Movements: Beat Poets

So I recently watched the Chilean movie ‘No!’ which details the plebiscite in 1980, in which the country overthrew a particularly nasty dictatorship. One thing that really inspired me about the film was the way that media played a huge part in the campaign; people literally ‘used their words’, and completely changed the direction of the country.

I love the idea that literature can be so powerful, so I’m starting a little series of posts under the title of ‘Movements’, talking about literary movements that worked to positively affect their society. Today we’re starting with the Beat Poets!

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 machinery of night

-from ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was an American poet (among many other things) who graduated from Columbia University in the 1940’s. It was at university that he made friends with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and William S Bourroughs. These men would all be leading figures in what would come to be known as the ‘Beat Generation’, or the ‘Beat Movement’.

In part, the movement was a response to the end of World War Two, and a protest against the Vietnam War. Most Beat literature was popularised during the 1950’s, and was concerned with criticising a lot of core cultural aspects of America. Its essence was the questioning of the mainstream, and defying the norms of culture and of literature.

Ginsberg wrote:

Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art.

-Source

Although this was never a huge movement in terms of the number of participators, it was highly influencial, and it has been argued that the hippy movement of the 1960’s found its roots in Beat Poetry.

Many writers involved with this movement were also very interested in meditation, Eastern religion, and hallucinogenic drugs; they were looking to reach a higher consciousness, and were not content to remain within the traditions of their society.

Got up and dressed up
and went out & got laid
Then died and got buried
in a coffin in the grave,
Man—
Yet everything is perfect,
Because it is empty,
Because it is perfect
with emptiness,
Because it’s not even happening.

– from ‘Mexico City Blues’ by Jack Kerouac

Is this movement something you’d heard of before? Do you have any favourite poems from this group? And what other movements would you like to see a post about?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

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The Vikings

Last month I read my first book about Vikings (it was How to Train your Dragon, and what?) and it struck me how little mainstream literature we have about these weird and wonderful people. I’ve collected a few of my favourite Viking facts, in the hope that you’ll all be inspired and start writing stories about Dark Age sea-farers. Go!

  • Vikings skied. Apparently it was a handy way to get around, and they even had a god of skiing, called Ullr. (Source)
  • Vikings kept BEARS for PETS. Please look up Erik Liefson for more of that pretty fantastic story. (Source)
  • They all wore eye-liner. Using kohl protected their eyes, and also made them look pretty fine. (Source)
  • Blonde hair was considered more beautiful, so brunette men would often bleach their lovely locks. Some people think it helped keep lice away too, so that’s always a plus. (Source)
  • To sort out arguments, Vikings would have ‘Ordeals’ to test their bravery. This could involve picking stones out of hot water, or carrying hot iron. (Source)

Bifrost

Bonus thing: This is a Wagnerian painting of Bifrost – which was, in Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge that linked Asgard and Midgard (the world of the gods and the world of humans respectively). So no, Mario was not the first to walk a rainbow road.

Are there any other interesting Viking facts you think should have made the list? Also can you recommend a Viking-ish novel?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Invictus

For those of you who don’t know, I spent the last two weeks in South Africa! It was an amazing experience, and a big part of this was learning about some of the history of the country. We visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and one thing that really stood out to me was a quote from the William Ernest Henley poem that Nelson Mandela read during his jail time.

It’s a testament to the power of language; words strengthen the spirit. Here’s an excerpt of the famous poem:

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Places in the Pages: A Room With a View

A Room With a View (E.M. Forster) is such a beautiful book, and is set both in Florence and England during Edwardian times. This post is going to describe the locations in Florence, Italy.

First up is ‘Pensione Bertolini’, which has since been closed and re-opened as Hotel degli Orafi. It’s a beautiful 4-star hotel in a Florentine building that dates back to the thirteenth century!

Hotel degli Orafi

If you’re familiar with the novel, you’ll recall the importance of some very famous attractions, like the statue of the Grand Duke of Ferdinand.

Grand Duke Ferdinand Statue

There’s also the Santa Croce Church; whose building dates to the thirteenth century, although the facade was built far more recently. It looks gorgeous!

Santa Croce

I’m desperate to go to Florence! If you’ve been, I’d love to hear about how you found it. What’s on your bookish travel list?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

The History Boys on Memorials

‘The History Boys’ is an Alan Bennett play about eight English boys being tutored for their Oxford University entrance exams. It’s a book that we had to study in my English class, and while it is by no means my favourite play, there were a few quotes that really made me think.

The following quote about commemorating war is one that has stayed with me, despite having finished studying the play over a year ago:

“A photograph on every mantlepiece. And all this mourning has veiled the truth. It’s not so much lest we forget, as lest we remember. Because you should realise where the Cenotaph and the Last Post and all that stuff is concerned, there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”

Obviously you can’t just accept whatever you read, however articulately expressed, so I spent a lot of time wrestling with the concept. I know my teacher flat-out condemned this as wrong, but I’m hesitant to write it off so quickly.

Here in Britain – as I’m sure they do in many other countries – we have a memorial plaques in almost every town and village listing the names of the local men who gave their lives in battle, specifically the World Wars. We have special days where we are obliged to take a moment’s silence to ponder and remember the horrific violence that bought us our freedom as a country.

We are taught our history through every available media: we vanquished the bad guys and lost some good men whose names are carved in stone in the very hearts of our communities.

What we often fail to remember is the vast mortality counts suffered by other countries. By simultaneously victimising ourselves and making ourselves heroes, we flush away any doubt that Great Britain (‘Great’ being the operative word) could have possibly partaken in any ethically questionable activity.

And of course memorial days are sad days because real people died for real causes. The point, I think, of this quote is not to incite the eradication of war commemoration but to confront us with the idea that we are writing and molding our own version of historical events. In the words of another History Boys quote:

“It’s subjunctive history. You know, the subjunctive? The mood used when something may or may not have happened. When it is imagined.”

I would never suggest that we should then forget the losses our country suffered. What I do wonder though, is whether we commemorate solely out of respect, or out of a need to make ourselves the ‘goodies’. Is the act of commemoration simply a way to appease our consciences and our need to be right?

I realise this is a touchy subject, and I’ve tried to be sensitive. Many people will probably disagree whole-heartedly with me. But that’s ok! The whole point of reading literature like this is to make you question what we know to be true, and that’s great!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, whether you agree or not.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani