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Literary Blog: Verses on the Early Beats

Literary Blog: Verses on the Early Beats


I seem to be going back and forth, in these blogs, between presenting myself as a litterateur and presenting myself as a scholar. Early in my life I decided to study English through graduate school and become a professional writer. That never happened, but the ambition never went away--some of it lingers, and inspires the hope that I will be remembered as someone with some of both. So I present now another of my early writings.


In an earlier blog (10/25/11), titled “Berkeley as America’s Cultural Capital,” I recounted how a man named George Leite, a close associate and follower of Henry Miller who was then living down in Big Sur, used to come to Berkeley and hang out in Creed’s Bookstore, my own favorite haunt in those days when I was going to Berkeley High, and later was an undergraduate at U.C. The movement centered on Leite, which one magazine article (Atlantic Monthly?) called “The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy,” was, I pointed out, an important forerunner of the later Beat Generation, and is thus more deserving of attention from literary historians than it has received. (I see now on the internet that Leite and his movement are discussed in a book unknown to me, Michael Davidson, The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century,  Cambridge University Press, 1991. Already I feel a slight negative reaction: San Francisco instead of Berkeley? Wrong place. And mid-century? A bit earlier, please.) Leite started in 1946 a literary magazine called The Circle--I wrote a verse making fun of it and parodying it, which I mentioned in my blog without quoting.



Now I have copied it out from my old handwritten manuscript, and will print it below, as a young litterateur’s response to an important literary phenomenon, the Birth of the Beats.

(The pun in Part VI is lifted, as I remember, from some humorist of the time, S. J. Perelman or Ogden Nash. I was much given to a verse form that changed line lengths and rhyme patterns from one stanza to the next; English teachers criticized me for this, but I persisted.)


Doggerel Verse, especially composed to honor and describe the cultural atmosphere of Creed’s Book Store, and to increase the roster of its habitués:


I. If you’ve pretensions

To Culture and Learning,

Scorn all conventions

And think yourself burning

With hot Inspiration, and passions that never stop boiling and churning;


If some shocking impropriety

Bans you from polite society,

Don’t despair!

If others will have nothing of you,

However false you be, we’ll love you!

We don’t care!


Especially those

Who produce the new verse,

Which is something like prose

But decidedly worse,

For most of it says nothing, means nothing, ‘tis modern poetry’s curse.


II. Poeme a la Circle

I have rolled in garbage

Till the sun rose,

Raising it with both hands,

Pressing it into the blackness of my nostrils,

And two garbage rats

Came and encouraged me

I have felt my being permeated

With garbage.

Oh, young men,

You with strong souls,

You with wild eyes,

Roll in garbage!

There is no other joy in this world.


III. To the Customer

What? You want the Faerie Queene?

That’s old stuff, and not for you!

Buy the Circle Magazine!

Though it doesn’t really mean

Much of anything, it’s new,

And has pictures in it, too!


IV. Often, in the afternoons,

Here at Creed’s we congregate,

All pretending to enjoy

One another’s company,

Hiding all our deep dislikes.

But, to tell the truth, we come

To enjoy an audience.


What a joyful time we have,

Matching disillusionment!

Desperate, laborious,

And amateurish cynicism!

What a joyful time we have,

Sneering all in unison!


V. Paranoics, Misanthropics,

Who discourse on sundry topics--

On Philosophy, Religion,

And the Love-life of the Pigeon;

On their passions, and on Fate,

And on How to Choose a Mate;

Penning poems, three a day,

In an offhand, casual way,

Making maxims, never heeding them--

Buying large books, never reading them--

Ah, ‘tis rapture, ah, ‘tis bliss!

Come to Creed’s and be like this!


VI. Further welcome


To such-like our door never closes;

Our store is a bed of neuroses.


VII. Final Denunciation


Oh, ye dabblers, oh, ye dribblers,

Oh, ye modern Grub-street scribblers,

One guffaw from Rabelais--

This would blow you all away.


(Let it be understood that none of the above applies to Mr. Schilling [the manager of Creed’s], whose only fault is Tolerance.)


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