Constantly risking absurdity and death

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Beatnik Prompts

I. Ferlinghetti-Spaghetti: Imitative poems based on Lawrence Ferlinghetti work.

Constantly risking absurdity and death

whenever he performs above the heads of his audience

the poet, like an acrobat

climbs on rhyme to a high wire of his own making and

balancing on eyebeams above a sea of faces

paces his way to the other side of day

performing entrechats and sleight-of-foot tricks

and other high theatrics and all without mistaking

anything for what it may not be

For he’s the super-realist who must perform

perceived taut truth before the taking of each stance

or step in his supposed advance toward that still

higher perch

where Beauty stands and waits with gravity to start

her death-defying leap

and like

a little charleychaplin man who may or may not

catch her fair eternal form spread-eagled in the

empty air of existence.
Prompt #1: Compare a profession (like he did a poet) to something else (like he did an acrobat). Similar to Ferlinghetti, write about how the two are similar. For example: “the teacher like a warden” or “the mother like a CEO.”


The world is a beautiful place to be born into

if you don’t mind happiness not always being very much fun

if you don’t mind a touch of hell now and

then just when everything is fine

because even in heaven

they don’t sing all the time

The world is a beautiful place to be born into

if you don’t mind some people dying all the time

or maybe starving some of the time

which isn’t half so bad if it isn’t you.

Oh, the world is a beautiful place to be born into

if you don’t much mind a few dead minds

in the higher places or a bomb or two

now and then

in your upturned faces

or such other improprieties as our Name Brand

society is prey to

with its men of distinction and its men of extinction

and its priests and other patrolmen

and its various segregations and congressional

investigations and other constipations that our fool

flesh is heir to.

Yes the world is the best place for all for a lot of such things as

making the fun scene and making the love scene and

making the sad scene singing low songs and

having inspirations and waling around looking at


and smelling flowers and goosing statues and

even thinking

and kissing people and making babies and wearing pants and waving hats and dancing and going

swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the

summer and just generally

Living it up”


but then right in the middle of it

comes the smiling mortician.
Prompt #2: List all of the things that you think are “wonderful” about a place (the world, high school, America, Kansas, etc)… then list the things that aren’t wonderful at all. Take your ideas and write a poem about them in the style of Ferlinghetti.


I am waiting for my case to come up and I am waiting

for a rebirth of wonder

and I am waiting for someone to really discover

America and wail and I am waiting for the discovery

of a new symbolic western frontier

and I am waiting for the American Eagle to really

spread its wings and straighten up and fly right and I

am waiting for the Age of Anxiety to drop dead and I

am waiting for the war to be fought which will make

the world safe for anarchy

and I am waiting for the final withering away of all

governments and I am perpetually awaiting a

rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Second Coming and I am waiting

for a religious revival to sweep thru the state of

Arizona and I am waiting for the Grapes of Wrath to

be stored and I am waiting for them to prove that God

is really American

and I am seriously waiting for Billy Graham and Elvis

Presley to exchange roles seriously

and I am waiting to see God on television piped onto

church altars if only they can find the right channel

to tune in on and I am waiting for the Last Supper to

be served again with a strange new appetizer and I

am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.
Prompt #3: What are you waiting for? Make a list of things you’re waiting for… whether serious or funny, heavy or light. Think about things for you personally, for your family, the world, etc. Create a poem like his from your ideas.


‘Truth is not the secret of a few’


you would maybe think so the way some


and cultural ambassadors and especially museum

directors act

you’d think they had a corner on it

the way they walk around shaking their heads and looking

as if they never went to the bathroom or


But I wouldn’t blame them if I were you

They say the Spiritual is best conceived in abstract

terms and then too

walking around in museums always makes me want

to “sit down”

I always feel so constipated in those

high altitudes.
Prompt #4: What do you consider your “truth” to be… does anyone else agree with you on this? Does anyone try to keep you from this truth? What makes you the believer in Truth? Write an imitation poem about this.
II. Jazzy Jammin’ Places: Use the music of the time to inspire some creativity

  • Jazz and Rock-n-roll were the two major musical influences of the 1950’s.

  • Explain to students that the jazz of the time was very “rebellious” and against-the-mainstream. This is the music of the true Beatniks of the time.

  1. Play some Duke Ellington music (I have some in room 27… a great live CD), and have students create a piece of writing that describes a place where they hear this music being played. For the first 7-10 minutes, they have to recognize at least 3 senses in their description (what does it smell like, look like, and sound like)

  2. Next, stop and have them share a few (you could model your own writing for them).

  3. Now, force them to introduce a character in their piece as soon as you start the music. Have them write for another 7 minutes or so.

  4. Share some more.

  5. Finally, have them introduce a conflict of some kind as soon as the music starts again. They can write for however long you want them to at this point.

  6. By the time you’re finished with the class activity, they have the beginnings of a great “jazzy” short story.


III. “On the Road” w/ Kerouac

  • Make sure that students are aware of the Beatnik’s fondness for travel, believing in experiencing everything first handed.

  • There were “city” and “country” Beatniks. The country ones believed in living hand-to-mouth when on the road, eating whatever they could find or even steal… sleeping in train cars, etc.

  1. Read excerpts from Kerouac’s “On the Road”… a book of poetry that he literally wrote when inspired by a road trip across the country. (FYI: He actually specifically stopped for a while in Kansas City in order to see the “Place where jazz began”). I have a copy of the book in my room.

  2. Have students create their perfect road trip… where would they go? Who would they take? What would they do? How long would they be gone? etc.

  3. Have them put some of their fictional experiences into poetry “with a beat.”

  4. A sub topic could be JOURNEYS in general. They could respond to either of the following quotes:

The journey is the thing.” -Homer

I travel not to go anywhere, but simply to go. The great affair is to move.” -RL Stevenson

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