Saturday, June 12, 2004

Literary History of the Beat Generation 

Specialized Reading List for "Literary History of the Beat Generation,"
a course taught by Allen Ginsberg at Naropa Institute during the summer of 1977.

In 1974, the poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman launched the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado. Founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the school was modeled after Buddhist learning centers like Nalanda University that flourished in India between the 5th and 11th centuries described by Waldman and Andrew Schelling as "part monastery, part college, part convention hall or alchemist's lab."

The mission of Naropa has been to bring together instruction in the arts, psychology, religious studies and other fields with the Buddhist practice of wakefulness in daily life. It's still thriving.

The Jack Kerouac School gives young writers a chance to not only learn the craft from practicing poets, but to intimately observe how they live, and how their minds and senses engage the world. Over the years, the faculty has included the late William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, Alice Notley, Ed Sanders, Robin Blaser, and many other writers of note. Ginsberg taught there for over two decades until his death in 1997.

This "celestial homework" is the reading list that Ginsberg handed out on the first day of his course as "suggestions for a quick check-out & taste of antient scriveners whose works were reflected in Beat literary style as well as specific beat pages to dig into." While the list has been placed in alphabetical order for easy reference, the idiosyncratic Ginsbergian syntax of the handout has been mostly preserved, though a couple of typos or errata (such as the full name of the course) have been corrected. Scholars are advised to consult the original document.

Clicking on a title will take you to an online copy of the text when such copies exist, and the photographs of each author are linked to brief biographies. The "Don Allen anthology" mentioned frequently in the list refers to The New American Poetry, edited by Don Allen, which provides an excellent introduction to the Beats and their contemporaries. (A companion volume, The Poetics of the New American Poetry, currently out of print, is worth seeking out in used bookstores, and contains the Ernest Fenollosa essay excerpted here for "extra credit" reading.) Dead-link alerts and locations of missing, better, or more stable versions of the online texts (particularly "Kaddish") linked here are welcome.

I was 19 in the summer of 1977. One day Ginsberg asked how many of us had signed up for meditation instruction, and when only a few hands went up, he roared, "Argh, you're all amateurs in a professional universe!" Another spontaneous aperçu he made in class that has stuck in my mind for decades: "Poetry is the realization of the magnificence of the actual." These texts are gates to that magnificence.

--Steve Silberman

the official site of the Allen Ginsberg Trust.


ni nix: beatnicks


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