We’ve Got The Beats: Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac

There’s a lot to unpack in regards to the Beat Poets. Jack Kerouac was a misogynist, classist, racist, and homophobic. Allen Ginsberg sat back and let his friends abuse women and apologized for them. That said, Ginsberg’s poetry, especially out loud, has a special place in my heart. While “Howl” catapulted the young poet to fame, his style achieved perfection in his long poem, “Kaddish,” which he wrote as a elegy for his mother. And Jack Kerouac’s duets with Steve Allen remain some of the most entertaining pieces of sound. Mills Record Company has both.

Based on some of the rhythms of the Kaddish, which is the Jewish prayer for the dead and for their yahrzeits. The original prayer is written and Aramaic and features clipped rhythms and the piling on of God praise–in fact most of the poem focuses on how great HaShem is which in mourning is a hard thing to admit. Likewise, Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” is a stacking of quick and staccato rhythms. The poem focuses on his mother’s descent into dementia and his pet subjects of railing against capitalism and all things political.

The poem, while not immediately graspable by all, absolutely drips passion and sadness. If one thing can be said about Ginsberg–especially the Ginsberg who wrote “Kaddish”–it’s that the poet knew how to write how he felt. The 50 page poem isn’t a great example of concision, but it is a great example of how stream of conscious composition can recreate a mindset if done correctly.

My relationship with Jack Kerouac is much more complicated than it is with Allen Ginsberg. Whereas I want to be as loving and hopeful as Ginsberg, I would want nothing more than to be nothing like Kerouac. The writer was abusive and racist. His family was rich and supported yet he exploited the poor’s life to be the stuff of his writing. He was unapologetically nationalistic and homophobic. That said, Kerouac could pen some great stories.

And his stories were at the best when Steve Allen’s piano glittered behind them. In Poetry For The Beat Generation, both men pour their whole effort into their craft. Kerouac’s folk-art writing somehow achieves sublimity through Kerouac’s ability to focus on specific details–lyric and disjointed. Steve Allen’s piano virtuosity does well to keep Kerouac’s rambling in check and rhythm. Allen’s jazzy lines forces Jack Kerouac to keep his yarns short. The duo together brings out the best of each other’s craft.

These two records feature some of the best examples of The Beat Generation, who has been elevated beyond their means by many. Both Kaddish and Poetry For The Beat Generation do not contain the best poetry in the world. What they do carry is very rhythmic and entertaining poetry. Poetry that had its place in time and space.

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