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20100325-11 Ginsberg, Plath, and Lowell (Group 3)

Page history last edited by Hannah Rabon 10 years, 8 months ago


   Class focused on the Countercultural Movements of the Beats and Confessional Poets. The Beats' name derived from "Beaten down or beatified." They were known to have an Eastern spirituality, to shock society, and to capture the group experience in their works. The Beats were part of the countercultural movement that opposed the dominant culture of the larger society. Some of the most important and influential beats were Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and particularly Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was a poet whose poetry was primarily performed before it was published. For example, Ginsberg often performed his poem "Howl" before an audience in order to illustrate the madness behind his work and its link to the problems in American society. One of the main issues that he discusses in "Howl" and "Footnote to Howl" is the notion that homosexuals were different but not evil or mentally ill; instead, he wanted to expose people to the fact that humanity in its entirety is sacred and valid. Ginsberg continues to draw attention to the problems in America throughout his work "A Supermarket in California;" he depicts a shift in American society.

   Confessional poets like Plath, Sexton, Lowell, and Roethke drew from personal experience in their work in order to illustrate things that were not normally allowed to be said in polite society. For example, the issues of sexuality, the body, and mental illnesses were often discussed in the works of these authors. A significant poem that is an example of a confessional work is Sylvia Plath's "Morning Song." This piece draws the reader's attention to a mother's uncomfortable feelings towards her new born child and hints at the condition of post-partum depression.         

     In conclusion, both the Beats and Confessional poets use their poetry to illustrate the issues that lurk within American society. 



Word Count: 297



"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness starving hysterical naked . . ." (Ginsberg's "Howl" line 1).

- This is a key line that really sums up how the Beats were are group of people that have been driven mad by the shift in American society. This line was also followed by a photograph that was shown to the class of Allen Ginsberg naked. 


"Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did / you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking / bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of / Lethe?" (Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California")

- In this passage Ginsberg focuses on American poet, Walt Whitman. Ginsberg identifies Whitman as "father" suggesting that Ginsberg is refering to Whitman as the father of American poetry. Since Whitman is credited with this title, Ginsberg asks Whitman "what american did you have?" Ginsberg is recognizing a change in America and questions why this transformation has occurred. 




Key Terms


Countercultural Movement - a movement in which norms became opposed to larger society or dominant culture

Beats - comes from beaten down or beatified (step in becoming a saint)

Beatified - the process of becoming a saint

Comments (2)

katherine rich said

at 10:57 pm on Mar 29, 2010

Alrighty guys. I cut down the summary from 387 words down to 297. I also added another definition and explained one of the passages. I was going to define the first one as well, but I don't have any notes on it so, I'm probably not the best person to work on it. I'll check back in the morning to see if anything else needs to be done. I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Brian Croxall said

at 4:47 pm on Apr 1, 2010

This is a pretty good set of notes for a day in which we covered a lot of ground very quickly. You do a nice job of laying out some of the background for the Beats, in focusing on Ginsberg himself, and in making sure that the Confessionals aren't done any great injustice (apart from the fact that I spent a whole 10 minutes on them). I think your summary of Howl reflects our discussion around it, but I think that it would have been more useful to talk about what has caused the madness (the pillars of society: hospitals, museums, etc.) rather than on the homosexuality. Or to put it better: you captured what was said in class, and I wish that I'd been able to make it more clear what the real important aspect of the discussion was.

Since I know how much we refer to the book in almost any class, I'm always surprised when there are less than three passages on a set of notes. It would have been nice to have a passage from "Morning Song" to further flesh out what you had already said very well in the summary. In the two passages from Ginsberg I was surprised that you didn't discuss something like the length of his lines and their relationship to Whitman, which is something that doesn't appear in the summary at all. The "shift" in American society that causes madness could be better explicated in the first passage. And in the second, it's worth noting that the line breaks that you've added in do *not* belong; this is all one line of poetry.

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