What happens if we decenter the notion of “Beat literature” from the Ginsberg–Kerouac–Burroughs triumvirate? After all, what constitutes Beat literature or the Beat Movement is hardly limited to the most well-known, reproduced, or written-about texts. While still acknowledging those texts’ importance, in this chapter I want to take the opportunity to offer five brief sketches of other writers “on the scene” circa 1958 and 1959: Tuli Kupferberg, Jack Micheline, Ted Joans, Diane di Prima, and Lenore Kandel. None are particularly obscure figures, but they tend to be spoken about either as writers emerging in the 1960s (Kupferberg, Kandel) or as secondary lights (Micheline, Joans), or in the case of di Prima as the supposedly lone Beat woman writing in the 1950s. None of these characterizations are exactly correct, as all five writers were active in their own ways throughout the 1950s. While each of these writers invoked their connections to the Beat scene via their knowledge of or intimacy with more visible writers such as Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac, rather than merely mimicking the work of such figures in derivative ways, what characterizes their writing is a self-conscious analysis and critique of the Beats as both literary phenomenon and cultural construct. Moreover, in attuning ourselves to the ways these writers formulated Beatness, we find that their work makes broadly political interventions, an idea that challenges conventional wisdom, which holds that Beat writing, at least circa 1958 and 1959, was resolutely apolitical.
“The War Against the Beats”
Tuli Kupferberg has long been associated with both the broader Greenwich Village literary scene and the Beats in particular, although he has received relatively scant critical attention. When critics do mention Kupferberg, it tends to be in connection to the 1960s incarnation of Beatness, when he and Ed Sanders fronted the Fugs, a satirical band devoted to equal parts poetry and rock ’n’ roll that became known for its anti-Vietnam War songs like “Kill for Peace” (1966; written by Kupferberg). In his “complete, uncensored history” of the Beats, for example, Bill Morgan only mentions Kupferberg once, in a passage about the Fugs in a final chapter called “The End of the Road.”