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Tuesday 23 May 2006
Sorrentino on the Beats
Gilbert Sorrentino, interviewed by Alexander Laurence back in 1994, on the Beat writers:
The beats can only be understood as a single manifestation, in the fifties, of the general dissatisfaction, among young, unknown artists, with the given norms of art then in ascendance. They have been distorted out of all reality by the popular media, probably because they make "good copy," but they were no less distorted at the time they emerged. Some of them did good work, some not, but that is the case with all "movements." That they were especially iconoclastic is an idea that will not wash, when one considers the remarkable innovations, the formal attacks on the norms of literature present at the time, by such writers as Olson, Creeley, O'Hara, Spicer, and so on. Strangely enough, some of the most compelling beat writers are more or less forgotten now -- Ray Bremser for one, and then, of course, there is Irving Rosenthal, whose single book, long out of print and almost impossible to find, Sheeper, is perhaps the most elegant single work to emerge from that era. To talk about the beats without acknowledging these writers is to assume that the propaganda about that era is the truth about that era. This is all further complicated by the historical blurring that occurs when non-beat writers are lumped in with beat writers, when we are told that such writers as Amiri Baraka, William Burroughs, Michael McClure, even Gary Snyder, are beat writers. That's like saying that Raymond Roussel was a surrealist. Again, to understand the beats, you have understand the general cultural ferment that was going on in the arts in the fifties, the restlessness, the boredom, the unintentional comedy of an era that proffered Randall Jarrell as a very important poet and that valorized Robert Frost to the detriment of William Carlos Williams.
Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.
At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)
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October's Books of the Month
||The New Spirit of Capitalism
||Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
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