A Jewish Beat Poet’s Final Bow

October 21, 2010 | By

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Jack Micheline was one of the first Beat poets–but you wouldn’t want to call him that to his face.

Micheline was raised in the Bronx, in a Russian immigrant neighborhood that he called “Siberia in the United States.” As a teenager, he started performing poetry in Greenwich Village–his own combination of clever wordplay and down-and-dirty “street” talk.

In his mid-twenties, he moved to San Francisco, and his roommate, one Jack Kerouac, introduced him to the Beat movement, which was still in its infancy. Micheline hated the label “Beat poet,” accusing the media of hijacking it for financial reasons. Nonetheless, he is regarded as one of the most prominent Jewish poets of the Beat generation, alongside Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov.

The Jews in Micheline’s poems are from working-class backgrounds–angst-ridden people who’ve been spit on by the world, but still manage to find joy in some parts of their lives. Most of Micheline’s work was published by small presses  and has been out of print for years. But last year, years after his death in 1998, One of a Kind, a collection of his previously-unpublished work, was put out by Ugly Duckling Presse. Its poems make a case for raising Micheline to his rightful place in Beat royalty–whether he wanted to be there or not.

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