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Postbeat Poets

An early 21st Century manifestation of the "outrider poetic tradition, the Postbeat poets have commonalities with the Dadaist, Objectivist poets, Harlem Renaissance, Black Mountain poets, San Francisco Renaissance, Black Arts Movement, New York School and especially the Beat Generation. Although there are major break-out poets and musicians of this period, the Postbeat poets are best identified as a collective of alternative poetry communities outside of any nationalistic or transcorporate controlled academic, publishing and media mainstream. Postbeat poetry can be defined as experimental, marginalized, independent press or online published poetry that extends the varied poetic legacies of the Beat Generation as best exemplified by the global consciousness-raising poetry of Allen Ginsberg. Postbeat poets are adepts offsetting “yearning” and “resentment”––the always desiring what one does not have or having what one does not want––with a prodigious sense of the absurd, a mercurial flair for high jinks, a sacrosanct mischief, a laughing-at-yourself goofiness––in short, a multiplex of crazy wisdom with a trickster mind.

Perhaps Andrei Codrescu summed the phenomena up best when he said, "The counterculture had utilitarian aspects indeed; And insofar as we were rebel poets we were serving this counterculture; By making joyous noises wherever we went; And angry noises too, but joyously.

Relation to the Beats

Beat writers were avatars of an alternative, anticanonical literature. While the Beat Generation arose out of the depression and World War II, the Postbeat collective has grown out of different societal disturbances, disruptions, and commotions. The Postbeat poets––which had the example of the Beat writers along with the Civil Rights Movement, Sixties counterculture and New Left to draw from as positive inspiration––matured during or soon after the Vietnam War}. They endured the proliferation and fears of the nuclear age and the Cold War, experienced the squandering of American goodwill abroad and democratic values at home, and have seen atrocities, terrors, disasters, uprootings and grief turning neighbor against neighbor. Their lives involve confronting a more highly complex, distressed and technologically sophisticated world than the Beats ever knew. If the Beats can be defined by the hallmark Ginsberg observation that “the best minds” of that generation were “destroyed by madness,” Postbeats may be remembered as those that walked out of the psychological abyss with the confidence and freedom to explore the world with one’s own eyes, in the present moment with an unpossessive love, a tenderness to friends and strangers, an uncompromising honesty, a sensitive engagement in political and social causes, and a mastery of the “hidden skills”––the shamanic power of ancient rhythms and melodies in poetry and song. Like the Beats, who espoused a jazz-specific disciplined spontaneity to writing, the Postbeat approach to mind is such that you expand awareness around thought as a way to avoid conditioned or trite art. For the Postbeat, similar to a life of meditation, spontaneity to writing is a call to Whitmanic candor or Ginsbergian liberation mind practice outlined in “Exercises in Poetic Candor.” Postbeat poetry is the result of equally practiced “Surprise Mind” literary skill, not simply lazy bourgeois wildness.

Postbeat Poetics

The compelling ways in which Postbeat poets have responded to social upheavals in world, regional and local politics over the last thirty years––from the struggles to define the post-Vietnam years to the struggles of dealing with the mindset of the current administration––have produced major contextual shifts unknown to the Beat writers. For example, unlike the Beat Generation, which had a dominant countercultural position and prototypic rock star status, Postbeat poets embody a deepening of the psychosocial, cultural, moral and spiritual groundwork associated with the now powerful networks of political, feminist, ethnic, sexual, gender and disability-related poetries operating in interlingual and translatable multimedias today. Major works probe the diversity of the human experiencing the nature of normative delusion, political manipulation, hyperneurotic religious warfare, mass dehumanization and technocultural addiction with emphasis on identifying demotic concerns for all suffering global citizens and the diversity of human experience responding to carbon-based planetary apocalypse. Only after several decades was it clear what in fact the Postbeat poets were doing––faithfully recording major spiritual upheavals of America in its relation to the world, making an honest poetic record of this era. According to Anne Waldman, the Postbeat sense of poetry continues “to honor the tremendous contribution of oral cultures, so-called third/fourth world cultures––multiworld cultures––and ongoing live traditions which you don’t find originating from the western classical tradition.”

Transition Points: Beat to Postbeat

It is indeterminant when the Postbeat era of American poetry began. Several possible dates mark the change. Anne Waldman has noted that the second generation New York School poet Ted Berrigan may have been “the last beatnik.” 1960s dates in determining the beginning of the Postbeat Era include “Poetus Magnus” Bob Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25 1965. A measurable 70s demarcation is said to be the founding of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO, by the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and with it, the founding of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1974. Late 20th century respondents point to the death of Allen Ginsberg (April 1997) and the posthumous work in his behalf conducted by the Allen Ginsberg Trust. A plethora of online sites dedicated to the Beats including: Literary Kicks, The Beat Page, The Beat Museum and Blue Neon Alley mark a shift from creative to archival activity. A major video and audio trove undergoing digitization is the Naropa Archive Project. Websites offering analysis and curation of Postbeat poetries and their roots, such as the Museum of American Poetics and About Poetry (coedited by Bob Holman), establish the earliest decade of the twenty-first century as the full flowering of the Postbeat poets.

Discussion of a few Postbeat poets

Due to their creative endeavors existing outside the realm of the mainstream media, the Postbeat poets have only a few well-known spokespersons. The most famous of these may be Anne Waldman, cofounder of the Kerouac School at Naropa. An encyclopedic poetess warrior, astounding audiences with her ferocious grasp of dramatic performance over the course of a distinguished career, Waldman is widely acknowledged for her tireless organizational efforts to bring together the foremost cultural, poetic, spiritual and political activist voices in America poetry. Often, breakout songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Patti Smith are described as “postbeat”––a moniker ascribed through association with Allen Ginsberg––but their inclusion is subject to debate. Three “third generation” postbeat poets Mr. Ginsberg championed for over two decades were Antler (poet), Andy Clausen, and David Cope. Ginsberg saw Antler as a bearer of an overhauled explicit Whitmanic strain, Clausen as a continuation of rapid-fire hypocrisy-exploding poetics straight from Neal Cassady and Gregory Corso, and Cope as carrier of the Williams/Reznikoff objectivist nexus. Antler is discussed in Ginsberg’s “Notes on Stanford Literary Acquisition of My Archives” for “manuscripts of rare but unrecognized poets” along with Ray Bremser, William Burroughs and John Wieners. Returning to Prague in 1990 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election as May King––an event during which Ginsberg was incarcerated, kept incommunicado and deported, and which Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, said brought about the overthrow of Czechoslovakian Communism known as The Velvet Revolution through means of cultural, not military, revolution––Ginsberg read with Andy Clausen. While in China for two and a half months during the mid 1980s, Ginsberg taught poems by Cope, along with work by Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, etc., to Chinese students. Other essential poets from the generation immediately following the Beats are Janine Pommy Vega, Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, and Nuyorican Poets Cafe founders, Miguel Algarin and Pedro Pietri. Lesser known poets include Leslea Newman, Eliot Katz, Jim Cohn, Sharon Mesmer (See Flarf poetry), Marc Olmsted, Thomas R. Peters Jr., Jeff Poniewaz, Joe Richey and Randy Roark to name just a few Postbeat master poets with bodies of work deserving of serious study.

Postbeat literary sources

An introduction to Postbeat poetry as selected by Allen Ginsberg can be found in various literary sources. See City Lights Journal Number 4 and New Directions Anthology (37), both published with Ginsberg “choices” in 1978, as well as the "Obscure Genius" issue of Friction (5/6) which he guest edited in1984. During the last 18 months of his life, Ginsberg was collecting materials for a short anthology of contemporary political poems. This collection, which included many of the Postbeat poets, was completed by Andy Clausen and Eliot Katz after Ginsberg's death and published as Poems for the Nation, (Seven Stories Press, 2000), edited by Ginsberg, Clausen and Katz, with an introduction cowritten by Katz and Bob Rosenthal of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. Mainstay journals containing Postbeats include the now defunct Long Shot. , Big Scream and Napalm Health Spa. In 1988, David Cope edited a collection of Postbeat poets entitled NADA POEMS (Nada Press, Grandville, MI.). Anthology collections of note for poetry of the Postbeats are The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry––a vast compendium of countercultural poets–– edited by Alan Kaufman and S.A. Griffin and published by Thunder Mouth Press in 1999 and Poems From Penny Lane––a poetry collection that resulted from the longest running community-based poetry series in the United States, the “So, You’re A Poet” reading series of Boulder, CO, coordinated by Master of Ceremonies, Thomas R. Peters, Jr.––edited by Gary Parrish, Jr. and LeAnn Bifoss (farfalla press/McMillan & Parrish, 2003). In 2006, the Paterson Literary Review (35), edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, featured Postbeat poets Antler, Andy Clausen, Jim Cohn, David Cope, Eliot Katz, Marc Olmsted, Jeff Poniewaz and others in an issue dedicated to Allen Ginsberg.

Centrality of Allen Ginsberg

Randy Roark,, who served as an apprentice of Ginsberg’s beginning in November 1979 while a student at the Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and then went on to work for Ginsberg transcribing, editing and annotating over 28,000 pages of his poetry lectures, notes that “Allen wasn’t interested in creating little Allen Ginsbergs. That was frightening to him. There was nothing worse than being Allen Ginsberg surrounded by Allen Ginsberg clones.” Allen Ginsberg brought young poets together who were writing in many different lineages so that they would appreciate the variety of approaches to verse necessary to “making it new.” In his latter years, teaching at the MFA Poetics program with Barbara Christian, a black female critic, at Brooklyn College, he encountered a more diverse population of students than he had at Naropa. At Brooklyn College, he focused on making “a bridge to the students there and stir(ring) things up culturally, mak(ing) a bridge over the alienation between the different cultural-social groups” through course offerings such as “Black American Literary Genius.” He was deeply committed to illuminating the “interesting complementarities” of history such as the relationship between the American Beatnik and African-American struggles. He looked for ways beyond ideology to address the “American Beatnik black post-Beat connection.” Ginsberg’s diversity transmission to the Postbeats, regardless of one’s personal identity politics, was about getting beyond battles of class warfare and into some “practical attitude of transcendence.” “Practical,” he taught, “had to do with…cleansing the doors of perception themselves; in which case middle-class notions and ego notions and everything else gets cleansed; personal identity as well as national or class or race chauvinist identity as well.”

Ginsberg Appreciation for Postbeat Poets: A Few Blurbs

“Blurbs” or written endorsements or back-cover appreciations are standard fair regarding book publications. "Blurbs" or written endorsements or back-cover appreciations are standard fair regarding book publications. Allen Ginsberg supported a number of Postbeat poets with words from him to place on their published works of art. He was not interested so much in individual accomplish in poetry as much as he was the traditions embodied by the poetry itself.

Of Anne Waldman, Ginsberg wrote: "Anne Waldman is a poet orator, her body is an instrument for vocalization, her voice a trembling flame rising out of a strong body, her texts the accurate energetic fine notations of words with spoken music latent in mindful arrangement on the page. She is a power, an executive of vast poetry projects and mind schools in America, a rhythmic pioneer on the road of loud sound that came from Homer Sappho and leads to future epic space mouth, she’s a cultivated Buddhist meditator, an international subtle Tantrika, an activist of tender brain vibrations.

In the Foreword to Quiet Lives by David Cope, Allen Ginsberg wrote: "I have been much absorbed in David Cope's poetry as necessary continuation of tradition of lucid grounded sane objectivism in poetry following the visually solid practice of Charles Reznikoff & William Carlos Williams. Though the notions of “objectivism” were common for many decades among U.S. poets, there is not a great body of direct-sighted “close to the nose” examples of poems that hit a certain ideal objectivist mark––“No ideas but in things” consisting of “minute particulars” in which “the natural object is always the adequate symbol,” works of language wherein “the mind is clamped down on objects,” and where these “Things are symbols of themselves.” The poets I named above specialized in this refined experiment, and Pound touched on the subject as did Zukofsky and Bunting, and lesser but interesting figures such as Marsden Hartley in his little known poetry, and more romantic writers such as D. H. Lawrence. In this area of phanopoeiac “focus,” the sketching of particulars by which a motif is recognizably significant, David Cope has made, by the beginning of his third decade, the largest body of such work that I know of among poets of his own generation.” Ginsberg went on to add: “Cope’s out there in the provinces writing about… America where it is… He creates tiny movie pictures in your mind… the only younger poet I know who has that rare special genius…so simple, it’s deceptive. There’s no romantic fireworks. It’s just straight reality.”

For Antler’s Factory, Ginsberg wrote the following blurb: “Factory inspired me to laughter near tears, I think it's the most enlightening & magnanimous American poem I've seen since 'Howl' of my own generation, and I haven't been as thrilled by any single giant work by anyone of 60's & 70's decades as I was by your continuing inventions and visionary transparency.… Nakedness honesty beautified by your self-confidence & self-regard & healthy exuberance, that exuberance a sign of genius, Bodhisattva wit... seems you have developed your sincerity & natural truth & come through to eternal poetic ground, unquestionable & clear.... More fineness than I thought probable to see again in my lifetime from younger solitary unknown self-inspirer U.S. poet––I guess it's so beautiful to see because it appears inevitable as death, that breakthrough of beauty you've allowed yrself & me.

For an Introduction to Andy Clausen’s Without Doubt, Ginsberg wrote on March 4 1991: “Andy Clausen’s character voice is heroic, a vox populi of the democratic unconscious, a “divine average” thinking workman persona. As “one of the rough,” a Whitmanic laborer, precisely a union hodcarrier longstanding, his bardic populism’s grounded on long years’ painful sturdy experience earning family bread by the sweat of his brow. His comments on the enthusiastic sixties, defensive seventies, unjust eighties, and bullying nineties present a genuine authority in American not voiced much in little magazine print, less in newspapers of record, never in political theatrics through Oval Office airwaves. The expensive bullshit of Government TV poetics suffers diminution of credibility placed side by side with Mr. Clausen’s direct information and sad raw insight. Would he were, I’d take my chance on a President Clausen!

“As Clausen’s experience of American hope ad greed’s authentic, so swift language is the second marvel of his verse. Some kind of native exuberance, an inventiveness of word-play juxtaposition and concept construction’s always struck me (and poet familiars Gregory Corso and Philip Whalen, Sensei) as hitting the telepathic nail on the head….”

“Hardly a primitive, though; he’d inherited some of Neal Cassady’s optimistic energy through direct contact, had spent years in literary streets and coffeehouses, Bay Area, Austin, Northwest, and New York atmospheres; hosted and intermingled with many elder poets; taught at Naropa Institute’s Poetics School during long residence in Boulder with family––even more recently’s gone around the world, expanded the horizon of his work through Alaskan oilspill labors, Himalayan mantrayan contacts, and mitteleuropean post-cold-war sophistications to include audience with Czech President-Philosopher Havel before returning to the union bricks and coffeehouses of the Bay Area.

“His forebears? Walt Whitman, Jack London and Jack Kerouac of course, but also Gregory Corso’s tailored high style word paradox; also Mayakovsky’s epic and Velimir Khlebnikov’s big sound Zaum, and American worksong. Oddly enough this Americanist archetype is also solid Belgium born, and that nativity flavors the genius of his tongue.

“His poems’ enjoyable energies flash wise.”

Ginsberg appreciation for Postbeats: from an interview

As with blurbs, another way Ginsberg offered appreciation for younger poets was in interviews. Interviews were a snapshot of what he was thinking at any given moment. In 1996, with less than a year to live, Gloria G. Brame asked Ginsberg, “Which younger poets do you believe are doing the most promising work? Are there any with whom you feel a strong literary kinship?” Ginsberg responded: “There are quite a few whom I like and with whom I feel a great deal of empathy. All of these poets at one time or another passed through Naropa. Since I'm 69 now, I'll list them, ranging in descending order of age. First Antler, who is in his 40s. He has published FACTORY (City Lights) and LAST WORDS (Available Press/Ballantine). Antler lives in Milwaukee. His specialty is ecology and nature, and he goes up into the Wisconsin woods alone for weeks at a time. There's a working man poet named Andy Clausen who has a couple of pamphlets from Zeitgeist Press (Berkeley). He met Neal Cassidy before he died and has some of his energy. Clausen's a Kerouac fan and has that same love of language. I've read with him a number of times… There's a poet called Eliot Katz who lives in New Brunswick, NJ. He is a social worker and also has a lot of experience with the disempowerment of the working class. His family comes from Germany and most of them were wiped out in the concentration camps… Sapphire (author), a young student of mine at Brooklyn college… She's a black lesbian. Paul Beatty is another former student of mine: he is a rapper with a literary, be-bop sound. He was a winner of the Nuyorican Poetry slam and got a book out of it. And, finally, Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders, Eileen Myles are more established poets with whom I feel an affinity.”

Ginsberg appreciation for Postbeats: Allen Ginsberg Papers

The Allen Ginsberg Papers were purchased by Stanford University, and are housed in the Department of Special Collections, Green Library. A “Guide to the Allen Ginsberg Papers” can be viewed online. Papers are arranged in nineteen series. Correspondence, manuscripts, audiotape and video, as well as other items, may be found relating to Postbeat Poets Miguel Algarin, Antler, Andy Clausen, Andrei Codrescu, Jim Cohn, David Cope, Eliot Katz, Eileen Myles, Marc Olmsted, Thomas R. Peters, Jr., Pedro Pietri, Jeff Poniewaz, Joe Richey, Randy Roark, Edward Sanders, and Anne Waldman, among others.

Postbeat Archives

Extensive research into Postbeat poets Anne Waldman and David Cope may be found at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, University Library, Special Collections Library. A celebration of the opening of the Anne Waldman Archive was held March 13-15, 2002 and is documented on video and transcript. For a better understanding of the context of Postbeat writing that grew out of the 1960s and Vietnam War protests, the Ed Sanders Papers are housed at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Storrs CT. Collection materials reflect Sanders' literary and publishing work, affinities with writers from both the Beat and New York Schools of poetry, and political organizing activities and interests, including his pacifism, opposition to the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons, and advocacy for sexual freedom, legalization of marijuana, and freedom of expression. For an understanding of the Naropa/Boulder nexus, 1990s, Richard Wilmarth Papers are housed at University of Rhode Island, University Libraries, Special Collections and feature correspondences with many Postbeat poets.


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