I the only person struck by the irony in the vital and energetic
debate going on in San Francisco over Dana Gioia's assertions
that there isn't enough energy and vitality of the San Francisco
go back to the commentary of Robert Duncan, who in explaining
the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s said that the necessary
ingredients in a poetic movement growing up in a region is
controversy (read here critical debate) and enthusiasm (read
here audience response).
to that a catalyst even approximating the fulminating power
of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady - central
generative powers of the early 1950s underculture in the midst
of a crusty but fracturing national culture - and the nation
had on its hands something more than mere vitality, it had
itself a mini-cultural revolution.
where better for it to have occurred than in San Francisco,
which Rexroth rightly described as the only city in the country
not founded by either the southern genteel cavaliers or by
uptight New England puritans.
might wonder what Rexroth thought of New Orleans, perhaps,
but putting that aside he wasn't that far off in pointing
to the radical, anarchistic and freethinking origins of San
Francisco - remember Jack London? - as his rationale for leaving
his own Chicago - the town of Ben Hecht and Sherwood Anderson
- for the even more radical west.
got there before most anyone else, and when people like Ferlinghetti,
Snyder, Whalen, Lamantia, McClure and the rest began to be
magnetized to the same place - not to mention Duncan, who
brought with him substantial schooling from Black Mountain
College back to his home town - the groundwork was laid.
is a kind of paradigm in Ginsberg and Kerouac's escape from
the constraints and strangle hold of the formalist New Criticism
oligarchy of New York, with their eyes cast toward Europe,
to a place where undercultural musings could blossom into
a fullblown cultural movement.
In those days the exchange from west to east took its form
in bus tickets and thumbs out in the highway. Ginsberg and
Kerouac and others had to commit months to their trek between
coasts. Today's panregionalists may avail themselves of airplane
and the overarching reach of internet.
the world of poetry status may have devolved to a decentralized
constellation of academic institutions, publications and other
ennoblizers these days, there remains in the American context
a distinct undercultural drive which a community like San
Francisco is nicely situated to fill - despite the avenues
offered by Seattle Grunge, Nuyorican slam, or Los Angeles
remains in San Francisco the cachet of a region as a place
from which the fodder of creative activity may grow. And as
a sociological phenomenon, it is one which may sustain - or
smother - the growth of an indigienous literary subculture.
In all these aspects, San Francisco is well situated to continue
to serve as a venue for a literary culture to flourish.
make requisite for that flourishing the need for a specific
mechanism of critical debate - literary journals - is specious.
One might argue that the debate is joined as earnestly in
San Francisco as anywhere in the nation. More to the point,
it is taking place in a community that is built on foundations
of radical free thinking. There can be little doubt but that
debate - and the enthusiasm surrounding it - will continue
to sustain a vital local literary scene.
stars? There are stars which have fallen in the atmosphere
of American literary culture, yet their impact remains - how
long was Black Mountain in operation? But the generative power
of major regions of American culture have more durability
than that. Boston was for ages a bastion of intellectual currency.
The beefy mid-western muscle and pure hustle of Chicago continues
to fuel its artists. New York? Enuf said.
it is enuf said when it comes to San Francisco and the Bay
Area. This is a community that continues to build on its incredibly
vital radical traditions. The pure generative power of those
traditions are more than sufficient to infuse the literary
community with energy and that vital ingredient Duncan so
aptly tipped his hat to - fertile debate.
it comes to San Francisco, this star don't fall.
Academy's claims to ownership of this nations' culture are
as perennial. Is today's academy as oppressive as that faced
by the Beats in the 1950s? Hardly. Yet anointment of participants,
to whom the spoils of the poetry career go, is still largely
controlled by the academy. And the inherent dangers of the
academy - conformity, smothering of disssent and debate, are
a modest prescription for San Francisco. Cultivate the anti-academic.
Remain a nursey to debate, and every once in a while a launching
pad for America's prophets. Let New York be New York.
Europen notion of the academy sits poorly on the American
landscape. Whenever the oppressive establishment becomes too
suffocating, writers will turn to the freethinking anarchy
of San Francisco, with its vitality of debate and friendliness
of contention, for resuscitation. and every so often, the
scene will explode into national conciousness and shake the
foundations of American culture.
America there will always be a place and a need for San Francisco.
While the Beats lit a fuse in New York, it was in San Francisco
that the freedom they encountered enabled their cultural bomb