“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Sometimes called the “inventor of the Beats,” writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was born to a devoutly Catholic French-Canadian family in Lowell Massachusetts. He went to Columbia University on a football scholarship, but dropped out. While in New York he befriended Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs. The three of them would form the core of the Beat Movement and their adventures together, along with Neal Cassady, would inspire Kerouac’s writing. Kerouac is best known for his novel On The Road, which was published in 1957. Kerouac continued to write, describing his experiences with Buddhism (to which he converted) in Dharma Bums and writing and narrating the film Pull My Daisy, among others, but never achieving the same level of acclaim that he had with On the Road. His drinking habit grew progressively worse, and he died at age 47 from complications from alcoholism, but not before creating more than two dozen published works and inspiring generations to come.
“Jack Kerouac” http://www.beatmuseum.org/kerouac/jackkerouac.html
Levi Asher “Literary Kicks” http://www.beatmuseum.org/kerouac/jackkerouac.html
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…”
Poet and “Founding Father of the Beat Generation” Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was born in Newark, New Jersey and attended Columbia University (getting suspended at one point and joining the Merchant Marines). While in New York, he met Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs, and the three of them formed the core of the Beat movement. He was arrested after driving a car full of stolen good and plea bargained his way into a stay at Columbia Psychiatric Institute. There he met Carl Solomon to whom he would later dedicate Howl. He travelled the United States and Mexico. Some of these adventures are chronicled in ON THE ROAD and are attributed to the character Carlo Marx. In 1955 Ginsberg read a part of “Howl” in San Francisco and the poem caught the eye of publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In 1956, HOWL AND OTHER POEMS was published, sparking an obscenity trial that Ginsberg ultimately won. This poem catapulted him into literary celebrity. Ginsberg wrote and travelled extensively (often with his longtime partner Peter Orlovsky) over the next several decades and was politically active on a variety of topics. He also converted to Buddhism. He died from liver cancer at the age of 70.
PBS American Masters: Allen Ginsberg http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/ginsberg_a.html#
Allen Ginsberg.org http://www.allenginsberg.org/index.php?page=lifeline
Wilborn Hampton “Ginsberg, Master Poet of the Beat Generation, Dies at 70.” NYT http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0603.html
Jack Kerouac described Beat poet Gregory Corso “a tough young kid from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the roof tops and sang Italian song as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra, but in words.” After a series of pretty crimes Corso was arrested for breaking into a shop and sent to Clinton State Prison. It was during this time that Corso began writing poetry. Shortly after being released from prison, he met Allen Ginsberg in a Greenwich Village bar and began a friendship first with Ginsberg, and eventually with Kerouac and Burroughs as well. He wrote from 1955 to 1996 and passed away in 2001 at the age of 70.
“Bomb” (read here by the author*) is his most famous poem and the title of his 1958 book of poetry. When printed correctly, the words of the poem take the shape of a mushroom cloud.
*Make sure to listen all the way to the end for his commentary on his own performance.
“Gregory Corso” http://www.poemhunter.com/gregory-corso/biography/
Here is founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti standing outside CIty Lights Bookstore in 1955.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1953 and it soon became a gathering place for beat poets and intellectuals. Two years later, Ferlinghetti founded a publishing house of the same name and began publishing controversial pieces by authors’ whose works had been featured in bookstore readings. Most famously, he published Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, for which he was arrested. City Lights Bookstore remains in existence to this day and celebrated its sixtieth birthday last year.
This image from Ginsberg’s personal album shows Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and other beats (including Neal Cassady–the inspiration for ON THE ROAD’s Dean Moriarty) posing outside the bookstore in 1956. The handwritten note says that Ginsberg’s longtime partner Peter Orlovsky took the picture.
City Lights Bookstore turned sixty in 2013, and their celebration series featured a night about Women of the Beat Generation. In their blog, they give an excellent, brief bio of ruth weiss. Check it out below!
“Jazz innovator ruth weiss escaped Nazi Germany with her family in 1939 on the last train allowed across the Austrian border. She and her parents are the only the only members of her family to survive the Holocaust. ruth wrote her first poem at five and has not stopped since. Her work is shot through with the history of the Beat Generation and a stark and starting originality. Kerouac envied her Haiku and Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman says of ruth, ‘No American poet has remained so faithful to jazz in the construction of poetry as ruth weiss. Her poems are score to be sounded with all her riffy ellipses. Others read TO jazz or write from jazz, ruth weiss writes jazz in words.'”
Allen Ginsberg called American Beat Poet Diane di Prima a “genius.” Here are five poems she wrote (there is also a great biography of her in the description of the video).