If one is searching for springs of language undefiled by pedantry, politics, or motivational vector analysis, what more likely place to look than the domain of belles-lettres? For is it not reasonable to assume that poets and novelists- craftspeople who employ the English language for aesthetic ends- must cherish its form and harmonies, respect its structure and traditions, and employ its rich, orchestral resources with veneration and care? But somehow a funny thing happened to creative writers on their way to the road of the post-modern…
In poetry two tendencies appeared. One derives from T.S. Eliot, whose erudition and use of symbolism, multiple imagery, and masked illusions, as manifested most strikingly in The Waste Land- engendered what is now known as the Footnote, or Cryptographic, school of poetry; this has to be decoded rather than read. Its offerings are characterized, as a rule, by scrupulous adherence to the classical disciplines of meter and rhyme on the one hand, and on the other by utter inscrutability.
The second main branch in this fork in the road of modernist poetry flow in the opposite direction. Here the objective was to cast off the restraints of traditional poetic forms and sing with unpremedited ecstasy. The evolution of free verse from Walt Whitman down through Sandburg and the poets of the 1920’s and 30’s is a familiar chapter in literary history and only relevant here because of what happened to it at the hands of the Beat poets. For along with the ad writers and academic pedants, the Beats for all their aesthetic coolness, were also enemies of language, given that the speech vernacular was not organized, determinedly anti-verbal and with the slapdash communicating process of wailing, grunts, grimaces and metaphorical blur of interjections such as “like” brought the idea of square and hip into the realm of the inverse where only squares and the un-cool believe you can speak precisely. Previously and traditionally, writing was regarded as a solitary effort, but with the Beats it became a narcissism of applause and one of the performing arts.The prototype of course, was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. A passage in the first chapter of that book not only illustrates the style but provides an insight into the Beat writer’s modus operandi and also how a Bob Dylan worked off some of this template of the free form and ambiguous:
. I began to learn from him as much as he probably learned from me. As far as my work was concerned he said, «Go ahead, everything you do is great.» He watched over my shoulder as I wrote stories, yelling, «Yes! That’s right! Wow! Man!» and «Phew!» and wiped his face with his handkerchief. «Man, wow, there’s so many things to do, so many things to write! How to even begin to get it all down and without modified restraints and all hung-up on like literary inhibitions and grammatical fears . . .»