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Poetry Readings In The Cellar

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Album Review

The term "counterculture" is used in connection with the '60s much more than the '50s, but the United States did have a counterculture in the '50s — the decade that brought rock & roll, Lenny Bruce, James Dean, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, beatniks, and the beginning of free jazz. The '50s were known for Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver on television, but at the movie theaters you could see Frank Sinatra in The Man With the Golden Arm, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and Marlon Brando in The Wild One. So there was, in fact, a place for edgy, provocative, daring art in the '50s, but you had to know where to find it — and for hipsters in San Francisco, one of the places to hear a combination of jazz and abstract poetry was the Cellar. Those beat poetry/jazz experiments of the late '50s weren't always successful; some of them collapsed under the weight of their own self-indulgence. But two beat poets whose work has held up well after all these years are Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, both of whom are featured on Poetry Readings in the Cellar. Recorded at the Cellar in 1957, this CD boasts Rexroth's angry, 21-minute rant "Thou Shalt Not Kill (In Memory of Dylan Thomas)" — one of the most powerful, biting examples of beat poetry — as well as three free-spirited offerings from Ferlinghetti: "Autobiography," "Junkman's Obbligato," and "The Statue of St. Francis." Rexroth and Ferlinghetti are both joined by an acoustic bop quintet, which proves to be an appropriate accompaniment for the poets' very stream-of-consciousness performances. Beat poetry is an acquired taste, but for those who do have a taste for it, Poetry Readings in the Cellar is among the most essential releases of its kind.


Genre: Spoken Word

Years Active: '50s

Kenneth Rexroth was an American poet who helped found the San Francisco Renaissance during the late 1940s. He has frequently been associated with the Beat Movement, and served as a mentor and friend to many Beat poets. Rexroth began publishing poems in magazines during the '20s, and his work frequently focused on nature, radical politics, love, and erotica. His interests expanded beyond written poetry, however. He worked in radio as a reviewer and commentator, was active in radical politics, and...
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