Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 16, 2015

The Forgotten Beats

The last book I read in 2014 was The Beats: A Graphic History written by Harvey Pekar, mostly, and drawn by Ed Piskor, mostly. The first two thirds of the book is their straightforward detailing of the lives of the big players – Kerouac, Ginsburg, Burroughs – and it is entertaining and appalling by turns. These are not my favorite writers, and I’ve always felt hard pressed to care about their wacky ways. I was pleased to learn about some of the poets who set the stage for them, or existed in their shadows, however. Folks like Kenneth Patchen and Gary Snyder wound up on my TBR list.

The last third of the book featured stories and artwork from a few other people, and Joyce Brabner and Summer McClinton‘s piece – Beatnik Chicks – was my favorite bit. Most of the famous Beat personalities were kind of terrible guys, so it was a welcome relief to hear from the women – the wives, daughters, and fellow poets/artists – who were a vibrant and powerful, but often ignored, part of the Beat movement.

I sought out Diane di Prima’s work and found her Revolutionary Letters to be quite good. She lived life every bit as wildly as her male Beat contemporaries, and like them she was in love with the idea of freedom and denounced anything that might hinder it – government, decorum, any kind of conformity. The poems are from the 60s through the early 2000s, and they are ringing odes to living life radically. She demands activism, offers tips on how to protest, dreams of a Utopian future, lives the revolution day by day.

Reading her words now, knowing that when she started writing them she believed things could change, is somewhat disheartening. I writhe with the same discontent, the same horror of our capitalist society, that she did 50 years ago. Her tips and tricks have been used over and over, but so often to no avail. We’re treading water here.

Still, I found her words inspiring, felt them stir in me as though they were coming from a seasoned warrior, as though de Prima was telling me with fierce certainty to keep fighting, don’t give up, we can do this. Somehow. Someday.

From Revolutionary Letter #1:

I have just realized that the stakes are myself


From #2:

get up, put on your shoes, get

started, someone will finish


From #8:

NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us

shoving at the thing from all sides

to bring it down.


From #20:

I will not rest…

till all can seek, unhindered

the shape of their thought


From #69:

‘All artists 

are warriors’

sez my son & he

age eight

is sure.


From #71:

can we

condense fury till it is


can we use this fuel

to move us out of here


I plan to spend more time with this lady, and some of the other forgotten Beat poets, this year. I’m currently reading Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, and I perused ruth weiss’ Can’t Stop the Beatwhich was pretty interesting. Who’s your favorite lesser known Beatnik?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: