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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How the "Beats" Turned Things Around

When I was in high school, I was crazy in love with the Beat poets--a group of crazy, drug-happy, love-happy counter-culture poets obsessed with the spontaneous word and the fact that American street language was as joyeous as Handel's Messiah on speed. Music was in every syllable that escaped their lips--and thus spoken word, of an oral tradition poetry began with Homer, was rebirthed into 1950's Americana of housewives, Cracker Jacks and washing machines.

It challenged the idea of poetry as formal, as an outcome of intensive revision--rewriting till all the life that inspired it was sucked out from it. It was able to hold onto random moments--the high's--and capturing it, distilled. Beyond sharing words, it was sharing a moment of celebration or anguish with another soul. Either way, it sounded like rock music to me.

Of course, my high school teacher in English Literature, was shocked that I started submitting poetry like that to the literary section of the high school newspaper.

(Sorsi can vouch that her idea of talking about poetry was to make us "declaim" a sonnet of Shakespeare's as a quiz!)

And at those times when I was 13 and got published, I often got the feeling that people either didn't get my poems or loved them. Those who loved them were people with whom I shared a convent school urge to rebel against the oft-censored newspaper.

Come university days, I tried out for the literary journal staff. Meaning I had to pretend that I could take apart poems and stories as if Harold Bloom was whispering in my ear.

The blessing in disguise was when Quark, a totally cool older brother figure, interviewed me. Shivering, I clutched the sheaf of poems for discussion and quietly pointed out that one in particular, "At a Cocktail Party" though left unattributed, was recognizable to me.

It was Allen Ginsberg's piece:) The father of a lost generation who himself saw "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked," in the purest sense raveged by the materialism and conformity of his age.

He's the one in the picture with the full beard, coke-bottle glasses and the balding top in the picture.

I guess that's when I knew that it was okay to love the syncopated rhythms of the Beats.

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