Six Poets at Six Gallery

It was the poetry slam to end all slams - Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen, Kenneth Rexroth, and Jack Kerouac.

The legendary "Six Poets at Six Gallery" reading was held on October 7, 1955 in San Francisco at the Six Gallery, an art gallery converted from a garage. Kenneth Rexroth organized the evening to promote Alan Ginsburg, Michael McClure and other young poets.

The Six Poets reading drew an audience of about 150 people. The are conflicting versions of what happened that night. Michael McClure's can be found in his book "Scratching The Beat Surface". Kerouac's version was published in "The Dharma Bums".

What was it like to be at the Six Gallery that night? Imagine you walk in the door and there's Jack Kerouac taking the money. You hand him the dough and he runs out to buy some red wine. The place is dark, and smoky, with avant garde pictures on the walls. You sit down at your table just as the show begins...

Kenneth Rexroth says a few words and introduces Philip Lamantia. He reads from poems by John Hoffman. Next Michael McClure reads "Point Lobos: Animism" and "For the Death of 100 Whales" followed by Philip Whalen reading "Plus Ca Change". He is followed by Allen Ginsberg that creates a stir as he starts to read "Howl"...

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hystericaly naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix..."

The audience led by Jack Kerouac starts chanting 'GO! GO!' to Allen Ginsburg's rhythm as the poem lifts into orbit. Before you know it, you also begin to chant 'GO! GO!', 'GO! GO!' , 'GO! ....

Ginsburg's "Howl" leaves Kenneth Rexroth in tears, Jack Kerouac in ecstacy and you feeling deeply moved by the experience. After a short break, Gary Snyder winds up the evening with "A Berry Feast" on tribal ritual. Kenneth Rexroth thanks the audience and promises to hold more poetry readings.

The reading is followed by dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Your fortune cookie reads "You have hidden talents waiting to be discovered" Hmmm", you wonder , "What's that all about?" After dinner, you join the crowd at "The Place" for drinks. You wake up about 3:00 PM the next afternoon with a hangover and the uncontrollable urge to write beat poetry.

By Johnny Mayer