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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?

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

Paul Varner

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The Beginnings of New American Poetry

Series: Donald Allen and The New American Poetry 1945-1960, Part 3

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September 21, 2017

After the success of the original New American Poets 1945-1960 through the decade of the 1960s Donald Allen created a franchise of updated anthologies. By the way, the original edition is still in print and I always used it for a textbook for my course in literature of the Beat Movement. Beginning in 1973 Allen issued The Poetics of the New American Poetry, another anthology in which he collected every statement on the poetic craft and theory he could from 1950s-1960s avant-garde poets. The next series I will begin for The Scene will be these statements of poetics from the New American poets themselves.

Then in 1982 he updated his anthology altogether, making it more inclusive of women and poets of color, titled The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revisited. Also Ekbert Faas published in 1978 Towards a New American Poetics: Essays and Interviews, a widely quoted critical work that ultimately gave the term “New American Poetry” credence. Today, virtually any study of the poetry of such writers as Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Allen Ginsberg still refers to the idea of New American Poetry.

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

Paul Varner