The Beat Generation is a term used to describe both a group of American writers who came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the cultural phenomena that they wrote about and inspired (later sometimes called "beatniks"): a rejection of mainstream American values, experimentation with drugs and alternate forms of sexuality, and an interest in Eastern spirtuality.
The major works of Beat writing are Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957). Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize what could be published in the United States. On the Road transformed Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady into a youth-culture hero. The members of the Beat Generation quickly developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.
The original "Beat Generation" writers met in New York. Later, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco in the mid-1950s where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance. During the 1960s, the rapidly expanding Beat culture underwent a transformation: the Beat Generation gave way to The Sixties Counterculture, which was accompanied by a shift in public terminology from "beatnik" to "hippie".
Defined more broadly, the "Beat" category would include all of these sub-groups, and many other writers who reached prominence in the late 1950s, early 1960s, who shared many of the same themes, ideas, and intentions (dedication to spontaneity, open-form composition, subjectivity, and so on); even though some of these might have little social connection with the core group, and many might deny that they were ever a part of the "Beat Generation".
The main figures and early writers of the Beats were Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, Peter Orlovsky, and John Clellon Holmes. Certain poets the core Beats encountered in San Francisco were associated with the San Francisco Renaissance such as Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Harold Norse, Kirby Doyle, Michael McClure. The poets associated with the Black Mountain College were also associated with the Beat Generation, such as Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan (though Duncan was one of the most vocal early critics of the "Beat Generation" label). As well, there were the New York School poets such as Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch; surrealist poets Philip Lamantia and Ted Joans; and, poets who are occasionally called the "second wave" of the Beat Generation such as LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman.
Other people associated with the Beats include Bob Kaufman, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, Hubert Selby, Jr., John Wieners, Jack Micheline, A. D. Winans, Ray Bremser and Bonnie Bremser/Brenda Frazer, Ed Dorn, Jack Spicer, David Meltzer, Richard Brautigan, Lenore Kandel. Many previously underappreciated female writers were part of the Beat scene, such as Joanne Kyger, Kaye McDonough, Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, Janine Pommy Vega, Elise Cowen. A few younger writers who were acquaintances of the aforementioned writers (such as Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Jim Carroll, Ron Padgett) are occasionally included in this list. Charles Bukowski has a tenuous place on this list since his association is slight. Several older writers were very closely associated with members of the "Beat Generation", though their reputations were solidified so much earlier that it is difficult to call them part of the same "generation." They include Kenneth Rexroth, the principal figure involved in the San Francisco Renaissance, and Charles Olson, the mentor to the Black Mountain poets and author of the highly influential essay "Projective Verse". Also, so many of these writers either studied personally with William Carlos Williams or looked up to Williams as an idol, that Beat writers are often seen as being the children of Williams.
The language and topics (drug use, sexuality, aberrant behavior) pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the conformist 1950's. The first "Beat" work to gain nationwide attention was Ginsberg's Howl based partly on its graphic sexual language; an obscenity-trial helped fuel its fame. One of the most enduringly famous "Beat" works, Kerouac's On the Road (written in 1951), which had much of its objectionable material edited out, was not published until 1957, in a sense capitalizing on the fame brought by the Howl obscenity-trial; Kerouac was subsequently accused of encouraging delinquency. Burroughs' magnum opus, Naked Lunch, which was much more graphic than "Howl", likewise went to trial for obscenity after its 1962 American publication. These trials helped to establish that, if anything was deemed to have literary value, it was no longer considered obscene.
Kerouac's claim that he had identified (and embodied) a new trend analogous to the influential Lost Generation might have seemed grandiose at the time, but in retrospect it's clear that he was correct – though possibly largely because the prophecy was self-fulfilling.
Also important were the oft-neglected women in the original circle, including Joan Vollmer and Edie Parker. Their apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan often functioned as a salon (or as Ted Morgan puts it, a "pre-sixties commune), and Joan Vollmer, in particular, was a serious participant in the marathon discussion-sessions.
Later, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco in the mid-1950s where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance such as Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Harold Norse, Lew Welch, and Kirby Doyle. There they met many other poets who had migrated to San Francisco because it had a reputation as an important new center of creativity. This included Bob Kaufman who was, according to legend, the first to actually be called a "beatnik." Also of significance were Philip Lamantia, Tuli Kupferberg, and members of the recently dissolved Black Mountain College looking for a new center of communal creativity, poets such as Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan.
Many writers were inspired by the publication of "Howl" and On the Road and decided to join the group. The Beats met most of these writers when they returned to New York: John Wieners, LeRoi Jones, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman. The New York School of poets (including Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler, though Ashbery and Schuyler weren’t quite as closely associated with the Beats), had already been established as a movement in New York; they found much in common with this ever-widening circle and consistently promoted one another's work.
They soon met people outside of Columbia University such as Burroughs, Hunke, and Cassady and the new focus became real life experiences in contrast to the academic environment of Columbia. Perhaps the most important early experience that drew most of the members of the Beat Generation together was Lucien Carr's stabbing of David Kammerer. This was one reason why Burroughs maintained his close-but-distant relationship with the rest of the Beats. The stabbing was an incident that Kerouac tried to capture twice, once in his first novel The Town and the City and then again in one of his last, Vanity of Duluoz.
Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1914; making him roughly ten years older than most of the other original beats. While still living in St. Louis, Burroughs met David Kammerer, and thus began an association presumably based on their shared homosexual orientation and intellectual tendencies. As a boys' youth-group-leader in the mid-1930s, David Kammerer had become infatuated with the young Lucien Carr (with what encouragement, if any, it is difficult to say). Kammerer formed a pattern of following Carr around the country as Carr attended (and was expelled from) different colleges. In the fall of 1942, at the University of Chicago, Kammerer introduced 17-year-old Lucien Carr to William S. Burroughs.
Burroughs was a Harvard-graduate who lived off a stipend from his relatively wealthy family. His grandfather had invented the Burroughs Adding Machine, though the amount of wealth in the family is often exaggerated (Kerouac remarked on "the Burroughs Millions," which didn't actually exist). The three became good friends, whose sprees got Burroughs kicked out of his rooming-house and culminated with Carr confined in a mental ward after an apparent attempted suicide with a gas oven (one version of the story holds that this was a way of avoiding military service). In the spring of 1943, Carr's family moved him to Columbia University in New York, where Kammerer, and then Burroughs shortly followed.
At Columbia, Carr met the freshman Allen Ginsberg, whom he introduced to Burroughs and Kammerer. Edie Parker, another member of the crowd, introduced Carr to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac when he came back from his stint as a merchant marine. In 1944, Carr introduced Kerouac and Burroughs. Kammerer's fixation was obvious to everyone in the circle, and he became jealous as Carr developed a relationship with a young woman (Celine Young). In mid-August, 1944, Lucien Carr killed him with a boy scout knife in what may have been self-defense after an altercation in a park on the Hudson River. Carr disposed of the body in the river. He then sought advice from Burroughs, who recommended that he get a lawyer and turn himself in with a claim of self-defense. Instead, Carr went to Kerouac, who helped him dispose of the weapon. The following morning, Carr turned himself in, and Kerouac and Burroughs were charged as accessories to the crime. Burroughs got the money for bail, but Kerouac's parents refused to post it for him. Edie Parker and her family came through, with the condition that she and Kerouac be married immediately.
In 1949 Ginsberg got in trouble with the law because of this association. Ginsberg let Huncke stay with him for a brief time (as referenced in the line from Howl, "who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the showbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium"); Ginsberg's apartment was subsequently packed with stolen goods. He rode with Huncke to transport these stolen goods which led to a car chase with the police. Ginsberg pleaded insanity and was briefly committed to Bellevue Hospital, where he met Carl Solomon. When committed, Carl Solomon was more eccentric than psychotic.
A fan of Antonin Artaud, he indulged in some self-consciously "crazy" behavior, e.g. throwing potato salad at a lecturer on Dadaism. Ted Morgan also mentions an incident when he stole a peanut-butter sandwich in a cafeteria and showed it to a security-guard. If not crazy when he was admitted, Solomon was arguably driven mad by the shock treatments applied at Bellevue, and this is one of the things referred to many times by Ginsberg in "Howl" (which was dedicated to Carl Solomon). After his release, Solomon became the publishing contact who agreed to publish Burroughs' first novel Junky (1953), shortly before another episode resulted in his being committed again.
The delays involved in the publication of Kerouac's On the Road often create confusion: The novel was written in 1951 — shortly after John Clellon Holmes published Go, and the article "This is the Beat Generation" — and it covered events that had taken place earlier, beginning in the late '40s. Since the book was not published until 1957, many people received the impression that it was describing the late '50s era, though it was actually a document of a time ten years earlier.
The legend of how On the Road was written was as influential as the book itself: High on benzedrine, Kerouac typed rapidly on a continuous scroll of telegraph-paper to avoid having to break his chain of thought at the end of each sheet of paper. Kerouac's dictum was that "the first thought is best thought", and insisted that you should never revise a text after it is written — though there remains some question about how carefully Kerouac observed this rule, at least in the case of On the Road which is sometimes regarded as his "transitional" work. Although Kerouac maintained that he wrote this particular book in one three-week burst, it is clear from manuscript evidence that he had previously written several drafts and had been contemplating the novel for years. Also, the text went through many changes between the final "scroll" manuscript and the published version.
In 1950 Gregory Corso met Ginsberg, who was impressed by the poetry that Corso had written while incarcerated for burglary. Gregory Corso was the young d'Artagnan (to use Ted Morgan's phrase) added to the original three of the core beat writers, and for decades the four were often spoken of together, though later critical attention for Corso (the least prolific of the four) waned. He gained some notoriety for his tragicomic poetry, such as "Bomb" and "Marriage."
Some time later there was much cross-pollination with San Francisco-area writers (Ginsberg, Corso, Cassady, and Kerouac each moved there for a time). Lawrence Ferlinghetti (one of the partners who ran the City Lights Bookstore and press) became a focus of the scene as well as the older poet Kenneth Rexroth, whose apartment became a Friday night literary salon. Ginsberg was introduced to Rexroth by an introductory letter from his mentor William Carlos Williams, an old friend of Rexroth's. When Ginsberg was asked by Wally Hedrick to organize the famous Six Gallery reading in October 1955, Ginsberg had Rexroth serve as master of ceremonies. In a sense, Rexroth was bridging two generations. This reading included the first public performance of Ginsberg's poem Howl and thus it is considered one of the most important events in the history of the Beat Generation. It brought East Coast and West Coast poets together in public performance for the first time, and the reading quickly sparked a legend and led to many more readings around California by the now locally famous Six Gallery poets. Soon after the Six Gallery reading, Ferlinghetti wrote Ginsberg a letter, saying, "I greet you at the beginning of a brilliant career. When do I get the manuscript?" This was an adaptation of Emerson's comment about Whitman's poetry, a prophecy of sorts that Howl would bring as much energy to this new movement as Whitman brought to 19th-century poetry. This is also a marker of the beginning of the Beat movement, since the publication of Howl and the subsequent obscenity-trial brought nationwide attention to many of the other members of this group.
An account of the Six Gallery reading forms the second chapter of Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums, a novel whose chief protagonist is a character based on one of the poets who had read at the event, Gary Snyder (called "Japhy Ryder" in Kerouac's roman à clef). Most of the people in the Beat movement had urban backgrounds and they found Snyder to be an almost exotic individual, with his rural and back-country experience, and his education in cultural anthropology and Oriental languages. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has referred to him as "the Thoreau of the Beat Generation". One of the primary subjects of The Dharma Bums is Buddhism, and the different attitudes that Kerouac and Snyder have towards it. The Dharma Bums undoubtedly helped to popularize Buddhism in the West.
Gregory Corso insisted that there were many female beats. In particular, he claimed that a young woman he met in mid-1955 (Hope Savage, also called "Sura") introduced Kerouac and Ginsberg to subjects such as Li Po and was in fact their original teacher regarding eastern religion (this claim must be an exaggeration, however: a letter from Kerouac to Ginsberg in 1954 recommended a number of works about Buddhism).
Corso insisted that it was hard for women to get away with a Bohemian existence in that era: they were regarded as crazy, and removed from the scene by force (e.g. by being subjected to electroshock). This is confirmed by Diane DiPrima (in a 1978 interview ):
However, a number of female beats have persevered, notably Joyce Johnson (author of Minor Characters); Carolyn Cassady (author of Off the Road); Hettie Jones (author of How I Became Hettie Jones); Joanne Kyger (author of As Ever; Going On; Just Space); Harriet Sohmers Zwerling (author of Notes of a Nude Model & Other Pieces); and the aforementioned Diane DiPrima (author of This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, Memoirs of a Beatnik, Loba, and many others). Later, other women writers emerged who were strongly influenced by the beats, such as Janine Pommy Vega (published by City Lights) in the 1960s, Patti Smith in the early 1970s, and performance poet Hedwig Gorski in the early 1980s.
Benzedrine at that time was available in the form of plastic inhalers, containing a piece of folded paper soaked in the drug. They would typically crack open the inhalers and drop the paper in coffee, or just wad it up and swallow it whole. Opiates could be obtained in the form of morphine "syrettes": a squeeze tube with a hypodermic needle tip. As the Beat phenomenon spread (transforming from Beat to "beatnik" to "hippie"), usage of some of these drugs also became more widespread. According to stereotype, the "hippies" commonly used the psychedelic drugs (marijuana, LSD), though the use of other drugs such as amphetamines was also widespread. The actual results of this "experimentation" can be difficult to determine. Claims that some of these drugs can enhance creativity, insight or productivity were quite common, as is the belief that the drugs in use were a key influence on the social events of the time (see recreational drug use).
Collaboration and mutual inspiration were an important part of the Beat Generation's literary process. Allen Ginsberg was a promoter of the works of a number of the other members of the Beat Generation. He considered himself a pro bono literary agent for all of his friends and for those with similar ideas. For example, he was instrumental in getting William S. Burroughs's first book, (Junkie), published. Ginsberg had encouraged Burroughs to write in the first place. He did extensive editing on Naked Lunch, with some help from Kerouac and others. Burroughs and Ginsberg also collaborated on the book The Yage Letters. Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and Corso collaborated early on a parody of hardboiled detective fiction called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin and William Burroughs collaborated in a book of cut-up poems "Minutes to Go" while living in Paris.
William Burrough's "Naked Lunch" was edited by Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin and Gregory Corso, while they lived in Paris Hotel in 1956. Early in 1956 Jack Kerouac, in Tangiers, had assisted Burroughs in putting his prose "fragments" into novel form. Jack Kerouac incorporates many important Beat figures as characters in his novels. Two of his most important novels, On the Road and The Dharma Bums, feature characters based on Neal Cassady and Gary Snyder, respectively, as their chief protagonists.
The Beats often provided titles for one another's work. The naming of two important works is the subject of Beat legend. Ginsberg gives Kerouac credit for the name "Howl", even though the original manuscript Ginsberg sent to Kerouac had already been given the title "Howl for Carl Solomon." It's uncertain why Ginsberg would give Kerouac credit, but it's not surprising, considering the nature of their relationship. Kerouac also provided Burroughs with the title Naked Lunch, and, according to legend, when Ginsberg asked what it meant, Kerouac said he didn't know but they'd figure it out. Ginsberg gives some suggestions in a later poem: "On Burroughs' Work." He says, "A naked lunch is natural to us,/we eat reality sandwiches". Ginsberg also supposedly coined the term "the subterraneans" (an early attempt at a name for the Beat Generation), which became the title of an early Kerouac novel that was later made into a movie. Ginsberg suggested "Gasoline" to Corso, as the title for his second volume of poetry.
Members of the Beat Generation provided subject-matter for much of Allen Ginsberg's poetry. Neal Cassady in particular was a favorite subject of Ginsberg. Ginsberg dedicates his most famous poem, Howl, to Carl Solomon; Cassady and Solomon are specifically referenced throughout the poem. Other Beat Generation figures referenced in Howl include: Kerouac, Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Tuli Kupferberg, and many more. He dedicated his first collection of poems, Howl and Other Poems, to Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady, and originally Lucien Carr, though his name was taken off later at Carr's request. The dedication included all of their accomplishments including then unpublished On the Road, Naked Lunch, and Cassady's The First Third. Carr requested his name be taken off because he didn't want the attention. He dedicated many of his other poetry collections and some individual to poems to other Beat figures, including: Huncke, Cassady, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Frank O'Hara. Many of them were also subjects of specific poems within these collections.
Kerouac used a "roman à clef" style, in which he used thinly disguised Beat characters and described their encounters. Allen Ginsberg appears in five novels as Irwin Garden, and under other names in four more books. William Burroughs is Bull or Will Hubbard, or Old Bull in four books. Corso is Raphael Urso in two books. Corso's letters indicate that Kerouac (as Leo Percepied) originally wrote the ending of The Subterraneans with Percepied killing Yuri Gilgoric (Corso) for sleeping with his African American girlfriend Mardou. Corso warned Kerouac that he would go "down in history as a murderer", and Kerouac rewrote the ending to spare Gilgoric's life by not hitting him with a raised cafe table.
Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Cassady collaborated on a poem called "Pull My Daisy." A section from "Pull My Daisy" was one of the first poems Ginsberg published. When Kerouac and Ginsberg later collaborated on a film with photographer Robert Frank based on a script by Kerouac for a play called The Beat Generation, they found that the title had already been copyrighted. They called the film Pull My Daisy instead. The actors included Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Corso, and Larry Rivers (a painter associated with the New York School), and Kerouac did the narration.Gary Snyder dedicated several poems to Lew Welch and has mentioned other Beat figures, such as Kerouac and Philip Whalen, in his poetry.Frank O'Hara in his conversational poems often talks about eating lunch with "LeRoi" (LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka) and often alludes to other Beat writers, such as Ginsberg and John Wieners. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka occasionally refers to other Beats in his writing (Snyder and Kerouac, for example). For a time in New York, Baraka and Diane DiPrima edited a magazine called Yugen, which published many of the Beat writers.
Dadaism and Surrealism had a direct impact on many of the Beats: Dadaism with its attack on the elitism of high culture and its celebration of spontaneity; Surrealism with its transformation of the Dadaist rebellion into positive social intentions and its focus on revelations from the subconscious. Both movements, in a sense, developed as a reaction to WWI, just as the Beat Generation was reacting to the environment of post-WWII America. Carl Solomon introduced the work of Surrealist Antonin Artaud to Ginsberg. Artaud had a strong influence on many of the other Beats. The poetry of Andre Breton was also a direct influence (see for example Ginsberg's Kaddish). Since Surrealism was still in many ways a vital movement in the 1950s, the Beats had interactions with many Surrealists and former Dadaists. Beat associates such as Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, and Ron Padgett were responsible for translating a lot of the poetry from French and introducing it to English-speaking audiences.
Several Beat associates, such as Ted Joans, were actual members of the Surrealist group; another example is Philip Lamantia who was close with Breton and was responsible for introducing a lot of Surrealist poetry to the other Beats. The poetry of Gregory Corso and Bob Kaufman show the clearest influence of Surrealist poetry (the dream-like images, the seemingly random juxtaposition of dissociated images, for example), though this influence can also be seen in more subtle ways in other poetry, Ginsberg's in particular. When in France the Beats met many Surrealists and former Dadaists. As the legend goes, when they met Marcel Duchamp, Ginsberg kissed his shoe and Corso cut off his tie. Many other French writers still active in the 1950s had a tremendous impact on the writing of the Beat Generation, writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Jean Genet. Older French writers rank high on the list of shared Beat influences: Apollinaire, for example. Beats also repeatedly invoke the spirit of Symbolists such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire.
Specific Romantic writers had a heavy influence on Beats: Gregory Corso, for example, worshiped Percy Shelley as a hero and was buried at the foot of Shelley's Grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Ginsberg mentions Shelley's Adonais at the beginning of Kaddish, and he cites it as a major influence on the composition of one of his most important poems. Michael McClure compared Ginsberg's Howl to Shelley's breakthrough poem Queen Mab. Ginsberg's most important Romantic influence was Blake, who was the subject of Ginsberg's self-defining auditory hallucination/revelation in 1948, and Ginsberg subsequently spent much of his life studying Blake. Blake was also a major influence on Michael McClure. The first conversation between McClure and Ginsberg was about Blake (McClure saw him as a revolutionary; Ginsberg saw him as a prophet). John Keats was also an influence on many of the Beats.
Of arguably equal importance to the British Romantics was what is often termed American Romanticism. Whether or not this term is accurate, many writers under this umbrella were important to the Beats: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville and especially Walt Whitman. Edgar Allan Poe is occasionally cited as an influence, as in the line from Howl "who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kaballah..." And, though the comparison might not seem obvious, Ginsberg even claimed Emily Dickinson was an influence on Beat poetry. The novel You Can't Win by Jack Black had a strong influence on Burroughs, as did the short stories of British author Denton Welch.
Though in ways the Beats were reacting against the tendency toward objective distancing and the focus on craft brought on by literary Modernism, (hence why the Beats are sometimes considered Postmodern) many modernist writers were major influences on the Beats: Marcel Proust,Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and H.D.. Pound was specifically important to poets such as Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley. Pound was instrumental in introducing ideas of haiku and other Japanese and Chinese literary forms into Western literature. The Beats further adapted these ideas in their own work. William Carlos Williams was an influence on most of the Beats with his encouragement to speak with an American voice instead of imitating the European poetic voice and European forms. He specifically influenced Snyder, Whalen, and Welch when he came to lecture at Reed College. More importantly he personally mentored many important Beat figures: Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, among others.
He published several of Ginsberg's letters to him in his epic poem Paterson and wrote an introduction to two of Ginsberg's books. And many of the Beats (Ginsberg specifically) helped promote Williams' poetry and his play Many Loves. Ferlinghetti's City Lights even published a volume of his poetry. Williams is occasionally classified as both an Imagist and an Objectivist. Kenneth Rexroth was also considered a member of the Objectivists. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), one of the key Imagists, was another important influence on the Beats. Robert Duncan wrote a book-length study of her work. Gertrude Stein, another important modernist and a major influence on many of the Beats, was the subject of a book-length study by Lew Welch. Marcel Proust, specifically in his Remembrance of Things Past, had an influence on Kerouac's Duluoz Legend concept: a single epic/personal story in multiple volumes. Other important Kerouac influences (and by extension Beat influences) include: Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe.
Black Mountain was associated with many other artists in the post-war period who embraced a similar disdain for refined control, often with the opposite intent of suppressing the ego, and avoiding self-expression; notably, the works of the composer/writer John Cage and the paintings and "assemblages" of Robert Rauschenberg. The "cut-up" technique that Brion Gysin developed and that William Burroughs adopted after publishing Naked Lunch bears a strong resemblance to Cage's "chance operations" approach. Robert Lowell, who is credited with founding confessional poetry (a school of poetry which later included Lowell's students Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), was reportedly inspired to become more personal and emotionally vulnerable in his poetry by interactions he had with Beats in San Francisco. This is significant because Lowell was close friends with New Critics such as Allen Tate; Lowell's transition away from the traditional forms championed by the New Critics toward the non-traditional poetry of the Beats framed a significant debate in the poetry world during the Beat Generation.
This antagonism between literary camps was framed by two rival anthologies. Three champions of formalist poetry, Louis Simpson, Donald Hall, and Robert Pack, were putting together an anthology of young poets called New Poets of England and America. Allen Ginsberg - who was a relentless promoter of the work of his friends and the work of those he admired - believing at the time that the Beat poets would be accepted by the literary establishment, brought Simpson, his old Columbia classmate, a packet of poetry including works by Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, and Charles Olsen in hopes that these poets would be included in this new anthology. Simpson rejected every one of them. The introduction for the anthology was written by formalist hero Robert Frost. The anthology included poetry by Robert Bly, Donald Justice, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, Howard Nemerov, Adrienne Rich, Richard Wilbur, and James Wright and many others. There is not a strict demarcation here between conservative and avant-garde poetry.
The anthology also included a number of English poets who were associated with a movement that, chronologically at least, ran parallel with the Beat Generation, the "Angry Young Men". These included poets such as Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, and Thom Gunn. However, the anthology did set a trend for who would become poets acceptable to academia and the literary establishment. For example, Robert Lowell and W. D. Snodgrass would be seminal in the creation of what later became known as confessional poetry, which helped finally overturn the strict focus on objectivity (Lowell, according to some accounts, was inspired to write more personal poetry by Ginsberg and the Beats).
Donald Allen of Grove Press accepted many of the manuscripts Ginsberg gave him for his rival anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. Poets in that anthology included John Ashbery, Paul Blackburn, Ray Bremser, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Kirby Doyle, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Koch, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, Frank O'Hara, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Peter Orlovsky, James Schuyler, Gary Snyder, Jack Spicer, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, John Wieners, and Jonathan Williams. Don Allen framed the debate as "Open Form" (his anthology) vs. "Closed Form" (the other anthology). Though seeing it as a rivalry is overly simplistic (for example, many poets in New Poets of England and America were not strict formalists or have since moved away from formalism), the development of U.S. poetry in the later half of the twentieth century is framed in these two anthologies.
Arguably, these poets have had equal impact on literature, and it can be said that Beat literature has changed the establishment so that academia is now more open to more radical forms of literature. For example, of the poets listed in this section, ten from New Poets of England and America and nine from The New American Poetry have been included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. But Jack Kerouac, despite his impact on American culture and his status as an American icon, has only just been included in the 7th Edition of the Norton. Also, three poets from New Poets of England and America have served as Poets Laureate of the U.S. No Beat poet has ever served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
An early example of playing up to the "beatnik stereotype" occurred in Vesuvio's (a bar in North Beach) which employed the artist Wally Hedrick to sit in the window dressed in full beard, turtleneck, and sandals and create improvisational drawings and paintings; by 1958 tourists to San Francisco could take bus tours to view the North Beach Beat scene. A variety of other small businesses also sprang up exploiting (and/or satirizing) the new craze. In 1959, Fred McDarrah started a "Rent-a-Beatnik" service in New York, taking out ads in The Village Voice and sending Ted Joans and friends out on calls to read poetry. The image of the beatnik appeared in many cartoons, movies, and TV shows of the time, perhaps the most famous being Bob Denver's character Maynard G. Krebs in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963).
While some of the original Beats embraced the beatniks, or at least found the parodies humorous (Ginsberg, for example, appreciated the parody in Pogo), others criticized the beatniks as inauthentic posers. Kerouac feared that the spiritual aspect of his message had been lost and that many were using the Beat Generation as an excuse to be senselessly wild. Bruce Conner also stated: “I don’t know any artist that would call himself a beat artist... If somebody did, you’d consider him a fake, a fraud running a scam.”
But for many young people, the popular image of the beatnik was their first contact with the subject. As Glenn O'Brien put it, "Maynard was sloppy, lazy, and did not respond to the mainstream of varsity culture. Maynard was post-romantic, a dreaming realist. I didn't know what a bohemian was, but I knew one when I saw one. As a preteen, I sensed that a beatnik was what I wanted to be. Maynard G. Krebs was a satire on beatniks, but that didn't matter because beatness shone through. Thousands of young people on college campuses and high schools came to regard themselves as beats or beatniks in the late 1950s and very early 1960s and many of them were in sympathy with the popular stereotype.
In addition to the stylistic changes, there were some changes in substance: the beats tended to be essentially apolitical, but the hippies became actively engaged with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. To quote Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview:
... the next key point was Castro taking over Cuba. The apolitical quality of Beat thought changed with that. It sparked quite a discussion and quite a dialogue; many people had been basic pacifists with considerable disillusion with Marxian revolutionary rhetoric. At the time of Castro's victory, it had to be rethought again. Here was a revolution that had used violence and that was apparently a good thing. Many people abandoned the pacifist position at that time or at least began to give more thought to it. In any case, many people began to look to politics again as having possibilities. From that follows, at least on some levels, the beginning of civil rights activism, which leads through our one whole chain of events: the Movement.
We had little confidence in our power to make any long range or significant changes. That was the 50s, you see. It seemed that bleak. So that our choices seemed entirely personal existential lifetime choices that there was no guarantee that we would have any audience, or anybody would listen to us; but it was a moral decision, a moral poetic decision. Then Castro changed things, then Martin Luther King changed things ...
Cassady was the bus driver for an important early Hippie group, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, which included several members of the Grateful Dead. A sign of Kerouac's break with this new direction in counterculture occurred when the Merry Pranksters, with Cassady's insistence, attempted to recruit Kerouac. Kerouac angrily rejected their invitation and accused them of attempting to destroy the American culture he celebrated. In addition to the "Human Be-In", Ginsberg was also present at another important event in Hippie culture: the protest at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and was friends with Abbie Hoffman and other members of the "Chicago Seven."
In Allen Ginsberg's A Definition of the Beat Generation:, he characterized some of the essential effects of Beat Generation artistic movement as including spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation,"(e.g., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism); liberation of the word from censorship, and demystification and/or decriminalization of cannabis and other drugs. Ginsberg claimed that the Beat Generation began to view rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets' and writers' works. It also included the spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a "Fresh Planet" and opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac. There was increasing respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road: "The Earth is an Indian thing. As well, Beats paid more attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a "second religiousness" developing within an advanced civilization, and there was a return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as opposed to state regimentation.
Since there was such a heavy focus on live performance among the Beats, many Slam poets have been influenced by the Beats. Saul Williams, for example, cites Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Bob Kaufman as major influences.
Ginsberg has worked with The Clash. Burroughs worked with Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Kurt Cobain, and Ministry, amongst others. Bono of U2 cites Burroughs as a major influence, and Burroughs appeared briefly in a U2 video. Experimental musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson featured Burroughs on her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak and in her 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave. The British progressive rock band Soft Machine is named after Burroughs' The Soft Machine. The Beats are referenced in songs by artists such as: The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, 10,000 Maniacs, They Might Be Giants, Van Morrison, The Clean, Ani Difranco, Bad Religion, and King Crimson.
The main thrust of his attack is that the Beat embrace of spontaniety is bound up in an anti-intellectual worship of the primitive that's directly opposed to civilization and can easily turn toward mindless violence.
Podhoretz asserted that there was a link between the beats and the delinquents:
Podhoretz echoes the then-current characterization of delinquents as "rebels without a cause" :
According to Podhoretz, Kerouac's anti-intellectualism was shown by his impoverished vocabulary:
Podhoretz also criticizes Kerouac's racial attitudes:
Ginsberg responded in a 1958 interview with The Village Voice (collected in Spontaneous Mind), specifically addressing the charge that the Beats destroyed "the distinction between life and literature.":
Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview, comments on the subject of "casualties" of the Beat Generation: