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