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March 12, 2017
The Beats: Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg
Here is Jack Kerouac’s profile by Seymour Krim written right at the time Kerouac was becoming a national figure and the Beatnik craze was going strong.
“Kerouac needs no introduction; he had the fertilizing common sense to make the infantile happily adult, to make like the Three Stooges in writing, to be tender, lyrical, nutty when the mood mooded him. Jack’s stuff often runs like a drunken faucet, but in the flow he gets a love-tone and naturalness that makes most writers blush for their own artificiality. Just for the record, Kerouac was a flashy actual halfback for the snazzy Horace Mann school in Manhattan-before going to Columbia—and had a 92 point average. This is to the point because too many semi-literary putdowners think he’s purely a belly and not a brainman. More than meets the eye here, in the sense of understanding human beings and what they need. ‘Visions of Cody,’ three parts of which we print here, is about the hero of ‘On the Road’—another and more intimate version of the great baller whom Kerouac loves—and was published in a limited edition by New Directions this Christmas. The selections printed here aren’t related, so don’t look for continuity—only flavor.”
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March 6, 2017
This is the third post I am publishing based on Seymour Krim’s 1960 anthology of the Beat Movement. Before each Beat writer Krim featured he wrote a short profile. What’s so fascinating about Krim and his little book is that it was written and published when the Beatnik culture was dominating America’s 1950s. So he writes from the perspective of the moment and with the crazy Beatnik vernacular that often was fodder for cartoons, satire, and ultimately Hollywood movies.
His first profile was of the first real daddy-o of the Beatniks–John Clellon Holmes–who 1.) wrote Go, the first novel of the Beat Generation, and 2.) defined the essence of “Beat” as Krim notes below.
John Clellon Holmes
“Less glamorous, less publicized than Kerouac-and-gang, Holmes was one of the first explicit beat writers, wrote the fairly good ‘Go,’ was sort of conservative ballast to the high cats who wailed the first notes of the movement. Loves and knows and digs jazz, lives the suburban scholar sober hardworking novelist life in Connecticut, is both in and out of the present beat hurly-burly; has acted as sort of Ivy league counterpoint to the gutter-scenes played by the crazier beats. Doesn’t get his hands too dirty. But he has a unifying mind, has impressive ‘felt thought,’ in the words of the big American novelist Henry James, and is really capable one day of writing a huge, thorough blockbuster of a novel about the bloody beat 50’s. Brings a New England temper to Harlem, so to speak—conservativeness to a frantic scene, and nobody else writing on the same wavelength gets the same convincing result. His article [‘The Philosophy of the Beat Generation’] was written in late 1957-58, before the movement was as torrid as today; nevertheless it holds as honest sober statement, despite its occasional tone of Apologizing to the Squares” (13).
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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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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