Researching, writing and teaching about the Beat Generation movement

Journal of Beat Studies Volume #3 - The Beat Studies Association

John Wieners in the Matrix of Massachusetts Institutions: A Psychopoeticgeography

By Maria Damon

Beat writers were among the first U.S. writers who took on the city as a serious site of ambiguous magic in which subjectivity could undertake its own experiments and undergo those imposed upon it. To explore this phenomenon, Damon foregrounds the poetry of John Wieners as well as aspects of his Boston biography; these are coupled with Damon’s own memories of growing up in the area. She focuses on the north and south slopes of Beacon Hill to illustrate the sharp class divides of the early 1970s and the ways in which such cultural realities affected Beat aesthetics. escape comes in the form of unexpected textual malformations, if one is open to falling through their holes into other worlds, rather than altered external conditions. Her exploration reveals that one’s movement into textual rather than social and political freedom is Wieners’s version of the apolitical, post-HUAC nature of Beat writers’ resistance.

Entering the “Gate of Nondualism”: Gary Snyder’s “On Vulture Peak” and Mahāyāna Shūnyatā

By Todd Giles

This essay presents the first full critical analysis of Gary Snyder’s early poem “On Vulture Peak,” which he wrote soon after he left the United States to study Zen Buddhism in Japan. The poem eventually was revised and expanded into Mountains and Rivers Without End. The essay argues that “On Vulture Peak” presents some of the most complex and allusive concepts of Mahayana Buddhism that we find in Snyder’s poetry. Giles details the contents and form of the poem, the types of ancient poetic and sacred texts upon which Snyder drew to construct the poem, and Snyder’s manipulation of these forms for mid-twentieth-century aesthetic and cultural purposes. In addition to providing readers with an accessible entrance into Mahayan Buddhism, the essay also reveals a point of genesis for Snyder’s life-long engagement with the intersectionality of poetry, philosophy, and spirituality.

The St. Louis Clique: Burroughs, Kammerer, and Carr

By Dustin Griffin

Drawing upon unpublished letters from and to David Kammerer, Griffin creates a fresh historical overview of the St. Louis lives of three of the main figures in the creation of what we know as The Beat Generation. The essay presents a vivid portrait of St. Louis, pre-World War II, as well as detailed portraits of the early years of William S. Burroughs, David Kammerer, and Lucien Carr, following them to New York City, where Carr stabbed and killed Kammerer in August 1944. The essay makes no definitive conclusion about Kammerer’s or Carr’s sexualities, but does complicate the images we have of them, as well as that of Burroughs. The focus on Kammerer’s life, heretofore undeveloped in Beat Studies, grounds the essay, which ultimately argues that at the time of the killing, Kammerer showed as much promise to develop into a major writer as did Carr and Burroughs.

The Enigmatic Relationship of Poets Isabella Gardner and Gregory Corso.

By Marian Janssen

Janssen is the author of the biography of the poet Isabella Gardner, the grand-niece of art collector Isabelle Stewart Gardner and the cousin of poet Robert Lowell. At the height of the heyday of Beat-to-Hippie culture in the United States, Gardner and Gregory Corso knew each other in Boston and Cambridge. Their relationship began, as Janssen writes in the essay, with a fan letter from Corso to Gardner and ended years later as both their lives spiraled into addictions, disappointments, and indiscretions. Janssen’s essay reveals nuances of the intersections of their lives, Corso as a much-lauded Beat poet and Gardner as an overlooked poet of traditional rhymes and meters. To this mix, she weaves in relationships among Beat writers and the more conventional but powerful writers and editors Allen Tate and Paul Carroll. The essay reveals that, contrary to recalcitrant myth, Beat writers and writers of more traditional forms interacted a great deal, often supporting each while simultaneously rejecting each other’s aesthetic principals.