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The New American Poetry: A Proposal for New Terminology

Series: Donald Allen and The New American Poetry 1945-1960, Part 7 (Conclusion)

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October 5, 2017

Probably the better label today by which to refer to all of this poetry called the New American Poetry is simply to include it into what has over the last few decades become a much bigger category—the Beat Movement itself. The reason many poets who later became part of the establishment poetry scene—like Levertov and Duncan—was because of the negative connotations of Beatnik poetry and Beatniks so mischaracterized by popular media. Those connotations no longer have much weight. Most of us look back on all the New American poets, the City Lights Pocket Poets, and so forth as part of the Beat Movement. Perhaps it’s time to discard the term “New American” poets and just refer to poets of the Beat Movement. Or perhaps it’s time to bring up the idea of postmodern. Allen and George F. Butterick in The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revisited attempted to make the transition of the term New American to the term Postmodern. Others have not extended the term quite that far.

In my book, Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement for Rowman and Littlefield Press, I attempt to move the Beats from simply a Beat Generation, that is the generation of the 1950s—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Olson, Duncan, Snyder, Creeley,–the gang—to the much longer lasting Beat Movement—a broader picture of Beat literature. The original Beats worked hard to define Beatness—Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes most famously. But the Movement extended far beyond anything defined around being beaten down or searching for a state of beatitude. The movement extended outward to others beyond the early New York and San Francisco origins to arguably what became the dominant avant-garde movement of the 20th century and into our own time as well. Perhaps it’s time we dropped labels that keep the poetry of the Beat Movement stuck in the 1950s and 1960s. What do you think?

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Paul Varner


About The Scene: What Kind of Content Do You Envision Making Up The Scene?

What Kind of Content Do You Envision Making Up The Scene?


September 4, 2017

I have written so many papers and articles on the Beat Movement and I have incredible amounts of space on my computer filled with unused notes from the research on my Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement that you are going to see it all at some point.

But I want to move well beyond the Beat Movement per se. You know, if you visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland you will see much more than just the giants of rock and roll. You will see exhibits devoted to the roots of rock and even hall of fame inductees who never performed rock. The same thing with The Scene. I want to explore other radical scenes besides the Beats such as the dada and surrealist movements. And I want to explore the roots of contemporary radical literary movement from such forerunners as Emerson (especially with his essay The Poet), Baudelaire, and, yes, the Romantics. Plus what’s happening right now?

But please, don’t send your music to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and don’t send your own poetry to The Scene. Follow The Scene on WordPress by hitting the button on this page. And follow in social media as well.

Paul Varner

About The Scene: Why Do I Want to Blog About Radical Poetics?

Why Do I Want to Blog About Radical Poetics?

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August 28, 2017

When I finished my book on the Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement for Rowman & Littlefield there was, as expected, much that was left over from my notes and reading that I badly wanted to explore. Especially, I wanted to explore the actual poetics of Beat poetry. In particular, at that time, I wanted to explore, to examine closely, the poetics of the poets in the legendary anthology The New American Poetry, and other books of the New American franchise, such as The New American Poetics, all edited by Donald Allen.

And then, from the beginning of my life awareness I have been fascinated with the avant garde, experimental, radical postmodern poetics, its contexts and its aesthetic roots. For my part, The Scene is where I intend to find the mystery, the soul, the essence of radical poetics at the zig zag edges. Come join The Scene & hit the Follow button.

Paul Varner

The Beats–The Drive, the Fury, the Frankness! With Seymour Krim

March 3, 2017


Allen Ginsberg and friends at a Beatnik pad

Here are some notes and rough draft material I wrote for my Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement on Seymour Krim and his anthology.

Seymour Krim(1922-1989). “Krim has been on the literary scene too long; could go either rotten or ripe. The beat writers opened him up and he now stands a good chance to speak his piece instead of going through the motions. A nice guy with a touch of nasty.” Thus Seymour Krim writes about himself in his anthology The Beats, first published in 1960. Krim was born on 11 May 1922 and died of apparent suicide on 30 August 1989. He attended the University of North Carolina and was a respected member of the literary and media establishment in the 1950s when he discovered the writers of the Beat Movement and credited them for turning him into a real writer. His short story “The Insanity Bit” appears in The Beats, and he wrote respectable prose journalism and New Journalism for many years before his death.

But as far as the Beat Movement is concerned, his little anthology, The Beats, was his significant achievement. The Beats was published as a mass market paperback original first in 1961 and reissued with a new introduction in 1963. Its cool black and white cover image of a goateed beatnik (an uncredited Allen Ginsberg) in deep conversation in his Beat pad with an aloof beat chick calmly puffing a cigarette established an image of beatnik cool that was to persist among young intellectuals into the 1960s. The headnote blurbs on the new young Beat writers were written in the Beat slang of the day, setting the tone for the entire book.

In later years Seymour Krim was a regular writer for the New Yorker, once called by Tom Dent “the poor man’s Norman Mailer” (1980, 106). He taught writing at a number of universities including the Iowa Writers Workshop.

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The Beats with Seymour Krim

March 2, 2017

The Beats, ed Seymour Krim


Unquestionably, the Beatnik scene in the 1950s U.S., and its counterpart in the U.K., the Angry Young Men, brought the Beat Movement to public awareness and provided color and popularity to the movement. I love uncovering original material from the Beatnik era and one of my favorites is a paperback anthology edited by Seymour Krim titled The Beats, published in 1960 with a second edition in 1962 lamenting the end of the Beatnik era.

The back cover of The Beats screams out at the reader the way old ‘50s paperbacks were wont:

The drive, the fury, the frankness they bring to their writing has made the Beat generation the most hotly discussed literary movement of the century. Here is the Beat world, the world that has aroused critics to shocked outrage and loud praise. Here is the jazz, the junk, the jargon—and, above all, the anger. Here is a ruthlessly honest collection of their writing together with some sharp critical assessments of their deliberate and their holy war with Society.

Over the nest several weeks in The Scene I want to devote a number of posts to this amazing time capsule witness of the actual now and present of its colorful time. Krim had a way of describing all the writers and the goings on especially in New York with current Beatnik slang and dramatic this-is-important! urgency. Stay with me here and you won’t regret it.

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Publicity Interview with Paul Varner for the Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement

February 24, 2017

Publicity Interview with Paul Varner for the Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement


How long ago did you start working on Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement? How long has it taken you to complete it?
I give myself two years for each of my books, which evidently is standard since both my publishers suggest that time frame. So I finished my last book, on Western fiction, in 2010 and began my book on the Beat Movement immediately. I try to spend the first year in reading and research and the second year in writing. I’ve also recently finished the Historical Dictionary of Romanticism in Literature.

How much work did you do on this book each day or week?
Of course, I had two summers to work full-time on the book, but I also tried to arrange my teaching schedule during the school year so that I had at least two full days a week to research and write.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing this book?
Obviously, there is always the challenge as to what and who to include and exclude in a broad critical survey. But probably the biggest challenge was whether I would limit the scope of the Beat Movement to the early generation of the Beats—the writers who came to prominence in the 1950s—or would I expand to writers and works that came after the 1950s. Most surveys of the Beats confine themselves to the 1950s, to the Beat Generation. I decided to treat the Beats as a Movement that began in the 1950s but which continued into the 1960s and still exerts a powerful influence on postmodern literature right up to the present. After all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder still publish regularly.

Who do you hope will read this book?
My book is part of a series and is intended to serve as a handbook for scholars and students entering into serious academic study of a particular field of literature. My previous two books in the series of Historical Dictionaries have been on Westerns in Cinema and Westerns in Literature. These books survey the scholarship of their fields in general and establish the current scholarship for individual writers and major works. At all turns I push forward and attempt to establish new ways of looking at the literature. So anyone doing serious work in Beat Studies should consult my book. But also anyone interested in the Beats for whatever reason will find much new in my book.

How will this book be used?

My Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement is a user-friendly handbook ready to be picked up and dipped into for whatever information readers are searching for. It has two lengthy essays surveying the movement and the trends in scholarship, an exhaustive bibliography of primary and secondary works. Then most of the book contains dictionary or encyclopedia type entries on the writers, their individual works, terminology, historical events, geographical places, and all sorts of other information. Major novels and poems get thorough treatments.


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