During this week in my American Literature module we have moved away from African American writers and race tensions, and have now moved onto the Beat Generation of the 50’s and 60’s. We are particularly focusing on the writing of Allen Ginsberg, who is seen as one of the most influential poets of this time period.
Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso.
For writers of the Beat Generation, such as Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, politics and society were significant topics of discussion. They wanted to move away from the conservative ideals of 1950’s America, and discussed more controversial ideas in their writing including alcohol, drugs and sexuality. Many of the Beat writers were also interested in Eastern religions, with Ginsberg moving his written focus from Catholic to Buddhist thoughts over time. Kerouac’s On the Road and Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ became celebrated classics of this particular time period.
Cover of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg.
It was interesting to learn about some of these writers this week as I had read Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur a few years ago, and had also watched Kill Your Darlings, a movie about Allen Ginsberg’s time at Columbia University, where he met Kerouac and other writers such as Lucien Carr. I learned things about the Beat writers that I was previously unaware of, such as the difficult and tumultuous relationship that Ginsberg had with his mother Naomi, who was often hospitalised with mental health issues. It was also fascinating to learn about the use of the term ‘beat’, and how this term could be applied to the writing of this time in different ways e.g. social, musical and religious.
I enjoyed learning about the Beat Generations and the writers of this era as their poems and novels are very experimental and enjoyable to read as they discuss topics that previous writers had been hesitant to write about. These lectures have now made me more interested in reading other works of the Beat Generation in the future.