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ARTISTS, BEATS & COOL CATS

Jim Burns

from Jim's Introduction

This fifth collection of essays and reviews ranges over a variety of subjects, some of them connecting to material in the earlier books. The Beats are an obvious example, though itís perhaps using the term loosely to link someone like Herbert Gold with them. But he did comment on the Beats in writing and perhaps saw himself as having had experiences which gave him insights into what Kerouac and Ginsberg and the others were doing. Iíve included a short piece about an obscure poet, Marty Matz, because it shows what fringe figures like him got up to. And Robert Reisner was someone who was on the fringes of the bohemian scene, though in a more productive way than Matz. It seems to me that people like Reisner ought to be remembered, if only in a short article.

There are surveys of several little magazines, as there were in my previous collections. Iíve always thought that they deserve to be written about because of how they can often evoke a particular period better than a detached history can. And there are often poems, stories, essays, and other items in them which may never have been reprinted in book form, but which have much to offer to alert readers. Forgotten and overlooked writers are a constant source of discovery and pleasure for me.

Paperback 6" x 9" 249pp ISBN 978-1-291-85067-3  published August 2014

From Times Literary Supplement No 5808 July 25 2014

This collection of reviews and essays is an entertaining homage to bohemia by one of its own. Jim Burns - a veteran fringe poet recently celebrated in these pages as "an offbeat prowler" - takes a "personal" look at various post-Second World War writers, artists, musicians and patrons, many of whose talents and innovations have been obscured by the glare of their more famous contemporaries. As he puts it in his introduction, "forgotten and overlooked writers are a constant source of discovery and pleasure for me". Beyond these "beautiful failures", Burns also fills in the gaps left by "the mini-industry" around select members of the counter-cultural canon - from Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs to Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Mark Rothko.

Spanning forty years of passionate and professedly non-academic criticism, Artists, Beats and Cool Cats documents the enduring allure of the beatnik aesthetic from the perspective of a lifelong devotee. Indeed, Burns is at his most interesting when examining his own emotional and artistic responses to particular works - in a retrospective piece on Kerouac's Maggie Cassidy, for example, he evokes his teenage thrill at finding a kindred, jazz-inspired voice. Later, describing Robert McAlmon's failure to deliver on his early promise, Burns astutely observes that "his poems [are] often prosaic, his prose clumsy and slipshod. And yet something shines through the shortcomings. Call it honesty, if you will, but it holds the attention". Though Burns understands experimental artistic undertakings as "acts of heroism", he is equally keen to point out the superficiality and self-indulgence induced by the "Beatnik Daze": "Pity the would-be bohemians of tomorrow", he writes in 1976; "Perhaps they'll have to get back to writing, painting, etc, if there's nothing else unconventional to do".

Burns's essay on Yiddish poetry offers a fascinating glimpse into New York in the 1910s and a movement whose immigrant members also "worked in sweatshops, or had jobs as painters and decorators, night watchmen, and shoemakers". Other highlights include an essay on the Olympia Press proprietor Maurice Girodias, who defied the censors to publish Henry Miller, Burroughs and Samuel Beckett; a piece on Francis Bacon, Noel Coward and Paul Potts at Soho's Colony Club ("a small urinal full of fractious old geezers bitching about each other"); and a sobering comparison of Kerouac's travails with Jack Conroy's The Disinherited, a novel about life "on the road" during the Great Depression.

Guy Stevenson

 

 CONTENTS

DADA IN PARIS
ANOTHER CORNWALL
SVEN BERLIN
JACKSON POLLOCK	
WORDS FOR PAINTERS
MAGGIE CASSIDY
BEATNIK DAZE
ROBERT REISNER	
ORIGIN
BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE	
THE VILLAGE VOICE
KEROUAC GOES COMMERCIAL
MARTY MATZ
TANGIER
HERBERT GOLD
OLYMPIA PRESS
THE COLONY ROOM
ART & LITERATURE
YIDDISH POETS
AN ARMY OF PHANTOMS
DOROTHY PARKER
BEAUTIFUL FAILURES
WRITE AS SHORT AS YOU CAN
THE NOBLE SAVAGE
THE OBJECTIVISTS
DRUMS WITHOUT END
HARD TRAVELLING
MISSION TO MOSCOW
ROMANTIC REVOLUTIONARY
FILM ON THE LEFT
LITTLE MAGAZINES
MODERN READING	
EDWIN BROCK
IVORY TOWERS?
THE SWINGING DETECTIVE
THE HUNT
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
WEST COAST SOUNDS
BILLIE HOLIDAY
JOE GUY

 

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