Born October 23 1927 in San Francisco, today would have been the poet Philip Lamantia‘s ninety-first birthday. We celebrate him and the remarkable posthumous work Wave Books have just put out – Preserving Fire – Selected Prose (edited by Garrett Caples)
Here is his idiosyncratic essay of August 30 1961 (on “the Beats”):
“I’ve been asked to write about the Beat Generation in the U.S., and I finally came to remember what seems to be the secret of my generation called: beat, hip, cool – have it in parts, even!- to beatific generation but, actually, now, “apocalyptic” generation, the generation that came awake, into “awareness”, the keystone of Hip, in its origins, inside and at the end of World War II with the advent of the Bomb – and this is what I think and others have thought parallel to – We were so frantic to live in certitude of sudden death that we laid, like pale kings and queens, our hands on all that was around us to MAKE IT!!! “IT” meaning anything that was not identifiable with the stupid, synthetic half/life of postAtomicBmb man, his exploded cities, literature, art, his corny miseducation.his phantom governments, his corny reasoning, sick politics, his stand/ in over/organized religions, U.S. man’s Sell, the silly “soft sell”, his insanity/producing ‘”hard sell’ – the end of civilization – kept going another few years by fact of its integral destruction sustained, actually, by the Bomb and therefore obsolete social/economic forms, obsolete by fact of the great Change apparently few could understand but which more and more now understand and will come to understand as the possibility of New Forms, a new leavening of the Earth takes place, as man learns to feed himself, without hate and ignorance, anger and stupidity, misdirection and fraud, in order to evolve to that point when he will seek more than bread in quest of his Divine Destination!
A few poets of my generation tried to live in voluntary poverty – tantamount to Sin in the U.S. of the post/atomic period – outside, that is, the SYNTHETIC/MECHANO/ORGANIZATION of biochemical life, in desperate WILL TO BELIEVE in themselves as much more than ciphers in the proverbial metallic filing cabinets of the jerry/built/junk/sustained MATERIALIST VOID. We took to the streets and inner temples of Being, we listened to Bird, Charles Parker‘s music, for the musical level was a great Origin point during the late forties and early fifties, WHERE IT WAS HAPPENING, as it began to happen in the world of images with the painting of Sheri Martinelli, Iris Brody, and Ronald Bladen, in the sculpture of Bruce Conner, and in the inventive genius of Harry Smith’s “time slow/down” 3/dimensional movies.
Now, the poets of this generation have made a singular advance in the AmerEnglish Language and write at a new peak of revolution and renaissance of the language noted to have begun around 1910. Gogo Nesbit [the photographer, his first wife] , John Hoffman [sic] John Wieners, Gregory Corso, Carl Solomon, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and (Paul) Blackburn, (Charles) Olson, and (Jack) Kerouac have each in their individual NEW TURNINGS of the language, made poetry GO ON since 1946. Paolo Lionni, 22, in New York continues this movement [“God has/a monopoly on poets” wrote Paolo Lionni,nineteen sixtyone”] as many of the aforementioned poets CONTINUE TO TURN ON THE NEW LANGUAGE
We get to the end of the apocalypse. It IS COME – AnaAlbion AmerEnglish poetry awaits the time of Bards, Seers, Oracles, Singers, the old made new, the return of Quetzelcoatl, the realization of (Antonin) Artaud‘s spectacle, the Divine Intervention, General Mutation, Destruction/Re/Creation of civilization, the Return of Gitchi Manitou uniting the Americas from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, anti/politics of Sudden Enlightenment, biochemical/sidereal mutation, earthquakes, deluges, transfiguration of the earth – THE TIME OF THE SAINTS! THE REIGN OF THE HOLY! Anything else is just an evil/corny/stupid/sick hell, and we arenot staying in hell but have come out of it, for the first time in a hundred years – mark THAT!, angel eyes!
Caples, in his introduction, notes this curio – “..of uncertain origin. A letter dated “August 30, 1981”, addressed to no one even as he’s been “asked” to write it”. He goes on – “the (this) text is notable as the sole example of Lamantia positively placing himself under the Beat Generation rubric. Generally, and particularly in relation to his identification as a surrealist,Lamantia reject the Beat label, or at most begrudgingly accepts the designation of “fellow traveler”. But here he takes ownership of the concept, defining Beat primarily in relation to “the advent of the Bomb” and the counterculture rejection of American consumerism.”
and intriguingly points out – “Ginsberg’s name is one of two hand-written emendations to the otherwise clean (original) typescript, indicating the extent to which this Beat conception is distinctly Lamantia’s. That is, his reluctance to name Ginsberg of all people in a list of Beat poets stems from their complicated relationship, for Ginsberg was an unwavering advocate of his work, and while Lamantia clearly benefitted from this, he remained ambivalent about Ginsberg’s role as an impresario of poetry..”
Tonight at City Lights, Garrett Caples hosts a “meditation on the prose of Philip Lamantia” – “the event will feature an overview of Lamantia’s life along with readings from his poetry and prose by his friends and admirers.”