There’s more to Beat literature than Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” This week, we offer our picks for the best Beat writing.
‘Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960,’ Allen Ginsberg
There are few works of poetry as beautiful and complex as Ginsberg’s “Kaddish.” The poem serves as a tribute to his mother Naomi, who suffered from mental illness and spent Ginsberg’s childhood in and out of sanatoriums. In the typical nonlinear Beat style, Ginsberg jumps from happy memories of trips to the Metropolitan Opera to dark reflections on her sickness and paranoia. Paired with the prayer of “Kaddish,” a hymn used in Jewish mourning rites, the poem plays with Ginsberg’s own religious confusion and the inevitability of his own death. It’s poignant, tragic, and above all, authentic.
-Abby Mitchell, former A&E editor
‘Lami,’ Alden Van Buskirk
Alden Van Buskirk is probably not the first name that comes to mind when you think of the Beats. Yet he counted Allen Ginsberg —who penned the introduction to “Lami,” his only collection—among his admirers, and his promising career was cut short by his premature death at 23. Lines like “I prayed through megaphones/ of blossoms & fountains/ in my mouth, I swallowed words like/ teeth,” delivered alternately with the languor of Ferlinghetti and the fervor of Rimbaud, leave you wondering what might have been.
-Charlotte Murtishaw, deputy A&E editor for Weekend
‘Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986,’ William S. Burroughs
Best known for his nonlinear novel, “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs offers a cheeky “fuck you” to America in his poem, “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986.” Among the list of things for which he gives thanks: “a continent to despoil and poison,” the KKK, “laboratory AIDS,” and “the last greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.” Ouch. In 1991, director Gus Van Sant created a black-and-white montage to accompany Burroughs’ reading of the poem.
-Lesley Thulin, A&E editor