journey around the world. David S. Wills, author of World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, analyses this important poem in light of its author’s travels through Asia:
Does art reflect life or does life reflect art? And is it possible to affect change through a photo or a poem or a painting? These are questions Westley Heines asks in his essay on William S. Burroughs. Examining the Cut-up Method and Burroughs’ peculiar philosophies on life and art, Heines asks why exactly he once pointed his shotgun at the World Trade Center – and whether that had anything to do with the towers falling some twenty-three years later.
Leon Horton discusses life and literature with Victor Bockris. In a wonderful interview, Bockris recounts many amusing and revealing stories about William S. Burroughs, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, Marcia Resnick, and many others. He takes us from his childhood, through New York in the seventies and eighties, to his present-day engagements. At the top of the interview, he explains:
Brenda Frazer (probably better known to Beatdom readers as Bonnie Bremser) is a fascinating character in Beat lore. In her latest book, she offers poetry and prose that looks back over parts of her life, including stays in Guatemala and on Allen Ginsberg’s Cherry Valley Farm. Here, Heike Mlakar reviews Some American Tales:
Paul Carroll is not often thought of as part of the Beat Generation, but of course he was very much connected to it through his efforts to publish Burroughs and Kerouac, and his friendship with Allen Ginsberg. In this short memoir, journalist Vic Larson recalls studying poetry with Carroll. He remembers:
Matthew Levi Stevens returns to the pages of Beatdom with an essay on the life of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a multimedia artist influenced by Kerouac and Burroughs. P-Orridge passed away in 2020, leaving behind a legacy of transgressive pursuits that spanned the cultural gamut. Stevens writes:
In a long interview that covers a great many writers, Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia talks about his latest book – a collection of poems called Beat Scrapbook. “It’s not supposed to be a picture of the Beat Generation,” he explains. “It’s memories of the Beat people in my life whom I have loved.” He talks about his relationship with many figures in Beat history and explains why he did not see eye-to-eye with Allen Ginsberg, in spite of his great respect for Ginsberg’s poetry. He also explains why Gregory Corso was his favourite:
The year is 1966 and Allen Ginsberg is visiting the University of Nebraska, shocking and amusing the naïve students there. Randy Rhody recalls his first impressions of the world-renowned poet:
Farid Ghadami is an Iranian writer who has translated the works of many Beat authors into Persian. He has played an immensely important role in popularising the Beat Generation in his native Iran. In this interview, he speaks with Beatdom editor, David S. Wills, about his work and why the Beats have grown so influential in Iran.
In one of the more unique essays we have published in Beatdom, Paul W. Jacob offers a theological study of the opening pages of Jack Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums:
Charles Bukowski was, of course, no Beat, but he was a fascinating character whose life and work certainly overlapped somewhat thematically with the Beats, and so we’ve included this interesting look at his live performances. You probably know a few things about his novels and poems, but what about the terror he faced at the prospect of going on stage to deliver readings of those works? Leon Horton delves deep into Buk’s anxieties.
Juan Thompson is the son of Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. In this interview, he sits down with Scottish writer Graham Rae to discuss life, art, politics, and what it was really like growing up as the son of a famous literary outlaw.
Matt Schultz writes a poem that includes another poem by Jack Kerouac. This playful effort makes something new out of a Kerouac haiku.
What is the Cut-up Method and why did William S. Burroughs use it? In this essay, Josh Bergamin explains through two demonstrations how cut-ups can be used for various purposes and how the resulting writing could be interpreted in different ways. Looking at human psychology, he explores the idea of a cut-up work being read in numerous possible ways, with both creator and reader assigning their own meaning, neither of which is definitive. As to Burroughs’ own fanciful interpretations, Bergamin explains:
Ryan Mathews reviews Gerald Nicosia’s latest publication – a collection of poems related to the Beats. He writes:
Weldon Kees was an important poet who disappeared in 1955 as the Beat Generation was beginning to take off. In Beatdom #20, we looked at his relationship to Denise Levertov and this time we have one of his previously unpublished poems, recently found in an Ohio barn.
John Pratt recalls a brief meeting with Gregory Corso on the patio at Café Flore.
Marc Olmsted offers various stories about Gregory Corso, all told to him by others.
This short story is the first piece of fiction David S. Wills has written in perhaps a decade. It is about a man suffering an unbearable loss. He travels to the end of the world and attempts to inhabit his own memories, where he believes he can live forever free of the grief that haunts his waking life. It is not so much a story about change as one that explains the immutability of the past, no matter how badly one wishes to change it.
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…