The Beat generation, as seen by its central figure.
During a 20-year teaching career, acclaimed poet Ginsberg (Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems, 2016, etc.) developed a syllabus for a course on the Beats, first offered at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, known as The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and later at Brooklyn College. Ginsberg’s ambitious aim, writes Morgan (The Beats Abroad: A Global Guide to the Beat Generation, 2016, etc.), the poet’s biographer and prolific chronicler of the Beats, was to convey a comprehensive literary, spiritual, and intellectual history of a growing and evolving circle of friends as well as to offer his own testimony as witness to the movement he helped create. Authoritatively edited by Morgan from course material and tapes, the syllabus considers writers chronologically, focusing on different works, or periods of development, in each class. Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso earn the most attention, with Neal Cassady, Diane di Prima, Bob Dylan, and Gary Snyder, among others, also brought in for consideration. While many classes were as free-wheeling, digressive, and opinionated as anyone might expect from Ginsberg, most offered close readings, literary background, candid recollections, and cogent analyses, highlighting both craft and literary influence. Jazz, he contends, inflected the “phrasings, rhythms, and patterns” of Kerouac’s prose, as did the sound of “melancholy violins.” Corso assiduously read Spenser and Milton. Of his own poetry, Ginsberg cites the influence of 18th-century British poet Christopher Smart, William Carlos Williams, Blake, Whitman, Shelley, and Yeats on his iconic “Howl,” a poem, he says, “written for the people who read Time magazine as well as for the bohemian left.” Ginsberg is generous in his portrayals, even of Kerouac’s reactionary views in his old age and Burroughs’ combative eccentricities (he was “dedicated totally and sacramentally” to exploring his own consciousness).
A rich sourcebook for literary historians and fans of the passionate, iconoclastic Beats.