N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 3 : S p e c i a l E d i t i o n
L o n g P o e m M a s t e r p i e c e s o f t h e P o s t b e a t s
Introduction: Meditation on Long Poem Masterpieces of the Postbeats
I’m writing this editor’s note for the release of Napalm Health Spa: Report 2013 on the occasion of the seventy-second birthday of Bob Dylan, the most iconic of Postbeat figures in American Oral Literature. Happy birthday Mr. Dylan, older now than Allen Ginsberg was when he died, and thanks for never asking me to cease and desist using your phrase “napalm health spa” as the title of this magazine. The phrase came from the fifth verse of “Clean Cut Kid,” a song from Empire Burlesque, his twenty-third recording, released in 1985:
They said, “Listen boy, you’re just a pup”
They sent him to a napalm health spa to shape up
Here’s how this issue, Napalm’s twenty-fourth, started. I was in the back parking lot of a motel in Montrose, Colorado when I got a call from Thom Peters––American phanopoeia surrealist, lyrical Detroit ear epic speech observing inner-movie poet, also bibliophilic Beat Book Shop owner and legendary M.C. / producer of the Boulder-based “So, You’re A Poet” reading series. Thom suggested that the 2013 issue compile long poems of the Postbeats. The idea seemed timely.
And so, the Long Poem Masterpieces of the Postbeats special edition of NHS began. A year in the making, the serious student of poetry would be hard pressed to find a more flush compilation of late twentieth century /early twenty-first century signature poems. This is an anthology-issue. This Long Poem Masterpieces of the Postbeats maps out loosely interrelated poetics communities from all over America. It presents a radicalizing neural sign-space of mythic transmission demonstrance.
As for the validity of the term “Postbeat,” and its variations, all anyone can say about “Postbeat” for sure is its constituents are correctly identified from a temporal perspective. That is, the legacy of the Beat Generation is now subject to the work of those later poets who came after them, or in some cases, survived them. Whether these after-the-Beats communities were writing under the influence of Beat literature or living Beat figures, what’s factual, irrefutable, is a whole new body of post-beat demotic literature came into existence. That is undeniable. You can refute the name, but only a fool refutes what is.
For decades now, in my role as editor of this journal beginning in 1990 and going back to my years doing ACTION Magazine (1983-1987) before that, I have observed the marginalization of the Postbeat poets and their work. These were the poets that packed readings, fed the hunger of readers and listeners for something real. You would not be incorrect to say I have been a student of my peers as long as I’ve known of them. Many of the gathered poets here have, over the passing decades, gained great merit. They came to their bodies, and in so doing, founded a poetry that goes beyond the Beats in measurable ways.
This collection is not simply evidential of this movement onward. The skillfulness of this special edition is that it collects major poems associated with the Postbeats and anthologizes these long poem achievements in one mobile and free space. In so doing, Long Poem Masterpieces provides an alternate pathway to the poetry of the future. To paraphrase Anne Waldman, Postbeat poetry is a manifestation of the energetic and open-hearted compassion that keeps the world safe.
Of course, NHS, like many micro mags, is following in the footsteps of earlier poet-publishers and the work and poets that emerged. There have been several pivotal literary or publishing events to define the poetry associated with poets who were in direct contact with the central figures of the Beats, specifically, Allen Ginsberg, the author of “Howl,” perhaps the best known and admired long poem of the second half of the twentieth century.
Introductions to Postbeat poetry as selected by Allen can be found in City Lights Journal (4) and New Directions Anthology (37), both published with Ginsberg "choices" in 1978, as well as the "Obscure Genius" issue of Randy Roark’s FRICTION (5/6) that Ginsberg guest-edited in 1984. During the last eighteen months of his life, Ginsberg was collecting materials for an anthology of contemporary multicultural political poetry. This collection was completed by co-editors Andy Clausen and Eliot Katz and published as Poems for the Nation (Seven Stories Press, 2000), with an introduction co-written by Eliot Katz, and Bob Rosenthal of the Allen Ginsberg Trust.
Alt press journals fostering Postbeat poetry communities beginning in the 1970s include James Ruggia’s Ferro Botanica, Mike Wojczuk, Tom Swartz, and Niko Murray’s New Blood, Danny Shot’s Long Shot, David Cope’s Big Scream, Dave Roskos’ Big Hammer, and Michael Rothenberg’s online Big Bridge, to name only a few. In 1988, David Cope edited an anthology of poets entitled Nada Poems (Nada Press) that served as a Postbeat blueprint, synthesizing an array of poets from distinct cultural communities with distinct aesthetic lineages into an amalgam that defies readymade decoys of social, cultural, political, and literary ethos. The most extensive late twentieth century collection of Postbeat poets is The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry––a vast compendium of countercultural poets––edited by Alan Kaufman and S.A. Griffin and published by Thunder Mouth Press in 1999. The first twenty-first century anthology compiling Postbeats was Gary Parrish, Jr. and LeAnn Bifoss’ Poems From Penny Lane (farfalla press/McMillan & Parrish, 2003).
Kerouac-Cassady inspired cross-modality visual jazz “Post-Beat” literary scholarship was also undertaken by poet, musician, and scholar Vernon Frazer––see his essay "Extending The Age Of Spontaneity To A New Era: Post-Beat Poets In America.” Frazer’s Selected Poems of Post-Beat Poets, an anthology he edited for publication in China and the United States in 2007, marked an important breakthrough in that under the auspices of Wen Chu-an, China-Beat translator of Kerouac and Ginsberg, and Zhang Ziqing, Nanjing University international contemporary poetics scholar and translator, the Chinese gave serious treatment to Postbeat poetry that American poetics scholars, by and large, ignored. Of course, Postbeat literature is hardly the first to be “authorized” by outside forces and treated like Tourette Syndrome at home.
Wildflowers: A Woodstock Mountain Poetry Anthology (2009), a multi-volume collection edited by Shiv Mirabito and published by his Shivastan Publishing press, is another excellent source of Postbeat poetry. In 2010, M.L. Liebler edited an extensive demotic anthology, Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams (Coffee House Press) that contextualized the Postbeats within the diverse collective of nineteenth through twenty-first century working class literature. My own Sutras & Bardos: Essays & Interviews on Allen Ginsberg, The Kerouac School, Anne Waldman, Postbeat Poets & The New Demotics (2011) is a useful source of Postbeat Studies.
Many people should be thanked, beginning and ending with the poets themselves and their teachers, lovers, children, parents, spirits, angels, and guides. I personally want to thank all the poets that offered their collective support by placing their long poems in a Postbeat context. Some of the poets in here are like grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Postbeats. Long may you run! For the Postbeat poets no longer walking the earth, I included poems I had published with your permission earlier because you and your poetry are always among us.
24 May 2013