Growing up in the aftermath of the fifties - the sixties barely
touched the West of England outside of Glastonbury and a few big
cities - my main experience of poetry was that of church hymn,
victorian stitched pictures, music lyrics, doggerel, proverbs. Poets
were ignored, and highly suspect. Whether my experience is typical
working class, I don't know; my intuition says it's near to the truth.
In the fifties, certainly in England, such virii as howl was suspect -
The Movement saw to that. The Movement's legacy is still with us,
trying to kick Modernism and all that free-thinking pinko-commie
foreign stuff into touch, out of reach.
Howl, as evinced in a recent article by Michael Schmidt, was a
consequence of Ginsberg's coming out to his father. It was a happy
coincidence that the cultural moment in Western Europe was for freedom
of expression in general. It was a happy tide for Ginsberg, although
his legacy is being picked and picked at. See most other beat poets
and writers, few of whom still have a critical reputation worth
speaking of, most of whom are historical relics already. I see them
being referenced by people belonging to an older generation, some of
whom shared that illuminating moment of the late fifties early
sixties, less by a younger generation.
Still, maybe that's the breaks. Anyway, I think it's outside of
"poetrys" control whether it matters not. I think it's a matter of
whether *art* matters or not. If you belong to a generation which
happens to catch the big kuana of cultural change, the 100 year wave,
as per the Romantics or the Beats or the Modernists, all of whom
existed in and around contextual changes and happenings in painting,
philosophy etc, then you're lucky. Otherwise, all we can do is hang
around Mavericks or Maui, sex wax our boards, wait for a heavy, a bomb
or a macker in the right swell window, and hope we can barrel without
looking like a complete kook. Maybe then you'll be the next Big
Kahuna. Maybe not. Anyway, fellow dudes, surf on!
On 4/23/06, Alison Croggon <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> From Slate, by Stephen Burt
> half a century ago. And yet to reread Howl , or to read Howl Fifty Years
> Later , is to think of a time when poetry clearly mattered, when one book
> inspired by Blake and Whitman and Apollinaire and Christopher Smart could
> scare, disturb, charm, and transform many readers who haven't reacted that
> way to any poem since.