Poetry Performance: The Beat Generation, AA Library, 1965

“at the Architectural Association in Bedford Square, London, 4 poets came together and spoke directly to each other (as well as to an audience) & established a rapport which governments had not been able to…”

Since its opening in 1921 by the former Prime Minster, HH Asquith, the AA Library has hosted some remarkable performances – it has accommodated fire-eaters, male strippers, chickens, snakes… and final tables… But one legendary performance stands out – a poetry reading on the 15th July, 1965, featuring the leading figures of The Beat Generation, including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Andrei Voznesensky. 

Four days earlier the poets had taken part in the infamous ‘International Poetry Incarnation’, a reading held at the Royal Albert Hall which has been celebrated as the birth of the London underground scene, where The Beat Generation first met the UK Hippy movement… However, not everyone was impressed with the quality of the performances at the Royal Albert Hall – Ginsberg was deeply disgusted and considered it as having included “…too many goofs who didn’t trust their own poetry, too many superficial bards who read tinkle jazzy beatnick style poems, too many men of letters who read weak pompous or silly poems written in archaic meters, written years ago.” On top of this, Andre Voznesensky had been silenced, prevented from speaking by his minder who warned him that if he did he would never be permitted to leave Russia again…

The AA event was rather different. Much smaller in scale, in the intimate setting of the AA Library, “it was everything that the Albert Hall wasn’t: terrific, accessible poetry read by four world class poets to an enormously appreciative audience.” From the LP recording, it is clear that the participants were all relaxed and at ease, delivering powerful, confident performances. Ginsberg reciting three works, including his ‘Big Beat’, whilst Ferlinghetti, Corso and Voznesensky performed two poems apiece:

Little is known regarding the arrangements for the event, although AA student, Jasper Vaughan is thought to have been a key contact and organiser. The LP recording was made by John (Hoppy) Hopkins and Barry Miles, two of the main organisers of the International Poetry Incarnation, who formed the label ‘Love Books’, in order to publish the recording. They subsequently went on to publish a series of important underground titles, including the rather wonderful ‘The Global moon  edition Long Hair Times North Atlantic Turn-On’.

Clip from Allen Ginsberg, reading Big Beat

Clip from Andre Voznesensky, reading I am Goya

Clip from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, reading Underwear

Clip from Allen Ginsberg, reading Message 2

Clip from Allen Ginsberg, reading Ignu

Clip from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, reading Bus Trip to NY-Albany

Clip from Gregory Corso, reading Bomb