Commentaries - March 2011

Clellon's classic magazine piece on the beats

Generation refusing the label "lost" (1952)

New York Times Magazine
November 16, 1952
"This Is the Beat Generation"

A 26-year-old defines his times.

By CLELLON HOLMES

The wild boys of today are not lost. Their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces elude the word, and it would sound phony to them. For this generation conspicuously lacks that eloquent air of bereavement which made so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions. Furthermore, the repeated inventory of shattered ideals, and the laments about the mud in moral currents, which so obsessed the Lost Generation does not concern young people today. They take it frighteningly for granted. They were brought up in these ruins and no longer notice them. They drink to "come down" or "get high," not to illustrate anything. Their excursions into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiosity, not disillusionment.

beat poets with Clellon HolmesOnly the most bitter among them would call their reality a nightmare and protest that they have indeed lost something, the future. But ever since they were old enough to imagine one, that has been in jeopardy anyway. The absence of personal and social values is to them, not a revelation shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why. And it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the hot-rod driver meet, and their identical beatness becomes significant, for, unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it. As such, it is a disturbing illustration of Voltaire's reliable old joke: "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent Him." Not content to bemoan His absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems for Him on all sides...

In the wildest hipster, making a mystique of bop, drugs and the night life, there is no desire t shatter the drugs and the night life, there is no desire to shatter the "square" society in which he lives, only to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a manifesto would seem to him absurd.... Equally, the young Republican, though often seeming to hold up Babbitt as his culture hero, is neither vulgar nor materialistic, as Babbitt was. He conforms because he believes it Is socially practical, not necessarily virtuous. Both positions, however, are the result of more or less the same conviction -- namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.

In the photo above, Clellon Holmes is standing at far left.

Reading by Charles Olson from the Maximus Poems

Newly Segmented Recording at PennSound

Charles Olson at a blackboardWe at PennSound are pleased to say that Charles Olson's reading from the Maximus poems at Beloit College has now been segmented. He read for 50 minutes total from many sections of the long work. Here is your link.

Introduction to a Symposium on Poetry in 1960

My introduction to the recent symposium on poetry in 1960. It begins with a look at a late late 1959 essay by Stanley Kunitz predicting that the 1960s will in poetry be a time of consolidation and not of experiment--that experiment was all exhausted, played out.

The Last Ancient Greek Poet

George Economou

George EconomouIn 2009, at the University of Michigan, George Economou delivered a performance under the appropriate title, "The Least Ancient Greek Poet." He reads from Ananios of Kleitor and then talks about the process of writing it. We at PennSound are making this recording available today for the first time. George was born in 1934 in Great Falls, Montana, the son of two Greek immigrants. He is know for his early affiliations with Deep Image poets, and, to be sure, for his 41 years of teaching at the Brooklyn center for Long Island University. He was a founding editor of The Chelsea Review (1957–60) and co-founding editor of Trobar and Trobar Books (1960–64) with Robert Kelly. It was through Kelly, I'm guessing, that he met Jerome Rothenberg. We at the Writers House glad that George and Rochelle Owens moved to Philly some few years ago and that we see them often. George called this session "the least" but I like pondering the idea of George himself as the last of the ancient Greeks. Long live George!

The Holocaust & Why He Writes Poetry

Jerome Rothenberg

When Jerome Rothenberg visited Auschwitz, he experienced the keenest sense he had felt to that date that he should be writing poetry.