from the cover of Women of the Beat Generation
If those were the founding fathers that contributed to the glory of what is now known as Beat Poetry, then let me present to you a few of the fire-blazing women that helped define this generation.
photo by Donna Dennis, 1970s
Arising in the 1950’s as an American prose stylist and poet, Barbara Guest’s work spans over 15 books of poetry in over sixty years, as well as various essays, plays and biographies. Her poem, “Parachutes My Love, Could Carry Us Higher” uniquely captures the uncertainty that spirals within the new foundations of love.
Near it, bubbles are rising and salt
Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer
Air than water. I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished.”
Diane Di Prima
from the cover of her book, Memoirs of a Beatnik
Emerging as a writer through the Beat Movement, Diane Di Prima’s work consists of more than 40 books, poetry and short story collections, including This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards in 1958. Aside from her publications, she was also named Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2009. Her poem “The Window” makes an example of the different kind of love you can feel, no matter how strange it seems.
and this love
breaks on a windowpane
where no light talks”
With accomplishments such as The Norma Faber First Book Award, Hettie Jones’s work spans from various poetry collections to running writing workshops and teaching classes in New York City. Her poem “Weather” clashes the prosperity of war against the unpredictability of the weather.
and wars don’t stop like rain stops
like that last slow drizzle
onto the old tin bathroom vent
sweet hint of growth
in the soft wet drift north”
An almost unknown poet, Joanna McClure rose through the Beat Movement more quietly than her contemporaries. Over the years, she developed her own poetic voice and began publishing her work through various literary journals, before publishing her first chapbook, Wolf Eyes in 1974. Her poem, “Wolf Poem 1” combines that instinct and danger found in loving someone so wild and free.
That stared out
The back of a station wagon.
They caught me
Waiting, as I was, on the lawn.
My breath stopped short,
My heart freed itself.
at The Living Theatre, 1959
Influenced by her religious roots and the politically active age of the 60’s/70’s, Denise Levertov’s work comprises of a mixture of the traditional and the unconventional poetic forms. With 24 poetry collections under her belt, she has also received various awards such as the Shelley Memorial Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize for her writing. Her poem, “Aware” makes a metaphor out of dropping in on a conversation, of watching people communicate quickly before being noticed whilst musing on the idea of eavesdropping on human life.
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.”
Interested in digging in further, check out these books we love:
Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution by Brenda Knight
Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years by Diane di Prima
Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation by Ronna C. Johnson & Nancy M. Grace
Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane di Prima
Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir by Joyce Johnson
How I Became Hettie Jones by Hettie Jones
Jade Mitchell is an 18 year old poet / writer who resides near Glasgow, Scotland. Her work has been featured in The Grind Journal, Inky Paper and Ink Scotland. Aside from working on her writing and poetry, you can find her listening to Lorde and reading every poem she can find in sight.