THE THIRD MIND BOOKS OCTOBER MONTHLY SPECIAL is titled “OFF-BEAT & LATE BEAT,” and we’ve chosen to feature selections from the “Off-Beat” category of our site and key late works by definitive participants from the Beat literary epoch. Among the authors and artists represented are JOHN CAGE, PHILLIP GLASS, JEAN COCTEAU, ALLEN GINSBERG, WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, RAY BREMSER, ED DORN, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, HERBERT HUNCKE, CHARLES PLYMELL, BONNIE FRAZER (BREMSER), CLAYTON ESHLEMAN, & MORE! All these enticing selections will be 10% off for the month of October only!
On September 21, 2017 our founder, Arthur S. Nusbaum presented “The Thomas Rain Crowe Collection: Beat Mentors & Their Progeny” at the sixth annual European Beat Studies Network Conference (http://ebsn.eu) in Paris, France. The presentation examines the life and work of Thomas Rain Crowe; a poet, publisher, and central organizing figure in “The Second San Francisco Renaissance.” The legendary saga of Crowe and his contemporaries, often termed “Baby Beats,” has hitherto remained largely unknown outside of a single anthology published in France in 2005. Arthur and I worked with Crowe and others integrally involved in the SF Scene over a multi-month period–conducting extended interviews, excavating data with Talmudic diligence–and arrived at a study that stands as the most comprehensive on its subject to date. Below is a link to the recently uploaded footage of the presentation, recorded live at the University of Chicago Center in Paris.
As for this month’s special: “Off-Beat?” Aren’t you “Beat-&-Beyond,” now, Third Mind Books? Why the additional categorization? Good question. We’re certainly Beat-&-Beyond, but there are items in our inventory that–to further encourage precision scholarship in the collecting community–are fit to be contextualized in a more exacting manner. This is better, we feel, than lumping an amorphous mass of semi-related items into bland and basic industry terms–and would, for us–run counter to our goal of being a respected bookselling source and a scholarly organization worthy of reference. We do, after all, regard ourselves as “curators,”–and a curator that isn’t a learned historian is no curator at all. I’ve mused in previous newsletters on the worth of categorization, and also the damage it can do if too promiscuously handled. I’d say that, in relation to our present conversation on the topic, our demarcation of “Beat” and “Off-Beat” is less philosophical than it is practical.
There is a basic understanding that some items in our “Off-Beat” category just aren’t “Beat” items. One of which is a First Hardcover Edition of the Journals of Jean Cocteau, the esteemed French poet & filmmaker. But immediately a historical/philosophical splinter emerges–didn’t Cocteau influence the Beats? Didn’t Allen Ginsberg recommend to all his students at Naropa that they see “Blood of the Poet” as part of his “Literary History of the Beat Generation” class? The other items we included as part of the “Off-Beat” section of this special pose similar questions: activists Huey Newton and Erika Higgins’ Insights & Poems was published by City Lights Books. John Cage was a friend of many Beat authors & artists, yet is more famous for his time spent at Black Mountain during the closing years of that remarkable institution’s existence. Ed Sanders has said that his reading of John Cage’s Silence in 1961 changed his poetic life, and more specifically emboldened and encouraged his sense of poetic possibility. Then you have a figure like Clayton Eshleman, who stridently denies that he is or ever was a “Beat,” despite his early association with Gary Snyder in Japan at the dawn of the 1960s, his continuous correspondence with Michael McClure, and his early meetings with Beat icons like Ginsberg and Hebert Huncke. I suppose one of the most interesting conclusions to be drawn is the mycelial influence of the Beat authors and artists–as the existence of d.a. levy’s Cleveland Beat outpost, and furthermore the publication of Beat work in far countries early on, attest to (the Scottish literary magazine “Jabberwock,” which published Burroughs’ eponymous routine And Start West in 1959, comes to mind).
Another interesting change we decided to throw into the mix was to feature little-studied but equally-important LATE WORK from many of these seminal authors. For some reason, the early periods and their incredible mythology pose an inescapable pull on our scholarly energy. Oftentimes there are certain figures whose formative influence was exerted primarily in the early years–such as Brion Gysin’s exploration with WSB–and on the surface seems more enticing then, say, the story of the assembly of a late-period classic like Tornado Alley. Certainly, when you are beginning the study of an individual or an affiliated group of individuals, you need to begin at the dawning. It is so common (and this notion has been exacerbated, this author would argue, more by the late releases of rock ‘n’ rollers from the 60s and 70s than by authors, historically) that the late work is panned, fizzles, and is either ignored or regarded to be of considerably less importance than the earlier work. Much of this is the result of scholars who have intense personal attachments or admiration for the early work, and are bitterly stung by disappointment when the artist who they held in such high estimation is purporting a new work to be an improvement in content or direction and the “fan,” if you will, just doesn’t get it or doesn’t see it. For me, this is one of the most important reasons why I think reading a poet’s prose, or a prose-worker’s interviews or literary criticism, is important. Again, we’re back to biography, autobiography, and its importance–as we discussed in a previous newsletter. The one commonality that “beginnings” have is a ferocity of spirit, a vocational intensity that imbues the work with an unconscious power and an allure that refuses to rot with the passing of time. “Success” has historically changed some artists, and many (usually for personal reasons involving the problems of their individual personalities) don’t attain the grace or glory of these glowing, cardinal periods. Yet many (withstanding myriad changes of perspective and philosophy) still held on to a purity of vision that remained evident not only in their work, but in “accompanying” (for the scholar, that is) interviews, talks, performances, etc. from the period in question. Some things, like Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis said, “…don’t come to you. You have to come to it; and if you come to it, you get to receive the benefits of it.” If you don’t–out of ignorance, fear, or merely because too few people ever shook you by the shoulders to tell you it was “good”–then you’ll continually be in the dark about it.
Therefore, it behooves us as scholars, collectors, and enthusiasts to be open-minded about this work, even if it’s seemingly of no relation to the work that got you into the writer in question. And, we’ll always have our biases and preferences; and preferences, at least, are a good thing. I’m befuddled by Robert Creeley’s late rhyming quatrains, and it’s almost disturbing that the genius of For Love and the early prose/literary-critical writings could proffer them as the serious fruit of his labors. But maybe one day one of those quatrains will hit me (or anyone, for that matter) as potently as Blake’s Songs. The key, without foregoing a sense of discernment, is attempting to remain open and welcoming as a scholar–reminding ourselves that the more we dig, the better–and to head to author commentary and biography wherever it can be found, especially if the work doesn’t hit you like you think it should.
Such is the fruit of our inquiry as scholars in the Beat-&-Beyond literary community, and be sure to check our this month’s OFF-BEAT & LATE BEAT SALE, featuring 25 items at 10% off for the month of October only!
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