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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

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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

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What Made The New American Poetry 1945-1960 So Exciting

Series: Donald Allen and The New American Poetry 1945-1960, Part 2

September 19, 2017

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It was the anthology of the San Francisco Renaissance, the poetry anthology of the Beat Movement. It included not only the certified rebels and outlaws of American literary society like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg but also intellectuals and academics such as Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Kenneth Koch. Donald Allen shifted the landscape of contemporary American literature. The major turning point of the Beat Movement toward postmodernism was not so much Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous novels such as Visions of Cody, Dr. Sax, or even Tristessa, as it was The New American Poets, 1945-1960, from Grove Press.

But perhaps what really made a difference among young radical poets of the 1950s and 1960s was that the poets in that red and white anthology were all new. I remember when I first picked up a copy in a library a few years after its publication. I was stationed just down the road from San Francisco in the U.S. Air Force. It gave me my lifelong passion for poetry and ultimately all of literature and so much more. I mean, these were not the poets anybody studied in school. And I was right. In fact, in 1960 the anthology that had solidified the canon of contemporary poetry and thus established which poets were worthy of serious attention by serious people, was that venerable textbook New Poets of England and America, edited by Donald Hall and Robert Pack. Not one poet The New American Poets was found in Donald Hall’s anthology, nor his poets in Donald Allen’s anthology. There was no overlapping whatever. Instead, New Poets of England and America includes such poets as Anthony Hecht, Robert Lowell, W. S. Merwin, May Swenson, and James Wright, obviously all of whom developed distinguished careers in later life and all received early academic recognition. The difference between the two anthologies was simply that: one anthology represented the academic poets favored by the New Critics; the other represented poets outside the academic mainstream.

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

Paul Varner

 

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 1

Death and Pejorative Vision in Charles Olson, Part 1

August 29, 2017

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If you are a poet or reader of ZigZag poetry you really need to know about Charles Olson. If you don’t know much about Charles Olson then welcome to The Scene where you are going to find out why, yes why Charles Olson matters, why his work matters to you.

This, then, is the first part of a 5 part series on Charles Olson. I will be posting this series on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays.

Charles Olson has been a powerful voice among ZigZag poets since the beginning, and by beginning I mean those days after World War II when everything changed everywhere with the radical poets, writers, and artists of the Beat Movement which started it all and has kept it going with all the spinoffs from the 1950s right up to now.

Because, look, Olson was acknowledged as the intellectual inspiration of The Movement of movements: the Black Mountain poets, the New York poets, the San Francisco poets—in other words, The Beats. With poets like Denise Levertov and Robert Creeley. Robert Duncan once said, “For all of the poets who matter to me in my generation Charles Olson has been the Big Fire Source. One of the ones we had to study.” And Robert Creeley affirmed, “Charles Olson is central to any description of literary ‘climate’ dated 1960.”

Olson’s great work, the one always studied in greatest detail, is his essay “Projective Verse,” first published in an obscure little poetry magazine in 1950. But this complex, detailed essay became the heart of the Olson theory. British poet and critic Davie said Olson’s projective verse essay was “the most ambitious and intelligent attempt by a poet of today to take his bearings and to plot his future course.”

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Paul Varner