About Beat Poetry

About Beat Poetry

In this post, Writers Write explores beat poetry with quotations from beat poets.

About The Beat Movement 

The literary beat movement, like Gonzo journalism, is a counterculture writing group. Beatniks arose in the 1950s, famous for their disregard of academics, war, and then-popular culture.

The beats inspired later groups, like hippie culture and the Liverpool Poets. Beat poetry (and writing) includes Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Beat poetry is fluid and unchained, and doesn’t try for overt literary flair. Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ is a good example of how beat poetry flows, and how it impacts the reader. He writes:  ‘who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull.’

Modern beat poetry still exists, and is represented by groups like the National Beat Poetry Foundation, and the Poetry Foundation. 

Tips For Writing Beat Poetry 

  1. Simple Words 

‘One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.’ – Jack Keroac, The Dharma Bums

Good poetry, especially beat, won’t cause the eyes to stick. It reads fluid and streamlined, and it’s often written that way. Keroac called it simple words, we call it plain language.

Be readable, rather than drench writing in pretentious flair. In other words, use a thesaurus more often. There’s always a better word. 

  1. What Is Poetry? 

‘No time for poetry but exactly what is.’ – Jack Keroac, 30 Rules For Writing

Poetry can be hard to define. Keroac pokes fun at people who can’t write poetry (though critique it), and the many definitions of what ‘poetry’ is. By asking what poetry is, he gives his answer.

Robert Frost’s Fire & Ice has nine lines, though some have called Muhammad Ali’s quote ‘Me, we,’ the shortest poem ever. 

  1. Just Write

‘First thought, best thought.’ – Allen Ginsberg, Quoted From The Poetry Foundation

Stream-of-consciousness writing is big, though asks for preparation to know what will fit. Know language, and use this tactic when you write poetry. Ginsberg didn’t like second guessing, and used this four-word motto often.

Don’t think too much: that’s for editing.

Just write first, and look later. That’s where you find real creative spark. 

  1. There’s Silent Poetry

‘It’s not necessarily meant to be read aloud. It’s for reading on the page because practically every line has an allusion.’ – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poets & Writers Interview, 2007

Ferlinghetti wanted some poetry to be recited in the mind. Vocal recital is a separate art (and readers won’t sound the same in their heads). When you write poetry, always remember this little aspect of it. That it can be silent.

This is a useful guide for developing style.

When writing, read silently, and aloud.

  1. Think Differently

 ‘Not sure how this works and can’t make any predictions, but poetry over the years has altered my own consciousness.’ – Anne Waldman, PoetRepublik Interview, 2015

When asked how our voices can change the world, Waldman says that poetry has altered her consciousness. Poetry sets feelings, moments, thoughts, something writers can trap (and share).

Poetry, yours and others, changes the way you see things.

Write with meaning, and write because you want to show the reader something. 

  1. Poems Call

 ‘I told myself that if I didn’t make noise I could work on my Sappho poems before my husband woke. He would worry that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. The poems were calling me, and I couldn’t silence them.’ – Diane di Prima, SF Gate Interview, 2014

Beat writer di Prima was asked her first thought on the interview morning. She responded with the quotation, that the poems were calling her. Even at 80 years old, poetry still loved Diane di Prima.

Poetry isn’t for everyone, but poets feel the call of their art.

The Last Word

The Beat Generation continues to inspire writers and poets. We hope their words will inspire you.

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:

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  3. Copyright & Song Lyric Use For Writers
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  5. 8 Common Phrases We Actually Got From Shakespeare
  6. Here Be Dragons – In Fiction
  7. Bad Business: 9 Words & Phrases To Avoid
  8. Dissecting Zombies in Fiction Writing
  9. Dirty Journalism: How Journalists Can Keep Research Legal

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Posted on: 12th January 2023
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