Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things you (probably) didn't know about the Beat Poets




After skimming through the mostly great graphic novel The Beats: A Graphic History, I learned the following things about the Beat generation:

1. They weren't hippies
They predated them, actually. The big Beats - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs - did a lot of their major work in the 1950's, and they were ones who generated a lot of the counterculture ideas that helped create the 1960's.

2. They were all bisexual / gay
Most had sex with each other, or, in the case of Burroughs - male prostitutes, including very young ones. Some dated women and men. Many were adulterers or bigamists, and they had the reputation of being misogynists.

3. They were criminals
Burroughs, who wrote "Naked Lunch" and other narrative-bending works, robbed people, did heroin and shot his wife in the head while drunkenly playing William Tell. Most of the big Beats stole, did jailtime or skipped town to evade prosecution. And yes, they all smoked weed. A few even grew it on farms.

4. They were Ivy Leaguers
Allen Ginsburg - Columbia University. Jack Kerouac - Harvard. William S. Burroughs - Harvard.

5. They were Buddhists / Zen Monks
Yes, like all true hipsters, they liked this before it was cool. Many spent years in ashrams, or become Buddhist monks themselves.

6. They were culturally important
Besides promoting progressive agenda that caught on nationally and helping make California the place it is today, they also made poetry relevant for the first time.... ever? They took poetry out of academia and brought it into coffee houses and made it a public art form again.

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