The Venice Beat Poets – The Great River Outside the Mainstream

By Hillary Kaye

Shortly before she died, Philomene Long and Jim Smith planned that Philomene would do an ongoing series of articles, celebrating the work of the beat generation of Venice poets.

In her memory we’ve decided to go ahead with that plan. We do this to call attention to their work for new generations and to highlight the idea that most of what is significant, creatively, politically and socially is unfortunately invisible, lying outside the standard historical narratives. This narrow view of “history” serves to locate power in the establishment and justify its privileged position. The power, creatively, politically and socially is with the people.

There was no Horace Greeley to urge these poets to “Go Venice West Young Man.” They came because in Gertrude Stein’s words “there was no there there.” She was talking about Oakland but it was more accurately about Venice.

They wanted to be outside of the establishment, outside of an established literary scene like North Beach or the Village. And there was none of that in Venice, just the decaying shell of Abbot Kinney’s abandoned dream. It was like living inside a poem.

So while they faced the conformist 50s and hassling politicians and the LAPD trying to put America into a social straightjacket, they were free from the weight of tradition. Free to drop those establishment values of ambition and fame and follow their muse and create. And so they did.

This series begins with Stuart Perkoff, a close friend to Philomene and one who shared her view that their being poets was a calling. Perkoff grew up in St. Louis. He moved to Venice in the early 50s and founded the Venice West Café in 1958 as a meeting place for local artists. One of those artists, Wally Berman had come up with a line that summed up so well what Stuart believed, so Stuart wrote it on the wall of the café in huge letters. “Art is love is God.”


By Stuart Perkoff

imagine revolutions have occurred! yes! why not?
& revelations! more! love! more! communal joy!
forget the rules, the rulers, the restrictions
which limit every action, every flight
of grace & wing. create
instantly yr ideal
city! its market places stocked
with fulfilled desires wrapped in images
unknown, but known to be
lovely as yr selves. extend yr arms & dreams
& see how interlaced a web
is structured by yr separate human needs.

Posted: Thu - November 1, 2007 at 01:57 PM