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The Beats


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Beat Poetry

When the subject of Beat Poetry comes up, the image that comes to my mind is a smoky coffee house and clicking fingers as a bearded poet recites his latest work. The Beats are one of the more colorful of the poetic movements because it was front and center of a cultural revolution. Usually poets are on the peripheral of social change. But the poetry of the Beats sparked a generation. "Their critique of American civilization and consciousness was voluminous, rhetorically forceful, sometimes profound and documented in powerfully realistic images of American life." David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry.

Probably the most famous poem is Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Its infamy was created by the obscenity trial against its publisher poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The judge ruled Howl was not obscene. But the trial established the powerful, angry poem as the anthem of Beat Poetry.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry
dynamo in the machinery of night . . .
--Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"

Then again, Gary Snyder's Zen like poetry is just as much a part of the movement.

                    Regarding Wave by Gary Snyder

The voice of the Dharma
------                 - the voice

                    A shimmering bell
                 --------through all.

                    Every hill, ---- still.
                    Every tree alive. Every leaf.
                    All the slopes flow.
                 --------old woods, new seedlings,
                            --------tall grasses plumes.

                    Dark hollows; peaks of light.
                       ---wind stirs the cool side
                    Each leaf living.
                 --------All the hills.
          --------The Voice
                ---------is a wife
                       ---------him still.

The movement was launched in the 50's and early 60's, beginning in San Francisco and spreading over most of the US and Europe. It defied convention and attempted to change consciousness, questioning mainstream politics and culture.

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--------------------------------------------- Cartoon by John Bergstrom AKA varmit found at Attack Cartoons.com

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Gregory Corso are a few of the more noted poets associated with the movement. As are Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan who were also associated with the San Francisco Renaissance movement. These poets all knew each other. They would gather in the homes of Rexroth and Duncan or hang out at City Lights Bookstore owned by Ferlinghetti, for poetry readings. They supported, mentored and inspired each other. City Lights Bookstore is still open today.

Rejecting social conformity and literary tradition was at the center of the work of the Beats. Hallucinogenic drugs, meditation and Eastern religion were explored to raise higher consciousness. Snyder and Ginsberg were both serious students of Eastern religion.

In gathering information, it was reading the poetry of the Beats that had the most impact on me. Their work carries its own unique signature from the rage of Ginsberg, Snyder's spiritualism, to the humor of Ferlinghetti. Throughout there is an honesty that is striking. Leaving you with a few poems by the Beats is the best way I can think of ending this article.

I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

In Golden Gate Park That Day by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Seaman's Ditty by Gary Snyder

Milton by Firelight by Gary Snyder

A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg

Vitamins and Roughage by Kenneth Rexroth

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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