John Clellon Holmes is an essayist,
poet, and novelist; and was a "sometime member" of
the Beat Generation. He was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, March
12, 1926. Less controversial and experimental than Jack
Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, Holmes
had the sensitivity to realize that their confused values and
poignant ambitions were symbolic of something outside their small
universe, and published a novel, 'Go' (1952), which presented
characters based on Kerouac, Ginsberg
& Neal Cassady years before more
famous works like 'On The Road' would be released.
Holmes had met Jack Kerouac at a party,
and the two promising young novelists struck up a friendship
on the basis of their interest in writing. In 1948, Holmes had
pressed Jack Kerouac to describe the
unique qualities of his generation, and Kerouac
invented the term 'Beat Generation' on the spot. In 1952, after
the publication of 'Go,' Holmes wrote an article for the New
York Times Magazine, 'This is the Beat Generation,' in which
he introduced this phrase to the world.
Holmes remained close friends with Kerouac
until his death in 1969. There are some poignant stories in Barry
Gifford's oral biography "Jack's Book" about some of
Jack's last, lonely visits to Old Saybrook to enjoy the domestic
pleasures of Holmes' quieter existence with his wife.
Later in life, Holmes lectured at Yale and gave workshops at
Brown University. His final book of poems, Dire Coasts, was published
in 1988, the year he died at the age of 62 in Middleton, Connecticut,
leaving behind three novels & manuscripts for several books
of poetry, essays and memoirs.
"This Is the Beat Generation"
A 26-year-old defines his times.
New York Times Magazine
November 16, 1952
by John Clellon Holmes
The wild boys of today are not
lost. Their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces elude
the word, and it would sound phony to them. For this generation
conspicuously lacks that eloquent air of bereavement which made
so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions.
Furthermore, the repeated inventory of shattered ideals, and
the laments about the mud in moral currents, which so obsessed
the Lost Generation does not concern young people today. They
take it frighteningly for granted. They were brought up in these
ruins and no longer notice them. They drink to "come down"
or "get high," not to illustrate anything. Their excursions
into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiosity, not disillusionment.
Only the most bitter among them
would call their reality a nightmare and protest that they have
indeed lost something, the future. But ever since they were old
enough to imagine one, that has been in jeopardy anyway. The
absence of personal and social values is to them, not a revelation
shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day
solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why.
And it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the
hot-rod driver meet, and their identical beatness becomes significant,
for, unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the
loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more
occupied with the need for it. As such, it is a disturbing illustration
of Voltaire's reliable old joke: "If there were no God,
it would be necessary to invent Him." Not content to bemoan
His absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems
for Him on all sides...
In the wildest hipster, making
a mystique of bop, drugs and the night life, there is no desire
t shatter the drugs and the night life, there is no desire to
shatter the "square" society in which he lives, only
to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a manifesto would seem
to him absurd.... Equally, the young Pepublican, though often
seeming to hold up Babbitt as his culture hero, is neither vulgar
nor materialistic, as Babbitt was. He conforms because he believes
it Is socially practical, not necessarily virtuous. Both positions,
however, are the result of more or less the same conviction --
namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.