Beatniks on parade 1958.
“Part I. In 1958, in Richmond, across the bay from San Francisco, I was in the twelfth grade. In Mrs. Weatherby’s English class, a history of literature, the mandatory play was Hamlet. We had come to Wordsworth about the time of the Howl trial in San Francisco. Beatnik life exposés filled the Chronicle. Grant Avenue seemed like a bizarre heaven of music, strange poetry, weird characters—a break from the Eisenhower ordinary. That spring I went over to the Grant Avenue Fair with my friend Bob. The afternoon was sunny, with a slight bite to the wind, and flooded with people. Up Grant were coffeehouses, booth after booth of craftspeople and artists, lots of sandals and canvas paintings. Inside a storefront two black musicians were playing, one the congos, the other a flute. … Bob and I walked up the street and stared through the front window of the Coffee Gallery, amazed at the intense concentration of two men playing chess in the window and the big audience that perused each move. Then, as we turned back down the street, about an hour later we came to a big crowd at the corner of Vallejo and found another man up on the box, surrounded by a huge crowd of at least a hundred people. … The Early 1960s: Sacred Texts and Populist Publications. After four years away at college, I went to San Francisco State in the early 1960s as a graduate student in creative writing. There I began to hear poetry in a regular way. The Poetry Center, begun in the late 1950s under the direction of Ruth Witt-Diamant and Robert Duncan, presented a series of readings each semester. While I was at State (1962-1965), the director was Jim Schevill, assisted by Mark Linenthal. Every other week in the Gallery Lounge, one or two poets read. The mix was rather broad. I remember hearing, from the Bay Area, Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth, Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, Jack Gilbert, and Helen Adam; from the Midwest and the East, John Logan, Robert Mezey, and LeRoi Jones; and from England, Charles Tomlinson. For me the Tuesday afternoon ritual was deeply important. I was paid $2.50 to setup the folding chairs in rows of perfect arcs facing the podium, and then take them down again. It was a special gestalt, as if a unique architecture were required to get an accurate rendering of the poet’s true voice. Indeed, at their best, readings in the Gallery could give the poem a purity of enactment. …”
FoundSF: Poetry Readings/Reading Poetry in the San Francisco Bay Area
FoundSF: Poems in Street, Coffeehouse, and Print—The Mid-1960s
FoundSF: The Language in Trouble—The Late 1960s
FoundSF: The New Diversity—The Early 1970s
FoundSF: A Time for Assessment—The Late 1970s-Early 1980s