THE GENERALIST had other plans for Saturday which were overtaken by a tip off from Peter Mobbs in France who pointed me to a remarkable piece of journalism by Jeff Weiss recently published in the Washington Post.
Entitled 'Driving The Beat Road' its a great account of the history of the Beats in San Francisco of which scant traces remain (City Lights bookstore, the Vesuvio Cafe plus the Beat Museum at 540 Broasdway) combined with a series of interviews with some of the surving members of the Beat Generation namely Lawrence Ferlinghetti (now 98), Michael McClure (84), Gary Snyder (87), Diane di Prima (82) as well as what Weiss calls a 'Beat-adjacent novelist' Herbert Gold (92).
|Published by New Directions. 1973.|
Second printing. The Generalist Library
His remarkable life story includes a visit to Nagasaki short weeks after the atomic bomb blast. Of this experience he wrote: 'The city had just vanished from the face of the earth. Skeletons of trees on the horizon. Not a soul in sight...all souls melted.' He became an ardent pacifist as a result.
Ferlinghetti, says Weiss, has never 'stopped wondering where we're going, what will be lost to history and what may never be noticed at all.' As for the future, he predicts SF will be underwater in 50 years time.
|Published by City Lights Book. 1sr Edition|
1963. The Generalist Library.
McClure is worried about the future: "I know that young people are striving for change but it seems like they don't know how to rebel or what to rebel against." So, says Weiss, what are we supposed to do?
"Turn off the television set and turn off the distractions. Turn to your most intelligent friends and begin to imagine what's really going on...If we can...start to feel and think together again and let our imaginations and inspirationsa go...that will bring more change than anything."
One of McClure's big contribution was to help raise public consciousness about the environment in what he calls the "early bioromantic poems" alongside the remarkable and enigmatic Beat poet Gary Snyder, who Kerouac immortalised as Japhy Ryder in 'The Dharma Bums', and who is often referred to as a 'nature poet' - a kind of modern-time Thoreauvian - although Snyder considers himself to be a 'poet of reality'
|Published by New Directions. 1972. Ninth |
printing. The Generalist Library.
Famously Snyder went to Japan to study Zen and translate ancient poems and stayed there off and on from 1956-69. Some have argued that The Beats were the main transmitters of Buddhism in America. If so, Snyder was the key figure. Pithy and meticulous, he brings his Zen training into play, challenging Weiss to ask him questions that no-one else had asked before. Its a truly wonderful encounter which bears rich fruit.
Weiss writes: 'Snyder is as close as we'll find to a legitimnate visionary....whose prescient views on recycling, overconsumption and leaving a modest footprint are now accepted wisdom among all but the most gluttonous.'
|Published by Last Gasp of San Francisco. |
1988. Original edition/Olympia Press 1969.
The Generalist Library
Here poetic strategies are valuable. I like it when she tells Weiss:"My subconscious would tell my mind to catch where the poem had fallen down". She reminds you that you are just receiving the poems and advises writers: "Read a lot. Read out loud a lot."
Weiss sketches a vivid picture of this truly remarkable womsan, fragile and virtually bedridden but 'her orphic transmissions continue unabated'. He writes: 'Da Prima is one such rarity: a conductor of benevolent spells, a natural-born Gnostic, an antenna for arcane prophecies.'
|Published by Simon and Schuster. 1993. 1st|
Edition. the Generalist Library.
His 1993 memoir 'Bohemia' is packed with reminiscences about Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Jean Genet, Anais Nin and Tom Wolfe. During his time in Paris, he was mentored by Saul Bellow and James Baldwin. Nabokov considered him one of America's finest writers. All of which whets the appetite for exploring Gold's work further.
With this long-form piece, Weiss has made great and timely contribution, bringing valuable insights and information on these seminal survivors into our consciousness at a time when they are needed most.
DRIVING THE BEAT ROAD by Jeff Weiss can be read and experienced on the Washington Post website. The text is interspersed with some great black and white photos and peppered with video and audio links. Its a remarkable piece of work which is worth repeated readings.