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How The New American Poetry 1945-1960 Established the Canon of the Beat Movement

Series: Donald Allen and The New American Poetry 1945-1960, Part 5


October 3, 2017

Early critical reviews and studies of literature of the Beat Movement defined Beat literature narrowly as referring almost exclusively to the works of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and the very early New York Beats. Later “New American Poetry” developed into a broader term including a much wider range of writers beyond the early Beats. Now, one of the appeals of Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945-1960 anthology was that it reprinted Ginsberg’s Howl for the first time in an anthology. And Allen included Jack Kerouac’s poetry, not yet well-known (Choruses from Mexico City Blues).

But Allen’s anthology considered the Beats, the Black Mountain Poets, the New York School, and the San Francisco Renaissance as all being part of the same movement. Through the years and with the regular issuing of anthologies and critical studies combining all the elements of the innovative literary movement, as opposed to the established and accepted canon, and with the huge increase in studies in the literature of the Beat Movement since the 1980s, the poets of all these factions: San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain, New York School, City Lights poets have all been jumbled up in many minds anyway as part of the Beat Movement. Thus writers such as Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, or Frank O’Hara, all of whom at one point or another distanced themselves from the early Beats, nevertheless today can be considered part of the Beat Movement as much as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Eckbert Faas even attempts to place the establishment poet Robert Bly among the New American poets and, thus, the Beats.

The Beats were always included in that label, the New American Poets . Values of the 1950s New Critics such as self-containment, tension, irony, metaphor, or complexity of form are not values held by New American Poets. Their poetry is as free as the lifestyle it reflects.

Be sure to follow The Scene: Radical Poetics from the ZigZag Edges.

Paul Varner


On This Day in History Gregory Corso was Born

March 26, 2017


The Beat Hotel, Paris

The Beats: Gregory Corso

On this day in 1930 Gregory Corso was born. He died in 2001 and is buried in the English Cemetery in Rome, in proximity to the Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

Here is the profile of Corso written during the frenetic days of the Beatnik scene by Seymour Krim in his 1960 anthology The Beats,

“Corso is urchin-looking, street-bred, a true singer and loving wordman with lots of humor plus a regal tone. A big treasure of talent in this little guy which he’s not entirely certain how to handle—comes on tough or rude or me-no-speak-english when his poetry gives his living-room style the lie. Full of unexpectedness and unclassifiableness; offbeat imagination to burn. One of the big three that began to turn the public on around 1954; Kerouac and Ginsberg the other two. A glitter of contradictions, Corso also has formidable verbal refinements and a closetful of skills along with his deadend-kid comeon [sic.]. Last heard from he was in Athens, jazzing, playing roulette, making a carnival out of this ah sweet mystery of life bit. More power and joy to him.”

Krim published the long poem “Spontaneous Requiem for the American Indian” in the anthology. I thought I would print a particularly relevant clip to our current political predicament in America.

Ghost-herds of uneaten left to rot animals thundering across the plains

Chasing the ghost of England across the plains forever ever, pompous Kiwago raging in the still Dakotas, o america—

America o mineral scant america o mineralize america o conferva of that once

great lovely Muskhogean pool, o oil-suck America despite, oil from forgetive days, hare to arrow, muskellunge tospear, fleet-footed know ye speed-well the tribes thence

outraced the earth to eat to love to die,

o requiems, Hathor off-far bespeaks Wakonda. . . .


Follow The Scene: Radical Poetics at the Zig Zag Edges.

Paul Varner