1. Where do I even begin?! If I’m practicing honesty, then I should exercise the virtue by informing you that my thoughts are suspended everywhere and nowhere when I try to give a comprehensive and informative overview on the Beat poets. Because of this I give you the subsequent warning: the following will leave those of you that prefer cohesiveness and disdain writing which is ‘all over the place’ vehement and highly dissatisfied.
2. The Beat poets were legendary literary artists that went just about everywhere and wrote just about everything. They embodied what it meant to ‘go against the grain’. They were the voices crying out in the wilderness. They were the epitome of avant-garde. They were the poet-prophets lashing out against the conventional American norms. To read their poems, letters, or books is to taste genius and experience powerful feelings which convulse you to where you shake a thousand shakes. Each shake shedding off any misconceived, misguided, or misunderstood notion on what it means to write well or live dynamically.
3. Although the Beat poets were great souls, they were also reckless. They were searching for something of lasting substance, and in the process, many turned to addictions and self-destructive activities, thus cutting short their lives and leaving the world to forever wonder how much great literature we’ll never have had the chance to read. Jack Kerouac, most famous for his work On the Road is the classic example of a shortened life. Kerouac was an alcoholic most of his life, and because of this he eventually suffered from cirrhosis, or liver failure, at the early age of 47. When I read about stories like Kerouac I clench my fist and have to practice self-restraint by not punching a wall and screaming uncontrollably. I only do this because I’m both sympathetic and angry at Kerouac. He thought himself misunderstood by everyone, in which he might have had much validity, but he also distanced himself from the very people that shaped him so beautifully. He had so much more to offer the world and it’ll never be known because he drank himself into oblivion most days, and eventually died because of it.
4. The Beat poets produced amazing work, but it didn’t come easy; in fact, much mental suffering and agony had to take place before inspiration combined with experience could produce something worthwhile and meaningful.
5. If one were to randomly flip open to any one page in Bill Morgan’s The Typewriter is Holy, then one would immediately notice the angst-ridden undercurrents flowing through and in their lives. In addition to their pervasive angst, many of the Beat poets performed peculiar actions that are hard to forget, for instance, Allen Ginsberg masturbated while reading William Blake’s poem “Ah! Sun-flower”.
6. Perhaps the most admirable trait the Beat poets had was their sense of community. They collaborated, traveled, and often even lived with one another! They wrote letters to one another, some timeless testaments to their ability to delve deep into themselves and bring to the surface lasting literary gems that still shines for anyone that looks its way.
7. Their wanderlust has influenced me greatly. I now have a renewed desire to see with my own eyes the world in all its grandeur. The Beat poets travelled to places like Mexico, Europe, India, and Japan. They had experiences there that opened up their eyes to the seemingly limitless sense-impressions the world has to offer. They also travelled often throughout the U.S, via car trips from coast to coast, or expeditions through national parks. I think all their travels led them to have a more comprehensive view of the world than they would have had had they just sat around the same places year after year. Perhaps their yearning to see more and feel more contributed to their well-rounded understanding of the world. They went and often lived in hell, but their sojourn there made them appreciate heaven much more so than they would have if they hadn’t ever gone. So William S. Burroughs had horrible nightmares and visions when he was using the South American hallucinogen yage, but if it weren’t for that tumultuous experience, then the world would never have had the privilege to hear of its effects and the fantastical images and inspirations it stimulated.
8. The Beat poets make me wrestle between two life-styles that I can choose to live. On one hand, I can frequently go broke travelling the world seeing and experiencing things outside of America’s scope, working odd and unpredictable jobs, and living life on the edge, presumably, and on the other hand, I can safely continue schooling and accumulate enough knowledge to earn me a degree which will potentially afford me a respectable job one day.
9. If my thoughts have proved scattered and far from the beginning of cohesiveness, it’s because they are. How could it be otherwise? Reading about the Beat poets takes your mind to places most have never dreamt imaginable. It makes you want to live actively. It makes you want to reform society and live bravely. It makes you want to fully express yourself no matter the cost. If nothing more, it makes you want to not waste your life.
10. I doubt this letter has done the Beat poets justice. Their lives were ones of defiance for what they deemed unjust. Perhaps they had a misinformed and even twisted understanding. Perhaps they needed to be reformed. But at least they had the courage to live out their convictions, something laudable to even the harshest of critics.
Peace and love,