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#1640 - Monday, December 8, 2003 - Editor: Jerry


from GonzoBeats:  

Posted by Stoned on September 21, 2000 (Thursday)

The origins of the Beat Movement
by Steve Silberman.
 

A version of this article first appeared in the SF Weekly.  


O Poets! Shamans of the word! When will you recover the
trance-like rhythms, the subliminal imagery, the haunting sense of
possession, the powerful inflection and enunciation to effect the
vision? Throw off this malaise, this evasion, this attitudinizing and
sickliness of urbanity. Penetrate to the discord in yourself, the
rootlessness, and induce the trance that will heal the rift within.
Shamanize! Shamanize! The American destiny is in your hands.          

--William Everson, Birth of a Poet  

From the swinging confluences of jazz and rap in Mission nightclubs,
to the reinvigoration of poetry as bearer of the news among young
people from slams to 'zines, to the warp-accelerated potlatch of ideas
in online communities like the WELL, the "vibrations of sincerity" (as
Jack Kerouac put it) championed by the writers of the Beat Generation
have fired up a new generation of best minds in San Francisco.  

This is poetic justice, for it was here that the Beats made themselves
known to the world as a public force, on the night of Allen Ginsberg's
first public reading of "Howl" at the Six Gallery on October 13, 1955.  

When Ginsberg stepped up to the podium, he had only lived in San
Francisco a short while, but the cultural pot had been simmering a
long time before he brought it to a Beat boil. The Bay Area in the
late '40s and early '50s was a nexus of collaborative innovation,
inquiry, and radical experiment in many arts, and "Howl" wouldn't have
been "Howl" without Ginsberg's immersion in the local scene during the
year preceding the poem's composition.  

San Francisco was the perfect stage on which the Beats could happen.

The Ground of Opposition  

In 1954, Allen Ginsberg turned 28 while visiting his mother's
relatives in Los Angeles. "For the first time," he entered in his
journal, "I am older than I've dreamed of being."  

The poet felt saddled with his identity, his "character with its
childish core" lurking behind an unattractive goatee. The first
electric days in Manhattan of the core group that became the Beats
(Ginsberg himself, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Burroughs, Herbert Huncke,
Lucien Carr and others) were over, comrades and lovers dispersing to
various locations and other relationships.  

Ginsberg had just returned from Mexico, an odyssey which opened his
senses to the vitality of another culture. "The town so noisy, dirty,
streetfulls of wild boys all night.... Big halls for restaurants and
music, painted crudely with monolithic donkeys... little gardens below
bounded by the uptown hip cliff," Ginsberg scribed in Mexicali, his
eye for detail honed by the example and criticism of his mentor, the
poet and general practitioner William Carlos Williams, who flashed
verbal snapshots on his prescription pad between house calls.  

Ginsberg knew he was at a crossroads in his art between apprenticeship
to academic models of literature, and breaking through to a personal
voice which could sing of experience beyond the bounds of what was
permissible -- by '50s academic standards -- to speak of in poetry.
"To break with that pattern entirely," he wrote, "Must find energy &
image & act on it."  

Planning to enroll in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, Ginsberg moved
to North Beach, taking a room at the $6-a-week Hotel Marconi on
Broadway where Al Sublette -- a friend of Kerouac's -- lived.  

The most lively literary salon in the Bay Area in those days was a
circle that met on Friday nights in poet Kenneth Rexroth's apartment
over Jack's Record Cellar, at Page and Divisadero. Rexroth grew up in
Chicago, where he owned a tearoom called the Green Mask, featuring
jazz and poetry, with a whorehouse on the floor above. Moving to San
Francisco in the '30s, the young Rexroth exhorted dockworkers to
unionize in a mimeo sheet called The Waterfront Worker, and applied
his efforts in the League of Struggle for Negro Rights and the
Fellowship of Reconciliation, ladling out pea soup to young Catholics
held in detention camps as Conscientious Objectors to the Second World
War.  

Rexroth loved jazz and knew the guys who played it, and translated
poetry and drama from several languages, including classical Greek,
Provençal French, and Japanese. He prided himself on reading the
Encyclopedia Brittanica cover to cover each year, and published more
than a dozen books in his lifetime, including an autobiographical
novel, and books of criticism on subjects ranging from contemporary
poetry, to Hasidism, to Anarchism, to Zen.  


Kenneth Rexroth  

Rexroth's earliest poems sound remarkably like the work of the '80s
"Language Poetry" school, abandoning photographic realism in an
attempt to shed cliché and sentimentality. His mature poems, however,
speak in language that is colloquial, sensual without being
sentimental, calling forth the High Sierra granitescapes that Rexroth
liked to make love in, with a crispness of image, a classical sense of
balance, and elegiac gravity. Rexroth's apartment on Page Street was a
library, its shelves lined with the heartwood of the classical
literatures of East and West; and Rexroth had a caustic wit, and an
ego, to match his erudition.  

One of the young poets who attended these salons was Philip Whalen,
who would appear in Kerouac's novels as Warren Coughlin and Ben Fagin
-- "a quiet, bespectacled booboo, smiling over books." Whalen had been
invited down from his job as a firewatch on Sourdough Mountain in the
North Cascades by Gary Snyder, with whom Whalen had shared rooms at
Reed College.  

For over a decade, Rexroth's weekly "at-homes" brought together
geniuses in diverse forms -- from Helen Adam's contemporary ballads,
to James Broughton's bawdy nursery rhymes and experimental films.
Whalen (who now teaches Zen at the Hartford Street Zen Center in the
Castro) recalled the atmosphere at these Friday night conclaves: "It
was always very interesting, because there were young poets there, and
older ones, visiting luminaries from different professions and arts.
People said it was boring because Kenneth talked all the time. But
Kenneth was a marvelous talker, so I didn't mind if there was anybody
else famous there or not."  

It was at one of these salons that Ginsberg first heard Rexroth read
his scathing blast, "Thou Shalt Not Kill":  

You,
The hyena with polished face and bow tie,
In the office of a billion dollar
Corporation devoted to service;
The vulture dripping with carrion,
Carefully and carelessly robed in imported tweeds,
Lecturing on the Age of Abundance;
The jackal in the double-breasted gabardine,
Barking by remote control,
In the United Nations...
The Superego in a thousand uniforms,
You, the finger man of the behemoth,
The murderer of the young men...  

Through Rexroth, Ginsberg met Robert Duncan, whose essay "The
Homosexual in Society" brought dialogue about homosexuality in America
into the open. Duncan was a master poet and teacher in his own right,
and a generative influence on many contemporary Bay Area poets, like
Thom Gunn and Aaron Shurin.  

Though one prevalent myth is that the Beats were a lone wake-up call
in '50s America, that summons did not come from nowhere. Laying the
intellectual foundation for the Beat breakthrough, the Rexroth circle
was a ground of opposition: well-read and international, homosexual
and heterosexual, poets and artists from several generations of revolt.

An Explosion of New Forms

Ginsberg showed Duncan his manuscript Empty Mirror, poems influenced
by his apprenticeship with Williams. Duncan didn't like the poems
much, but was impressed with a list of slogans that Ginsberg kept over
his desk:      

Blow as deep as you want -- write as deeply, fish as far down as
you want, satisfy yourself first, then reader cannot fail to receive
telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by same laws operating in his
own human mind.... Nothing is muddy that runs in time and to laws of
time -- Shakespearean stress of dramatic need to speak now in own
unalterable way or forever hold tongue -- no revisions ... write
outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and
exhaustion ... tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow! -- now!
-- your way is your only way....  

Ginsberg explained that the author of these "Essentials of Spontaneous
Prose" was a friend: Jack Kerouac.  

In December of 1954, Ginsberg -- distraught over an argument with his
girlfriend, and slightly drunk -- walked into Foster's Cafeteria, and
asked Robert LaVigne, a young painter, about the whereabouts of Peter
DuPeru, a North Beach eccentric. LaVigne didn't know where Du Peru
was, but the two began a conversation about art, and LaVigne invited
Ginsberg back to his apartment. There Ginsberg was transfixed by one
canvas depicting a naked young man with a frank, open gaze. "Who's
that?" Ginsberg asked.  

"Oh, that's Peter. He's here," was the reply, and the young man walked
into the room.  

Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky became lovers, taking vows to each other a
few weeks later in Foster's Cafeteria at 3 a.m., their promise being
"that neither of us would go into heaven unless we could get the other
one in," as Ginsberg recalls.  

Ginsberg had maintained a correspondence with Kerouac, who was living
in New York. Kerouac had published his first novel, The Town and the
City, and was looking for a publisher -- with frustratingly little
success -- for On the Road, The Subterraneans, and Visions of Cody.
Ginsberg was showing to editors and friends the manuscripts of
Kerouac's Dr. Sax and San Francisco Blues, a volume of poems written
while sipping tokay and staring out the window of the Cameo Hotel, a
South-of-Market flophouse. Rexroth was unimpressed with Visions of
Cody, which is a jam (less "mythic," more naked and experimental) on
themes and characters from On the Road, but Duncan was encouraging,
recognizing in its rhapsodic, meticulous descriptions the mark of genius.   I

t was an exciting time to be in San Francisco. Dylan Thomas came
through on a tour in 1952 that included a meeting with Henry Miller
and a reading on KPFA. His performances hardly resembled the staid
affairs of academic poetry readings, with the poet often drunk,
chanting his lyrics in oracular tones, and people crowding to get into
the room.  

Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin opened the City Lights
Bookstore in June of 1953, the first all-paperback bookstore in the
United States, as a way of financing Martin's magazine City Lights,
which published poems by the surrealist Philip Lamantia and many
others, as well as the first film criticism of Pauline Kael. Next door
to City Lights was (and is) the Vesuvio, then run by Henri Lenoir, who
prided himself on the musicians, painters and poets who socialized at
his establishment, attracted, as Lenoir put it, "by the non-bourgeois
atmosphere created by the avant-garde paintings I hung on the walls."  

Ruth Witt-Diamant founded the San Francisco State College Poetry
Center in 1954, with a dedicatory reading by W.H. Auden. The Center
became a place where representatives of the different poetry
subcultures of the Bay Area could be exposed to each other's work, and
be accountable to one another, and endures to this day.  

At the Cellar Bar, Rexroth was crooning "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and
"Married Blues," while a band riffed on "Things Ain't What They Used
to Be." Jack Spicer hosted "Blabbermouth Nights" at a North Beach
hangout called The Place, featuring performances by Richard Brautigan
and John Wieners, with few prepared texts -- the idea, as in jazz, was
to burn -- with the poets competing for door prizes and free drinks.  

The California School of Fine Arts appointed a new director, Douglas
MacAgy, whose invitations brought Abstract Expressionist painters like
Clyfford Still to the City, and their exhibitions resulted in an
explosion of new forms on the canvasses of local artists. The poet and
playwright Michael McClure came to San Francisco to paint, but found
himself discussing William Blake with Ginsberg at theopening of the
Poetry Center. The two became good friends.  

James Broughton was making some of the first "underground" films in
America, like The Potted Psalm -- greeted, at its 1946 premiere,
Berkeley-style, by outraged hissing. Other filmmakers like Harry
Smith, Kenneth Anger and Jordan Belsen were also at work, energized by
a showcase for independent films that had been organized at the San
Francisco Museum of Art by Frank Stauffacher. The showings brought in
acclaimed directors and photographers like Man Ray and Hans Richter,
and gave young filmmakers a chance to show their first films to a
packed house of cognoscenti.  

Harry Partch, the composer who built his own instruments with names
like "Cloud Chamber Bowls" and "Surrogate Kithara," had a houseboat in
Sausalito that was a gathering place for students of composition.
There was a series of new-music concerts called Vortex at the
Planetarium, the Cellar hosted an exhibit of Joan Brown's paintings
accompanied by the jazz of Brew Moore and Pony Poindexter, and
students from the School of Fine Arts were congregating at The Place
for "Dada Night." Collaboration -- between painters and poets, poets
and musicians, filmmakers and poets -- was cranking up the creative heat.

Blessed Be the Muses for Their Descent

Ginsberg, however, was becoming increasingly depressed. He and Cassady
were unable to speak heart-to- heart as they once had, owing partly to
Neal's ravenous intake of marijuana and speed, and Neal and his wife
Carolyn's infatuation with Edgar Cayce, the trance healer who
influenced Neal to burn most of his literary efforts, to Ginsberg's
dismay.  

Ginsberg consulted a psychiatrist at Langley-Porter to ask him if he
should be trying to be heterosexual. In Ginsberg's telling of the
tale, the psychiatrist asked Ginsberg what he really wanted to do. "I
really would just love to get an apartment, stop working and live with
Peter and write poems," was Ginsberg's reply.  

"So why don't you do that?" asked the doctor.  

"What happens if I get old or something?"  

"You're a nice person. There's always people who will like you."  

Ginsberg felt he had received a blessing. He arranged his own layoff
at the market-research firm where he had been working by replacing
himself with a computer, ensuring himself unemployment benefits for
six months. He bought an armful of Bach records with the first check.
Orlovsky and Ginsberg moved into an apartment at 1010 Montgomery
Street which allowed them separate rooms, and Ginsberg wrote a poem
telling of his happiness to Kerouac: "I'm happy, Kerouac, your madman
Allen's/ finally made it: discovered a new young cat,/ and my
imagination of an eternal boy/ walks on the streets of San Francisco,/
handsome, and meets me in cafeterias/ and loves me...."  

One afternoon in late July of 1955, Ginsberg wrote a line in his
journal, "I saw the best mind angel-headed hipster damned," thinking
of his friend Carl Solomon, who had survived a gauntlet of insulin
shock treatments at the New York Psychiatric Institute. A week or so
later, Ginsberg sat down in his apartment to jam at his typewriter.      

I sat idly at my desk by the first floor window facing Montgomery
Street's slope to gay Broadway -- only a few blocks from City Lights
literary paperback bookshop. I had a secondhand typewriter, some cheap
scratch paper. I began typing, not with the idea of writing a formal
poem, but stating my imaginative sympathies, whatever they were worth.
As my loves were impractical and my thoughts relatively unworldly, I
had nothing to gain, only the pleasure of enjoying on paper those
sympathies most intimate to myself and most awkward in the great world
of family, formal education, business and current literature.  

Ginsberg expanded on the line from his journal, changing it to a
second draft of the best-known line in 20th Century poetry: "I saw the
best minds of my generation/ generation destroyed by madness/ starving
mystical naked." Ginsberg continued for seven single-spaced pages. The
lines were short, Williams-like, but the phrases already soared like
the Charlie Parker riffs the poet had in mind as he typed. "I knew
Kerouac would hear the sound," said Ginsberg later.  

At first, Ginsberg thought that "Howl" was too personal for
publication, but he did begin revising it almost immediately,
combining the short lines into expansive out- breaths, and dropping
out more diffuse language ("who stumbled by billboards with 6 cents
and broken glasses and a bloody nose and stomach full of guilt
metaphysics and metaphysical lightning blasting through the icy skull").  

Ginsberg titled the poem "Howl for Carl Solomon," and posted it to
Kerouac, who responded enthusiastically. Ginsberg told Kerouac that
"Howl" was the product of Kerouac's own method of spontaneous writing:
"It came out in your method, sounding like you, an imitation
practically. How far advanced you are on this."  

It was as if Ginsberg had rediscovered America -- an America that was
all around him in the alleys and espresso bars of North Beach, but
unrepresented in poetry:  

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up
smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats
floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz ...  

A Charming Event

By the fall of 1955, Ginsberg was scouting for a venue where he and
Kerouac and Cassady could read together. He had written a second part
to "Howl" after eating peyote, seeing the lights of the Sir Francis
Drake hotel burning in the fog as the mask of Moloch, the Biblical
devourer of innocents. Painter Wally Hedrick asked Rexroth to organize
a reading at the Six Gallery at Fillmore and Greenwich, and Rexroth
asked Michael McClure and Ginsberg to read.  

Rexroth also suggested that Ginsberg add to the bill Gary Snyder, a
graduate student at Berkeley who was translating the poems of Han Shan
or "Cold Mountain," a Zen poet of T'ang-era China. Snyder told
Ginsberg about Whalen, and Ginsberg told Snyder about Kerouac. The
bill was set: Ginsberg, Snyder, McClure, Whalen, and Philip Lamantia,
with Rexroth as M.C. Kerouac declined to read.  

Ginsberg put up signs, and inscribed a hundred postcards with the
following advertisement:  

6 poets at 6 Gallery. Philip Lamantia reading mss. of late John
Hoffman -- Mike McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen --
all sharp new straightforward writing -- remarkable collection of
angels on one stage reading their poetry. No charge, small collection
for wine and postcards. Charming event. Kenneth Rexroth, M.C.  

The reading drew a larger crowd than the poets hoped for, with the
gallery -- in an old auto-repair garage -- packed with over a hundred
people. Kerouac brought jugs of burgundy, which were quickly empty,
and the reading was delayed while Kerouac passed the hat. For a
podium, there was an upended fruit-crate, and Rexroth cracked, "What's
this, a reading stand for a midget? Somebody gonna come up and read a
haiku version of the Iliad?"  

Lamantia read the poems of John Hoffman, a friend who had recently
died in Mexico. Then McClure read "Point Lobos: Animism" and "For the
Death of 100 Whales," written in protest of the thrill-killing of a
pack of whales by NATO troops. Whalen followed.  

After an intermission, Ginsberg took the stage. His delivery of "Howl"
gained force as he was urged on by Kerouac, who capped each phrase
with a whap at the wine jug and a shout, "GO!" "It was very exciting,"
recalls Whalen, "and Ginsberg getting excited while doing it was sort
of scary. You wondered was he wigging out, or what -- and he was, but
within certain parameters. It was a breakthrough for everybody. The
mixture of terrifically inventive and wild language, with what had
hitherto been forbidden subject matter, and just general power, was
quite impressive."  

When Ginsberg finished, both he and Rexroth were in tears.  

"We had gone beyond a point of no return, and we were ready for it,"
McClure recalled in his memoir, Scratching the Beat Surface. "None of
us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the
intellective void -- to the land without poetry -- to the spiritual
drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the
process of it as we went into it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision."  

Snyder closed the reading with "A Berry Feast," an invocation to the
spirit of Coyote the Trickster, for whom plump berries grow in the
skeletons of dead cities. Afterward, the readers headed off to Sam
Woh's to celebrate.  

Kerouac congratulated Ginsberg, telling him his poem would make him
famous in San Francisco, but Rexroth went further, assuring Ginsberg
that "Howl" would ensure his fame "from bridge to bridge."
Ferlinghetti went home to compose a telegram that echoed Emerson's
praise of Whitman: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career.
When do I get the manuscript?"  

The reading was followed by readings by each of the poets at the
Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, and a repeat of the Six Gallery
bill at the Town Hall Theater in Berkeley, on March 18, 1956. Local
luminaries like Alan Watts were in the audience, along with Neal
Cassady and the young editor Anne Charters.  

That night's reading is the version of "Howl" on Ginsberg's Rhino
collection, Holy Soul Jellyroll. A contemporary listener might expect
the second reading of "Howl" to have been received with a respectful
hush, but there were jeers and titters in the first minutes, including
a scream after the line about "saintly motorcyclists." It's only after
Ginsberg finds a voice of passionate, unshakable conviction -
"rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of
thought in his naked and endless head" - that the audience absorbs the
poem in silence.  

The success of these readings fired Ginsberg up to his greatest period
of productivity, during which he wrote "America," "Sunflower Sutra,"
and "A Supermarket in California." "Howl"'s obscenity trial -- which
would indeed publicize Ginsberg's name from bridge to bridge, and
alert the world that a renaissance of poetry as a popular art was
underway in San Francisco -- was still months off, as was the
"beatnik" hype that would hasten Snyder's pilgrimage to Japan, and
Ginsberg's flight to Tangiers. Whatever sea-changes in global culture
were precipitated by the events at the Six Gallery could never have
been foreseen by the poets sharing steaming platters of chow fun at
Sam Woh's.  

That night, they drank tea.

Howl

For Carl Solomon

by Allen Ginsberg

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
ment roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-
ing their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
cohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook-
lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's
floated out and sat through the stale beer after
noon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack
of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to
pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brook-
lyn Bridge,
lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping
down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills
off Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts
and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks
and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days
and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the
Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a
trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic
City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grind-
ings and migraines of China under junk-with-
drawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the
railroad yard wondering where to go, and went,
leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
through snow toward lonesome farms in grand-
father night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-
athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-
stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking vis-
ionary indian angels who were visionary indian
angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore
gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Okla-
homa on the impulse of winter midnight street
light smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston
seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the
brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship
to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving
behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fire
place Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the
F.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifist
eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incom-
prehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting
the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union
Square weeping and undressing while the sirens
of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed
down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also
wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked
and trembling before the machinery of other
skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight
in policecars for committing no crime but their
own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were
dragged off the roof waving genitals and manu-
scripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly
motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,
the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean
love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose
gardens and the grass of public parks and
cemeteries scattering their semen freely to
whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up
with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath
when the blond & naked angel came to pierce
them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate
the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar
the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb
and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but
sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
threads of the craftsman's loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of
beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a can-
dle and fell off the bed, and continued along
the floor and down the hall and ended fainting
on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and
come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling
in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning
but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sun
rise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked
in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-joy
to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-
ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in
dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and
picked themselves up out of basements hung
over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third
Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemploy-
ment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on
the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the
East River to open to a room full of steamheat
and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment
cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime
blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall
be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested
the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of
Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their
pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the
bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in
their lofts,
who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned
with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded
by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty
incantations which in the yellow morning were
stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht
& tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable
kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for
an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-
fully, gave up and were forced to open antique
stores where they thought they were growing
old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits
on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse
& the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments
of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the
fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinis-
ter intelligent editors, or were run down by the
drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually hap-
pened and walked away unknown and forgotten
into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alley
ways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of
the subway window, jumped in the filthy Pas-
saic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street,
danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed
phonograph records of nostalgic European
1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and
threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans
in their ears and the blast of colossal steam
whistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying
to each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude
watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out
if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had
a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
Denver and finally went away to find out the
Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying
for each other's salvation and light and breasts,
until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for
impossible criminals with golden heads and the
charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet
blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky
Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys
or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hyp
notism & were left with their insanity & their
hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
and subsequently presented themselves on the
granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads
and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-
stantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin
Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-
therapy occupational therapy pingpong &
amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic
pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of
blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible mad
man doom of the wards of the madtowns of the
East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid
halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-
ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-
mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the
moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book
flung out of the tenement window, and the last
door closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephone
slammed at the wall in reply and the last fur-
nished room emptied down to the last piece of
mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted
on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that
imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of
hallucination
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and
now you're really in the total animal soup of
time
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed
with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use
of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-
ing plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space
through images juxtaposed, and trapped the
archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun
and dash of consciousness together jumping
with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna
Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human
prose and stand before you speechless and intel-
ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-
fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm
of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,
yet putting down here what might be left to say
in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
suffering of America's naked mind for love into
an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand
years.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-
nation?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unob
tainable dollars! Children screaming under the
stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men
weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy
judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-
ned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-
bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking
tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-
tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch
whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch
whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!
Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream
Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in
Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom
I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch
who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!
Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!
Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs!
skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic
industries! spectral nations! invincible mad
houses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pave-
ments, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to
Heaven which exists and is everywhere about
us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!
gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole
boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions!
gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! De-
spairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on
the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the
wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!
They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving!
carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
street!
Carl Solomon! I'm with you in Rockland
where you're madder than I am
I'm with you in Rockland
where you must feel very strange
I'm with you in Rockland
where you imitate the shade of my mother
I'm with you in Rockland
where you've murdered your twelve secretaries
I'm with you in Rockland
where you laugh at this invisible humor
I'm with you in Rockland
where we are great writers on the same dreadful
typewriter
I'm with you in Rockland
where your condition has become serious and
is reported on the radio
I'm with you in Rockland
where the faculties of the skull no longer admit
the worms of the senses
I'm with you in Rockland
where you drink the tea of the breasts of the
spinsters of Utica
I'm with you in Rockland
where you pun on the bodies of your nurses the
harpies of the Bronx
I'm with you in Rockland
where you scream in a straightjacket that you're
losing the game of the actual pingpong of the
abyss
I'm with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
is innocent and immortal it should never die
ungodly in an armed madhouse
I'm with you in Rockland
where fifty more shocks will never return your
soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a
cross in the void
I'm with you in Rockland
where you accuse your doctors of insanity and
plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against the
fascist national Golgotha
I'm with you in Rockland
where you will split the heavens of Long Island
and resurrect your living human Jesus from the
superhuman tomb
I'm with you in Rockland
where there are twenty-five-thousand mad com-
rades all together singing the final stanzas of the Internationale
I'm with you in Rockland
where we hug and kiss the United States under
our bedsheets the United States that coughs all
night and won't let us sleep
I'm with you in Rockland
where we wake up electrified out of the coma
by our own souls' airplanes roaring over the
roof they've come to drop angelic bombs the
hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls col-
lapse O skinny legions run outside O starry
spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is
here O victory forget your underwear we're
free
I'm with you in Rockland
in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-
journey on the highway across America in tears
to the door of my cottage in the Western night

San Francisco 1955-56

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