Welcome to Venice West: Audio Recordings from the Lawrence Lipton Papers

Lipton and the Beat Generation Poets

Lawrence Lipton was not known as a part of the Beat movement until much later in his life when he published The Holy Barbarians (1959) at the age of sixty-one. However, as a resident of Venice since 1941 and through his literary connections from his earlier work as a writer and editor, Lipton quickly became a leader of the "Venice West" Beat community during the period surrounding The Holy Barbarians.

Stuart Perkoff

One figure that frequently appears in Lipton's audio recordings and writings on the Beats is Stuart Z. Perkoff.

Perkoff lived, wrote, and performed in the Venice West Beat community and, in 1958, he co-founded the Venice West Expresso Café--on Dudley Avenue near Ocean Front Walk--in order to establish an authentic gathering place for Beat artists in the area. Perkoff ran the café for about six months until January of 1959 when he was forced to sell it at a loss because of the lack in paying customers. The Venice West Café remained active under new ownership and even began to thrive following the publication of Lipton's The Holy Barbarians in July of 1959.[1] The "Venice West Picture Essay" that concludes The Holy Barbarians includes photographs of the café, captioned: "a real Beat generation coffeehouse that tourists haven't discovered yet"[2] (a caption that helped secure the café with future tourist patronage).

In Tape 106 from the Lipton papers, Perkoff discusses his relation as a poet to "the social phenomenon called the Beat Generation" in an interview conducted by Lipton. Later in the same interview (beginning around 15:53 in the recording), Perkoff discusses the challenges of using poetry to communicate to other people. Perkoff describes the different meanings that his poetry could take in different contexts: "If I read this poem at the Venice West Café, I'd get a much different response. I know some of the people would be just lost. And they won't dig being lost. [...] It's a question of coming back and not trying to reach so many people. Not trying to reach anybody." Perkoff concludes that writing a poem to reach a specific audience can cause that poem to become too rigid.

In another recording, Perkoff performs a few of his poems paired with jazz music, followed by Julie Meredith singing.

Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Kenneth Rexroth, known as the founding father of the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1940s and 1950s, is also featured on the Lipton tapes.

Rexroth was an avid reader and translator of Chinese literature, publishing translations in his "Classics Revisited" column in the Saturday Review (1965-1969) and in various anthologies that he edited and/or translated, such as One Hundred Poems From the Chinese (1956) and The Orchid Boat (1972) – later reprinted as Women Poets of China. Tape 396 from the Lipton papers begins with a live performance by Rexroth reading his translations of Song dynasty poets Li Qingzhao and Chu Shu Chen, accompanied by Ron Croddy playing double bass.

On a different tape from the collection, Rexroth expresses some of his disapproval for the Beat Generation. During a KPFK radio interview recorded on Tape 132, Rexroth describes the tensions and overlaps between the talented poets of the San Francisco Renaissance on one side and the "kept press," which he describes as the enemy (and the establishment), on the other. Rexroth argues that some of San Francisco's Beat poets have behaved "the way the enemy wants them to behave" – as the artist stereotype devised by "the most evil section of American journalism," which is only interested in debauching poetry and making it seem ridiculous. Rexroth uses a concept from the labor movement to characterize the "beatnik" as "an artistic strikebreaker" and cites Lawrence Ferlinghetti as one example of a truly talented poet who has fallen into this exchange between art, the Beat literary movement, popular journalism, and commercialism.

Despite Rexroth's disapproval of the Beats, he and Ferlinghetti were friends and frequent collaborators during their years in San Francisco.

Aside from the Lawrence Lipton papers, USC Libraries Special Collections holds smaller collections of personal papers from both Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (see also papers of Rexroth and Ferlinghetti at UCLA Library Special Collections and the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, respectively).

Allen Ginsberg and Others

Allen Ginsberg, author of Howl and arguably the most famous Beat poet, is frequently discussed in Lipton's recorded conversations and interviews.

Tape 470 records a discussion between Lipton and novelist Herbert Gold on a number of Beat writers. Part of their discussion on Allen Ginsberg leads to a disagreement on whether or not Ginsberg's former pursuits of controversy and publicity had an adverse effect on the quality of his writing. Lipton and Gold later question if a poet's heightened media attention always leads to financial gains. In Ginsberg's case, Lipton and Gold agree that increased publicity did not necessarily lead to greater income.

Other Beats (and Beat-adjacents) who appear on Lipton's tapes as performers or interviewees include Robert Duncan, Bruce Boyd, Leland Auslender, Charles Foster, Archer Goodwin, Carl Forsberg, and Jack Zucker.

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