Andy Clausen’s “Beat: A First-Hand Account of the Latter Days of the Beat Generation”

Reviewed by Arnold Snyder

This book is a treasure trove of stories about the poets and writers we now think of as the beats — Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Micheline, Peter Orlovsky, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman, Ray Bremser, Bob Kaufman, Harold Norse, Philip Whalen, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and many others.

Clausen was not there in the 1950s heyday of the beats when most of these characters were labeled the “beat generation” by the lame media struggling to understand them. But in the 60s and 70s and since, he got to know them all, hung out with them, did poetry readings with them and was accepted and respected by them as one of them. Ginsberg became his mentor and Corso became one of his close friends.

This is a fun book to read. Clausen describes what to expect from it early on:

I will try and keep you awake with stories of the latter-day Beats and they might pop up out of sequence, rolling out of my mind like a film edited by Dziga Vertov, dreams, subplots, asides, but all of it the way I saw and heard it. You’ll get to know me and you can decide how accurate I am . . . Sometimes I’ve paraphrased or approximated, but when you read this you will hear it like it was yesterday.

Having personally heard Clausen read his poetry hundreds of times in the 1970s, I can attest to the fact that his voice and his style come through beautifully in this long, rambling memoir. It’s written in many ways more like poetry than prose. It’s not a chronological retelling of his experiences with these characters, but a never-ending series of random anecdotes that jump all over the place time-wise.

I’ve mentioned in other reviews on this site that one of the reasons I like both Henry Miller’s and Charles Bukowski’s prose is that you can open any of their books anywhere and just start reading and they capture you. Their prose rings of poetry. Clausen’s writing is the same. Here’s how he describes the scene where a small group of poets are gathered in San Francisco prior to attending a reading by Ginsberg:

Out of the cracked for air kitchen window, one could hear the big bassoon boats and oboe tugs, big notes expanding, shaking the potato fog as Karl Malden’s 400-horse interceptor engine roars hopping an asphalt mogul and the eye-poultice crisp blue drinkability of the Hamm’s Beer sign, hear the tom-toms, ‘from the land of sky blue waters, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s Beer,’ and the Chinese sounds like Mozart midst Slavic proverbs as new money staggers into dark limos and Spanglish and Calexico blasts from boombox sidewalks dancing and wall shaking low riders with the streetside boo wafting and David Moe wants us all to stop our attempts at humor and parsing of the day’s news and listen to his new poem.

I knew Andy in the 1970s when he was a fixture at the poetry readings in Berkeley and San Francisco. At the time, I knew he was connected with a few of the beat poets. He introduced me to Jack Micheline one night at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco. He’d named his son “Cassidy,” after beat legend Neal Cassady. I read somewhere that Allen Ginsberg said the first time he saw Andy read he felt he was seeing a young Neal Cassady.

I used to haunt the poetry readings in the Bay area to do comedy in the guise of poetry, antics more or less tolerated by the poetry crowd. I must have seen Andy read hundreds of times through the 1970s, mostly at the Starry Plough Irish Pub and La Salamandra in Berkeley, but also at the Coffee Gallery and Minnie’s Can Do Club in San Francisco and other local poets hangouts. I was a poetry pretender, but Andy was the real thing — passionate and boisterous. He was prolific. I don’t think I ever saw him read the same poem twice.

He was a working man, a hard-drinking hod carrier and strong as an ox. He used to brag about how many one-armed push-ups he could do and I saw him demonstrate this talent on many a barroom floor.

Clausen lived his entire life for poetry and was as deeply connected to the beat poets as anyone alive. Ginsberg praised him, traveled with him, invited him to do readings with him, as did Gregory Corso and many other well-known beat poets. Yet, Clausen has remained relatively unknown. If you go to the Poetry Foundation website that lists thousands of poets, Clausen’s name is not there. If you go to poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets, you won’t find any mention of Andy Clausen. Andy is well-known in the poetry underground, but virtually unknown in the world at large.

The fact is Andy is too blue collar, too crude, too rough, too real to be recognized by the academics that decide which poets and writers are worthy of fame. Ginsberg was more educated, more erudite, more sophisticated, more worthy. It matters not that Ginsberg and other well-known beats praised Clausen’s work. Clausen is more like Bukowski, who went almost his entire life as a nobody as far as academia was concerned.

Now, because of this book, because of the stories Andy tells of his travels and adventures with Ginsberg and Corso, et al., I see Andy is starting to be recognized. I haven’t seen Andy for 40 years and up until a short time ago, I didn’t even know he was still alive. Now, I see he’s going to be doing a reading at the Las Vegas Clark County Library (Nov 8, 7 pm) and leading a discussion at Nevada State College in Henderson (Nov 8, 1 pm) and doing a writers workshop in Las Vegas (Nov 9, 2 pm, Winchester-Dondero Cultural Center).

If you’re in Las Vegas at this time, here’s a rare chance to see the last of the beat poets. If you live on the east coast, Andy lives in Woodstock and still reads frequently in the New York/New Jersey area. Watch for him in a neighborhood bar near you.

Anne Waldman said: “The poems soar and rage but ultimately reside in empathy . . . Clausen’s oeurvre is a reminder that poetry comes from the street and struggle.”

Gregory Corso said: “That’s why I’m reading with Andy. He’s coming to the fore after living it for years.”

Allen Ginsberg said: “I have long admired his writing; of all the poets younger than my own generation in the U.S.A., he has for a long time seemed the most penetrant and clear and inventive and free.”

Beat: A First-Hand Account of the Latter Days of the Beat Generation is illustrated with line drawings by Michael Wojczuk, who was also a poet in the Berkeley crowd back then. I didn’t even know Michael was also an artist, but his illustrations are perfect for this book. There are also numerous photos of Andy and various of the beat poets, plus reproductions of posters for poetry readings, mostly from the 1970s and 80s.

Any aficionado of the beat poets would love this book. Andy’s stories introduce you to these legendary literary mavericks in such a personal way that they become real and human, with all of their faults and foibles in addition to their unique worldviews, far beyond what can be gleaned from their poetry.

Ppb, 210 pages. You can purchase this book for $17.95 from Amazon.

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When the Wolfbane Blooms

Another Smut4Nerds Story by Arnold Snyder

To Dustin Cathcart, werewolves weren’t just another Hollywood fiction. Werewolves were his business.

As founder and CEO of Lupine Solutions, LLC, he had access to a database of more than 1300 werewolves nationwide, available to him for any and all werewolf needs. He could provide bona fide werewolf services to individuals, small businesses, and major corporations.

Using the formulas developed by internationally-acclaimed lupinologist Dr. Dolphus Vanschtubenbergh, Dustin could now transform any man, woman, or child into a werewolf, without so much as a full moon.

The only problem—he couldn’t think of a damn thing anyone could possibly use a werewolf for. They were clumsy, rude, antisocial, and they smelled bad. They wouldn’t obey orders, they sometimes ate people’s pets, and on occasion developed a taste for human flesh.

But Dustin wasn’t going to let those impediments get in the way of business, especially not after he joined forces with Bridget Baskervilles, who was not only a con artist extraordinaire, but the sexiest babe in Strait City.

When the Wolfbane Blooms is the story of a nice midwestern boy who teams up with a nice midwestern girl to foster his lifelong dream of a world populated by nice midwestern werewolves.

If you want to read the first chapter of When the Wolfbane Blooms for free, click here.

If you want to buy When the Wolfbane Blooms on Amazon (a thoughtful gift if you have a friend with a perverse sense of humor), click here.

See also other Smut4Nerds classics: Pink Wedge, here,
and Transplant, here.

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Transplant

Another Smut4Nerds Classic

He was a plant trapped in a man’s body.

She was a woman trapped in a plant’s body.

Theirs was a love like the world had never known.

They called themselves transplants and for years they suffered in silence. But with a courage hitherto unseen in the annals of botany, they rose up to demand their rights.

Transplant is a story of love and betrayal, heroism and photosynthesis, the story of tomorrow’s headlines today.

If you want to read the first chapter of Transplant for free, click here.

To purchase Transplant at Amazon, 2.99/Kindle or 8.99 paperback (a thoughtful gift if you have a friend with a perverse sense of humor), here.

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Smut4Nerds: Dirty Books on My Terms

Arnold Snyder's Pink Wedge

by Arnold Snyder

My professional writing career began in 1972 when Greenleaf Classics, a big-time smut publisher, rejected a crazy sex story I’d submitted but put me in contact with an agent who provided me with Greenleaf’s formula sheets, which described the stories the editors would accept.

Unlike the manuscript I’d submitted, the accepted formulas were humorless, predictable, and repetitious, with little wiggle room for creative fun. But although commercial smut wasn’t artistically rewarding, it paid well. My wife and I could churn out a 40,000-word manuscript in a week and it paid $510 (after our agent took his 15% off the top). That was decent pay for a week’s work in the early 70s, especially considering the loose working conditions. For perspective: Our two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley was $190/mo.

I have no way of measuring what our hourly pay might have been. How do you measure your work hours when both of you are working all day, every day, until you finish cranking out the required word count? But during this time you are laying around in your underwear with the radio tuned to jazz or acid rock, chain-drinking coffee, chain smoking, taking breaks to get high and ponder the universe, yakking about who knows what, and f*cking like crazy?

There was a fun factor to writing smut together, even horrible, trite, repetitious smut . . .  Continue reading Smut4Nerds: Dirty Books on My Terms

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Quote of the Day, Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski… Writing was never work for me. It had been the same for as long as I could remember: turn on the radio to a classical music station, light a cigarette or a cigar, open the bottle. The typer did the rest. All I had to do was be there. The whole process allowed me to continue when life itself offered very little, when life itself was a horror show. There was always the typer to soothe me, to talk to me, to entertain me, to save my ass from the madhouse, from the streets, from myself.

Charles Bukowski,
Hollywood

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Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

hollywoodHollywood is the last installment of Bukowski’s autobiographical Henry Chinaski series. It’s the thinly-disguised story of the making of the 1987 movie, Barfly, which starred Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. The Chinaski of Hollywood is a radical departure from the Henry Chinaski of the earlier novels. In Hollywood, Hank is prosperous and content, doing what he wants, living in a comfortable house with his wife, whom he calls “my good Sarah,” driving a new BMW. Henry has it made. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood: Hank Gets Happy

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Charles Bukowski’s Pulp: A Drink to Victory

Pulp by Charles BukowskiPulp is the only one of Charles Bukowski’s novels that’s not written from the perspective of Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski. After all the agonized and hilarious autobiographical accounts of pain, frustration, poor health and madness of his earlier novels, the great man had at last come to a subject too enormous and painful to deal with directly.

Pulp was Bukowski’s last novel, published in 1994, the same year he died of leukemia at the age of 73. As he was writing this book, he knew his days were numbered. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Pulp: A Drink to Victory

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Quote of the Day, Rainer Maria Rilke

RilkeGo into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity …

— Rainer Maria Rilke,
from Letters to a Young Poet

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Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

Ham on Rye by Charles BukowskiCharles Bukowski’s fourth novel, Ham on Rye, was written in 1982, after he had found success as a writer, moved from East Hollywood to the harborside village of San Pedro, and had established his relationship with Linda Lee Beighle, whom he would marry and stay with the rest of his life. Ham on Rye is an autobiographical novel about Bukowski’s childhood during the Great Depression, and from this vantage point of relative security and well-being and love, he could look back on the harrowing forces that formed him in a way that transforms his personal pain into a brilliant work about what it is to be human. Continue reading Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye: The Good Fight

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