Wills, D., ‘Know Your Beats’ in Wills, D. (ed.), Beatdom Vol. 1 (City of Recovery Press: Dundee, 2007)

Know Your Beats

There are a whole lot of ways to define the Beat Generation, from friends to like-minded artists, from Black Mountain to Times Square to the San Francisco renaissance… and in doing so one could include or exclude dozens of poets, writers, artists and bums. But this is not the article to deal with some concerns… Here, we present to you a selection of people commonly associated with the Beats. Complaints on a postcard…

Richard Brautigan – Moved to San Fran in ’55 and published his first poem, becoming part of the Beat movement. Gained popularity in late ‘60s with ‘Trout Fishing in America’ and ‘In Watermelon Sugar’.

Charles Bukowski – Never really a Beat, but a great writer with a few connections to the central figures of the Beat Generation.

William S. Burroughs – The author of The Naked Lunch and Junky, Burroughs was an outlaw and drew obscenity charges with his work. He loved guns and killed his wife in an ill-fated game of William Tell.

Lucian Carr – Friends with David Kammerer and William S. Burroughs. Introduced Ginsberg and Burroughs, and then Kerouac and Burroughs. Killed David Kammerer after his homosexual advances.

Neal Cassady – Star of On The Road and friend of Kerouac. Cassady wasn’t much of a writer, but he certainly lived the life and inspired the others.

Gregory Corso – One of the Big Four (with Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac). Published before Ginsberg and Kerouac with his The Vestal Lady on Brattle and other poems. Impressed Ginsberg with his involvement in social and political change.

Elise Cowen – Massively underrated female Beat poet. One of Ginsberg’s few female lovers, and stylistically and social part of Beat circles.

Robert Creeley – Editor of Black Mountain Review, and helped link the Black Mountain poets with the Beats.

Kirby Doyle – Central to North Beach literary scene, heavily into his drink and drugs, and appeared alongside Kerouac and Ginsberg in print.

Robert Duncan – Part of San Francisco renaissance and Black Mountain poets. Gained fame in the ‘60s, but first published in the ‘40s. Early critic of ‘Beat’ label.

Bob Dylan – Influenced by the Beats, embodying Beat values in his music, and associated with Ginsberg. Not a Beat, but close.

William Everson – Also known as Brother Antoninus and The Beat Friar. At the centre of the San Francisco renaissance.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Important poet and owner (with Kenneth Rexroth) of City Lights bookshop, which was synonymous with the Beat movement.

Allen Ginsberg – Legendary poet inspired by Blake, Whitman and Carlos Williams. Ginsberg wrote the epic Howl and read it at the infamous Six Gallery reading.

Brion Gysin – English writer who re-discovered the cut-up technique and taught it to Burroughs in the Beat Hotel, Paris. Helped edit much of Burroughs’ work.

John Clellon Holmes – Occasional member of the Beat Generation. Published Go, about Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg, well before most Beat texts. It was Holmes to whom Kerouac gave the phrase ‘Beat Generation’.

Herbert Huncke – Times Square career criminal. Got involved with Burroughs through drugs, and impressed Ginsberg with his lower-class ways.

Ted Joans – Jazz poet, surrealist, inventor of outagraphy, and friend of Kerouac and Ginsberg.

LeRoi Jones – Or Amiri Baraka or Imamu Ameer Baraka. Influenced by Beat Poets, and founded Totem Press, which published both Kerouac and Ginsberg. A controversial African-American political activist artist.

David Kammerer – Friends with Burroughs. His attraction to Carr resulted in his own murder.

Bob Kaufman – Jazz poet heavily inspired by music and the language of the street. He wrote Golden Sardine, but preferred not to write his poems down, instead reading them in cafes and traffic jams.

Jack Kerouac – The Father of the Beat Generation, Kerouac coined the phrase and lived the life. He wrote many Beat classics, including On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and died of alcoholism when only forty-seven.

Ken Kesey – Perhaps not strictly a Beat, but that hardly matters. He fits the profile: a great novelist, part of the counterculture, and acquaintance of Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg. Wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion.

Tuli Kupferberg – Founder of The Fugs, as well as Birth magazine. Satirical counterculture poet. Allegedly appears as Brooklyn Bridge jumper in Howl!

Joanne Kyger – Gary Snyder’s wife and fellow practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Travelled to India with Snyder, Ginsberg and Orlovsky.

Philip Lamantia – Surrealist and Beat, Lamantia was one of the poets in the Six Gallery reading.

Denise Levertov – Born in Europe, but moved to America and joined the Beat poetics and humanitarian concern. A prolific female Beat poet.

Michael McClure – Read with Ginsberg, Snyder, McClure and Whalen at the Six Gallery reading and protested with Ginsberg at the ‘Human Be-in’.

Harold Norse – Stayed with Ginsberg, Burroughs, Orlovsky, Gysin and Corso in the Beat Hotel in Paris, where Ginsberg wrote Kaddish, Burroughs wrote The Naked Lunch and Corso wrote Bomb. Norse wrote the cut-up novel Beat Hotel.

Frank O’Hara – At the centre of the New York School of poetry, and a spontaneous, absent-minded poet.

Peter Orlovsky – Ginsberg’s ‘husband’, and poet in his own right. Published by City Lights bookshop, with his Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs. Ginsberg’s lover over four decades, until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

Kenneth Patchen – Denied his relations to literary movements, but his work contains similarities to Surrealists and Dadaists, and foreshadowed the Beat poetics.

Kenneth Rexroth – Founder of City Lights bookshop (with Lawrence Ferlinghetti) and the San Francisco Poetry Centre. Translator of Japanese poetry.

Ed Sanders – Seen as the bridge between the Beats and the Hippies. Shared many traits with Beats, but came later on. Founder of The Fugs and Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts.

Gary Snyder – Buddhist, ecologist, Beatnik, poet… Snyder inspired the character Japhy Ryder in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Wrote about the wilderness in collections such as Riprap.

Carl Solomon – Met Ginsberg in a New Jersey psychiatric hospital in 1949, and Ginsberg pressured Solomon into convincing his uncle, A.A Wyn, owner of Ace publishers, to published Junkie, by William S. Burroughs, or William Lee.

Joan Vollmer – Burroughs’ lady… There at the beginning… By all accounts an interesting and intelligent woman, privy to many events and conversations… Killed by Burroughs in a game of William Tell…

Anne Waldman – Co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa. Widely translated, prolific poet. Accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue.

Lew Welch – One of the famous trio of Reed College roommates, with Whalen and Snyder. Never enjoyed the same success as his friends and killed himself in 1971.

Philip Whalen – One of the Six Gallery reading poets and college roommate of Gary Snyder and Lew Welch. Whalen was a significant player in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance and also a Zen Buddhist Monk.

William Carlos Williams – This is a stretch, because Williams was never really considered a Beat. But he was inextricably linked to the Beat movement in that he personally mentored a number of Beats, including Allen Ginsberg. Could be viewed as the father of the Beats.