I’ve read a lot of books about the Beats as a generation and phenomenon, biographies that spotlight the heavyweights, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady, and Corso. But, it’s a rare pleasure to read a faithful first-hand account of a survivor who was there. In Beat, Andy Clausen testifies to the fat, the lean, the high, the low and between the years of the original Beats.
He was there. Sometimes I felt like I was there too, with him for the mad rush. Both confessional and diary, Beat flows like a time capsule inside a shrine wrapped around the sacred and secular living space / place of the poets. The only real poets who ever mattered to me. Clausen is a poet poet. And we must not be mistaken on the chosen path, get lost along the way to discover the essential truth, the fate of all free spirits.
There have been times when I have pleasantly wandered off reading his travels, sometimes feeling right there, lost in the moment with Clausen traveling through the world of poetry, people and places. Some of them are familiar, others new and strange enlightening discoveries. This tribute is full of in-depth personal observations of my heroes of poetry. There is no pretense or more holy judgments than you.
Clausen nails it down by defining these literary outlaws. It exposes their humanity, these naked frailties that we all share, the compassion or the absence of it. Great poets are no equal to great human beings. It reveals flaws, prejudices, warts and all, mere mortals. I’m plugged into the myths, legends, hoaxes, and hokum of the original Beat Generation, and all the decades since in the post-neo-beat world, I happily embrace this counter-culture as a poet. However, you don’t have to be a hipster or a punk to understand shapes. I met many poets mentioned and described before they moved on in this original gang story that spawned a revolution. It doesn’t matter if Clausen is compared to Neal Cassady. Or if he read poems naked, wearing nothing but an American flag tie and hanging out with all the literary giants of the time.
I have also met Clausen over the decades at various events, gatherings, occasions, tributes and readings that celebrate the poetry and authentic lifestyles of this band of closely related mystics, misfits, aliens and renegades. and both loose, known as Beats. However, it was not until this year that I finally made the pilgrimage to Woodstock, the sacred stronghold of Bohemia at the foot of the Catskills. I wanted to talk to Clausen while I was there, but the plague kept us at bay. Finally, I managed to say hello.
Many great poets, artists and musicians reside in the surrounding area. Andy lives near the Woodstock Shivastan Poetry Ashram bookstore / art gallery run by Shiv Mirabito. Shiv is a Buddhist-Hindu Tantric yogi, anthropologist, archivist, artist, photographer, editor, and poet who began writing as a teenager while living in Allen Ginsberg’s Cherry Valley poetic community. The Shiv Bookstore is a museum of beat culture. A temple in the desert, with poetry readings.
Clausen also spent time at the Cherry Valley Farm in Ginsberg, a place where poets could retreat. Ginsberg was a mentor and champion of poets around the world and an inspiration to Clausen and others. The COP, Committee on Poetry Inc., in Cherry Valley, was founded to help poets in need, whether legal, spiritual, or simply to disengage, relax and rejuvenate in a pastoral setting. Ginsberg supported all poets and Clausen received encouragement and support from Ginsberg. It was a blessed curse for Clausen, spawning jealousy and envy but also opportunity. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetry at Naropa University also played a role in the literary history depicted in Beat. Clausen has traveled across America and the world to spread the word. He preaches the gospel of poetry.
After a stint in the Marine Corps, he survived in a working-class environment that was difficult for the masonry teams to work. No decadent intellectual, no academic left out. Making money honestly is not easy. As a former house painter, I can speak from my own experience, avoiding this laborious work of mortar, brick and cinder block. It takes a special type of man to choose hard labor as a career. My grandfather was a stonemason and I had uncles who were masons. I have seen over time how debilitating physical and occupational risks can cripple otherwise healthy men. Like a boxer or soccer player, injuries show up years later. Clausen survived it all, perhaps a little more tired but still intact and sane.
There are plenty of good, juicy stories in Beat. Whether Clausen is a closet redneck, a champion of the underdog, a biker relative, a tramp, a tramp, a tramp, a workman’s friend or a literary con artist of poetic streets and alleys across the American night, it is remarkable and not in question. Take it all as a poet’s journey navigating triumphs and perils among contemporaries.