In The Typewriter Is Holy, Bill Morgan argues that the Beats were basically a group of friends who just wrote what they felt like writing: There is no “Beat style.” Fair enough. But how does that explain the slim volumes of “neo-Beat” poetry that keep landing on my desk?
Dave Donohue, founder of the local DIY publisher Ra Press, put out the first volume in his Neo-Beat Poets Burlington series last fall. Wake Up Call is an anthology featuring the works of Donohue, Jodhi Reis, Mary Randall and others — some recruited by a call to artists in Seven Days. The second book in the series appeared this month. Called My Ill-Read Ophelia Poem, it’s a collection of poems by Burlington’s Sean Tierney.
Within the same few months, we received a copy of Che.: A Novella in Three Parts, by Peter Money, a former student of Allen Ginsberg who now teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies. While the author doesn’t call his work “neo-Beat,” he does enclose a postcard reproduction of a snapshot of himself with Ginsberg. Money’s novella, closer to prose poem than narrative, features the kind of continuously flowing imagery that many people associate with the more spontaneous modes of Beat writing.
What does it mean to be neo-Beat? I ask Morgan. “Each person defines what the Beats are for themselves,” he replies. “I’m not sure you could write in a style influenced by Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs and Snyder and Ferlinghetti. But you could be influenced by some of them.”
When I ask Donohue the same question, he acknowledges that “each writer [in his series] is a bit different, just like the original Beats were.” The Burlington poets’ styles range from rhyme to free verse, their ages from early twenties to fifties. But, says Donohue, “what everybody liked about the Beats was sort of that approachable poetry, things that hit you on a gut level.”
In the poem that opens Wake Up Call, Donohue describes the Beats’ breakthroughs as “jeopardized” by the rise of electronic communication — or, as he puts it, by “humorless mechanical / communication twittering down blackberry lane.” But neo-Beats don’t have to be Luddites, he tells me. They just don’t like the kind of device dependency that screens out the world. “The Beats enjoyed the moment, enjoyed life itself,” says Donohue. “We’re trying to bring that back in the writing that we have.”
And Tierney, for one, is succeeding. I don’t know whether his poems are best called neo-Beat or likened to Richard Brautigan (as Donohue suggests). But they’re great fun, as snappy as haikus and highly personable, without a hint of pretension.
On the back cover, Tierney describes the poems as having been written “somewhere on Main Street between a kabob shop and a theater, on a third floor that smells like freshly welded metal.” That precision of place serves him well: The book is steeped in Burlington. Take this poem, called “A Certain Peace”:
there’s a certain peace
you can’t find
sitting at a typewriter
it has to have a delicate
like corn boiling
one of those peaces
can be found
on a rock
by Lake Champlain