Did the Beat Generation ever reach Wales? Can anyone now remember what that generation even was? Jack Kerouac holding his thumb out and hitchhiking right across America. Allen Ginsberg riding boxcars boxcars boxcars. Gregory Corso drinking wine into the night, reciting his verse at the sky. Burroughs slicing his novels into the shape of the future. The whole lot a free wheeling, free loving, free speaking charge straight at conservative authority. The paintings on the walls were great swirls of colour, Pollock, de Kooning, the abstract expressionists. On the player were Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie blowing be-bop like there was no tomorrow. Up ahead was nirvana and a new way of living in the world.
An American dream, naturally. But one which seemed to work, for a while. Best that ever happened here was the single copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl that I found, unaccountably, on the shelves of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge’s Bookshop in Cardiff’s Friary. That, perhaps, and the old lags blowing trumpets and smoking things they shouldn’t in the back bar of the Moulders Arms.
Somehow the idea of taking off with nothing in mind other than the journey didn’t catch on in Wales. Hitch hard westwards and you got to Tenby by dinner time. Sit down and eat chips with the retired and the families on holiday. Not the same as three long days on the road to get to Denver where jazz and shimmering poetry awaited you.
To be Beat you had to wear a black polo neck and grow your hair. Made you look like a rebel even if you actually weren’t one. There were loads of those in Wales. Welsh literature was barely dented by the movement. The nearest we got was John Tripp’s famous appearance at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre wearing cord trousers and no tie. The retired ladies in the front row tutted. Couldn’t he turn himself out a little better?
That was all so far back that almost all movement participants have now died. But the spirit hangs on. Dwang, Michael Curran’s hardback hand-bound magazine of Beat fellow travellers, has just appeared from the Tangerine Press. This is writing reaching its public like it used to. With style and class and, in Dwang’s case, a genuine modicum of excitement. If you are an aficionado you’ll recognise some of the names (and be surprised by others). Edward Lucie-Smith, Dan Fante, Wes Magee, William Wantling, chronicler of factory life Fred Voss, A D Winas, Charles Plymell, the amazing guitar-wielding Billy Childish, grand old man of British Beatdom Jim Burns, Doug Blazek. The hunt for freedom is still there in the writing. Check eatmytangerine.com for details of where to get your copy.
A version of this posting originally appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 18th July, 2009