Earlier this week I addressed Jack Kerouac, finding fault with his Beat Generation. Perhaps I’m being too critical of Kerouac’s era. I say this, because in spite of my criticism I often find his group a hotbed for ideas, a different way of seeing a world that might otherwise go unnoticed, having grown in a rural, Midwest area. Their youth was quite different from mine.
In my opinion, going back to punctuation school might have made their literature more readable. On the other hand, adhering to stricter rules might have squeezed the life from what they had to say.
So, in spite of my criticism I often read ten or twelve pages from The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, and published worldwide in 1992. Yes, the age almost classifies it as a historical document. But human thought and human reaction doesn’t change much over a generation…well, during their brain-dead period it’d different. It just seems different to those up and coming.
I recall one of my daughters arguing over something that was important to her and rubbish to me. “But this is the nineties, Dad,” she whined. “Julius Caesar probably thought the same thing,” I said. I should have saved my breath for another decade.
The Portable Beat Reader is more than 600 pages, and divided into four sections:
I. “The Best Minds of A Generation”, East Coast Beats
II. “Heart Beat”, Enter Neal Cassady
III. “Constantly Risking Absurdity”, Some San Francisco Renaissance Poets
IV. “A Few Blue Words of the Wise”, Other Fellow Travelers
One thing that interests me is The City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and the owner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Few realize that for a time his letterhead listed his dog as general manager, and that the dog received the bulk of the mail, he claimed.
I agree with only a few of the things the Beats did during their reign. So I’m not sure what attracts me to their literature. Perhaps there was an urgency that caused them to omit so much important detail. I’m not able to put my finger on it, but I often use their pages as a spawning ground for framing my own ideas – reading and pondering for weeks, sometimes.
If this has caught your fancy you will have to let me know if it works for you.