The Importance of Being Beat

A Failed Revolution

Marco Montagnin

it was an ephemeral revolution that was nipped in the bud because it was incompatible with the times

I was a boy then, when I opened that book for the first time: some pictures, some words bound for creating vibrant, everlasting images visions that were to remain for posterity through ink, which stuck in my mind. I read that book, thinking like many, to have understood life and found a way to live – though maybe I did not fully comprehend it. That very same dirty, weathered book, which I had found in a stall, was On the Road.

It was only later that I fell in love with the Beat Generation, and I began collecting their works, although not all of them; only those that chance put in my hands. By reading them, my initial idea turned out to be completely wrong: it was not a revolution in Literature, nor a way of life; it was not a bunch of words, or images glorifying respect, freedom, to live a full life – those were only the surface.
They were first and foremost intellectuals who loved Dostoevskij, Pound, Whitman, Yeats, and many others; they were friends who opened up to each other, tossed around by life on a road on which reversing was impossible, one could only carry on going with no destination.

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’ ‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”[1]

Their novels ooze love for literature and are filled with references. For those who believe that Beat writers were crass wordsmiths, they were unsuccessful at grasping everything; for those who believe it was a revolution, it was an ephemeral revolution that was nipped in the bud because it was incompatible with the times, and for those who believe they were cheap prophets, bizarre fortune tellers, if anything two crackpots, they were only telling stories. If these stories turn out accurate, it was only because they lived in the same world.

The Beat movement was one that accepted everyone: ‘fags’, ‘filthy chicks’, ‘niggers’ and ‘males’; because, deep inside, we all are ethereal, beings of fire that burn, crazy with life that we turn into orgasm, a tree that becomes a forest, and then back to humans dying in pleasure while exploding in different visions. It is the color that continuously mutates in our fragmented mind, hair of angels, Dharma Bums who sit exhausted along a road – that road being life – and suddenly awaken and begin running, cutting through time, running straight along disjointed roads in space-time without a destination, leaving, leaving, running, talking just for the sake of feeling alive, fornicating in order to not feel lonely but part of the universe, and in doing so return one and become no one.

Johnny leaps about the room in agony. With a scream that shatters the glass wall he stands spread-eagle to the rising sun, blood spurting out his cock… a white marble god, he plummets through epileptic explosions into the old Medjoub writhe in shit and rubbish by a mud wall under a sun that scar and grab the flesh into goose-pimples…. He is a boy sleeping against the mosque wall, ejaculates wet dreaming into a thousand cunts pink and smooth as sea shells, feeling the delight of prickly pubic hairs slide up his cock.[2]

They all died, one by one, apart and alone: some suddenly, others after being forced to be the last ones. And now that they are all dead, they continue living through their nom de plume, chained into a broken circle with no end, passed down in book form, corrupted, abstracted from images of a world that no longer belongs to them.


The old men are waiting for it to be finished
for their glorious sentence on earth
to be finished the slow bell tolls & tolls
the pigeons strut about not even thinking of flying
the air too heavy with heavy tolling The black hired hearses draw up
the black limousines with black windowshades shielding the widows
the widows with the black long veils who will outlive them all
You have seen them
madre de terra, madre di mare
The widows climb out of the limousines
The family mourners step out in stiff suits The widows walk so slowly
up the steps of the cathedral fishnet veils drawn down leaning hard on darkcloth arms Their faces do not fall apart
They are merely drawn apart They are still the matriarchs outliving everyone
in Little Italys all over America the old dead dagos
hauled out in the morning sun that does not mourn for anyone One by one Year by year
they are carried out
The bell
never stops tolling
The old Italians with lapstrake faces are hauled out of the hearses
by the paid pallbearer
in mafioso mourning coats & dark glasses The old dead men are hauled out
in their black coffins like small skiffs They enter the true church
for the first time in many years in these carved black boats
The priests scurry about
as if to cast off the lines The other old men
still alive on the benches watch it all with their hats on
You have seen them sitting there
waiting for the bocce ball to stop rolling waiting for the bell
for the slow bell
to be finished tolling telling the unfinished Paradiso story as seen in an unfinished phrase
on the face of a church in a black boat without sails
making his final haul[3]

[1] Jack Kerouac, Sulla strada, Mondadori

On the road

[2] William Seward Burroughs, Naked lunch

[3] Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Greatest poems, Mondadori, pp.186-188

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