Thursday, January 9, 2014

Better Late Than Never: Experiencing the End of the Beat Era

A couple of recent articles about the poet Michael McClure made me feel sad that I was not in San Francisco at the height of the beat era. The famous reading at the Six Gallery in 1955 started it all. I didn’t move to San Francisco until some 20 years later, but I did in fact hear some of the great beat poets. In college, before I came to San Francisco, I was fortunate to hear Gary Snyder read his poetry. Then very soon after I arrived in SF, I went to a poetry reading by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Di Prima, William Everson (also known as Brother Antoninus) and others. Most dramatically, sometime in the 1980s, I heard Alan Ginsberg read at the University of San Francisco, where I teach. That was a more conservative time at USF, and the audience was, I think, half respectful of and half shocked by his poetry’s frank mention of, among other topics, his bodily parts and functions, all read in Ginsberg’s roaring voice that echoed up and down the corridors of the university building. I have also, of course, been to the City Lights bookstore many times. In 2010 I went to see the movie “Howl” about Ginsberg’s most famous poem and the legal case that followed; I posted about that experience here on 10/3/10. So I feel I did have some personal experience of the beat poets after all, even if my experiences were at the very tail end of (and beyond) the Beat era.

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