Image via Elisa Dorman, Wikimedia Commons
Whatever other criteria we use to lump them together—shared aims of psychedelic consciousness-expanding through drugs and Eastern religion, frank explorations of alternative sexualities, anti-establishment cred—the Beats were each in their own way true to the name in one very simple way: they all colla
Remember Donny and Marie Osmond, the toothy, teenage Mormon siblings whose eponymous television variety show was a wholesome 70’s mix of skits, songs, and ice skating?
Their surprisingly enduring theme song reduced their popularity to an easily graspable binary formula:
She was a little bit country. He was a little bit rock and roll.
Everyone’s favorite alcoholic poet and dirty old man Charles Bukowski was hardly what you’d call a romantic, though he had a softer side: a vulnerability and compassion for the lonely, poor, and suffering. But we don’t love Bukowski because he prettied up the nasty business of being human.[...]
Some of the best, most succinct writing advice I ever received came from the great John McPhee, via one of his former students: “Writing is paying attention.” What do you see, hear, taste, etc.? Questions of style, syntax, and punctuation come later.[...]
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Is it possible to fully separate a word’s sound from its meaning—to value words solely for their music? Some poets come close: Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery. Rare phonetic metaphysicians. Surely we all do this when we hear words in a language we do not know.
“To choose what I should read tonight, I looked through seventy odd poems of mine, and found that many are odd indeed and that some may be poems,” said Dylan Thomas in a 1949 BBC broadcast.[...]
Robert Frost has the dubious honor of being known the world over as the poet of a seize-the-day cliché.[...]
In the years after World War II, the CIA made use of jazz musicians, abstract expressionist painters, and experimental writers to promote avant-garde American culture as a Cold War weapon. At the time, downward cultural comparisons with Soviet art were highly credible.[...]
Drawing by Graziano Origa, via Wikimedia Commons
An old man sits alone, ranting in a nasally monotonous drone. He breaks into rueful laughter, threats of violence, mockery, maudlin lament….
On the 750th birthday of Dante Alighieri—composer of the dizzyingly epic medieval poem the Divine Comedy—English professor John Kleiner pointed to one way of helping undergraduate students understand the Italian poet’s importance: an “obvious comparison” with Shakespeare.[...]