Sunday, August 23, 2009

BEATS AT NAROPA: Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright


An Anthology

Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56689-227-8


Review by Richard Wilhem

This enjoyable and illuminating anthology consists of never before published essays, talks, interviews and panel discussions with folks such as Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Clellon Holmes, Kyger, Snyder, Baraka, DiPrima, McClure, Pommy Vega, Whalen and Waldman. Many other well-known folks also appear, either writing or written about. There’s a great piece on Bob Kaufman by David Henderson.

Clark Coolidge’s essay, “Kerouac’s Sound,” is a must for any poet or fan of Kerouac’s. Coolidge says Kerouac was listening to bebop alto sax-man Lee Konitz play and was inspired to try to write lines like the lines Konitz was playing. From Kerouac’s “Beginning of Bop”:

Lester droopy porkpied hung his horn and blew bop lazy ideas inside jazz had everybody dreaming.

That’s all one breath. Or, from “Mexico City Blues” (146th Chorus):

The blazing chickaball whap-by extry special super high job ole 169 be foundering down to Kill Roy.

Coolidge discusses how Kerouac, again emulating jazz, would extend his parentheses; that is, he’d go “outside,” riffing over a vamp, then come back to the main progression of his thought.

Amiri Baraka, in “Pulling It Down,” makes the case that the role of the poet is, or should be, to penetrate minds with alternative visions.

There’s a forum on “Women and the Beats” with Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Janine Pommy Vega, and Anne Waldman in which they recount their varying experiences with the male writers. Diane DiPrima’s “By Any Means Necessary” is a fascinating account of her involvement with mimeograph publishing in the 60’s and her work with the Liberation News Service. She stresses the importance of poetry and the need for writers to get their work out there “by any means necessary.”

The book closes with a powerful essay by poet and musician Steven Taylor, “Remember The Future: Archival Poetics And The War On Memory.” Taylor opens with: “ Memory is the object of war. War is the attempt to replace one archive with another. You want to rewrite the memory of people whom you wish to dominate.” He cites the suppression of African speech, the separation of kin, the banning of drums during the slavery period. He references Nazi book burnings and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, noting; “---popular memory can sometimes be reprogrammed by simple insistence on even the most outlandish propositions.” He cites Karl Rove’s memoir that claimed that it was Congress rather than the White House that rushed us into war with Iraq. (One thinks of the current nonsense about “death panels” which the right-wing has foisted on the gullible.)

In tribal cultures, says Taylor, it is the poet, the singer of tales, that maintains the tribe’s culture and its rootedness to reality. He describes Ginsberg’s philosophy of the democratization of the arts and the value of communities built around the small press, underground film, garage bands playing in local clubs, and galleries that show local artists. The idea is that these independent artists are writing their own history and making their own cultures. Taylor says Ginsberg said to him that one has to write one’s own history. Taylor adds: “Now I see he was speaking to something much larger; ours is the work of memory against the mass amnesia that made the twentieth century the bloodiest in human history. The imperative to give voice, and to preserve it, can be summed up in Allen’s command on occasions when I hesitated to perform:’Speak, poet!’”

If these words stir you, reader, as they did me, you’ll hasten to get a copy of this book.

Richard Wilhelm is the arts editor of the Ibbetson Street Press.

Ibbetson Update

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