John Whiting’s San Francisco Beat Poets

An interesting and illuminating radio documentary today – ex KPFA radio producer John Whiting‘s “San Francisco Beat Poets”, an audio-portrait of a culture and a time, now, in revival, recognized as extraordinary and timeless.

Whiting, writing three years ago, on the occasion of the presentation of the piece at London’s October Gallery (he might just as easily have been writing in 2020):

“Once dismissed as cultural ephemera, “the San Francisco Beat Poets” now speak to a country whose entire democratic structure is threatened. America is becoming the exaggerated self-parody which the Beat poets used as a rhetorical device—an enormous sick joke. Noam Chomsky, not given to hyperbole, calls the Republican Party the most dangerous organization in human history. Tory Britain, eager to become a vassal of America’s Joker-in-Chief, is racing in its footsteps. It was this sense of an ominous and escalating deja-vu that sent me back to the Beat poets and to this talk that I gave at English and Scottish art colleges half a century ago..”

Whiting was in the Bay Area in the ‘fifties when it was all happening and he was an enthusiastic if marginal participant. Then, in the early sixties he became Production Director at the avant-garde Berkeley FM station, KPFA. In 1966 he became Pacifica Radio’s London Correspondent and was soon involved with the US Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Department, who commissioned the initial version of this program. This new version contains minimal changes (although, with this You Tube version, over a hundred photos have been added).
Sit back and listen  – and enjoy.

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