“Driving The Beat Road” – Jeff Weiss‘ recent detailed (and profusely illustrated ) survey, in The Washington Post, “in search of surviving members of the Beat Generation“, is another (well, we keep using this term, but it’s true) – “must-read”.
Weiss recounts the circumstances and the details of his interviews (conducted earlier this year) with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Diane di Prima, the novelist Herb Gold (“Gold would be the first to tell you that’s he’s not a Beat, but his legacy and historical context remain inextricable from his more well-branded peers”), and, in conclusion, an interview with a maddeningly-elusive-but-finally-sympatico, Gary Snyder.
Alongside the interviews and profile, there’s a video, by Erin Patrick O’Connor, featuring Ferlinghetti and Di Prima. (see above)
Some of the highlights (from Weiss’ text):
Ferlinghetti – “There wouldn’t have been a Beat Generation without Allen Ginsberg. There would have been certain writers along the landscape but no organized movement,….As soon as he arrived in every city, he’d call up the papers and say, ‘This is Allen Ginsberg, I just arrived in town.’ Then he’d bring all his friends that he wanted to get published.”
“It’s all going to be underwater in 100 years or maybe even 50,” he says when asked what he sees for San Francisco, the beloved adopted city that partially betrayed him. “The Embarcadero is one of the greatest esplanades in the world. On the weekends, thousands of people strut up and down like it’s the Ramblas in Barcelona. But it’ll all be underwater.”
Michael McClure (on his collaboration with Ray Manzarek) – “I wanted to keep alive the understanding of the environment, consciousness and inspiration that started with our bio-romantic early poems at the Six Gallery reading,”…”What the Six Gallery really did was show us that there was an audience out there that really wanted to hear poetry off the page..”
(and on his first meeting with Jim Morrison) – “I hated him at first. I thought, ‘Who is this guy with leather pants and long hair?’ ” McClure says and laughs. “But we eventually started talking about poetry and drinking. I don’t think there was a better poet in America at Jim’s age.”
(Weiss: “So I ask him the only question left to ask: 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,” McClure says without pausing…. We live in a state of free information, but that’s somehow absolutely muzzled. If we can eliminate these distractions and start to feel and think together again, and let our imaginations and inspirations let go . . . that will bring more change than anything.”
Diane di Prima: “It (Beat)’s not a generation . . . It’s a state of mind . . . a way of living, gone on for centuries, a way of writing, too….Beat poetry is older than the Grove of Academe. . . . It’s one of the ways that Dionysus prays. I know for sure it’s not a generation. Not once, one time, one country.”
“I thought we’d be way more civilized,” she admits. “But I love how the various lines between women and men are fading. I think we’re all naturally bisexual and the world should just relax and not put labels on everything. We don’t know who we are or where we’re going. Just like I don’t know what the poem is going to say until it writes itself.
and more on sexuality – Herb Gold: ““[Allen Ginsberg] was a couple years younger than I was, and openly gay, although we didn’t use that word at the time…We’d to go to bars near Columbia and Allen lectured me on Saint Teresa, whom he loved. Jack Kerouac, whom he loved,…He’d always ask why I didn’t try homosexuality. How would I know if I didn’t like it?”
Gary Snyder (on being asked about Black Lives Matter): “You’re treating me like a public intellectual, right?….’Cause that’s what I really am. There are two things that I really do. One is poetry, and the other is thinking about attitudes toward the environment in practical terms, the meaning of the world wild, and in particular what we have taken of that from East Asia.”
“Being called a nature poet’s not a bad thing. That won’t hurt you for long. I don’t think of myself as a nature poet though……Somebody said to me not long ago, ‘Well, you write about nature but you also write about the rest of the technological and industrial side of society, too…. “I’m not a nature poet; I’m a poet of reality. They’re all real.”
“I’m not one of those people who say technology will somehow pull us out of it,” Snyder says, referring to the threat of diminished supplies of water and food in an overpopulated world. “The same thing that might help Greece, biting the bullet and being more austere, expecting less, settling down more, might help the world at large. But there are parts of the world, like Bangladesh, that I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to help. What do you do with a starving population of that size?”
“We need a political position that can handle science and technology and these rapid changes, the complexities of handling money and finance and fundamental morals. And it’s hard to work through that…I think a necessary politics for the future would be one that includes a moral sense of the nonhuman world. And religiously speaking, that is only the Buddhists, some Hindus and nature religion-based people scattered across the globe in tiny numbers.”
(Gary Snyder on Jack Kerouac) – “Jack wasn’t a terribly good thinker, but he was a good writer, who certainly did have a way with language…And a wonderful human way of connecting with people, trusting and respecting them. He’s never really cruel to anybody, even in language. It’s a wonderful, naive, Catholic-boy energy.”
(In answer to the question – What is the difference between enlightenment and wisdom?) – “You know, Buddhists wouldn’t answer the question, ‘What is enlightenment?’ How can you explain what enlightenment is to someone who not enlightened? Anybody who asks the question is not enlightened, so why tell them?…..“But you know, Zen commonly says enlightenment is your ordinary mind,… Try to take account of your ordinary mind. Thich Nhat Hanh once said, ‘The good thing about meditation is it’s boring. So if people can just get really bored with themselves, then, they’re making progress.’ ”
Finally, he’s asked about mortality – “The main shift, and it comes about gradually, is realizing that you really will die,” Snyder laughs. “It’s not a joke. You really have to die. Even though you think you know it already, you don’t know it until you feel it around the corner.”
The above excerpts give some flavor of the piece, but the whole thing should be read more fruitfully – here