I’ve never been a big fan of the Beat poets, preferring the opinion of the fictional “Gilmore Girls” character Paris Geller holding that “The Beats’ writing was completely self-indulgent. I have one word for Jack Kerouac—edit.” But I decided to give the new nonfiction book of transcripts by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg a try. Don’t Hide The Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg (Three Rooms Press), edited by Steven Taylor, is a collection of real transcripts recorded on different tapes. It catalogs three days’ worth of conversation covering topics from what makes cats so great to the inner workings of the writing process to the pros of psychedelic drugs on creativity. These transcripts were copied without editorial changes, so the story ebbs and flows, as you would expect with two good friends gabbing.
The Beats, which also include Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti among others, rejected mainstream writing and sought new ways to be creative and explore the world around them. They took drugs, had sex and rejected material goods, all of which made them stand out from then-current social standards. What makes Don’t Hide The Madness so intriguing is its raw and unfiltered portrayal of two extremely popular Beat poets, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Ginsberg is perhaps most well known for his poem “Howl,” which presented lyrical questioning of the culture of the 1950s.
William S. Burroughs, who wrote under the name William Lee, is perhaps most famous for his books Naked Lunch and Queer. People also associate the writer with his portrayals of heroin addiction and homosexual relations that resulted in a court case concerning sodomy and obscenity.
Don’t Hide The Madness covers a variety of subjects, as most conversations between friends do, but the value lies in the discussion of their writing process. The banter expressed here gives deep insight into where and how the ideas that made the beats so famous came about. It introduces the importance of talking with friends just to talk and accepting each other’s opinions without judgment. It shows the modern reader the power of well-informed dialogue. These transcripts display these bright minds at work in casual settings, which leads the reader to feel a confidence in himself/herself in that they too can find inspiration around them. One does not have to travel to Asia or Europe to feel inspired, but merely talk with intelligent people and friends, as the Beats did.
Quite simply, this book offers unfiltered and never-before-seen insight and understanding into this famous time in American literature. If you are an author, a professor, or just an interested reader, pick up this book.
This primary text has been called a “balm for the dystopia time we’re caught in,” and I agree. We are encased in a time where social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter are gaining considerable strength and literature is popping up around these movements. Writers today can relate to the processes of the Beats’ writings because they are both pushing against the status quo. So while the two writers may be physically gone, their words and rebellious spirits remain as vivid as ever.
Don’t Hide The Madness releases October 16.
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ABOUT ALLEN GINSBERG:
Poet, photographer and philosopher, Ginsberg is well known for his poem Howl. He lived from 1926 to 1997 and contributed highly to the Beat Generation which opposed sexual repression, and consumerism among others.
ABOUT WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS:
Author of multiple books and novellas, including Naked Lunch and Queer, he was a huge figure for the Beat Generation along with Allen Ginsberg. Alive 1914-1997, Burroughs is well known for his literature, films, and addiction to heroin.
ABOUT STEVEN TAYLOR:
Taylor is a poet, musician and songwriter. Previously, Taylor was a primary collaborator for Allen Ginsberg from 1976-1996. He is in a rock band, The Fugs, and worked at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University for two decades. He has also written multiple books including False Prophet: Field Notes from the Punk Underground.