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reed magazine logoWinter 2008
When the Beats Came Back

Finally, on their 1956 swing through the Pacific Northwest, Snyder and Ginsberg were on a mission to shake things up, to sound their newfound bardic voices over a farther range, and to spread the excitement of the poetry renaissance and the spirit of the Bay Area freedom.

When Snyder and Ginsberg arrived in Portland for their reading at Anna Mann Cottage on February 13, they’d been on the road for three weeks—riding squeezed into the cabs of gyppo rigs or rattling along in the back beds of pickups, or hiking for miles on foot with no rides at all against the vast landscape of the misty Cascades, like tiny figures in a Chinese scroll. If Allen had wanted to “learn hitchhiking” from Snyder, he’d gotten that in spades. And for Snyder too, the trip had been fruitful: many images and incidents from it would find their way into his famous road montage, “Highway Ninety-Nine.” Along the way they’d also given a couple of poetry readings, one in Seattle at the University of Washington—Ginsberg’s first full-length public reading of all four parts of “Howl”—and another at a party given by Dick Meigs ’50 and Janet Bright Meigs ’52, Reedies who’d settled on a strawberry farm northeast of Bellingham.

In Portland, Snyder and Ginsberg stayed with Snyder’s old friends Bobby and Alice Allen (née Alice Tiura ’52), who lived southwest of campus in big apartments cut out of the old clubhouse of the Waverly Golf Club. Alice (today Alice Moss) recalls, “We’d been drinking wine with dinner, and then we went over to Reed, to Anna Mann. The common room at Anna Mann has been enlarged since those days, so the older, smaller room felt pretty full, but I don’t think there were more than 20 people there.

“Allen read ‘Howl,’” Moss continues, “which was really very startling—stunning. I thought he started out like he was kind of drunk, and I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to carry it off, but he gained power as he went on. He had me both laughing and in tears some of the time.”

The next night, February 14, Ginsberg and Snyder read on campus again, this time unscheduled. It is unclear whether this second night’s reading was also at Anna Mann, or at another location—perhaps Capehart, where there was good sound equipment, and where the Anna Mann reading had originally been booked. No venue is listed on the tape reel or box. At any rate, it is from their second night that the library’s recording was made.

Group in front of City Lights

Bob Donlin, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberrg, Robert LaVigne, Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of City Lights Books in San Francisco, 1955
©Allen Ginsberg Estate

 

reed magazine logoWinter 2008