Tales of Beatnik Glory

by Edward Sanders
   Described as a “cluster novel,” Tales of Beatnik Glory illustrates the lives of those who roamed the Beat streets of 1960s New York. Taking a hindsight vision of the Beat Generation as it melded slowly into hippiedom, edward sanders investigates a time when poetry and folk singing were radical acts and everyone, from university professors to distraught mothers-in-law, came face to face with the “deviants” of the “rucksack revolution.” As he writes in “The Filmmaker,” “With a generation readily present who viewed their lives as on a set, there was no need to hunt afar for actors and actresses. What a cast of characters was roaming the village streets of 1962!” Sanders writes in “The Poetry Reading,” the novel’s opening story, that “it was impossible for the pulse-grabbers at the throat of culture to deny the beats.” They became a palpable force during the 1950s and 1960s in cities like New York where rebellion against all forms of social control was the norm of the day. From protests against injustices such as racism and war to illicit drug use and free love, Sanders maps the “scene” in its often bizarre and hilarious transformations where the main propulsion, he writes, “came from a desperate search for some indication that the universe was more than a berserk sewer.”
   A master of satire, Sanders pokes fun equally at authority figures and at his Beat characters. In “The Mother-in-Law” the denizens of the “beat scene” miss “no poetry reading, no art show, no concert in an obscure loft, no lecture, no event of sufficiently rebellious nature,” and when looking for an apartment, a prime consideration was “how long the door would hold up in a dope raid.” Thus, from the authorities who would not allow poetry in a café without a cabaret license to the “weekend beatniks” who would “pay a pretty penny for genuine flip-out garb,” to the “microfilmed transcriptions” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Poetry Operations Division, Sanders surrounds the era in an aura of the ridiculous. In “The Cube of Potato Soaring through Vastness,” Sanders even chronicles a university conference on “The Death of the Beat Generation,” a typical academic farce of co-option at which Sanders’s book flatly sticks its tongue out.
   Yet, in the midst of the fun, Sanders does not shy away from the sensitive subjects of the time. For every Beat accomplishment, for every social more that was wounded, there was a victim of oppression and excess, an amphetamine-wasted body, bragging “I lose trillions of cells everyday, man, grooo-VY,” or shrieking as does Uncle Thrills, one of the novel’s many strung out junkies, “I’ve puked my life away here, I tell you. . . .”
   In “A Book of Verse,” the novel comes full circle. Sanders autobiographically describes his first run-in with allen ginsberg’s “howl,” describing the shock it delivered to his placid, midwestern worldview. The novel ends with Sanders leaving for New York to become a poet, pointing the reader right back to page one.
   Jennifer Cooper

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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