Before Instagram, before apps and laptops, cordless phones, Kindles, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter there were gatherings. And salons. That’s where the fun started. And the art.
The 1950s was almost another planet in terms of what you’d do on any given day—and the Beat Generation was more withdrawn from what we call “the grid” than almost anyone else.
Yet, we know the names of their poets and writers and artists; we know their books; who they were in love with; what they wanted from their lives and the lives of others. Something must be driving us to remember them. What?
I may not know exactly, but I do know that years after guys like Jack Kerouac were the next best thing, we're still trying to connect to others who care about poems, books, films, paintings, plays, songs as much as we do.
Beats might have withdrawn and drawn themselves into a community; but make no mistake, they knew what was going on artistically around them.
So when, say, someone like Saul Bellow wrote The Adventures of Augie March, sky rocketing words around like explosions, I have a hunch the Beats were paying attention. (Or at least, they should have been).
Did Jack Kerouac read James Joyce? YES, as Joyce’s character Molly Bloom might say. And Kerouac said On the Road was inspired by Joyce.
What does that have to do with the culture now? While we use different tools, the days of artists meeting and arguing and reading and feeding each other are still happening as they always have been.
Because inspiration doesn’t need an app or a Facebook page. Not that we shouldn’t have them (they’re fun!) But there are also times when the best thing you write or say or think up could be something no one else sees... until you run it by a few friends and let them chew on it.
I guess that’s the paradox we all come up against when we’re creating. We need to be alone to make something, but we need to be with others to make it better. So if you set your eyes on the people who interest you most and live in the moment with them… you can learn what the Beats knew: a package too neatly tied gets boring. People’s craziness, passions, fears and thrills are your best hope of creating something that’s not only memorable, but true.
Because, like Gertrude Stein said, we write for ourselves and strangers.
Want to read some “off the beaten track” Beats? I’d try these:
· O-Jazz-O – Bob Kaufman
· Teacher—Your Body my Kabbalah – Elise Cowen
· Adam’s Complaint – Denise Levertov
· First Snow, Kerhonkson – Diane Di Prima
· A Phone Call from Frank O’Hara – Anne Waldman
· —and almost anything by Gregory Corso.
Redhead reading: Frank Kovalchek
Poet’s chair – City Lights bookstore: Julie Jordan Scott
Poetry stairsJulie Jordan Scott