Do you have one thing that totally grabs you? Something that stops you in your tracks, makes you take notice, wakes you up in the middle of a head-bobbingly drowsy afternoon? I don’t mean coffee. I’m talking about a stimulant that releases a nuclear reaction in your mind and heart and triggers an audible, “Hell yeah!” Something that stokes the coals and sets the fire raging.
For me, one of those sparks is writing. And today, October 7, has – for me – a literary importance that I have to share.
First, let me briefly explain my literary preference. I enjoy writers and works of literature that rock the worlds from which they came. Writers who challenged and struck down accepted norms, or works that provoked a creative awakening, either immediately or over time. For me, two purveyors of the written word who accomplished this were Edgar Allan Poe and Allen Ginsberg.
Now, back to the significance of today’s date.
October 7, 1849, was the day Poe, the master of the macabre, died after being found unconscious in, or around, the bar room of a public house in Baltimore. Appropriately, the cause of his death is still unknown.
Poe was a weird one, but he was, is, and will be equalled by few other writers, regardless of genre. One of my favorites, The Tell Tale Heart, is written in first person from the point of view of a man whose insanity drives him to murder. Poe can do with words what most modern horror flicks cannot hope to achieve. Two thumbs up! Oh, and did I mention the Poe Toaster, a mysterious figure who, for decades, would visit Poe’s grave on his birthday (January 19), opening a bottle of cognac, toasting the writer, leaving on the grave the opened bottle and three specifically placed roses. You just can’t make up this stuff.
And then there’s October 7, 1955. The occasion was the opening of the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. There, a poetry reading was held, hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia and Allen Ginsberg.
This is generally accepted as the seminal moment that brought together key members of the Beat Generation. At the Gallery, Ginsberg read his most well known work, Howl, which launched his career, an obscenity trial, and a revolutionary literary movement that shook the staid postwar dust from America’s feet and took us on a trip – literally and metaphorically – from which many have never returned. The poetry reading and Ginsberg’s Howl turned American culture on its head, ushering in a rebellion that bubbled in the 1950s, exploded in the 60s, and has remained the lifeblood of counter-culture to this day.
So, as you settle in to your evening calm, give a nod to Poe and Ginsberg. Then, give them a read.
October 7, 2015