With the recent film premiere of On the Road and the upcoming release of Kill Your Darlings, it’s evident that Beat culture still manages to gain important notices in various art circles. Here’s a light chat with Christopher Carmona, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the writer of BEAT, a book of poetry, and he is just one of the many modern-day Beats residing near the great Rio Grande.
C’mon, Carmona . . . The Beat Generation is dead. We’re living in the past. Is Beat really still around today?
The Beat never died. What most people really think about when they think about the Beats is Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. But to quote Gregory Corso, “Three guys don’t make a generation.” This is true in the fact that there were literally hundreds of Beat poets, and there still are. The Beat ideology, however, is what has lived on through Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman, Raul Salinas, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others.
Do you view the Beat Generation as a time period, or as a genre of writing, or perhaps something else?
Lorna Dee Cervantes published an article not too long ago discussing how she is Beat. Beat is not literary academic canon, it is a philosophy of life and writing that speaks for and from the fringe characters of society that just happen to be the 99% . . . the working class, the radicalized classes of the United States and around the world, and weird people like William S. Burroughs with their flashes of brilliance and anti-establishment attitudes . . . These are the voices of the Beat movement, and it is something that has never stopped since three kids sat on a bar stool and talked about what being "Beat" really meant.
So what are the origins of the South Texas/Rio Grande Beats? Any pioneers of this growing southern Texas tribe?
Beats have always been here, but if you want a direct connection: William S. Burroughs used to own farmland down in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and he lived here with Joan Vollmer in the late 1940s. Also, Jack Kerouac came through here and wrote a short story called “A Wild Night in Brownsville”. But most of the resurgence of interest in the Beats has come from one person in particular: Rob Johnson. Rob first started teaching a Beat Literature course about 12 years ago at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, TX (on the border), and I was one of his first students in a small class of about 5 or 6 students. Now, Rob always has packed Beat classes. It was there that I got my first real introduction to the Beats. Several of his students, including myself, have gone on to be poets and writers in our own right who wave the Beat banner. Having started the “Beat Poetry & Arts Festival” 2 years ago, I have found that there are several poets and writers around the world that identify with the Beats and have started to consider themselves part of this new movement.
Given the recent and upcoming releases of Beat films (Howl, On the Road, and Kill Your Darlings), how do you see Beat literature evolving in the next decade?
I think the Beat sentiment is something that is inherent in anyone who has felt marginalized or feels that they don’t fit and they usually read On the Road or Howl and they find a connection with these writers. These new movies will reintroduce young people to a positive and non-vampire, zombie view of the world where reality is as beautiful as it is horrifying (sublime, if you will). Once they begin to tap into real life and their own personal stories that are important as opposed to escaping through fantasy romance and video games, they can start to fight for this world. So, yes, I think it will be a good thing because in my experience, the Beats never fail to light people up like a bonfire and cause to write and experience life.
The Beat goes on . . . as long poets and writers keep it going . . .
Copyright © 2013, Tony R. Rodriguez, Examiner.com