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? la Mode: Style Guide

Subculture style, Vol. 2


Beatniks shouldn’t just stay within the confines of your English class anthology.

Last week we went through England’s rude boys style from the 1950s and ’60s. Now, we’re jumping across the pond to subculture that created one of the most prolific and youthful literary genres of the recent past – the Beat generation.

Known as beats or beatniks, this group of young men and women – like the rude boys and girls of England at the time – challenged social conventions by leaving home, traveling across the country and creating new forms of literature. Beat poetry is named after the heavy beat that structures the poem prose

The beats dressed simply. They abandoned tight-lipped, upper-class style for worn-out denim jeans (a shocker still at the time), casual flannels and T-shirts. Girls of the generation wore simple silhouettes, form-fitting pants and lots of black.

Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are the defining figures of the Beat generation. Kerouac composed immensely popular works like On the Road, which immortalized Cassady. Cassady figures prominently in Ken Kesey’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip and served as the inspiration for the character Randle McMurphy in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Cassady lived with the Grateful Dead for some time. He is also referred to as “Cowboy Neal” in “That’s It For The Other One.” Allen Ginsberg composed dozens of books of poetry which included famous poems like “Howl” and “Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956).” “Howl” gives present-day readers a taste of what life as a beat was like – “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving / hysterical, naked.”

UB got a glimpse into the Beat generation when Robert Creeley came to the English department in 1967. Creeley was one of the five founders of UB’s Poetics Program. He was part of the “Black Mountain Poets” and moved to San Francisco during the “San Francisco Poetry Renaissance,” where he became associated with the Beat generation. Creeley published more than 60 books of poetry as well as more than a dozen works of prose and essays.

The beat look was integral to the lifestyle of many beat writers. You need to be comfortable if you’re going to be driving across county or sitting down for a few hours to write poetry.

Although I’m sure none of these men set out with the hopes of inspiring style lovers around the world, their easy-going yet moody style can still be seen meandering through the halls of Clemens, between the stacks in Lockwood or secretly puffing a cigarette next to a brown, brick wall.


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