December 20, 2010

Day of the Dead Beat Poets

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..."

Do you need a reason to celebrate the great Beat poets? Well no, but anyway we had one. It's 55 years since Allen Ginsberg gave his first impassioned public reading of "Howl", the poem which "knocked the sides out of things", in the words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was there to hear it and the first to publish it, the next year. Last week we honoured the occasion at Central Library with the first antipodean "Day of the Dead Beat Poets", an inebriating evening of readings from the work of the dead (and some still-living) Beat poets.

Besides us hip librarians, we had that born-to-be-a-beat poet Bob Orr who, in the vein of Dean Moriarty travelling 3000 miles just to see me, took the day off work to be able to come in and gave a transcendental reading which included his fabulous poem -- which I was going to read if he didn't -- about panel-beating Neal Cassady's car, we had Michele Leggott and Jack Ross, among the public we had an American who grew up across the river from Paterson NJ and gave us a poem full of Beats and William Carlos Williams who had once treated his father which blew us away, we had a truck-farmer from San Jose California, we had Mel with burgundy hair, we had a guerrilla poet. We even had a drifter, whom I thought we might have group-hallucinated into being, so much did his appearance suggest a down-at-heel Dennis Hopper (who, aficionados will know, used to hang out with Allen Ginsberg).

syndetics-lcIt would have made Allen Ginsberg happy to know he was the catalyst for such a great evening. In the build-up to the event I read a few of the many books which have been written about him, or the Beats in general, since his death; I can recommend I Celebrate Myself: the somewhat private life of Allen Ginsberg, a thick biography by Bill Morgan, who knew Ginsberg from having worked on his archives with him, Beat, by Christopher Felver - more style than content but fun to look through and also it's pleasurably brand-new and shiny -- and The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963 by Barry Miles, long-time chronicler of the Beats, which has a wonderful story about Ginsberg and Corso, stoned out of their minds, listening to a tape-recording of a performance by Antonin Artaud, the avant-garde actor/playwright/director, and being so deeply moved by its newness and strangeness they went to replay it, only to realise that they had been listening to it backwards, by mistake.

But my favourite of all the Ginsberg stories I read, the one which for me expresses the essence of the Ginsberg I love, comes from the website of Larry Keenan, a student of Michael McClure's who became a photo-documenter of the Beats. It goes like this:

"Once when I was visiting Allen in his apartment he asked me if I would like some coffee. Having said "Yes," he presented me with a metal bowl with coffee in it. The bowl seemed strange (like a dog dish) and I nursed the coffee to cool it down. Soon he started asking "Are you finished with that, man?" I would say "No, not yet" and after awhile I started to feel uncomfortable because the bowl seemed important to him. When I finally said "Yes," he grabbed the bowl away -- threw the remaining coffee in the sink and sat down with the bowl for his breakfast cereal. I was using his only bowl."

-- "Breakfast in his apartment" by Larry Keenan

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 05:30


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