It was 1955 when Allen Ginsberg performed Howl for the first time. Sixty years later, The Literary Society of St Andrews celebrated his works and the works of other Beat poets with a dynamic and enthusiastic reading at Aikman’s on September 14th.
‘Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!’ said Whitman is his eponymous poem. And that is how the night began, Robbie Leeson hypnotised the audience with his saxophone and silence filled the room. Several students performed (Tahra Mok, Nicola Simonetti, Ryan Hay), reading out their favourite poems while enjoying a pint or two. It was an impromptu reading, as LitSoc tried to evoke the inspired, yet disorganized atmosphere of the Beats. Aikman’s basement was the ideal environment. With more than thirty people crammed in at sunset, it conveyed a vibe of craziness and audacity that Ginsberg must have felt the first time he started writing his most known poem ‘Howl’. The Jam Session could not have taken place anywhere else.
Without any sort of introduction (Kerouac, Ginsberg and Whitman need none), the Beat Generation Jam Session was simply a group of loud people spontaneously sharing, or rather screaming, their poems. Featuring an integral reading of ‘Howl’ by Alexandra Julienne (President of Inklight), major and minor poems were performed. After a few breaks for chatting, Samantha Evans, who is working on a dissertation-documentary on the Beat Poets, shared some of her knowledge about the first reading of ‘Howl’ at the Six Poet at Six Gallery Reading, and what happened at their after party. The bohemian lifestyle anecdote is a bit too risqué to be included in this review.
LitSoc’s Jam Session is the living proof that ‘the Beat is not dead!’. Similar to the landmark 6 Gallery reading in 1955, the Beat Generation reading brought together a remarkable number of artists (and viewers), all sharing their passion for a literary group which changed the way society was perceived. From shouting at performers to speed up to simply listening, everybody stepped forward and contributed to the Jam Session in one way or another. Besides being an educative experience (which was not the purpose of this social), the Beat Generation reading’s liveliness disposed of the idea of Poetry Slams as one-way experiences where a few performers deliver their poetry to an audience. It offered, instead, a two-way experience, where everybody learnt, read, and responded to Postmodern poetry and the Beat poets themselves thanks to half a dozen books provided by LitSoc.
Continuing for more than two hours, the Jam Session did not attract only English students or native speakers already familiar with the Beat vocabulary. On the contrary, it was a melting pot of different cultures and literary traditions, making of Aikman’s the new Six Gallery of St Andrews. Might this seal the rise of a new literary group denouncing the madness destroying the best minds of our generation?
Either way, the success and uniqueness of the Beat Generation Jam Session cannot be denied. As Kerouac himself said: ‘Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion’.
Photo credit to Nicola Simonetti and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, U of T