Let’s Hear It for the Ladies of the Beat Generation

from the cover of Women of the Beat Generation

Forget Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. 

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.

Barbara Guest

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.

”This wide net, I am treading water
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.

“this kind of bird flies backwards
and this love
breaks on a windowpane
where no light talks”

Hettie Jones

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.

”now that we’ve plunged into war
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”

Joanna McClure

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.

“The wolf had amber eyes
That stared out
The back of a station wagon.

They caught me
Waiting, as I was, on the lawn.

My breath stopped short,
A little.
My heart freed itself.

Denise Levertov

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.

“My presence made them
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

Contributing Editor

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.