ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
The poem “Howl” dropped like a bomb on the literary world of the 1950’s.
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of
teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and
tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan
rantings and kind king light of mind,
It was a golden age of poets and poetry, dominated by names like Eliot, Frost, Sandburg, Rexroth, Berryman– not to mention a visitor from overseas, Dylan Thomas. But no one had seen anything quite like Beat poetry before.
What made the lot of them stand out was their sense of style. A unique look and way of acting and talking which inspired the derogatory term “beatniks.”
For the first and only time in American history, poets– literary people– led the culture.
Allen Ginsberg stood at their epicenter. The debut of “Howl” in 1955 before 100 people at Six Gallery in San Francisco is one of the historic events of American literary history.
Allen Ginsberg is #12 on the list of Most Charismatic American Writers.
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THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
(Photo by David Shankbone.)
IT’S A PROBLEM many esteemed contemporary writers seem to have– the lack of a philosophical foundation, a metaphysical perspective on life and the universe, which for all their talent prevents their work from having greater depth and meaning.
FOR a literary writer Mary Gaitskill is supremely talented. At her best, with a story such as “Girl on a Plane,” she reaches a level of strong emotion. Like a punch to the gut. After reading more of her fiction one realizes they’re all of a piece– the characters intelligent but superficial animals whose primary motivation is sex.
An accurate depiction of today’s society. There are no happy endings. Men and women exist in dysfunctional hate-love relationships with scarcely the possibility of getting along. Captives of their drives. The sexually liberated society; which comes across as an unending sadomasochistic nightmare. No escape. No hope of redemption or salvation. At the end of the tale one of the characters is humiliated. Or both of them. Destroyed. Shattered. Lost animals without souls to tarnish. No heroes or even anti-heroes. It’s a problem not of the writer so much as society– particularly, their urban New York City or San Francisco milieu. A typical tale is “Kiss and Tell,” in which a struggling male screenwriter is in love with a struggling actress. The sex is briefly very good, but friendship is the only way they can ultimately connect– then even that collapses. The friendship ends in betrayal and bitterness.
The writing, like the sex, is very good. But is it enough?
Has Mary Gaitskill done enough to enter the Tournament?