exhibition index | introduction | a note on the collections | exhibition checklist


The Beats and Beyond celebrates the remarkable growth of the Rare Book Collection’s holdings of post–World War II American avant-garde poetry over the past fifteen years. Development of this collecting area has been gradual but steady, with items purchased both as collections and individually. Today, the RBC holds thousands of modern American poetry items, by both mainstream (or “academic”) writers and by participants in the counterculture.

First mimeo and first City Lights editions of Howl (1956).
Checklist nos. 70 and 71.

While the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibition Room has hosted several displays focused on writers associated with the Beat movement—Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac—the hundreds of items in the collection published by these authors’ peers and successors have received relatively little public exposure. The “beyond” in the exhibition’s title refers to members of the other loose groupings of poets identified by Donald M. Allen in his landmark book, The New American Poetry, 1945–1960. Published by Grove Press in 1960, the anthology divides its contributors into five basic groups: those who published in the periodicals Origin and The Black Mountain Review; participants in the San Francisco Renaissance; the Beats; the New York School; and others with distinctive voices who don’t fit into any of the first four categories. Allen acknowledges the significant amount of crossover between groups; he emphasizes the contributors’ “one common characteristic: a total rejection of all those qualities typical of academic verse.” That all of the poets truly share this characteristic is arguable, and there are some major omissions from Allen’s anthology, but his schema still proves useful in thinking about poetry of the postwar period.

Charles Olson and Diane di Prima, ca. 1960s. Photographer unknown.

The structure of The New American Poetry was an organizing principle for an important exhibition mounted a decade ago at the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection. This show, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, has in turn been an inspiration for The Beats and Beyond. Curated by Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, it covered the period from 1960 to 1980 and included many examples of “little magazines” from the mimeograph revolution that took place during these years.

The RBC’s exhibition includes works dating from the third quarter of the twentieth century, a period that began with memories of World War II still fresh in the minds of the public and ended with the official termination of the protracted conflict in Vietnam. The Beats and Beyond is organized by group and theme rather than strictly chronologically, but poets very often appear in more than one section of the exhibition. For example, work by poet Diane di Prima, many of whose papers and journals reside in the Rare Book Collection, appears not only alongside that of her fellow Beats, but also in cases addressing poetic responses to the feminist movement and to the Vietnam War. di Prima’s poetry could also easily have been displayed with work by writers of the San Francisco Renaissance, as she moved to the West Coast in 1968 and has lived there ever since. Even for those poets who basically stayed in one place throughout their writing lives, collaboration with writers connected with other groups was commonplace during this period, and the products of these working associations are multiple and fascinating. Some highlights of the exhibition include one of fifty hand-colored copies of Robert Duncan’s Fragments of a Disorderd [sic] Devotion, inscribed to painter R. B. Kitaj; the typescript for an early unproduced play submitted by Frank O’Hara to Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s Living Theatre; a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind inscribed to Allen Ginsberg; one of approximately twenty-five mimeographed copies of Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl”; and notebooks filled with manuscript poems by Diane di Prima, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, and Ted Berrigan. While the Saltarelli exhibition space cannot come close to displaying even the greatest riches of the Rare Book Collection’s modern American poetry holdings, The Beats and Beyond suggests the significant depth and breadth of the collection. We hope that the tantalizing glimpses of both extremely scarce or unique items like those listed above and ephemeral materials such as announcements for readings and mimeographed little magazines will encourage visitors to Wilson Library to make use of the RBC’s holdings for their research and instruction needs.

The first two issues of The Black Mountain Review.
Checklist no. 4

Back to Top | Next Section: A Note on the Collections