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MODERNISTS, BOHEMIANS, MAVERICKS

Jim Burns

Paperback 6" x 9" 299pp ISBN 978-1-913144-24-1  published March 2021

from Jim's Introduction

This twelfth selection of reviews and essays kicks off with a couple of personal pieces which, taken together, might provide a pointer to some of my concerns over the years. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of bohemia, in both its social and literary/artistic manifestations. There’s a long catalogue of novels, stories, poems, memoirs, and social histories dealing with bohemian centres such as Greenwich Village, Montparnasse, Montmartre, Soho, and other urban locations, together with artists’ colonies like St Ives, Pont-Aven and numerous additional places where painters congregated. 

There are people who dismiss the whole notion of bohemia as simply a distraction from the work of a few geniuses who kept themselves apart from all the supposed frivolities and created the works that are really worthy of our attention.  It seems to me that to stick to the main avenues of literature or art, and ignore all the side-streets, minor roads, and even the cul-de-sacs, is to miss a lot that can be entertaining. I’ve often tried to delve into areas of activity that have been overlooked or forgotten, and in doing so have come across numerous interesting books and fine paintings.

 

From Times Literary Supplement No 5652 July 29 2011 NB back page

Among the more agreeable features of the literary world is the proximity of the ivory tower to the dusty side street. The criti­cal sage, whether he likes it or not, is neigh­bour to the offbeat prowler. Jim Burns is such a one. For half a century, he has inhabited the zone of small press and little magazine, track­ing rebel writers and syncopated songsters. The title of a collection of essays, Beats, Bohemians and Intellectuals (2001), sums him up. Now Mr Burns, who lives in the unlikely setting of Cheadle, Cheshire, has issued Radicals, Beats and Beboppers. Its thirty items appeared originally in publica­tions many readers of this journal will not have heard of: Beat Scene, Prop 3, Penniless Press. Many of its characters are likewise tributarial: Maxwell Bodenheim, Walter Lowenfels, Anatole Broyard.

Mr Burns can tell you what Jack Kerouac was reading in 1941 - the novels of Albert Halper, whoever he was - how the screenplay of The Sweet Smell of Success by Clifford Odets differs from the novella by Ernest Leh­man, on which it is based; what sort of music Jackson Pollock listened to while painting. Burns dismisses the suggestion that Pollock found in the "speed and jarring harmony" of bebop "an apt analogue to his own work". Sometimes he listened to classical music.

An essay on Robert McAlmon, owner of Contact Editions which issued Hemingway's first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, begins with the unarguable assertion, "Few people today read McAlmon's poetry". Mr Burns shows how McAlmon moved from "poetic language" to "ideas" to a sort of sub-Waste Land verse. By the time he reaches McAlmon's toilet-paper poem ("Inferior goods make scabs / that turn the best people to crabs"), you might think forgetting is the kindest treatment; but you remain grateful to Mr Burns for having done the legwork. Radicals, Beats & Boppers is available from Penniless Press Publications.

 
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