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The Beats’ Defining Poetry Essay

1720 words - 7 pages

The Beat generation of the fifties and sixties were a unique and strictly American group of writers who began a distinct movement in the world of literature. What is so unique about the Beats begins simply with the fact that they defined themselves as the Beat generation, and touted their own literary style every chance they had, promoting each other’s work, shamelessly and pretentiously. This is opposed to the normal sequence of events in literary chronology, as specific literary movements and styles are often recognized and defined retrospectively, often posthumously, rather than recognized by the author (or authors) involved. The original, core group of Beat writers were close friends with mutual respect for each of their peer’s writing, and writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and others all shared common themes within their writing, themes that united them under a common interest, purpose, and mainly; themes that defined these writers as Beats. The more popular works of the Beat generation are, for the most part, novels (Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is an exceptionally popular poetic work), and their popularity projects a specific image of what it means to be ‘Beat’ to the general public: Jack Kerouac’s On The Road follows a protagonist who embodies freedom and adventurousness, The Subterraneans displays interracial love and an affinity for jazz music, and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch glorifies drugs. Of course, there are a great deal many more common interests and shared sentiments within these novels that binds all of these core writers together as the Beat Generation, but I feel that the poetry is far more effective in providing evidence if one is interested in answering the question of just what exactly a ‘Beat’ writer is; what they are and what they stand for is America.
Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is most definitely his best known work, as many critical reviews go to great lengths praising the poem as groundbreaking, stating that the initial publication was like “a shot heard round the world” (Merrill) and that Howl “exploded on the American literary scene like a bombshell” (Merrill). With that said, I think it is important to note that Thomas F. Merrill’s critical essay makes a great point in asserting that while the poem’s impact was huge, it’s contribution to literature itself was minimal. Regardless, though, one cannot deny the fact that Howl does a fantastic job of making Ginsberg’s distress with his country known, as well as making his generation of Beats known. It has been stated that Howl was written "in one of the oldest traditions, that of Hosea or the other angry Minor prophets of the Bible” (Merrill). This may seem like an odd statement for those who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament, but I will attempt to explain this comment clearly as possible. Hosea, and numerous other minor prophets all follow a pattern or formula: the prophet is called into service by God through some form of theophany (God...

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