John Clellon Holmes

John Clellon Holmes

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.

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