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The Beats: John Clellon Holmes

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).