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This review is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

WAY OUT EAST DANIEL KANE, All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s (University of California Press) £18.95

In the 1940s and early 1950s poetry readings tended to be solemn, almost ceremonial affairs: an internationally renowned figure such as T.S. Eliot or W.H. Auden or Marianne Moore would take to the stage and address an audience of respectful worshippers of high culture. Then all this suddenly changed, as a variety of iconoclastic groups and movements set about restoring American poetry to the `fresh air', to use a phrase of Kenneth Koch's. In 1955 Allen Ginsberg declaimed `Howl' to a rapt audience of early Beatniks in a San Francisco art gallery, and by the end of the decade, when Donald Allen's ground-breaking The New American Poetry was published by Grove Press, readings had become central to the spread and development of counter- cultural poetics.

In this wonderful book Daniel Kane offers a compelling account of the role played by reading series - and the cheap and quickly produced mimeographed magazines they spawned - in the shaping of the kinds of experiment undertaken by poets either resident in the Lower East Side - poets such as Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, Lewis Warsh, and Bernadette Mayer - or poets who were frequent participants in the series held at coffeehouses such as Les Deux Mégots on East 7th Street, or Le Metro on Second Avenue (which both closed in mid-decade), or the Poetry Project at St Mark's which opened in 1966 (with the help of a somewhat dubiously acquired government grant), and is still going strong today. ...


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