Did you know there were beatniks in Southern California at around the same time beat scenes were developing in SF and NY? It's a long forgotten history and since I'm in L.A. now I decided to do some research on it recently. I knew that Venice was where they had congregated oh so many years ago, so I took a drive there to walk around. I thought of J&T and it made me a little sad as I walked along the idyllic Venice canals. Things seemed lost in another time there. Aside from some nearby building development and gentrification, not much seems to have changed. It has a different feel than contemporary North Beach or Greenwich Village...more seedy and bohemian.
After this excursion, I went to the library and found:
Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California
John Arthur Maynard
Rutgers University Press, 1993
Wow, what an eye opener. I had no idea that the concept of "dedicated poverty" came from the Southern California beats. It's why you don't hear about them as much as the more famous beats (Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Whalen, etc.). Aside from the older Lawrence Lipton, who pseudo-documented the scene in The Holy Barbarians (1959), the only other successful poet was Stuart Perkoff. And unfortunately, he was a junkie. It's clear from reading this book that there was a connection in the minds of the Venice beats between living freely and living in poverty. Yet the ones who really dedicated themselves to asceticism were able to do so because they had family or spousal financial support. In any case, their whole idea - very novel for the time (when consumerism was on the rise in suburban America in the '50s) - was that the only way to be free to create would be to work as little as possible and form few material attachments.
Lipton was a colleague of Kenneth Rexroth who was a big influence on the Northern California beats. Rexroth was more academic, though, and didn't approve much of the Venice West lifestyle. The book compares and contrasts Lipton and the Venice writers with Rexroth and the SF writers. There's a bias against Lipton, warranted or not, due to the belief that he was somewhat of an opportunist and took advantage of his younger protégés. Many of the younger poets later resented him for publishing The Holy Barbarian, which is really interesting to me since I think a lot about how culture is documented. Lipton's book was sensationalistic, but it brought California beats to the attention of the rest of America. It made the American media take serious note of the ideas and creative works that were flowing freely out of the minds of an underground community.
Would it have been better if Lipton's book had never been published? Venice West's author, John Maynard, does a good job at critiquing the many issues and personalities at play. I really enjoyed reading this book. But it made me realize that I don't believe in dedicated poverty, because I no longer buy into the romanticized