Arts, OldVenue

Thinking on the beats

It was late on Monday night when I realised summer was truly here. The air was warm and the deadness of winter seemed very far away. The moon was round and bright and the full leaves on the trees were lit up. This is a welcome feeling, and it seems to have immediately altered the mood of the student community. Life has begun to bloom again after the longest season of cold in years.


Appreciating this point in the year is important, as it represents growth and vivacity, and in art their importance is magnified. Art is simply a reflection of life itself, but the artist has the choice over which part to reflect. The beat writers knew this, and devoted themselves to reflecting light into areas where dark may otherwise have taken precedence. They represented that single point in which the flower bud bursts on a summer dawn, to keep people in that moment where colour and ecstasy explode onto the walls of your being.

Jack Kerouac led the movement with an unworldly zeal beginning with On the Road, the 1959 doctrine exploring his world and the people within it. He wrote hopping, exuberant spontaneous poems that swing like jazz and make your feet tap. He and Allen Ginsberg, a poet and original member of the movement, shared a rejoicing humility that has not since been replicated: delighting in modesty while rejecting the arbitrary. Ginsberg’ poems talk themselves off the page and into the world around you. William S. Burroughs, the last of the three principal beat writers, wrote of the chaos of downtrodden Times Square and junk-fuelled societal underbellies. And lastly, Neal Cassady: the epitome of beat. Despite publishing only a handful of poems, Cassady is a pure example of life as art – he was both the painter and the canvas.

Just as the earth needs sun to remain fresh and alive, so does literature. Good writers must accept that the originality and honesty of their work is its only measure of value, not sales figures. Their duty is to harness the absurdities of life and elucidate them, but the modern writer is growing worryingly tame. But I have faith in the cycle of seasons, and that a new group of writers will someday bring as big a burst of light as the beats did. So on this warm night as the sun goes down, I think of the beats. I think of their devotion to life, I think of the beats, I think of the beats…


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July 2021
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